Temporary exhibit honors first generation of Black UT students

Madeline Duncan, Senior News Reporter

UT honors the first generation of Black UT students, known as the Precursors, with an exhibit displayed in the East Mall until March 31.

The exhibit displays 118 wooden posts that represent the first students. Each post bears the name and photo of a student along with a QR code leading to the East Mall project website. The temporary exhibit is part of a series of displays the University plans to host in the East Mall as they continue to develop the permanent redesign of the mall, according to a March 17 press release.

“(The exhibits) are open to the public with the purpose of engaging our campus community on the social and environmental histories of the East Mall site, as well as offering a glimpse into what the site will become,” Sharon Wood, executive vice president and provost, said in the release.

The University’s Contextualization and Commemoration Initiative formed in July 2020, after President Jay Hartzell promised to honor the history of Black students at UT. In addition to renovating the East Mall, the initiative committed to renovating the entrance of Painter Hall to honor Heman Sweatt, the first Black student admitted to Texas Law after suing former UT President Theophilus Painter in 1950.

Sweatt was one of only a few Black students admitted to the University before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision to desegregate public education. UT admitted the first generation of Black students in 1956.

Last August, Hartzell announced the University’s partnership with MASS Design Group to redesign the East Mall to honor the Precursors.

Until 2017, UT’s Main Mall displayed statues of Confederate figures Robert E. Lee, John Reagan and Albert Johnston. Anthropology sophomore Lauren Latimer said she thought the display’s location on the East Mall was intentional.

“There’s always a meaning behind putting a memorial somewhere,” Latimer said. “That definitely shows UT is trying to fix the history of segregation at the school.”

Anthropology junior Akili Mann said he hadn’t heard of the Precursors until he saw the current East Mall exhibit as he left class.

“It caught my attention, just looking at all the signs and all the pictures of everybody,” Mann said. “Clearly they’ve made their mark on UT.”