The Integration of Marshall University

The Integration of Marshall University

By: Sarah Hendrickson

Before the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954, schools and universities across the United States were segregated with separate campuses for African American and Caucasian students.  However, an exception existed with the enrollment of African Americans into graduate programs in the late 1940s.  Marshall University—then Marshall College—had the average experience of a public university integrating after the Supreme Court ruling on May 17, 1954. The process of integrating Marshall College appears to have had no major confrontations that have been recorded.  However, this is not to say that there were not problems and tension among African American and Caucasian students as Marshall College began its journey to fully integrating the campus. This paper will provide a brief history of the monumental events that led to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954, including the earlier integration of graduate programs.  In addition, this paper will delve into the integration of Marshall College and examine the events surrounding the process from the late 1940s-1970s.  Finally, the integration of Marshall College will be compared to several other universities and colleges in an attempt to determine the overall success of the integration process at Marshall.  During the process of becoming legally integrated, Marshall College appears to have completed the process successfully from the view of the community as integration was actually occurring.

Prior to the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision of 1954, the NAACP first looked to graduate and professional educational programs to accept African American students.  When an African American man was refused admission to the law school at the University of Missouri due to his race, the case was sent to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decision resulting, Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938) upheld the “separate but equal” precedent and mandated that states that provide a school to Caucasian students must provide an equal in-state education to African American students as well. States could satisfy this requirement by allowing African Americans and Caucasian to attend the same school or creating a second school for African Americans that was of equal ranking, and West Virginia complied.1

In 1950, an African American man was denied admission to the School of Law at the University of Texas. The Supreme Court decision –Sweatt v Painter (1950)—stated that he must be admitted to the University of Texas Law School because the law school for African Americans was inferior in community and prestige. In response to these Supreme Court rulings, the states were given four options for establishing public education graduate and professional programs: create a constitutional university branch for African Americans, create a segregated university through legislative mandate, increase funding for African American universities to make them equal to the white universities, or desegregate the universities entirely. West Virginia complied to this ruling by admitting African American students to existing programs, as the state could not afford to create separate graduate and professional programs.  African American students were quietly enrolled first at West Virginia University and later at Marshall College.2

Following their success at integrating many graduate and professional programs, the NAACP began to look toward integrating other areas of public education. The organization filed suits in Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, and Virginia which were eventually combined as Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas).  The Supreme Court handed down its ruling in 1954 that declared establishing separate public educational institutions for African American and white students unconstitutional. This decision overturned the precedent of Plessy v Ferguson (1896), which upheld the legality of separate but equal.  The Brown v. Board of EducationSupreme Court decision of 1954 led to the mandated integration of all public education institutions throughout the United States; however, this is not to say that the idea of desegregation was accepted unconditionally and the process of desegregating the public schools occurred seamlessly without tribulations.3

President Williams—the President of Marshall College from 1942-1946—appeared to have a genuine interest in promoting interracial collaboration within the community of Marshall College as he began a community outreach program. He affiliated the college with a national committee on inter-group relations sponsored by the American Council on Education in 1945. Marshall College was only one of a few institutions to participate in such a program which included many activities open to the community:  reading literature, informational seminars, and panel discussions.  These programs appeared to increase the acceptance of African Americans as the community became more knowledgeable about inter-group relations, though the potential results were never realized as the program was terminated just a year later. However, African American students were quietly admitted to Marshall College in order to pursue advanced degrees in the late 1940s because of the Gaines Supreme Court decision.  By 1952, it was reported that five to ten African American students attended Marshall in a given term.4

