As the Fourth of July approaches, The Daily Texan looks into the past to explore how major moments regarding civil liberties and freedom in American history have impacted UT. From Reconstruction, to celebrating the end of World War II, to the grief surrounding the incomprehensible act of terror on 9/11 — the struggles and triumphs of this country have changed UT, too, and in turn, UT has changed the course of this country throughout its history.
The Legacy of the Civil War
The Confederacy’s influence on UT is apparent to anyone who looks up at the bronze statues of immortalized Confederates that line the Main Mall. UT first opened its doors in 1883, just 18 years after the Civil War and in the immediate aftermath of reconstruction. The first president of the University Leslie Waggener, Regent George Washington Littlefield and others on the original staff were Confederate veterans. Littlefield, a former Confederate officer, was one of the University’s early benefactors. George Washington Brackenridge, another regent and benefactor of the University, had been a Union sympathizer and war profiteer. Because of their differing wartime
sympathies, the two became well-known rivals. In 1910, Brackenridge donated 500 acres of land on the Colorado River, proposing the University be moved there. As a way of keeping the University on the original 40 Acres, Littlefield combated the proposal by donating $250,000 to build what became the Littlefield Fountain. The fountain became a memorial to World War I, and was originally to have statues of Confederate and Union figures, symbolizing the reunification of the North and South through World War I. The final design differed from this plan and the Confederate figures were displaced along the Main Mall alongside Woodrow Wilson representing the North.
World War II
When the United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941, UT followed, as numerous students, faculty and alumni left to participate in the war effort. In the fall of 1942, 80 faculty members left the University to join the military services as well as defense research and other government agencies. “Faculty members in psychology and philosophy began to teach physics and math,” a Daily Texan article stated on August 19, 1945. “Faculty members in physics and chemistry left the University to join research projects.” Among these defense researchers, 22 University scientists worked in various capacities developing the atomic bomb. On August 9, 1945, just days after the result of their work was put to use, the front page of The Daily Texan read in large text “PEACE!!” According to that day’s paper, “a whooping, honking, hugging crowd of campusites poured out of afternoon labs and away from supper tables to storm the Drag on Tuesday afternoon as news of war’s end spread like a prairie fire across the Forty Acres.” The war was over. After the war, students and faculty returned to school. Frank Denius, UT alumnus and chairman of the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Veterans Committee, attended the University fall 1945 after serving in the Marines during World War II and being a part of the D-Day Invasion. “There’s no question of being a much more serious student,” Denius said. “I took education much more seriously.”
The Civil Rights Era
On March 9, 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to UT and spoke in front of 1,200 people at the Texas Union Ballroom. “Old Man Segregation is on his deathbed,” King said to the crowd. “The only question is how expensive the South is going to make the funeral.” Though Old Man Segregation was on his deathbed, segregation at UT persisted in student housing, athletics and at several businesses near campus. “They didn’t integrate. They had these black students, but they were always on the periphery of the campus, literally and figuratively,” said Dr. Dwonna Goldstone, author of “Integrating the 40 Acres: The Fifty-Year Struggle for Racial Equality at the University of Texas.” Segregation limited the opportunities of black students in all aspects of life. “The black students couldn’t go watch the movies that their professors had assigned them,” Goldstone said. “They couldn’t get their hair cut, or they couldn’t cash a check.” Dorm sit-ins and other protests on campus took place throughout the civil rights era in an attempt to change the divided environment on campus. In 1969 the Longhorns were the last all-white team to win the National College Football Championship. The next year, Julius Whittier became the first black player on the Longhorn varsity football team — a major step in putting down Old Man Segregation.
The Vietnam War
Though many students, faculty and alumni served in the Vietnam War, UT was more known for anti-war activism in the early ’70s. Daily Texan alumni John Pope recalls his six years on campus as being a time of uncertainty. “You never knew if something would get out of hand and tear gas would be used on crowds. We were told to carry damp rags,” Pope said. “People were so angry.” One of the largest protests took place on April 21, 1972 when approximately 1,000 anti-war protesters gathered on the Main Mall and, from there, many entered the Tower. In an article on April 22, 1972, Daily Texan staff writer Tom Kleinworth wrote, “About 10 minutes after the protesters had entered the building, police using back entrances, flooded onto the second floor using nightsticks and Mace.” The protesters then fled the Tower but were pursued by police. Kleinworth wrote, “The police threw tear gas into the crowd then pursued the demonstrators as they tried to escape, throwing tear gas canisters on the East Mall steps as the people ran down.” Commenting on the campus’ climate of fear, an editorial by Daily Texan staff writer David Powell the following day stated, “The Daily Texan wants peace now — in Southeast Asia … and Austin.”
Sept. 11, 2001
“We’re all a little scared” read the headline of the Texan on Sept. 12, 2001 the day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The night of Sept. 11, a crowd of approximately 2,000 mourners packed onto the Main Mall in remembrance of the victims. At 8 p.m. they began lighting their candles. At the vigil, Student Government president Matt Hammond spoke to the crowd saying, “As a generation, tonight we must answer our call. Our call is not one of vengeance or one of hatred but rather we must answer the question, how can we help?” Following funeral services and mourning came debates on how the country should respond to the attack. On the brink of war, students rallied for or against going into the Middle East. Meanwhile, Muslim students, faculty and locals feared backlash. Professor Mohammad Mohammad of the Arabic department removed his headdress in order to avoid confrontation after being spat on the morning of the attack. “At that time I didn’t know why he spat on me,” Mohammad said. “A few minutes later, I found out. Some of my students were scared.” While classes continued, students on campus spent the weeks following the attack mourning and helping out any way they could by means such as donating blood.