Sweatt family panel with author Gary Lavergne


>>Gary Lavergne: It is
a genuine honor for me to moderate this very
distinguished panel. We have Dr. William Sweatt
from Lake Jackson, Texas. Yes. [Applause] Yes. Yes. [ Applause ]>>Gary Lavergne: We also
have Dr. James Sweatt, III from Dallas, Texas. [Applause] Yes. And Heman Marion Sweatt
from Dallas, Texas, or is it Grand Prairie
or what, what is it?>>Heman Sweatt: I’m
back in Dallas now.>>Gary Lavergne: Oh,
you’re back in Dallas. Okay. [ Applause ]>>Gary Lavergne: And over
to my left, we have the ghost of Dr. Hemella Sweatt [laughter]
on the screen right over here and we’re very, very
pleased to have you, Mellie [assumed spelling]. I want to say something
up front. I’m going to refer to
everybody by their first name because it occurred to me about
15 minutes ago that of the five of us there are three
doctor Sweatts. [Laughter] So, we’re going
to talk to Bill and Jim and Heman and Mellie, okay. And I’m — in case you didn’t
know, I’m Gary Lavergne and I’m the author
of Before Brown. I want to take advantage of
my position as a moderator to just give you a little
background on the inspiration for this particular session. It took me five years
to write Before Brown, mostly because I have a
full-time job and I had to write this book in my
spare time and on weekends and so forth, and in
that five-year period, what came to me over
and over and over and over again was
a sense of family. And tonight we have, with
the exception of Mellie, tonight we have a
panel of people who of course knew Heman
Marion Sweatt, but you know, the court case for just
about all of us is something that is more history
than personal. But that’s not really what I
want to talk about tonight. When I came up with the idea
for this particular panel, I had in mind the saga
of an American family. Bear with me, okay? It started with Richard
Sweatt, a skilled slave who was a blacksmith, who had
a son, James Leonard Sweatt, Sr. who was one of ten graduates of Prairie View A &
M’s class of 1890. That whole class was
meant to supply teachers for Negro schools
throughout the state of Texas. That whole class. He had a son, James
Leonard Sweatt, Jr., who attended the
University of Michigan. He has a son, James Leonard
Sweatt, III, who graduated from Middlebury College and Washington University
Medical School and is now a retired
thoracic surgeon. He had a son, who is now
the Senior Vice-President — James Leonard Sweatt, IV, the Senior Vice President
of Bank of America. He has a brother,
Dr. William Sweatt, who is a gastroenterologist and
a medical doctor, of course, and a graduate of Johns
Hopkins Medical School. Heman Sweatt had a sister
who attended Colombia. He had a brother named John,
who graduated from Iowa State, who had a son named Laverne
who was an optometrist. Heman Sweatt’s brother, Wendell,
graduated from the University of Nevada, and Heman
Sweatt himself graduated from Wiley College with — and then went on to
Atlanta University for his masters degree. And Heman had a daughter,
Hemella, who is now a medical
doctor in Cincinnati, Ohio. Now that’s pretty good. Right? [Applause]>>Gary Lavergne:
Now, see I wanted this to be a story of the family. And I have — my inspiration
for this is for us not to get too bogged down in the
ugliness of hatred and racism because if Heman Marion
Sweatt didn’t bring about good for anybody, then all
he did was in vain, and so it is our purpose tonight to celebrate what this
extraordinary family has done. And I want to start off by
asking Hemella, when you — I want to let everybody know that I let Hemella read the
manuscript as I was writing it, and at one time or another,
each of these individuals here on the podium told me that
they learned something about their own family that
they really didn’t know before. And you were very, very kind,
Hemella, to write a blurb that I put on my
website that said that you discovered
something about your father that you didn’t really know
before, and I would ask you to just elaborate
on that for us.>>Hemella Sweatt: Actually,
the more I think about it, there’s so many things that
I learned about him just through the course of the
whole interaction of talking to people who’ve been involved in giving you information
about the book. The two things that stick out in my mind though are one is
his kind of jovial storytelling. I’d never gotten to
see that as a child. He was very, not stern but
always serious, and he smiled of course and I loved him and
he was kind to me and loving, but there was a very
serious side to him that — and that’s what I
remember the most. Part of that, I think I
understand, as I thought back over the book and some of
the things that I learned about his medical history was that he started being
ill very young. He started having fairly
complicated medical problems in his 30’s and I think really
the more I thought about it, especially last night, I think that was very frustrating
for him. I think it kept him from doing
some things that he wanted to do physically, and so it
made me understand him better, maybe some of his seriousness,
not only because education and studies and learning
was a very serious matter in our house, but also the fact that not having your
health is somewhat debilitating emotionally.>>Gary Lavergne: And
you indicated to me that as you were growing up with
him that he never really spoke about the case, Sweatt
versus Painter, did he?>>Hemella Sweatt:
No, hardly ever. And if he did, it was more of
a factual type of conversation, maybe just reciting
what happened, some of the facts of the case. Not really the emotional side
and some of the things — he only once mentioned that
the house that he lived in was attempted
to be burned down, and that was just
once in passing. And those were the types of
things as a kid you zoomed in on, I mean that was kind of, you know the passion
behind what happened. But he never spoke of that. It was basically the
events as they happened as if he were reading
them from a book.>>Gary Lavergne: So, and I asked Bill this question
earlier today and I’m going to repeat it with you, how
did you become a doctor? Besides just going to medical
school, [laughter] okay, I mean from an inspiration
point of view, you know, just…>>Hemella Sweatt: Right. Yeah. I have to wonder whether
his health influenced it. I don’t really know exactly. I always had a love for
science and it was the one thing that we loved to talk about
together as father and daughter. We always talked about —
actually I think my real desire when I was much younger
was to be an astronomer, or astrophysicist, or an
astronaut, or something with space because we
talked a lot about the sun. And I remember one of the things
that I loved about him was that he knew facts
about everything and sometimes I would
memorize things just so that I could tell
him something. [Laughter] You know,
like the distance from the sun to the earth. I remember one day,
it took me a long time to remember the exact number,
but I did and I went right and told him, did you know
