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The First African American Graduates of the University of Texas School of Law


In 1946, Heman Sweatt was denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law due to his race. Mr. Sweatt filed suit against University of Texas president Theophilus S. Painter and other University administrators. As Texas had no law school that admitted African Americans at the time, the state was given six months to establish a substantially equal law school to comply with Plessy v. Ferguson.

The State of Texas then founded Texas State University for Negroes (TSUN), which temporarily established a law school in Austin in the fall of 1947 while a permanent facility was built in Houston. Located in a three-room suite in the basement of a building on 13th Street, courses were taught by faculty from the University of Texas School of Law. Three students enrolled, Henry Doyle, Heaullan Lott, and Fornie Ussery Brown. Ms. Brown chose not to attend after a few weeks. Mr. Doyle and Mr. Lott completed the first year. In the summer of 1948 construction of the permanent facility was completed and the school moved to Houston. Mr. Doyle continued his legal education at TSUN (later renamed Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University), passing the Texas Bar in November 1949 and becoming TSUN’s first law graduate in May 1950. Mr. Lott chose not to move to Houston.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sweatt and his attorneys appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  In June 1950, the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Sweatt v. Painter cracked the foundation of separate but equal established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 and paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education four years later. In assessing whether Texas State University for Negroes Law School and the University of Texas School of Law were equal, the Court focused on "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school," such as the reputation of the faculty, the network of alumni, the school's standing in the community, and its traditions and prestige. The Court found that the legal education offered to Mr. Sweatt by TSUN Law School was not substantially equal to that which he would receive if admitted to the University of Texas Law School.  The Court ordered that he be admitted to the University of Texas Law School.

In September 1950, Mr. Sweatt, along with five other African American students registered for the University of Texas School of Law. While Mr. Sweatt did not graduate due to health issues, the earliest African American graduates of the University of Texas School of Law went on to become respected attorneys, judges, and leaders in their communities. These graduates made the University of Texas School of Law alumni network more robust and made a great law school even greater.