Integration of UA Proved Early Test for Traveler Staff
Having heard that a man of African-American descent was about to seek admission to the University of Arkansas, reporter Bob Douglas and photographer Robert McCord of the student newspaper headed to Dean Robert Leflar’s office on a February afternoon in 1948. The weather had been snowy and icy across the state, but a car bearing several men had made the trip from Pine Bluff to Fayetteville in time for two of them to seek admission for the spring term.
The universities in Arkansas had been segregated since Reconstruction. Although a few black students attended the University of Arkansas in its early operation, they were tutored apart from the white students in an outbuilding. Seventy-five years later, Silas Hunt applied for admission to the university’s Law School. If admitted, he would not only be the first person of African descent to attend the University of Arkansas since Reconstruction but also the first to integrate a public institution of higher education in the Old South.
The Arkansas Traveler published an “Extra” about the enrollment of Hunt and editorialized in favor of his admission. The extra edition included photos by Bob McCord and a story by Bob Douglas:
The acceptance of Hunt as a first-year law student came after the Board of Trustees specified that only Negroes who are graduate students will be admitted to the University and that separate facilities, including private tutoring in segregated classrooms, will be provided.
Hunt, a native of Texarkana and combat infantry veteran, arrived at noon yesterday accompanied by Wiley Branton, Pine Bluff, an undergraduate applicant for enrollment, Harold Flowers, Pine Bluff attorney and counsel for Branton, and Geleve Grice, news photographer for the Arkansas State Press and the Arkansas A.M. and N. college paper. Branton, as an undergraduate, was refused permission to register.
“I think it is a step forward in providing education for all people,” Hunt told The Traveler reporter.
A second story presented student reaction to the enrollment of Hunt, with most students favoring the idea of providing equal educational opportunities to people of other races. The professional tone of the paper’s news stories, an explanation that the state had no law school at the normal college in Pine Bluff and the provision of student opinion helped pave the way for an orderly and calm integration of the university. Editor Wanda Wassner wrote an editorial for the next regular edition and made clear the paper’s position:
In comparison with other Southern schools the University has taken a liberal stand. It has shown itself amenable to change.
We have failed to provide adequate schools for members of the Negro race. To deny them the right to higher education would be contrary to our professed belief that each man can go forward according to his own merits.
For many UA students Silas Hunt’s attendance here will be a trial case. In the following months many people will decide, on the basis of the reaction, whether this procedure is the answer.
A great deal now depends on the members of the Law School. Situations may arise, however, which will affect the whole student body. By thinking before speaking, waiting and observing before forming a definite opinion, students can help to prevent friction.
The Traveler is in favor of the decision made.
Coverage of integration of the university, perhaps the most historic event at the campus since its founding, illustrates the role of a college newspaper — how it educates the campus microcosm about issues of the day, how it reflects the campus to the greater world, and how it influences opinion both on and off campus.
The student journalists who work for a campus newspaper chronicle a university’s history as it happens. They provide lines of communication between faculty, staff, students and administrators. They agitate for improvement while providing a vent for opinion. They hold all parties, including the student newspaper itself, accountable. Through all of these methods, the student newspapers at the University of Arkansas have directly and indirectly made it a better institution of higher learning.
Bennie W. Goodwin. “Silas Hunt: The Growth of a Folk Hero.” (unpublished manuscript prepared for a class in Arkansas Folklore under Mary C. Parler, University of Arkansas, 1957): 17.
The Arkansas Traveler, (Fayetteville, Ark.), February 3, 1948.
Ibid., February 6, 1948.