that the earth was, you know, such and such from the sun,
and he was like no, I didn’t, and I felt so proud of
myself in that moment. [Laughter] I knew something
that he didn’t know.>>Gary Lavergne: Yeah. And you have a son
now, don’t you? You have two sons.>>Hemella Sweatt: I do. I have two sons and a daughter.>>Gary Lavergne: And
tell us about them.>>Hemella Sweatt: My sons
are actually soccer fiends, they love soccer and their
ambitions are to play for the English Premier
Soccer League so, [laughter] Heman will tell
you that’s what he wants to do first, but his backup
plan is to be a lawyer. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne: Well, okay. And maybe we can convince
him to come to the University of Texas [Laughter],
you know what I mean?>>Hemella Sweatt: That’s only if that soccer thing
doesn’t work out.>>Gary Lavergne: No, yeah. Okay. [Laughter] This afternoon,
I met with these gentlemen here and one of the most
interesting part of the conversation
I had was with Bill, when I just asked Bill the
same question I asked Mellie just now. Why did you become a doctor?>>Bill Sweatt: Hello, am I on? Okay. Well, first of all,
let me verify what she said. I remember sitting in Joe
T. Garcia’s, a restaurant with Mellie when she came to
visit us in Dallas and we were about my girls’ age, about 12
or 13, and she told me I want to be a NASA scientist
[laughter] to work for the space agency. So that’s true, I mean,
that’s way back when we were like — I was like 13 or so. But yeah, I wanted to — I got into medicine mainly
because of the love of science, and as I was telling you
earlier it’s sort of — I think it sounds like a gene
in the family, everybody — a lot of people love science. We — I like facts. And this seriousness thing
that she talks about, it runs in the family
pretty strongly I think. My father’s serious,
I have a serious side, I found out his uncle
is serious [Laughter].>>Gary Lavergne: Okay,
you better watch that now. [Laughter]>>Bill Sweatt: So you know,
it’s a strong gene so…I went to a — I was telling
you earlier today, I went to a marriage, well,
it was actually a family camp for the church and there was a
guy there was doing personality inventories for my wife and I, looking at how compatible we
were and what things I need to work on, what things
she needs to work on, but it also tells you what
field your personality fits, at least from what
other — the other — the multitudes of people
that have taken the test. Doctors have a high, you
know, score high on this part, so I scored about a — out
of a score of ten I scored about a ten for a doctor, but I
scored a nine on another field and that was for a chemist,
and it just so happens a number of people in my family
are chemist. My father’s a chemist, his
father was a chemist, you know, all these people
loved chemistry. His uncles loved chemistry. She probably loves
chemistry too, probably. I went into biology, her father
actually was a biology major as well so, I think it just
runs strong in the family, it’s just a love of science. I love it too.>>Gary Lavergne: Dr. Jim, did
you intend to instill a love of science with your son.>>Jim Sweatt: No. I just tried to instill
a love of education and I really had trouble
with him in trying to get him to read books, but… [ Laughter ]>>Gary Lavergne: Well…>>Bill Sweatt: I think that
was just a rebellious nature, you know, read this
now [laughter].>>Gary Lavergne: So read. Not me.>>Bill Sweatt: I see my son do that [inaudible]
and he’s like hmmmm. So you know…>>Gary Lavergne: If you
love chemistry it helps to read, Bill.>>Bill Sweatt: Yes. [ Laughter ]>>Gary Lavergne: Well,
but you also said something that caught my ear this
afternoon and you were — you — and you talked about
discipline…>>Bill Sweatt: Right. Well…>>Gary Lavergne: In the
context of your family.>>Bill Sweatt: You know, I have
a good friend, you’re talking about [inaudible], I have a
good friend who’s a professor of Jewish Byzantine Jewery, out
in California, and he told me, you know Bill, talent is a
dime a dozen, but you’ve got to have discipline, and that’s
what I seen time and time again. We see it on movies about
these principals that go into inner city and
they turn things around. What do they do? They give kids high expectations
and they have discipline. They say, listen, you can do
it, and this is how we’re going to do it and you guys are
going to work hard at it. And you know, it’s
just like anything, like any basketball
team, football team, you’ve got to instill some
discipline to accomplish it. You can — you’ve got to
have somebody who’s willing to set the culture,
and in our family that culture is passed down. Now granted there are some
issues with that sometimes, [laughter] but it works. If you have high expectations,
everybody knows they’re going to go to college and we’re
going to work hard and that’s — and so, everybody achieves. And I think that’s what you
see no matter what field you go into. If you just do those things I
think you can accomplish that, and that’s what our family
just does instinctively as a culture with us.>>Gary Lavergne: A
culture of discipline.>>Bill Sweatt: Discipline
and high expectations. Yeah.>>Gary Lavergne: And Jim,
we want you to add to that. [baby crying]>>Jim Sweatt: Well… [laughter]>>Gary Lavergne:
Speaking of discipline. [Laughter] I’m just
kidding ma’am. I’m sorry. Jim, the culture of discipline.>>Jim Sweatt: When I was a
kid, I saw a lot of students that were a little older than
I who had gone to college and came back before the
first semester was over saying that they didn’t like the
food or the beds were hard or something, you know something
that didn’t have nothing to do with studies, but they
didn’t exhibit any “stick-to-it-iveness” and
so when I got to college, and believe me it was
an adjustment going from segregated schools
in the south to a very good in the northeast. That was a heck of
an adjustment, but I was determined I was not
going to be going home talking about the food or it was
cold [laughter] or any of those other things
and I tried to instill that same thing into my kids. I don’t want to hear
anything other than the fact you are passing. [Laughter] Nothing
else is acceptable, and I think Bill will
say that I said that time and time and then time again. [Laughter].>>Gary Lavergne:
Is that true, Bill? [Laughter]>>Bill Sweatt: It’s true. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne: It’s true. [Laughter]>>Bill Sweatt: But
I think we see that in other immigrant
groups in this country. We see the immigrants
that come in and they have that work ethic, that discipline
and the high expectations and they do well and I think
that was in our family so…>>Gary Lavergne: Well, I was at Texas Southern
University not very long ago and a gentleman walked up to
me with a copy of my book, and he asked me to sign it, and
I said well, I would be happy to and what is your name? He said, my name is Heman Marion
Sweatt, and as we say in French in Louisiana [French phrase]. [Laughter] I thought he
