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What was Southwestern’s role in desegregating Georgetown public schools?

More than eight years after the Supreme Court ruling on the 1954 Brown v Board of Education case, which called for desegregation in all public schools, the Georgetown school system remained segregated. While Georgetown Elementary, Junior High, and High School had secure buildings to house its White students, the Carver School, which served African American students, was deteriorating due to its construction in the early 20th century and having a chronically underfunded maintenance budget.

The Williamson County Sun documented that in December of 1960, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) made a trip to Georgetown and deemed the Carver School inadequate, and threatened the accreditation of the entire school system in Georgetown if something was not done about Carver’s overcrowding and substandard facilities and curriculum.

Deliberating on the TEA report, the Georgetown School Board decided to build a new separate school for African American students to bring Carver up to date with the rest of GISD, which would have extended segregated schooling even longer in Georgetown, reinforcing the older “separate but equal” doctrine overturned by Brown v. Board of Education.

In response to the School Board decision, forty-four Georgetown citizens from all walks of life formed The Committee for Better Schools focused on resolving the issues in a way that was equitable for all Georgetown residents. Several Southwestern staff members and professors and their spouses were on the Committee, such as Dr. Eb Gervin, Dr. Norman Spellmann, Dr. Jud Custer, Dr. George Nelson, and Dr. Wendell Osborn. A lot of what we know of their work comes from a history of the Committee written by one of them, Dr. Norman Spellmann, Professor of Religion at Southwestern from 1960 to1998.

The Spellmann family was in charge of documenting and collecting information regarding the Committee. They recorded the initial meeting of the Committee at the First Methodist Church Fellowship Hall in 1962, which detailed their moral, religious, and educational viewpoints regarding their support for integration. As a collective, the group agreed that all people are created equal and that segregation should end.

While some of the members of the Committee advocated for the desegregation of Georgetown schools on moral grounds, the issue they could all agree on was thinking it was useless to spend their tax-paying money on a new segregated school when it seemed inevitable that Georgetown schools would be desegregated, even with the Supreme Court’s ambiguous directive that it be accomplished “with all deliberate speed.”

In his account of the Committee’s work, Dr. Spellmann stated that many believed it was “folly” to use tax money to fund a segregated school. He said that “legally our motivation was to challenge spending public money on a segregated school…..our purpose is to improve education in Georgetown, to get the most we can for our money.” The members of the Committee took it upon themselves to fight for integration within Georgetown without seeking the help of anyone, including the NAACP.

According to the Spellmann’s account, the committee did not have a set location for the organization, so they often met in Mr. Ed Harris’s house near the Square to discuss their movement towards a single integrated school system in Georgetown. The Committee appointed a well-known attorney from Austin, Price Ashton, to help them file a suit against the Georgetown School Board to stop the building of a new segregated school for the African American students at Carver. The Committee shared their plans with the Georgetown School Board, hoping to nudge them to integrate, but the segregationists within the School Board refused to succumb.

In Norman Spellmann’s account, he notes that in June 1962, the Board of Trustees for GISD proposed a bond issue to improve the schools within the district. They proposed a bond of $525,000.00 for the construction of a new African American Junior High, in addition to new facilities for the High School and Elementary. The bond issue authorized the “purchase, construction, repair and equipment of public free school building within the limits of such district and the purchase of the necessary sites therefore.” With this statement in mind, the school board held a bond election that asked the people of Georgetown to either vote FOR or AGAINST the proposed bond on July 7th, 1962.

The results of the election showed that 387 Georgetown residents voted FOR the bond and 92 voted AGAINST the bond, a four-to-one margin supporting the construction of a segregated school. As a result, 19 people signed a petition to the state court, asking to prevent the segregated school from being built. The injunction to halt the school’s construction was denied because the court concluded that “all administrative remedies had not been exhausted.”

This ruling prompted one of the important figures of the committee, Harvey Miller, to take 29 African American students to the Georgetown School to integrate them. Mr. Miller testified that the African American students were denied entry into the school. Mr. Carl Doering, the president of the Georgetown School Board, later stated that the students were denied entry due to the “overcrowding” in Georgetown schools and that integration could not be immediately implemented due to “lack of space.”

In October of 1962, the School Board stated that Georgetown had no choice but to continue segregation due to a state law that imposes heavy penalties against a school district that voluntarily integrates without the vote of the people or through a court order. Through the committee, Price Ashton and Bob Smith filed a direct challenge of Georgetown segregation in Federal Court in Austin. They believed that integration would eventually happen but they “want it right now and they want it to be total.” The Committee for Better Schools made many efforts to appeal all the suits they had been denied.

Finally, in June of 1963, the Spellmann’s document that Judge Ben Rice from the Federal District Court in Austin had requested that the Georgetown School Board make an agreement on an integration plan or he would “enter an order of integration” himself. He urged the School Board to make a plan to integrate and present it to him in court.

