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Change in Texas: 1961 - 1999

  1. The Civil Rights Movement in Texas
  2. Late 20th Century Political Trends
  3. Late 20th Century Population and Economic Shifts

The Civil Rights Movement in Texas

After World War II, minorities in Texas, like elsewhere in the country, began to increase their demands for civil rights. During the 1950s and 60s, African Americans and Hispanic Americans sought equal rights and protection under the law. The Civil Rights movement became organized and focused on integration in all aspects of American society.

Although the all-white primary had been declared unconstitutional, African Americans in Texas continued to face harsh segregation and discrimination. Blacks were limited in their occupations and their education. They could not even eat in most restaurants or stay in most hotels and motels. After World War II, the NAACP began to focus its attention on desegregation.

In 1946, Herman Sweatt was denied admission to the University of Texas Law School, which was the only public law school in Texas at the time. When the Texas attorney general ruled that the state must provide a law education for Sweatt or admit him to the Texas law school, a law program was set up at the newly created all-black Texas Southern University in Houston. Sweatt refused to attend that makeshift law school. In 1950, the NAACP sued the University of Texas Law School for failing to provide equal educational opportunities for African Americans. In Sweatt v. Painter, the Supreme Court agreed with the NAACP and ordered the University of Texas to integrate its law school. Other colleges soon followed the University of Texasís lead in integrating their schools. Unlike other Southern states, the integration of universities in Texas was generally peaceful.

The integration of public schools was not accepted as easily. Although the Supreme Courtís Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka decision in 1954 ordered the desegregation of public schools, only 5 percent of African American children attended integrated schools in 1964. Dallas and Houston continued to respond slowly to the desegregation order throughout the rest of the 1960s.

African Americans also challenged the segregation of all public accommodations like restaurants, hotels, movie theaters and amusement parks. Many Texans did not support the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1965, which were intended to provide equal opportunities for African Americans. NAACP leaders such as A. Maceo Smith and Juanita Craft in Dallas led peaceful marches to demonstrate their desire for equality.

By the 1960s, federal intervention was starting to aid the process of integration. Bus stations, airports, federal buildings and schools were slowly desegregating. African Americans also took integration into their own hands. Sit-ins, demonstrations and marches were just some of the peaceful tactics they used to protest segregation in cities like Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio and Lubbock. Juanita Craft of Dallas led the NAACP Youth Council in a successful demonstration against segregation at the State Fair.

By the mid-1960s, the peaceful demonstrations had started to change. New civil rights organizations such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), founded by Texan James Farmer, Jr., and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) gained strength and influence. Comprised mainly of young African Americans, these groups began calling for "Black Power," and some members encouraged separatism from whites.

Nationwide violence and riots erupted in ghettos during the 1960s. In 1967 African Americans at Texas Southern University confronted local police during a demonstration. One officer was killed, perhaps accidentally by another officerís bullet. In Houston, Carl Hampton, leader of the militant Peopleís Party Two, was killed in a shoot out with police. In Dallas, Ernie McMillan and Matthew Johnson, two local SNCC leaders, received ten-year prison sentences for property damage that occurred during a demonstration at a local supermarket. 

Like other movements of the 1960s, the civil rights movement had split apart and lost its focus by the early 1970s. White backlash, violence, harsh prison sentences and the controversy over the Vietnam War resulted in the demise of a powerful movement. Equally important, one of the Civil Rights most prominent national leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in 1968. No one leader arose to take his place. Instead, several leaders struggled to continue the movement, which became split into factions.

African Americans did gain many rights and freedoms in their struggle. Segregation ended, and many African Americans acquired state and national leadership positions. In 1966, Barbara Jordan of Houston was elected as the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate. Later, she also served as a Texas Congresswoman. Juanita Craft of Dallas was elected to the Dallas City Council. Many other black women and men served in leadership positions, both elected and appointed. For example, Curtis Graves and J.E. Lockridge were both elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

Barbara Jordan has been one of the most influential African American politicians from Texas (Photo by John Suhrstedt/TxDot)

Following the example of African Americans, Mexican Americans began to organize and push more actively for civil rights. One of the leaders in the Mexican American Civil Rights movement was Dr. Hector P. Garcia. Dr. Garcia received the Bronze medal in World War II and founded the American G.I. Forum, an organization that addressed the health, education and civil rights of Hispanic veterans. 