was kidding me, you know, because I had not met who is — a guy who is now my good
friend, Heman Marion Sweatt. And he told the story
at Texas Southern about how he got his
name and I want you to repeat that story for us.>>Heman Sweatt: Okay. First of all I wanted to say
I’m the third Heman Marion in the family. With Mellie, she has
the fourth Heman so, once we find a good name we like to keep [laughter]
using it over and over. But I — my father was
bent on having a son. His name as going to be
Charles Laverne Sweatt. He went off to war,
World War II, telling everybody I got a
son, Charles Laverne Sweatt. Well, my older sister came
so, had to change the name to Libby Laverne Sweatt,
named after his aunt. So, comes around next time
when my father’s going to school of optometry. I’m going to have a son,
Charles Laverne Sweatt. Well, then came my
sister Bernice, [laughter] of which
they named Bernice after my mother’s twin sister. So I said well, if
you were so crazy about Charles Laverne Sweatt,
how did I get to be named Heman? He said, well, it’s simple. The Supreme Court handed down
their decision on June 5th of 1950, you were born
June 30th of 1950 so, there you became
Heman Marion Sweatt. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne:
Another accomplishment of the Supreme Court. [Laughter] And as an outsider,
as a guy who just looked into this for a number of
years, I as intrigued among all of the Sweatt family
members, besides of course, Heman Marion Sweatt himself,
James Leonard Sweatt, Sr., which would be Heman
Marion Sweatt’s father. Your grandfather, your
great grandfather, Mellie’s great grandfather
and it would be great, great grandfather, right? Okay.>>Heman Sweatt: Yeah,
great grandfather.>>Gary Lavergne: The
testimony and the documents that I’ve uncovered
about this man, I just found it very,
very intriguing. He seemed to be the anchor,
he seemed to be the giant, and I don’t mean that in a
physical sense, he was probably about what 5′ 5″, you know
maybe 120 – 130 pounds, and yet everyone
talked about this man as if he was the iron man. Okay? And I — because he seemed
to be such a domineering figure, I concluded, rightly or wrongly,
and we have the family here to tell us about it, that
he was kind of the architect of this remarkable family
that I just described to you. And so, Mellie, I would
like to start with you. I know that you didn’t
know your grandfather, but did you ever have
conversations with your dad about him and what kind of
man James Leonard Sweatt was. By the way, people called him
Papa Sweatt, and it’s almost as if they couldn’t think of calling him anything
else, right? So what kind of conversations
did you have, if any, with your dad about
your grandfather? Mellie Sweatt: The two things
that I remember are one, is that even as he was in
his golden, you know, years, he knew the train schedule
like the back of his hand. He knew — he would
hear the train whistle and say something like, oh, it’s
a little off, it’s a minute off. So that was entrenched in him. He knew his job better
than anybody and anything.>>Gary Lavergne: And
for everyone’s benefit, Mr. Sweatt — Papa Sweatt, was
a railway mail clerk and he was that for decades, right?>>Heman Sweatt: Right.>>Mellie Swift: Right.>>Gary Lavergne: And I
think he was also a labor union organizer.>>Heman Sweatt: Correct.>>Gary Lavergne: And weren’t
you a labor union organizer? Yeah.>>Heman Sweatt: I
was a union organizer with Communication Workers
of America for 24 1/2 years, working out of AT&T Yellow
Pages, and I believe that’s where I got my interest in
working with a labor group is from my great grandfather,
you know from Papa Sweatt, and although I only remember
Papa Sweatt as a young kid, but the stories I was told,
he did rule the family with an iron hand because
Papa Sweatt would vanish you [laughter] if you
didn’t follow — if you didn’t follow what
he wanted or his wishes. So but, like I said,
I believe that’s where I gained my interest. I kind of stumbled
into that area. Actually it was to save my own
job at the time so as be able to testify by discipline, I guess I was the undisciplined
one throughout the family. I didn’t gain discipline
until I had to go to school and pay for it myself. [Laughter] And one of the
things on the discipline, we come from a long
line of educators. Of the Sweatt family, James
mother and father was educators, my mother’s family, all
educators, a lot of my aunts and uncles went to Wiley with
Heman doing their time so, as far as going to school,
you didn’t have a choice. Just because you had a high
school diploma didn’t mean you were finished. You were going to go
to school somewhere. Now what you did with it after
you got there, that was totally up to you, but school’s out
in June, come September, you’re going to be in
school so, you know, so we’ve always had
a I guess, a fondness or you didn’t have any choice
about education in the family.>>Gary Lavergne: Well,
Mellie, you and I had that conversation last night. There was never a
doubt, was there?>>Mellie Sweatt:
No, never doubt. I mean, there was
never any question as to what the, you
know, path was. It was — it wasn’t even — it was never even thought of
in my mind that I wouldn’t go to college or professional
school, some sort of graduate school. College wasn’t even the end. It was you go to college,
you go to graduate school, then you can do what
you want to do.>>Gary Lavergne: Well, and what
intrigues me about your story, Mellie, is that you graduated from a lower middle class
neighborhood high school, and you got accepted to Duke. You know, that’s no
small accomplishment. How would you explain that?>>Mellie Sweatt:
[Laughter] I’ll…>>Gary Lavergne: How would
you inspire people who want to send their kids to highly
selected universities?>>Mellie Sweatt: I
think I was, you know, the product of two educators. My mother was an Atlanta
public school teacher, and I have to be honest, she
knew the best schools to send me to in Atlanta, and I never
went to my neighborhood school. I went 30 minutes out
of my neighborhood for elementary school,
for middle school, and for high school because
she knew the best schools and that’s where she sent me. And she drove me to
school or got me a ride to school every single day. So — and as a parent
now, I am the same way. My children attend the best
school that we can get for them because education, all
education is an equal.>>Gary Lavergne: Well, Jim,
you — what high school, you graduated from
Lincoln High School, right? In Dallas.>>Jim Sweatt: That’s right. Yes.>>Gary Lavergne: And
you ended up going to Middlebury in Connecticut. Now, how…>>Jim Sweatt: No, in Vermont.>>Gary Lavergne: Vermont. Oh.>>Jim Sweatt: Yes.>>Gary Lavergne: How
did you get to Vermont? [Laughter]>>Jim Sweatt: There was an
organization called the National Negro Scholarship
Society and Fund, and I think it was an offshoot
of the Rockefeller Foundation, that came through the
south testing kids to see if they could find kids that
they thought would do well in schools across the country,