The School Board presented the court with a 12-year plan for integration. They planned to integrate one grade level each year. This long plan made Price Ashton take the integration case of Georgetown to the US Third Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on June 25th, 1963. A month after the committee’s appeal, the Texas Supreme Court said they would allow the construction of the segregated school on the basis that integration was set to be in motion the next year.

The School Board shared that they would start integrating the 1st-grade class in September of 1964, which conflicted with the demands of the Committee for Better Schools. Price Ashton stated that if GISD was allowed to implement that plan, the full integration of Georgetown would take place in 1975, 21 years after the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which was more focused on “deliberate” than “speed.”

The School Board’s stalling tactic led Harvey Miller to file the Crystal Ann Miller v Joe Barnes court case in 1964 to hasten the integration process. Instead of integrating one grade a year, Harvey Miller and the African American appellants requested that 1-5th grade be integrated in 1963, 6th-8th the next year, and finally 9th-12th grade in 1965. After the case, the court ruled that integration would go according to the School Board’s plan, dismissing the suggestions of the appellants to speed up integration.

On July 29, 1965, Harvey Miller sent a letter to the Attorney General, Nicholas Katzenbach, detailing the ruling of Judge Rice which permitted the one grade per year integration system. He recounted how he had filed a lawsuit against the School Board to fully integrate by 1965 but was denied. He stated how unjust it was for his children and other African American students to not have a choice in where they wanted to attend school. He appealed to the Attorney General to urge the school district to fully integrate so his children and African American students in Georgetown could experience integration.

A response from Attorney General Katzenbach on August 4th, 1965 acknowledged Mr. Miller’s letter. The US Department of Justice shared a similar concern to that of Harvey Miller and assured Mr. Miller that they were revising all proper documentation regarding Georgetown's desegregation and were trying to find the appropriate action to take.

Although there are no documents detailing the exact date of full integration of the Georgetown school district, Norman Spellmann documents that the Fifth Circuit Court Of Appeals in Houston knocked out a one-year delay, urging the first and second grades to integrate in 1964, presumably in response to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The U.S. The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) made it clear the school must be “free choice” integrated by the start of the 1967-68 school year. The directive issued that 4 grades must be integrated for the 1965-1966 school year. The Sun notes that the School Board agreed to comply with the HEW because they did not want to lose any federal money that could be used for vocational instruction in agriculture courses and homemaking, for the science department, and food for the lunch room.

A recent history of GISD during Jim Crow written by Marsha Farney describes the transition African American students had from the old Carver school to the Westside campus, where the 12th graders graduated in their new auditorium in 1965. Farney documents that the Georgetown school district was considered integrated in 1965 by the Federal government due to the employment of the free choice system, where white students were able to enroll in the predominantly black Westside campus, and black students were able to enroll in the white campuses. Through the efforts of the community as a whole, integration was obtained.

When it comes to integrating Georgetown public schools, Southwestern should remember the role played by its faculty and staff, but center on the brave work of people like Harvey Miller and the young African American students who put their bodies on the line to make it happen. Indeed, Dr. Spellmann himself notes Harvey Miller as the most important person for the cause due to his willingness to put his name on any legal document and absolute support of the cause. He also states in his account that he would like to emphasize “that the credit for the ultimate achievement of integration goes to the marvelous and courageous group of Afro-American citizens of Georgetown.”

Images

Crystal Miller, Harvey Miller, and Harvey Miller's grandson The Millers were deeply invested in fighting for the rights of African Americans wherever they went, whether it be Georgetown or San Marcos. Source: Hidden HerStories and MoreStories Creator: unknown Date: circa 1970s
Photo of Crystal Ann Miller, who later went by Chris Miller Banbury Source: Hidden HerStories and MoreStories Creator: unknown Date: circa 1990s
Marshall-Carver School A close up of a photo of the original structure of Marshall-Carver featured on a reunion t-shirt. Source: Collincia Agyapomaa Creator: unknown Date: circa 1960s
Marshall-Carver School Reunion T-Shirt Source: Collincia Agyapomaa Creator: unknown Date: circa 1980s
Dr. Norman Spellmann, member of COmmittee for Better Schools, and author of "The Role of Southwestern University Faculty in the Desegregation of Georgetown’s Public Schools: 1962–65" (1997). Source: Dignity Memorial obituary Creator: unknown Date: 1970s
Ed Harris, one of the hosts of Committee for Better Schools meetings. His involvement with the committee cost him his laundry business. Source: Hidden HerStories and MoreStories Creator: unknown Date: circa 1960s

Location

Metadata

Collincia Agyapomaa ‘27, “What was Southwestern’s role in desegregating Georgetown public schools?,” Placing Memory, accessed July 25, 2024, https://placingmemory.southwestern.edu/items/show/98.