Houston Informer, April 8, 1950.  Used with permission of the Houston Informer

Segregation Stores Nearing Climax

WASHINGTON--A triple-barrelled assault against enforced segregation reached a climax here this week when the Supreme Court heard arguments in three cases involving the issue of civil rights.

The combined arguments in the long-awaited Henderson, McLaurin, and Sweatt cases represent the most concentrated attack [on] racial segregation and discrimination since the reconstruction period.

An undetermined number of briefs supporting the positions of both sides in the three cases have been submitted to the court and it is generally believed that decisions in the case will chart the future course for all race-relations development for many years to come.

Monday the court heard arguments in the Henderson v. Southern Railway company, followed Tuesday by arguments in the McLaurin v. Oklahoma and Sweatt v. T.S. Painter suits.

Robert L. Carter, special assistant counsel for the NAACP, which is prosecuting both the McLaurin and Sweatt cases, initiated the arguments for McLaurin Tuesday.

Asking the court to decide if the state of Oklahoma can legally require more of McLaurin than of other students, Carter pointed out that the retired Langston university professor is required to use "a separate table in the library, a separate table in the cafeteria and to sit behind a partition in the class."

"He is burdened with undue hardships because of requirements by the state at the school," Carter argued. Asked by Justices Felix Frankfurter and Frank Vinson if McLaurin understood these requirements at the time of his admission and if all students had numbered seats, Carter replied that only Negroes are "picked out" for this discrimination, adding that "it is because of their race and nothing else."

"Our position is that no state has a right to make such a law," Carter said. "Twenty Negro students are assigned regular seats. This does not apply to anyone else."

Questions put by Justice Frankfurter drew the conclusion that the law which permits McLaurin to attend the University of Oklahoma does not "permit" him to be segregated against.

"We consider the law on paper and as it is practiced," Justice Frankfurter said. He then asked "What you are saying is that he is entitled to get in, but not subjected (to discrimination)?"

Justice Jackson pointed out that despite the paper law, the fact remains that McLaurin is identified as a Negro, to which Attorney Carter conferred, saying "separation is being used as an identification of race."

And, in reply to Justice Minton’s query, "You mean that this limits his social position?" Carter said, "Yes."

Attorney Amos T. Hall of Tulsa denied the state’s defense that the practice of segregation was instituted to insure the public peace. "No place Negroes ever studied or lived endangered the public peace," he said.

Justice Vinson asked if the state could prove otherwise, would such proof "have any bearing on your constitutional arguments?"

Hall’s answer was an emphatic no. "It would not, sir," he replied. "The state has erected an insurmountable obstacle; a barrier has been set up against McLaurin--a badge of inferiority. If democracy is to be real to McLaurin and Negro teachers, they must stand on their feet even if all the schools are closed."

Assistant Attorney General Henson of Oklahoma told the court that if it ruled against us "our white and Negro schools will fall and trouble will be all over, great trouble."

"Segregation isn’t based solely on color alone," he said, "but for public interests."

However, when Justice Vinson reminded him that he had admitted where there was not enough money, both white and Negro students were put into the same classroom, the state representative offered the argument that an end of segregation would put "1600 Negro teachers out of work." "The white boards will not hire them," he said.

Justice Vinson then pointed out that with "a modified form of segregation," Negro teachers were still working.

Henson made no reply to this reminder but countered with the suggestion that an end to segregation might come in the future, but not now. "It may be that in ten years, they will all be in the same school, but now we have to do only as we find the public will stand for it."

Arguments in the Sweatt case put squarely before the court the plaintiff’s demand for a decision on the constitutionality of segregation.

Attorney Thurgood Marshall, legal council for the NAACP, which is backing both McLaurin and Sweatt, declared, "The issue in this case is crystal clear and we have stated that from the very beginning .... The attack is upon segregation and nothing else."

"I want this court to know," he said, "that I don’t care how equal those schools are, if they were exact duplicates, with the same faculty and to the ounce in cement. They are segregated and cannot be equal in any sense of the word."

"We want governmentally enforced segregation destroyed," he said.

The NAACP attorney then refuted the charge made by the state of Texas that a ruling against segregation would provoke bloodshed. "The people in the South are just as intelligent as they are in any other place," Marshall declared. He pointed out that Negroes voted in the Democratic primary after a long and bitter struggle to obtain this privilege and that "not one drop of blood has come from anybody." "All these threats are poppycock," he charged.

He denied the validity of Attorney General Daniel’s statement that Dr. Ambrose Caliver, federal authority on education, endorsed segregation in education.

"Caliver didn’t make the statements," Marshall declared. He said the book quoted by Attorney Daniel was not even the book which Dr. Caliver had signed.

Marshall concluded his argument saying, "I don’t care how many whites want separate schools. Sweatt wants to go to Texas University and he has a right to go. And that is what is before the court."