and I was one of the ones that took the test at my high
school, and obviously I passed. I then, because of my mother, practiced taking the SAT
several times before I took it, and so I was able to
do fairly well on that because I took it many
times before the real test. [Laughter] So that always helps,
and so, that meant I was able to get into Middlebury.>>Gary Lavergne: What was your
experience in Vermont like? [Laughter] When you’re
from Texas, right? [Laughter] It was cold,
besides being cold.>>Jim Sweatt: Well,
it was beautiful when I first got there, you
know, [laughter] this was in September, but I had to
buy clothes by about the 15th of October because the stuff
I had wasn’t doing the job [laughter] of keeping me warm. But I was the only
black in my class. Now you talk about
an adjustment. Coming from a segregated
society to one where you are the only one was
tough, and adjusting to the fact that all these other kids
are sitting there talking about the stuff that’s on the
board and saying it’s easy when I’ve never seen it before
in my life was difficult to adjust, you know,
particularly when you went in there thinking you’re
a genius [laughter], and I certainly was disabused
of that notion quickly. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne: Well, you
must have had something going for you, you’re a thoracic
surgeon, know what I mean. [laughter]>>Jim Sweatt: Well, I adjusted.>>Gary Lavergne: Right. [ Laughter ]>>Gary Lavergne: But, in
our previous conversation, I think you indicated to me that your classmates
were very helpful.>>Jim Sweatt: They were. They were. They taught me how to study. They really did and they told
me that they were studying, and there was only one other
high school, I’ll never forget, that was well represented
in my class and that was one called
Stevenson [assumed spelling] from New York City.>>Gary Lavergne: Oh, yes.>>Jim Sweatt: And those
kids were almost the equals of the kids from the prep
schools in the northeast, and they all knew how to study. Oh, did they know how to study. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne: Did
it ever occur to you not to come back to Texas?>>Jim Sweatt: No. I didn’t — No, I
enjoyed my home and I didn’t particularly
care for that cold weather. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne: Well, there’s
some historical background for that. Heman Marion Sweatt went to
the University of Michigan and he had a good strong
B average, but by his own, and maybe Mellie can
fill us in on that, he had that problem too. It was cold up there and it
wasn’t very good for his health. Did he ever talk to
you about that, Mellie?>>Mellie Sweatt: He didn’t. He really didn’t talk
about his health at all. His health is something that I,
just looking back, realize now. I realized, you know, probably
why he had so much trouble too because at the time,
you know, when we grew up we ate bologna sandwiches, fried bologna sandwiches,
have you such. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne:
Well, that’s healthy. [Laughter]>>Mellie Sweatt: I can’t
think of anything as bad. I can’t think of anything worse than a fried bologna sandwich
[laughter] with cheese no doubt. So, and I mean, that
was, you know, something we ate frequently. Well, he ate frequently
for lunch. I wasn’t much of a bologna kid,
but as I think about his diet, even though he wasn’t
overweight, I’m sure he had, you know, some sort
of cholesterol problem to have coronary
artery disease so early, and so I can understand. And of course he was
a smoker at the time. We didn’t understand the impacts
of that, and so it’s almost with remorse that I remember so
much about his past, you know, the way he lived because if
we knew now what we, you know, if I knew then what I know
now, we would have stopped it.>>Gary Lavergne: Well, Mellie,
I’m going to tattle on you because last night, I
want everybody to know, since we’re talking
about diet, right? I called up Mellie
last night about this, and this is what I heard. The phone rang, hello, and
I said Mellie, this is Gary. She says, can you hold
just for a second, and this is what I heard. No, you can’t have
any more candy. [Laughter] So, she’s
monitoring the diets of the kids in that household. The long line of educators. I think that’s a key as
well, and one of the things that I found telling, I mean in
terms of researching this book, was how this has to be the
most stubborn family I’ve ever encountered and Bill
and I were talking about that stubbornness,
all right? Can you elaborate on that? Are the Sweatts really
that stubborn?>>Bill Sweatt: Well,
I just think that they’re a determined
people.>>Gary Lavergne: Oh, okay. [Laughter] Okay. That’s very good, Bill.>>Bill Sweatt: We
like [inaudible].>>Heman Sweatt: You don’t
have to fear your dad.>>Bill Sweatt: You
just got to dig in and climb that hill, you know. So…>>Gary Lavergne: Well,
and we were talking about high schools just now. What high school did
you graduate from?>>Bill Sweatt: I graduated from Skyline High
School in Dallas, Texas.>>Gary Lavergne: Oh, okay. And…>>Bill Sweatt: And that
is like Hemella did. This was the premier
public school in the city. And I was determined they
were going to graduate from public schools
because I felt they — there was adjustments that
had to be made socially, and I thought that
was best accomplished in the public school
and they certainly did. I think.>>Gary Lavergne:
Well, I’ll applaud. As a former public school
teacher, I’ll applaud. [Applause] Yes I do. Okay. I think it’s time
to give you guys a chance. Are there any questions for
either Mellie or anybody on the panel here, I mean
while we have them here, and by the way since we have
so many doctors in this room, if you’re going to
get sick, do it now. [Laughter]>>Heman Sweatt: Gary?>>Gary Lavergne: Yes.>>Heman Sweatt:
I’d like everybody to know, I did go to school. Matter of fact, I
came to UT in 1968 so, I was here from ’68 to ’72. I had no plans of
even coming to Austin. Austin was a small town to me. By the way, I did graduate
from Lincoln High School, the same high school that
James graduated from. I was already enrolled at SMU
in Dallas, and I came home from a day, and I come
walking in and my mother, she claimed to be 5’2″, but she
was saying, when were you going to tell me about
University of Texas? I said well, mom, you don’t,
there’s nothing to that. I’m already in school and
I’m stay here in Dallas so I can run the
streets of Dallas. [Laughter] She took a puff off
her cigarette, she looked at me, she said pack your —
you leave tomorrow. [Laughter] I said, but I
don’t have any clean clothes. Take them dirty. Clean them when you get there. So I came to Austin with
suitcases and a trunk full of dirty clothes and had to
find a laundry mat as soon as I got here so I could clean
my clothes, but so…It was, you know, it was a
trying experience.>>Gary Lavergne:
That kind of ties in with the stubborn
part, doesn’t it? [Laughter] Okay.>>Heman Sweatt: Except I