One of the first targets of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) was segregation in higher education. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court in Delgado v. Del Rio ISD declared it illegal to designate specific buildings for Mexican-American students on school grounds. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Hernandez v. State of Texas recognized Mexican Americans as a class whose rights had been violated by Jim Crow laws. LULAC and other organizations also fought to raise educational standards for Hispanics. In 1957, the "Little School of the 400," an educational program for Mexican Americans in Houston, became the model for the Head Start program.

Mexican Americans in Texas supported Kennedy in the presidential race of 1960. "Viva Kennedy " clubs were established across the Lone Star State. After the election, the clubs continued their political activism by reorganizing as the Political Association of Spanish-Speaking Organizations (PASO). 

The Chicano movement in the 1960s focused on the harsh conditions of life and the needs of migrant farm workers, most of whom were Hispanic. By the mid-1960s, the Chicano movement began to expand and step-up its militancy. MAYO (Mexican-American Youth Organization) and RUP (Raza Unida Party) increased protests and demonstrations while also denouncing white oppression. In 1966, Mexican Americans embarked on a 490-mile march on the State Capitol in protest. Embracing the Hispanic culture, the Chicano movement encouraged the wearing of Mexican clothing and long hair and also emphasizing ethnic pride and the use and beauty of the Spanish language.

Like the African American civil rights movement, however, the Chicano movement began to lose direction by the late 1960s. Yet, leaders had given Mexican Americans in Texas and the rest of the Southwest a sense of pride and a political voice. By the 1980s, Hispanics would hold numerous local and state offices and national offices. One recent Hispanic politician was U.S. Representative Henry B. Gonzalez, who represented the 20th Congressional in Texas for 36 years, from 1962 to 1998. His son, Charles Gonzalez, was elected as his successor in 1998. 

Women also began to call for greater political and social rights during the 1960s and 1970s. Women who had worked in the civil rights movement became increasingly political and most aware of their own issues and problems. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 included Title VII. It prevented discrimination on the basis of sex. Even so, women found that federal laws did not always change societyís views or practices. Because women were still discriminated against, many of them began to organize and to fight for their rights.

The Texas Womenís Political Caucus (TWPC) was established to promote more political participation by women. Womenís business and professional organizations promoted womenís greater role in both society and politics. One of the high points in the womenís struggle came when Barbara Jordan became the first black woman in Texas to be elected to Congress. In 1972, Frances Farenthold campaigned vigorously for the Democratic nomination for governor. Although she failed to win, her campaign demonstrated a greater political activism and awareness among women.

Like the civil rights movement, the womenís crusade began to fall apart in the late 1970s. Radical feminists and conservative feminists struggled to find a common goal. Yet, the womenís movement was successful in its ability to provide new opportunities for women. In 1990, Ann Richards was elected governor of Texas and served one term. Other women led some of the stateís largest cities, such as Mayor Kathy Whitmire of Houston and Mayor Annette Straus of Dallas. Today, women are a powerful presence in Texas politics and society.

Additional Resources

bulletVisit the National Civil Rights Museum
bulletSee some historic sights of the Civil Rights Movement.
bulletFind out about the Civil Rights movement in Houston.
bulletLearn more about Barbara Jordan.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. What was the Supreme Courtís ruling in Sweatt vs. Painter?(7.7:C)
  2. What was the Supreme Courtís ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education?(7.7:C)
  3. Who were Juanita Craft and James P. Farmer?(7.7:C)
  4. Who was Barbara Jordan?(7.7:C)
  5. Who was Hector P. Garcia?(7.7:C)
  6. What was the Supreme Court ruling in Delgado vs. Bastrop Independent School District?(7.7:C)
  7. Identify PASO, MAYO, and RUP. Why were these organizations important?(7.7:C)
  8. Identify the "TWPC." What is this organization's purpose?
  9. Who was Henry B. Gonzalez?(7.7:C)
  10. Who was Ann Richards?(7.7:C)

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