Around the time of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954, Marshall College was hosting numerous foreign exchange students on campus, who helped to enrich the life of the community by speaking to many groups around town.  It is cited that the foreign exchange students may have opened a few fissures in the minds of the native population in a predominately Anglo-Saxon stronghold.5  However, Marshall College did not open its doors to African American students until the summer of 1954 in compliance to the West Virginia Board of Education’s opinion rendered on June 1, 1954.  President Smith stated: “In view of the board’s action, Marshall College will be happy to enroll qualified colored students beginning the second summer term July 12.  Registration for the first summer term has already closed.”6   Dr. Smith had persuaded the press not to publicize the integration of Marshall College, which appears to have helped the transition occur without any major incidents. By the fall of 1954, fourteen African American students were enrolled at Marshall College. For the most part, the integration of Marshall College appears to have occurred with an absence of overt issues and immense tribulations like major riots; however, there were manageable problems capable of being addressed which arose throughout the late 1950s and early 1960 on the campus of Marshall College, soon to become Marshall University.7

African Americans students were beginning to receive recognitions as integration progressed and more African American students were admitted to the college. Records show that President Smith worked extremely hard make the integration process successful at Marshall College. Hal Greer became the first African American student athlete to play for a major college team in the state. His success on the basketball court appears to have helped to ease the transition of integration on campus. Later, he was recognized by the mayor and a major road in Huntington—Hal Greer Boulevard—was re-named in his honor.  Unfortunately, it is reported that he describes his experience as hellish.8

Roy Goins, a student at Douglass High School, was the first African American student to receive an academic scholarship at Marshall College in 1955.  Goins was a great student. He was recognized in the ‘who’s who of Marshall,’ a member of the Dean’s list, and was second in command of Marshall ROTC—an honor that was also a first for an African American student to hold. Not only was Goins a superior student, but a great athlete as well. He was the first African American player to take the field as varsity football player and the first African American Marshall Football letterman.  It is apparent that the large amount of successful African Americans on the athletic field and the positive publicity of this success by the press helped resolve some of the tension in the community of Huntington brought on by the integration of Marshall College. 9

By 1955, it is reported that Marshall College had between fifty to sixty African American students enrolled in undergraduate studies, plus others in their graduate programs. This number is documented at being increased to over seventy African American students in 1956.  At this time, several African American students were also living in the dormitories on the campus. As the 1950s progressed, the integration of Marshall College seemed to progress smoothly and African American students began to gain public recognition and widespread acceptance for their many accomplishments.10

Despite the success of integration and African American students and athletes at Marshall College, there appear to have been some troubles in the late 1950s and early 1960s.   Marshall College gained University status in 1961; however, racism was still in the air surrounding the city of Huntington, and African American students felt the tension in their everyday lives according to reports.  There appears to have been many racist undertones within the city’s activities and daily lifestyle, such as the Kappa Alpha Fraternity confederate forces mock raid on the town hall in order to promote a current television series. The endorsement of the Old South and its ideals upheld in the television program ended with the capture of the mayor, reading of a proclamation of Southern ideals, and Confederate flag flying over the city of Huntington. 11  The centennial of the Civil War (1961-1965) and its observance by the University further appear to have played a role in accentuating the tension surrounding the racial problems at the University.  Confederate flags decorated license plates and car decals, which were a visible reminder of the inequality that still existed in society on a daily basis.  A popular ceremony enacted by the Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity commemorating General Lee’s birthday was sponsored annually: scenes were enacted from Old South, the Marshall President ‘surrendered’ the campus, and a Mason-Dixon Line was drawn through Campus. This ceremony infuriated African American students and it was later negotiated that Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity would delete the most offensive parts of their yearly performance.12

The 1960s brought reports that no anti-discrimination group existed at Marshall and that the formally Caucasian college was still predominately so.  However, records confirm that a protest group began to be planned in 1963 to help voice dissent over existing policies and participate in non-violent protests.13 In 1965, President Smith asked that all Greek organizations accept African American members on an equal basis as white students as they had “not kept up with human and social progress.”14 This further explains that while the University was legally and technically integrated, there were some apparent problems with the social integration on campus.

