Allan Saxe, long-time associate professor of political science, climbs a flagpole with gusto, despite the shrill protests of the white, angry faculty and staff, to take down a Confederate flag while being guarded by a group of black students.
UTA was not always the diverse and welcoming university that it is today. A short 50 years ago, in fact, Confederate flags used to fly on the flagpoles and the song “Dixie” would fuel the Rebels to victory at the football games. It was a very different time, UTA used to be Arlington State College. The Mavericks used to be the Rebels. There was a football team and blacks were not allowed to attend the university.
Beginning Monday, UTA will have a month-long celebration of African-American heritage and the stories of black students from the past overcoming adversity. However, in the 1950s and 1960s, a month dedicated to black history would never be possible.
The Confederate theme began in 1951, Gerald D. Saxon writes in the book Transitions: A Centennial History of the University of Texas at Arlington 1895-1995 when E.H. Hereford asked the sophomore level to choose a new mascot because the “Blue Raider” mascot never caught on. Johnny Reb, short for Rebel, became their new mascot, “Dixie” was their fight song and the Confederate flag was the founding symbol that represented their Southern heritage and pride.
Students became so involved in the theme that during homecoming week, they would hold mock slave auctions and name their Homecoming king and queen “Mr. Johnny Reb” and “Ms. Dixie Bell.”
University studies senior D’jon Pitchford , Black History Month Chair for Multicultural Affairs, was not surprised when he learned of the university’s past.
“Disturbing, yes, but shocking, no,” Pitchford said.
Although ASC was the largest state funded junior college in the Southwest, they were still apart of the Texas A&M system and their provisions would not allow black people to receive the same education that white people could, until 1962, when three black men challenged the university.
Ernest Hooper, Jerry Hanes and Leaston Chase III were denied admittance to the university because of their skin color and decided to fight back with the help of the Dallas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People according to Saxon’s book. They threatened to take the university to court and ASC took the threat seriously. In the fall semester of 1962, Arlington State College became the first fully integrated university in the A&M system.
Although African Americans were able to attend ASC, the Rebel theme was still a strong component of the university. African Americans made up about two percent of the student body, but rooms were still named after Civil War heroes, Confederate flags still graced the hallways and the mascot served as a constant reminder of a time of turmoil.
Saxe began teaching in 1965 when ASC left the Texas A&M system and joined the UT-system, only three years after the university was fully integrated. Civil rights protests were in full effect all over the country and the university experienced tension between the races.
“It was a wild time,” Saxe said. “I took the side, and I still would today, of a lot of the black students that wanted the Rebel theme erased from this campus because it offended them so deeply.”
Saxe said that one day he saw a group of black students near the Confederate flag that flew in front of the student center and that he instantly felt that “We need to take this thing down.” With a few strong black men protecting him from the white, protesting faculty and staff, Saxe took down the Confederate flag.
“I pulled down the flag and I almost got massacred,” Saxe said. “But we pulled down the flag.”
Despite many letters and protests from students, faculty and alumni to keep the Rebel theme, the UT-system forced UTA to change their school mascot in 1971 to the Mavericks.
“I feel that it’s great that we’ve, you know, transitioned from being the Rebels to actually being the Mavericks now and that, you know, our campus is a majority minority campus with having all the different diversity here,” Pitchford said.
UTA has grown from a university that had close to 25, African American students in the fall of 1962 to 4,768 African American students in the fall of 2012, a 12 percent increase of the entire student body.
Today, UTA has more than two dozen multicultural or international clubs and organizations, an entire university program dedicated to Multicultural Affairs and an array of cultural programs dedicated to celebrating students’ diversity. The university also has a whole week, this year from March 4 to March 8, committed to diversity.
U.S. News and World Report has said that UTA has the seventh highest diversity ranking for national universities.
Kinesology junior Christopher Woolen said the organization that he chairs, the Black Leadership Institute, is further proof of how much the university has changed for the better.
“The Black Leadership Institute kind of goes along with the theme how this university has changed from being Rebels to multicultural Mavericks,” Woolen said. “Basically it identifies what black people, or any person in particular, needs to do specifically whenever they’re faced with decisions based on race.”
The opening reception for Black History month begins on at noon, Feb. 4 in the University Center Gallery.
“I want to showcase that we do have ‘a legacy worth living,’ ” Pitchford said. “What that pretty much means is that, you know, look at all the things that our ancestors and all the, you know, famous African Americans and also those unsung heroes in the past did to get us to where we are now. We need to appreciate that.”