was overruled in that case. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne: Are
there any questions from anyone in the audience? I mean, hey, while we have
these guys here we got to pick their brains. Any questions? Yes.>>How were you able to
finance your education? Was there a family — was
there a family fund of support or was it scholarships? How were you able to really
finance your education?>>Heman Sweatt: Who’s that to?>>It’s about to any
of them — any or all.>>Heman Sweatt: I came
to UT on a scholarship, and that’s probably
why I wasn’t as serious as I should have been, and as I
said earlier, up until the time that I had to pay for
my education myself, that’s when I got serious and
started making A’s and B’s, and trying to find
what’s the best way to get out the door so… [Laughing]>>Bill Sweatt: So I
had a few scholarships, but my father paid the way. [Laughter] That was
for undergrad, but for medical school, he
had me take out some loans. He was like you got to start
paying part of your way so, I had to take out loans
in medical school.>>Jim Sweatt: When I came
along, I had scholarships both from the National Negro
Scholarship Society, as I said, from Middlebury, and my mother and my mother’s family
paid the rest.>>Gary Lavergne: And Mellie?>>Mellie Sweatt:
Actually, I had to — I did get a few scholarships for
Duke, but it was not as helpful as we had hoped, but I took out
loans for both undergraduate and medical school, and so my
first few years out of work, we ate a lot of noodles and
we paid off those loans. [Laughter]>>Gary Lavergne:
And fried bologna? [Laughter]>>Mellie Sweatt: No fried
bologna, but a lot of noodles. A lot of noodles.>>Gary Lavergne: Okay. A very good question, thank you. Any other questions? Yes.>>Question for Dr.
Hemella Sweatt. You mentioned that your
father experienced a number of health problems, I
can imagine that going through the court case
was pretty stressful, and that attending the
University was not a particularly pleasant
experience for him. I wonder whether the combination of those stresses may
have affected his health.>>Mellie Sweatt: Oh, I’m sure. Actually from the records, we
understand that he did have — I think actually, pretty severe
ulcer disease, and I’m sure that the stress, you know, on his cardiac health
wasn’t as great also. So I think actually,
that his whole — that whole experience
took more out of him than he ever wanted me or his
family to truly understand. But now I think I see it. I think I see it more
and more the, you know, as I read through Gary’s book, I began to completely
understand him as a man. I knew him and loved him
as a father, and you know, I think as every child,
especially I think daughters and fathers, you think
your dad is the king and he’s this wonderful person
who’s just so loving to you and wonderful and he was, but I
can see now some of the demons that were behind some
of the seriousness.>>Gary Lavergne: Wasn’t
he on dialysis for a while?>>Mellie Sweatt: He was.>>Gary Lavergne: And I remember
a conversation with you, Jim, about as a thoracic surgeon, you told me how it tore
up his blood vessels. Now, as a physician, can
you shed some light on this?>>Jim Sweatt: Well, dialysis is
wonderful for keeping you alive. Unfortunately, it is not
physiologic so that it seems to speed up the changes in
the walls of the blood vessels and leads to problems with the
vessels elsewhere so, strokes, heart attacks and
so forth are common, and loss of limbs
is common with that.>>Gary Lavergne: And
his immediate cause of death was a heart
attack, wasn’t it, Mellie?>>Mellie Lavergne: It was. I actually believe it
wasn’t really heart attack, I think it was probably
more cardiac failure.>>Gary Lavergne: Oh, I see.>>Mellie Lavergne: Because
I think he was pretty past, I mean, he probably didn’t have
much muscle to infarct but…>>Pardon me.>>Gary Lavergne: Yes.>>Did the family ever question
your motives to write the book or did they take you in
immediately and thought that you were genuine
from the very beginning?>>Gary Lavergne: Well, we’re —
they’re here, so let’s ask them. [Laughter] Mellie? Did you ever suspect my motives? [Laughter]>>Mellie Sweatt: I probably
should have, [Laughter] but I guess like
Tom Cruise said, you know, he had me at hello.>>Gary Lavergne: Right. [Laughter]>>Mellie Sweatt: He came
to our house and you know, when your children respond
to someone, it’s a good sign, you know, it’s a very good
sign, and they were all, you know we really
got no warning signs, there were no red flags, I mean he was either the best
charlatan there is in town, [laughter] or he is who he
is and that’s what I believe. I believe he is what you see.>>Gary Lavergne: Getting to know this family
has been a gift for me. I mean, and all of them have
welcomed me to their homes and now, I’ve spent a
lot of time with Jim, who shared with me the family
history and all of the pictures and so forth and so I never
felt that way, I mean, Jim? Yeah.>>Jim Sweatt: No. I didn’t have any problem.>>Gary Lavergne: No.>>Heman Sweatt: I didn’t meet
Gary until last year at TSU for the symposium that they were
holding, but even in hearing about the book, I never
questioned his motive. I was overjoyed that someone
who’d finally took the time and the initiative to bring
Heman Marion Sweatt’s story to the forefront. You know, we hear a lot about
black history, and especially with the month of
February coming up, we hear our black history
and our black people all over the United States. We very seldom hear what happens
here or what originated here in Texas, and a lot of people
don’t realize that the history by black people here in
Texas had a ripple effect because you throw the pebble
in the pond here it rippled out through the whole
United States. So I was overjoyed and
delighted to see his writing.>>Gary Lavergne: The one thing,
and I have to admit to you, I was concerned about this. I made a decision when I was
going to write this book, that I was, and you know, poor Heman has heard this
story a thousand times, but I made a decision that I
was not going to turn this man into Superman because he
would lose all credibility. And what I mean by that is that,
you know, when Superman stands in front of people and bullets
are bouncing off of his chest, he’s doing nothing courageous. He knows the bullets are
going to bounce off his chest. When Heman Marion Sweatt
walked through those doors, he was by himself,
and he was scared. Now that’s a human being,
that’s not Superman. And so I did write about a
guy who didn’t feel good a lot of the time, and who had to — in my presentation at noon
today, I kept hammering over and over again, the plaintiff
matters, the plaintiff matters, and Mellie’s just telling you about how people were
threatening to burn his house to the ground, and this
guy, other than a judge, this guy was the only person
could have shut everything down. He could have gotten a threat
and decided no, stop this, stop this now, and I’m going to
go back to Houston and I’m going to go back to a very good job
