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1950s - Part 2

On May 17, 1954, in the Brown vs. Board of Education court case, the United States Supreme Court declared state-mandated public school segregation unconstitutional. For Southern private universities, this made the struggle between national prestige and regional governance even more intense. Many of these schools wanted to continue to be leaders in upholding white Southern traditions, including segregation, but they also wanted to be comparable in status to such schools as Stanford and the Ivies. The trustees and school administrators at these universities balked at the idea of taking a strong stance: “At this moment of crisis those who claimed to lead the region retreated to the safety of neutrality….The Rice board [of trustees] did not even contemplate any change on campus” (17). Even then, the white men on the board of trustees of these prominent Southern private universities still strongly believed that they had complete control and would be the ones to find the solution to the racial problems at their schools.

After the release of the Brown decision, there was no official reaction from the Rice administration and trustees. No one spoke to news outlets or discussed race issues within trustee board meetings: “The combination of the 1891 charter language that clearly forbade the admission of blacks, the lack of serious internal pressure for change, and the hostile political climate in Houston and Texas were major factors in this passivity” (18).

Rice’s apathy towards race relations was also influenced by academic and financial factors as well. As mentioned before, due to Rice’s deep sense of the  value of STEM education, which did not attract many blacks at the time nor really touch upon issues of race, there was not much agitation and stirring of the pot concerning dialogue on the morality of segregation. In addition to this, Rice’s recent successful acquisitions of valuable assets (e.g. Rincon Oil Field) made the school less dependent on funding from outside organizations.  Rice didn’t really seek funding from northern corporations and did not really rely on funding from the federal government due to their lack of professional schools (i.e. law and med schools) that were high in demand at the time. Again, because Rice was so heavily focused on STEM, it made sense to get funding from the industry and solidify relationships with them: “And this reliance on industry, often local energy companies and almost always businesses with major operations in the South, freed Rice from the fear that failure to desegregate would result in the tap being shut off” (19).

But even before the final results of the Brown case were made public, many students on Rice’s campus were displaying a greater interest and frustration with race relations. Many students in favor of desegregation on Rice’s campus believed that the institution of segregation was fueled by “childish, archaic prejudices” and that there was a greater need in the community for everyone to achieve self-actualization so as to increase the amount of invaluable and productive citizens (20). In the end, “Neither the Rice administration nor its board showed the slightest inclination even to officially notice that there was a problem, let alone take any steps to deal with it” (21).