These complications with the process of integration in daily social activities were highlighted at several campus events, including a computer dance where the dance partners were selected by automatism. When a computer dance randomly matched  Caucasian and African American student together as partners, the ensuing embarrassment ensuing caused a convincing demonstration that was an obvious show that integration was a long way from being successful socially, even though it was deemed a success legally.   Several Caucasian students stated that “while they did not have nothing personal against Negros, it was not easy to put aside beliefs they had been conditioned to accept.” 15 This causes speculation as to the situation and whether this possible complication was thought about ahead of the event or was not expected to occur.  It is apparent that the students’ races were not entered into the computer system, which suggests that the dance coordinators did not anticipate this being a problem at the dance since Marshall University had been integrated legally since 1954. This leads to the conclusion that the dance coordinators might have overestimated the level of actual social integration of Marshall University at the time.   However, these instances appear to be exceptions to the general experience that a majority of African Americans had at Marshall University based on several accounts. Other African American students report never experiencing any discrimination at Marshall University, being members of social fraternities on campus, socializing with Caucasian students on a daily basis, living with Caucasian roommates in the dormitories, and dating interracially. 16  This clearly demonstrated that the experience of African Americans at Marshall University varied on a case by case basis; although, based on numerous accounts, it appears that the average African American student had a positive experience.  Marshall University appears to have experienced tribulations during the process of fully integrating the campus; however, based on reports, these proved capable of being carefully managed and overcome in the long run.

Progress continued into the late 1960s and 1970s on the campus of Marshall University.  The University began to add more courses relating to African American culture to the curriculum with four main goals: development of the African American self concept, development of black Nationalism, combating discrimination and prejudice among both white and African American students, and the training of African American leaders whose job it will be to reverse the discrimination and prejudice afflicting the black population.17 In 1966, the first African American black faculty member—Emory Carr— was employed at the University within the Department of German.  Shortly following, it is documented that there were several other African American men who were hired to teach various classes, including African American History.  Integration continued to advance as a scholarship was endowed for African American students in honor of Martin Luther King at the time of his death in 1968.18

The African American students appeared to be extremely proactive, yet peaceful, while asserting their opinions and wishes for the University. For example, several students demonstrated at an official convocation in 1969 as they stood on the platform and asked President Nelson to establish a black cultural center.  Within days, the request was approved and two rooms of the student union building were designated to be used for the center along with a temporary director to coordinate its success.  President Nelson established a precedent in 1970 when he awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws to Memphis Tennessee Garrison, an influential African American woman in the area of civil rights throughout West Virginia.  Progression continued as the University with Morrow Library receiving a large collection of African American culture and human relations materials in the early 1970s. Marshall’s integration is recorded to to have been mainly uneventful by the perspective of the people documenting it at the time; although, the few challenges encountered along the way appeared to be taken care of and did not produce any major incidents on the campus.19

Marshall University had a seemingly smooth integration, which was both similar and different to other Southern universities/colleges. Similar to Marshall, West Virginia State University—a traditionally African American institute—appears to have integrated without many issues in the beginning, but did experience manageable problems as it progressed. This peaceful transition was aided by the support of the local media and community. However, it is recorded that bitterness did arise as the school lost its classification as a “top colored school” and became increasingly dominated by Caucasian faculty and students. Though racial tension existed and it is documented that students socialized mainly within groups of their own race, the integration of West Virginia State University was considered an overall success as it had occurred without any major incidents. 20

Unlike the public universities, the private southern universities—Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane, and Vanderbilt—were more resistant to the change. Though the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling of 1954 did not apply to them because they were not public universities, the trustee and board members eventually felt pressured by students, the threat of the loss of federal funding, and many other factors. It is recorded that these realistic and practical arguments regarding desegregation were the only arguments considered, as the moral arguments regarding justice and fairness fell upon deaf ears.  By the 1960s, the high cost of segregation was finally clear to many trustees and they integrated the private southern universities. The integration of these private southern universities appears to have finally happened without incident, although there were opposition voices from past alumni and other southerners.  Compared to the private southern universities, Marshall University had a generally accepting environment regarding the integration of the campus that was more similar to West Virginia State University.21

Marshall University had a seemingly smooth integration of African American students after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision compared to the deadly riots at major southern public universities, such as the University of Mississippi.  The acceptance of earlier graduate students coupled with the success and popularity of African American athletes and the lack of media attention surrounding the process of integration helped to make it a success in the long run. Though there were documented incidents that appeared to contradict the idea of a smooth integration, none of these tribulations proved impossible to conquer.  Overall, the records show that Marshall University was extremely successful at achieving its goal of integrating the school without any major incidents.