that he had in a house he owned. He could have done that
at any time and he didn’t. The plaintiff matters. That took guts. And when he walked
through those doors, he didn’t have the National
Guard surrounding him, he walked through
those doors by himself.>>Heman Sweatt:
You know, the — I had the privilege of sitting
down with my uncle and talking to him in depth over
a long period of time about three years
before he passed. Because my memory and
recollection of him as a small child, I
would see him coming, I would see him going, there
was no dialogue, children not to be seen nor heard,
stay out of the way. [Laughter] But he told me
some of the stories and some of the experiences
that he went through. In the late ’40’s, while
he was pursuing to enter in the University of Texas Law
School, he was asked to come to a meeting at the Driskill
Hotel here on Congress, and so he said he went to the
hotel, he went up to the suite, room full of men, and on the
table they had $27,000 cash money sitting there, and
they told him this is yours, you can have all of it,
just take it and go away. So he could have easily
scooped up the money, you know, $27,000 is pretty nice
amount this day and time so you can imagine
in the late ’40’s, that would be equivalent
almost to a millionaire so, it was those stories and
how he would go to class and they would have screens
around his desk or he may go to a class and he had
his desk moved outside by the door in the hall. And these are some of the
things that he had to endure. His life was threatened. One time he was afraid —
his life was threatened, they were finishing up class, and he said he was actually
afraid to leave the building. If it had not been for the
students, the law students, gathering around him
and escorting him out, he really believed that it would
have had some tragic ending and he was very grateful to his
white counterparts in law school for coming to his aid.>>Bill Sweatt: I think just
to shed a little light here. I sort of feel a sort of
a kinship to my uncle. Actually, there’s more than
one person up here named after him tonight, I
want ya’ll to know that and I didn’t find this
out until recently. And that was — there was a lady
who called me from Baltimore who was the niece of Connie, his
first wife, and she told me, oh, you know, we used to
always call him Uncle Bill. I was like, Uncle Bill? And she said yes, I
used to call him Bill, and my name is Bill so, I
guess name on Bill too, but…>>Gary Lavergne: Oh, well, yes.>>Heman Sweatt: I don’t know
how the Sweatt family came up with the…>>Bill Sweatt: Nicknames?>>Heman Sweatt: Nicknames.>>Gary Lavergne: Yeah.>>Heman Sweatt: Heman was Bill.>>Bill Sweatt: I
thought it was Jack.>>Heman Sweatt: Yeah.>>Bill Sweatt: James was Jack.>>Heman Sweatt: James
was Jack [laughter].>>Gary Lavergne: Not John. James was Jack, John was John.>>Heman Sweatt: John was John. Wendell was Wendell. But I think my father and his
younger brother, John, Jr., they was skeets and there was
some comic strip characters that they would — Josh and
Skeets [assumed spelling], so my father, Laverne was always
referred to as Josh, and John, Jr. referred to as Skeets. So they had some kind
of code names going on that I never could figure
out how did they arrive at them.>>Bill Sweatt: So I — I was
just going to say one thing, and that was so you
might be wondering like, how could these people ever
not know certain things. How could she not know
certain things, but that’s sort of a family trait
too in my opinion in that we’re reserved
people, we’re serious people and we keep things to ourselves
a lot of times, and that’s good in certain situations like
for to be the plaintiff in this case, we’re taught
your word is your bond. My father taught me that. I don’t know if Mellie, if
your father told you that.>>Mellie Sweatt: Absolutely. Absolutely.>>Bill Sweatt: You
see what I mean? So it’s a family thing, and I didn’t even know
it was a family thing, but it’s a family thing. My father told me when I was a
little boy he said, hey, listen, your word is your bond, if
you cross it I’m going to — I’ll take your [laughter]
basically right here. So, but it’s true, so if you’re in a pressure situation you
know you’re going to stick to it no matter what
the pressure is. But on the other side, which
is his point about your health, it affects you because you try
to be this pillar of strength, but when you’re inside when
you’re here at the University of Texas and people are
throwing rocks at you and burning your house and
burning crosses, you know, that’s got to affect
you emotionally inside. And so that just eats
at you, you hold it in, like certain people in
our family let it out. Like Heman here,
he’ll let it out. [Laughter] But there’s certain
people like Heman, I mean, Heman her father and myself
that will hold it in and so, as my wife says you’ve
got to learn how to deal with your emotions, you know. [Laughter] But, it takes a toll
on you physically I think to not to be able to deal with
those emotions and to be able to get them out and I think
that’s what he dealt with.>>Jim Sweatt: Now I didn’t, in
reading your book, I didn’t see that Uncle Heman had
all that much difficulty with his classmates
in what you read — what you said, and I have
certainly seen other — some of his classmates come
up to me and say you know, that he was a fine fellow
and most of the time, before I read your book,
I pooh-poohed that, I didn’t believe a word of
it, but now I wonder if most of it wasn’t accurate as they
said after reading your book because I — I got
the impression that [cough] they were
somewhat trying to help him.>>Gary Lavergne: My — I did the very traditional
approach in writing this book. I gave first preference to
contemporaneous documents and Mr. Sweatt was — wrote
many letters to people like Thurgood Marshall,
talking about his experiences and so forth, and I relied on
that, like most historians do, I relied on contemporaneous
primary documents first giving that more weight. And oddly enough, most of
his contemporaneous accounts of what was going on over
here, he wrote letters to Thurgood Marshall
talking about how in general the students
were very accepting of him. He did say that — my view is that he probably experienced
the whole gamut of emotions, being uplifted by people who
were genuinely kind to him, both faculty and
students, and of course, those who were hateful and those who made his life
rather miserable. So in my view, he probably
experienced some of all of it, and in the end I think he
ended up leaving in 1952 because of a confluence
of things. The hatred he experienced
here certainly is one of them, but he also had, as Mellie
said, health problems, and he also had financial
problems, and he also had personal
problems that I didn’t dwell on, but he had — there
were a number of things. The guy faced a lot at
one time while he was here and it’s very tragic
because I said on television just last night, you’ve got to like the guy
because, you want to talk about stubborn, he —
nobody chased him away. When he wanted to
