African American enrollment
WFAA coverage of the 50th anniversary of desegregation
History of integration
Making college home
A team united
Pride and tradition
Remembering the early days
History of integration: 1, 2, 3
Alfred Tennyson Miller
Alfred Tennyson Miller, a Port Arthur high school principal who had coached and taught at Denton's Frederick Douglass Colored School, was the first African American to be admitted to North Texas when he enrolled in the educational administration doctoral program in Summer 1954. In The Story of North Texas, James Rogers quotes a letter Miller wrote to President J.C. Matthews before receiving news of his acceptance into the program.
"It is my conviction that my entrance now would contribute much to the successful, inevitable integration of Negroes into the school," Miller wrote. "My every effort would be toward the quality of deportment and performance that would dispel much of the apprehension that some may be harboring at this time. Knowing even in my own work the burdened seriousness of making an unusual decision, I understand why any caution may be yours. Yet there are decisions to be made, and we cannot be without the courage to make them."
Miller, who held a bachelor's degree from Prairie View and a master's from the University of Wisconsin, was a principal in Port Arthur until 1967, when he accepted a position as an integration specialist with the U.S. Office of Education. He died in 1993.
J.C. Matthews, president of North Texas during its desegregation, commented in a 1977 oral history interview on the difference in the violent desegregation of the University of Alabama and the relative peacefulness of the process at North Texas:
"We had a good many people calling attention to it, and we had notes saying, 'We have seen that you're not having the kind of trouble they're having there,' and all that. But the main thing that came out of that was our notion about not putting on a premature celebration. Here's my attitude, I think: 'This is student No. 1 on the campus outside of Tennyson Miller ... this is student No. 2 — let's put it that way — on the campus, and this is not any time to celebrate (chuckle). We haven't really done over the whole works yet. We must think of this as a problem in process of solution.' That was my concern all the while as we worked with it at that stage — was not to overstate the case and not to make any claim that 'We're not like Alabama.' We had yet to prove ourselves all the way. This was, I think, the attitude that most of us were taking. But people outside were not as aware of the 'in-process' kind of thing, and they were wanting to say, 'Let's point this up; let's tell the world about it; let's brag a little,' and that type of thing. My counsel was, 'Let's be sure we do the thing as it should be done and stop at that.'"
Several hundred pioneers of UNT's desegregation returned to campus in February to be honored at a gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the enrollment of the first African American student at North Texas. The event kicked off a yearlong observance, 50 Years of Progress and Opportunity, 1954-2004.
Upcoming 50 Years events include a reunion of the UNT Trailblazers honoring all African American students who attended North Texas, July 15-17 in Denton, and a ceremony at
a home football game Oct. 2 to honor African Americans who broke barriers here as student athletes.
The web site dedicated to the yearlong observance, www.unt.edu/50yearsofprogress, includes photos from the February gala and a list of the alumni honored, photos and comments from former students and the latest information on events planned throughout the year.
Visit the site to read interviews from the UNT Oral History Collection with faculty members, administrators and students discussing the desegregation of the university, or submit your own photos and memories.