By DR. ANITHA T. MITCHELL
The Dallas Examiner
I arrived at The University of Texas – We didn’t need to specify Austin at that time – in the fall of 1961, a confident 16-year-old with absolutely no anxiety. I felt that I was as prepared as any and better prepared than most who entered with me. This was thanks to the fantastic teachers I had at James Madison High School.
I had no financial worries as the Zale Foundation had committed to cover all of my expenses.
I received advanced placement in English and math. The topic for my essay for English, was “Should we abolish the Electoral College?” It just happened that we had explored the topic thoroughly in Mr. Herbie K. Johnson’s class. I am sure the grammar was all correct thanks to Mrs. Addie Helen Lee.
Math was a breeze, thanks to Mrs. Mildred Finch.
The campus was not a welcoming environment. Fraternities had minstrel shows. The restaurants and movies around campus were segregated.
Housing was really the most difficult problem. Dormitories were segregated. Black female students could choose between a dormitory or co-op. Both were old wooden edifies painted white. It was kind of a contest to see which would fall first. Ironically, our dormitory was named Whitis Dormitory. It was located on Whitis Avenue.
My family chose the dormitory for me. Girls who lived in the co-op shared the chores of the house. Meals for those of us who lived in the dormitory were prepared at a dormitory across the street and brought to us at mealtime.
There was one major problem, however. There was no prepared dinner on Sunday, and we were on our own for dinner that night. The only eating place around campus that was not segregated was a hamburger stand. I, therefore, had a cheeseburger every Sunday for three years. Rarely, somebody with access to a car brought something from the East side.
It wasn’t until my senior year that I moved out of Whitis. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was running for president. As fate would have it, his daughter was living in Kinsolving Dormitory, the premier dormitory on campus. It was easy enough to contact his press secretary to advise him that a press release had been prepared to advise the world that the daughter of the Democratic Party’s candidate for president lived in segregated housing at UT.
That summer, five of us received phone calls inviting us to move in to Kinsolving. This was despite there being a waiting list a mile long. We skipped to the front of the line and moved in that fall.
I will not venture into the issue of sexism. I took mostly science classes because I was headed to medical school and there was plenty.
Lest I give the impression that everything was bad, let me share some of the good things.
Every grade I received was the grade I earned. Not once did I feel I was graded unfairly on a paper or test.
As I have mentioned before, the Zale Foundation paid all of my expenses. I mean they paid for every pencil, every note pad, everything.
We spent Sunday afternoons picketing movies, restaurants and dormitories. We had professors who joined us every week. There was a biology professor, Dr Spear, who joined us every Sunday and brought his two daughters – around 5 years of age. They were always dressed in white pinafores. I recently had the opportunity to meet his wife who told me that he was often passed over for raises and promotions because of his activism.
A few years ago The University built a dormitory to honor Mrs. Almetris Duren, who was housemother to all of the African American students during her tenure as Dean.
I graduated in 1965 and headed off to University of Texas Medical Branch, but that’s another story for another time!
Dr. Anitha T. Mitchell, MD is retired after 40 years of practice of Internal Medicine. She also worked as Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (Emeritus) at UCLA School of Medicine.