leave, he left, and he left with his dignity. Are there any other questions? Yes.>>I have a question. My name is Rachel [inaudible]
and I’m a graduate student here at UT so I want to just first
thank you for your time today, and then also as a
graduate student, I would like to get
some of your experiences as former graduate students
perceivably being African American going to [inaudible] as a dominant white
students in college. How was that, and I
know Dr. [inaudible], talked about earlier
and how do you adjust but I think that’s an
issue that we might need to elaborate further as we are
providing more opportunities for African Americans to
receive professional degrees, how do we as — I’m a member of the Black Graduate
Student Organization here and how does the University
provide you more conditioned environments for African
Americans coming in graduating from a professional
graduate degree.>>Jim Sweatt: Well, I think I
had more experience with that than either of those
two gentlemen because I did it before
they thought about it. [Laughter] After I left college,
I went to medical school and I applied to three
medical schools, Harvard, Washington University in
St. Louis, and Meharry. On my way home, as I was getting
ready to go home for Christmas, Washington University was the
first one to respond to me and ask me to come through
St. Louis on my way home and be interviewed so, you know,
I said fine, we’ll do that. So I flew in that
morning and sitting at the table were the
professors, not just professors, head of department of all the
branches of that medical school. I thought this was routine
for an interview for admission to the medical school. I had the interview, went home and I had my acceptance while
I was at home, and so I went to the medical school
thereafter. Now, there may have been some
prejudice there from the faculty and other students, but my wife
says I just don’t understand a lot of the things that
are going on around me. [Laughter] And so I missed
many things like that, I would have thought
if it was overt, I would have noticed
it, but I didn’t. Now, it was there
in the University because the medical school was
still — this was Missouri now, in 1962, the medical school — I mean, the hospital
was segregated so if you were a patient on the
medical service you were going to be up on the patio, all
glass, single thickness glass. So that meant in the
summer time you were hot, in the wintertime you were cold. If you were a surgery patient, you were in the basement
next to the boiler. Need I say more? So those were where you would
be, but now there was no attempt for me not to see only black
patients or to see only — I mean, not see white patients. And you would have thought
if it was going to happen, it was going to happen
on Ob/Gyn, but it didn’t. I saw white females,
black females, and it made no difference
to them. They did make certain
however, that I got rotations through Homer Phillips Hospital,
and if you all know anything about Missouri you will know
that’s the black hospital in St. Louis where a lot of black physicians
did their residences, and I thought it was a
great experience to see guys that have come out
of Meharry and Howard and were doing their residences
there because my impression was that things were
still segregated. I just wish I had not
gotten that impression because all the school — all
the doors were open when I tried to apply for internships and
residences and did not go to a black, you know, a
black hospital thereafter. Did that answer it?>>Bill Sweatt: I guess I would
just add, just be diligent, you know, be a good student
and make sure you’re studying and things and do everything
you know you should do. The other thing at the graduate
level that you should try to do if you can, and Lord
knows I didn’t do the best at this myself, but try
to identify some mentors, some people that are —
that can help you to get to the next step, get the first
job or know people in the field. There might be somebody
who’s more of an introverted person who’d
be a perfect mentor for you, but he’s not going
to reach out to you because he’s an introvert. He’s a brilliant guy,
but he’s an introvert, but if you tell somebody like
Carrie Laverne and say hey, well do you know any
and he said, oh yeah, this guy over here
he’s an introvert, but he’s a brilliant guy, he’s a
noble prize winner or whatever, and you go down and meet
him, and talk to him and then your career
is on track. I mean, I think those are the
key things for graduate level. And then the other thing is just
stick with it no matter what.>>Jim Sweatt: I did not
go to a graduate school, but coming out of
segregated high school, officially my senior year, Dallas high schools
were integrated. We had one white student, one white teacher,
we were integrated. [Laughter] But however,
participating in the pilot program
of upper bound at SMU, threw me into an environment
that I wasn’t used to, and it actually helped lay
the basis for me when I came to University of Texas. In 1968 you had 40,000
students registered and only 213 blacks graduate
and undergraduate students on this campus so,
there were things that you had to deal with. Some things you would want to
say that you learned hold back, you’ll get your chance,
you’ll get your time, never let anyone know that
by them saying something or do something to you,
they can push your button. You know, now I may would
be angry and I’d sit there and I would smile to you, but
if you would hear me walking down the hall you would hear a
whole another expituse [assumed spelling] down the hall so, it’s
just so, you know, as Bill says, you really — you know
where you’re trying to go, you know your target,
you know your goal, and don’t let anyone impede
you from reaching your goal.>>Bill Sweatt: And I
would say this as well, and I’ve seen this work, and a lot of places will tell
you this is study groups are so important, and your other —
your classmates are so important to you, as my father
did when he went to Middlebury they
were helping him a lot. But just reaching out. I mean, you have
something to offer, you come from a unique
cultural background and talk to your white friends,
your Hispanic friends, or Asian friends, and you
guys learn from each other so many different things
and you teach each other and you both can
help each other. After awhile it’s not so much
competition as it’s cooperation, hey let’s help each
other get ahead.>>Thank you.>>Mellie Sweatt: And if
I might just add to that. I think actually, Uncle James, I
think maybe that’s a great thing to not be able to
see everything. Sometimes — I had a mentor
in pathology who would say, unless you’re looking for
something you won’t find it. And I think just to kind of
say that in a different way, sometimes if you’re looking for
something, you will find it. So, not being deliberately
looking for problems, and for me, I think what I have
found when I was the only one in a situation, the only
brown person in the situation, I think the one thing, if you’re