1  Frank Bowles and Frank A. De Costa, Between the Worlds (New York: McGraw Hill, 1971), p. 50-52; 62-63.

2  Gary M. Lavergne, Before Brown: Herman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice (Austin: University Of Texas Press, 2010), p. 88; 95; 97; 118.

3  Frank Bowles and Frank A. De Costa, Between the Worlds (New York: McGraw Hill, 1971), p. 62-63; 70.

4  Dan Donahue, “State’s Reactions Are Mixed On School Segregation Case,” Charleston Gazette, 21 Dec. 1952,  p. 4; Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981), p. 122;191-195.

5  Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981), p. 191.

6  Marshall To Admit Negro Students This Summer, Papers of the NAACP Part 3, Reel2—Correspondence Regarding School Desegregation Throughout the State.

7  “Enrollment at Colleges Now 7,361,” Charleston Daily Mail, October 10, 1954; Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980(Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association,1981).

8 Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981; Marshall Football History, Marshall University Athletics Web Site 2007, p.126, (accessed February 14, 2011); Hal Greer, West Virginia Archives and History Web Site 2010, (accessed February 14, 2011); Tim R. Massey and Bill Rosenberger, “ Hal Greer broke Color Barrier in W.Va. Sports,” Herald Dispatch, February 27 2008.

9 “Dougalas Student Awarded One Year ODK Scholarship,” The Parthenon, May 13 1955; Roy Goines Broke MU Football Color Barrieer, Web Site 2006, (accessed February 14 2011); Marshall Football History, Marshall University Athletics Web Site 2007, p.126, (accessed February 14, 2011).

10 Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981); Tim R. Massey, “The 1950s: A Great Time to Grow Up as Economic Growth, Prosperity Hits All-Time High,” Herald Dispatch, November 5, 2008 ; Herb Little, “Integration Working Both Ways In State-Supported Colleges,” Charleston Daily Mail, November 7, 1955, p.8.

11  Tom Miller, “Kappa Alpha Fraternity Attacks Town Hall: ‘Raid’ Part of WHTN-TV Promotion,” The Parthenon, May 22, 1957.

12  Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981).

13  “Board hears Report from Three Colleges,” Sunday Gazette-Mail, May 1, 1960, p. 6A; Gary Kearns, “Anti-Discrimination Group Planned,” The Parthenon, February 22, 1963.

14  “Accept Negros, Fraternities Told,” Indianapolis Plain Dealer, April 8, 1965, p. 13.

15  Sybil Craig-Wynter, “Marshall Found a Long Way from True Integration,” Charleston Gazette, June 13, 1966, p.7.

16  Sybil Craig-Wynter, “Marshall Found a Long Way from True Integration,” Charleston Gazette, June 13, 1966, p.7.

17  “Black Studies Favored by Colleges as Means of Easing Racial Tension,” Charleston Gazette, October 11, 1969.

18  Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981), p. 209; 214.

19  “Marshall Approves Black Cultural Center,” Post-Herald & Register, October 12, 1969, p. 1; Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association, 1981), p. 214; 252; 275.

20 Ella M Wilson, A Historical Study of Desegregation at West Virginia State College, 1954-1973: An Application of a Theory of Mandated Academic Change (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1986), p.143; 145-148; 230-231;  Frank Bowles and Frank A. De Costa, Between the Worlds (New York: McGraw Hill, 1971), p. 106-107; Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association,1981).

21 Frank Bowles and Frank A. De Costa, Between the Worlds (New York: McGraw Hill, 1971), p. 106-107; Charles Hill Moffat, Marshall University: An Institution Comes of Age, 1837-1980 (Huntington: Marshall University Alumni Association,1981); Melissa Kean, Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South: Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane, and Vanderbilt (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008), p. 96-98; 234-235.