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Bahá'í who paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education

The February 2007 "on-line" issue of The Bahá'í eNewsletter has an article about Heman Marion Sweatt. He was central to a case that appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court that successfully contested the "separate but equal" notion in the United States of racial segregation. Mr. Sweatt, an African-American Bahá'í from Houston, Texas, had applied for admission to the University of Texas School of Law at Austin in 1946 but was refused admission on the basis of race.

Mr. Thurgood Marshall, a top lawyer for the NAACP, took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. (He, himself, went on to serve as the first African-American on the Supreme Court of the United States.) Shortly after the Supreme Court's affirmative ruling in 1950 on Mr. Sweatt's case that helped lead to the end of ‘official' racial discrimination in public schools, Mr. Marshall wrote to Heman Sweatt, "If it had not been for your courage and your refusal to be swayed by others, this victory would not have been possible."

A half century later, the legacy of that victory can be seen in every classroom at The University of Texas School of Law. (Courage and the Refusal to Be Swayed, ) Today the University of Texas at Austin is considered a national leader in graduating African-Americans from its law school. It has inaugurated an annual conference in Mr. Sweatt's name, the Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights, the UT Little Campus was renamed the Heman Sweatt Campus, and a professorship and scholarship were established in his memory.

The Travis County [TX] Commissioners Court voted in June, 2004, to approve a commemorative plaque in honor of Mr. Sweatt. The plaque was installed in March, 2005 outside the District Court room in the Court House where the decision was made denying Mr. Sweatt permission to enroll in the Law School because he was a black man.

A few months later on Friday, October 21, 2005, an additional and quite unusual honor was given in memory of the action Heman Sweatt undertook. A ceremony took place to name the Travis County Court House after Mr. Sweatt! The Court House is located in Austin, TX, site of the State Capitol, at 1000 Guadalupe Street.

A newspaper article about the event in the Austin American-Statesman dated October 20, 2005 noted that a plaque honoring him previously had been placed in the Court House outside the District Court room. "Now," the article goes on to explain, "he's getting the entire building."

A ceremony to rename the Travis County Court House for Heman Sweatt was held at 12:30 p.m., Friday, October 21, 2005. Among the speakers was prominent Washington attorney Vernon Jordan, once a leading member of the civil rights movement and an adviser to President Clinton.

"It's really a celebration of a dream for a lot of people," said Eric Shepperd, chief of litigation for the county attorney's office and a principal organizer of the ceremony. "This is about making the courthouse not just a symbol of justice, but a symbol of hope."

In May 2007 a concrete sign was placed over the main entrance to the Court naming the building Heman Sweatt Travis County Courthouse (see photo).

Currently under consideration by Travis County planners is redevelopment of a nineblock section of downtown into a new county government campus with a renovated "Heman Sweatt Travis County Courthouse" at the Center. (Austin American-Statesman, Nov. 30, 2007.)

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