comfortable in that situation, if you are comfortable with
who you are and what you know and what your purpose is
there, then people will pick up on that, and then they just
start interacting with you at that level and not at a
oh, you’re different level. Uh no, we’re all pathologists, we’re all studying the same
stuff, we all want to be able to pass our boards, we all
want to be able to find a job. We have common — we have more
things in common than we do not in common so — and
I think as — at the graduate level
that’s true. You’re looking to study
whatever discipline you’re in, you’re looking to advance
in that area, find a job and be happy, and I
think those are things that will help you bond
with the people around you.>>Gary Lavergne:
Any other questions? Ladies and gentlemen, this is
a great day for the University of Texas and I want to thank
the members of the Sweatt family for being with us and [applause]
we’re — oh, thank you. Thank you, very much. Thank you. Thank you, very much. We’re going to be around until around eight o’clock
so, thank you. Oh, Greg?>>Greg: Just some closing
remarks before we get going. I certainly want you all to
have plenty of time to be able to interact with this
incredible family. The first thing, I want to brag
on my friend, Gary Lavergne. I mentioned this at lunch,
but I think it bears repeating and I want to read it to
make sure I get it right. Obviously, this is a great book because it’s covering
a great subject, but it also has a great author. And to illustrate that point, in March Gary Lavergne will
receive the Coral Horton Tullis Book Award from the Texas
State Historical Association for the best book
on Texas history.>>Gary Lavergne: Thank you. [ Applause ]>>Greg: As a testament to your
commitment, your excellence in fidelity to the topic.>>I just want to
pick up on two things, and in my comments I’m going
to reference a fictional family and a real family to
illustrate some of the themes that we’ve heard tonight. I grew up in New York City
and I bring that up only because my parents did not allow
us to watch TV during the week with three exceptions. The first two exceptions, when
the Knicks won the championship and we got to see Clyde and Carl and all those guys
[laughter] so, that was one of the times we got to watch TV. The other time was
Roots [background noise] and that incredible family. Fast forward. Now, I’m old enough
now to watch TV and we are introduced [laughter]
to this incredible family, the Cosby’s, and
America’s introduced to this incredible family. And I remember having
discussions with my friends who said oh, that’s not
real, that’s not real, you know, that didn’t happen. You know, the chance of a doctor
and a lawyer getting together and having this incredible
educational background. Now, I knew that
wasn’t true and I knew that that was not the case and the reason why we know
that’s true, and I want to pick up on something, because of even
when doors at the University of Texas were closed and other
schools around the country, particularly in the south, there
were a group of institutions that opened their doors
for the particular purpose of making sure that former
slaves, African Americans, could get a quality
education, and this family, their foundation was built on
that access to that education. Gary points out that
of course we know that Heman Marion Sweatt went to
Wiley College, but if you recall when he left the University
of Texas at Austin, the great Whitney Young
offered him a scholarship to go to Atlanta University. I share that to say that
part of this story is that while there was great
adversity, there would continue to be those foundations
of excellence. And so while we talk about the
dual purpose of integrating and making sure that we have
access to our state university, there are still universities
that are beacons of excellence, beacons of inclusion, making sure that students
have an opportunity even today to earn a high quality
education. Right down the road is
an outstanding university that provides wonderful,
outstanding opportunities for students to get a
high quality education. And so that is part of the
story as well and so part of this foundation of
this incredible family, like the Haley family,
was that access to historically black
colleges and universities. The other thing is what’s so
incredible is what’s a name? The Sweatt name. What’s so wonderful about what
Gary has done is bought light to an incredible family,
an incredible tradition. All of these values
are time tested and proven true for success. All of the themes that you
heard today, education, being true to your word,
discipline, all of these things, if you want to know a formula of
success you heard it here today. I share that with you because
what we have here today is a great personal story,
a great family story, a great Texas story, a
great American story. And can we give a
round of applause to a great American family. [ Applause ]>>I wanted to give and I’m
going to take every opportunity that I can to thank
this amazing committee. Can all members of the Heman
Sweatt Committee please raise their hands, stand up
so we can all point out all just give you a round of
applause for your outstanding… [ Applause ]>>And guess what? There is more so I will
share some upcoming events. On Thursday, February
24th, Dr. George Wright and Dr. Ed Sharp will
talk about the genesis of the Heman Sweatt Symposium. As you’ve heard this is — we’ve been putting this
Symposium on for over 25 years. Truly a wonderful opportunity
[inaudible] [noise] outstanding members of our community. The Iscoes have left, but I just
wanted to take a moment to point out that on Thursday, March
24, Ms. Louise Iscoe is going to talk about her
outstanding work and book about integration
here at the University and she’ll be interviewed
from one of our outstanding
faculty members, Dr. Kevin Michael Foster. And on Thursday, April 14th, we will have another wonderful
event, Shades of Diversity, Bringing the Civil
Rights Movement Forward, Feminism in Today’s World. And then finally, a culminating
event is a special evening of honors on Friday, May 6th. I encourage you all to come out. We will continue to
advertise, and thank you so much for your participation. The one with just the
lesson we learned just like that famous
character on Jaws, I think we need a bigger boat,
I think we need a bigger room. [Laughter] That’s a good,
good problem to have. And then we’re going to
end and have our co-chairs, Aileen Bumphus and Bobby
[inaudible] come up and give a small
token of appreciation to our outstanding panelists.>>Aileen Bumpus: Thank
you, so very much.>>Thank you.>>It was nice meeting you.>>Thank you. [ Noise ]>>Thank you all
for coming tonight and please make sure you
stop by the reception area to purchase your book. We will have Gary
available to personally sign and autograph his
book for each of you. So thank you and
have a good evening and we’ll see you
at the next event. [ Applause ] [ Noise ]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *