In the heart of San Marcos, and especially at Texas State, it’s hard to go about your day without seeing something related to Lyndon B. Johnson. You might go purchase a textbook at the bookstore inside the LBJ Student Center, walk by his statue near Flowers Hall, find yourself on North LBJ Drive or you might even live at The Lyndon.
After all, why wouldn’t Texas State and San Marcos be excited to honor him? Because of LBJ, Texas State is the only university in Texas with a U.S. vice president or president as an alum. LBJ, like George Strait, is a well known alum to students at Texas State.
We are reminded of them often, but it’s not as easy to recall or be reminded of Black Texas State alumni, who also exist but are not as heavily recognized.
The June 1941 issue of "The Crisis," the official publication for the NAACP, featured the article “The Need for Heroes,” written by Langston Hughes, a Black American poet and social activist. In his article, Hughes asserts that Black writers, including himself, have focused too much on writing about Black tragedy. He continues by asserting that society should write more about the Black heroes that are prevalent not only during the war, but throughout history.
When turning to the history and traditions of Texas State, this idea of positive Black representation is still relevant. As previously mentioned, LBJ is woven into the identity of Texas State. In addition to this, LBJ’s statue has become a part of Texas State traditions; Students have been known to shake the statue’s hand before tests for good luck.
Although Texas State likes to paint a positive picture of LBJ, it’s hard to ignore his flaws. Yes, LBJ helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and 1964. However, LBJ was very racist. He used the n-word on numerous occasions, and also referred to these civil rights acts as “n-word acts.”
Although one cannot take away LBJ’s accomplishments, this unflattering side to him cannot be dismissed. As a Black student, it’s hard to see daily reminders of him, without remembering these aspects of him.
The same goes for former university president John Flowers and Flowers Hall. More recently, there has been criticism over the name of Flowers Hall. This is because of Flower’s decision to deny Dana Jean Smith, one of the university's first Black students, from enrolling at Texas State. Ultimately, a court order would desegregate Texas State and allow the first five Black women: Dana Jean Smith, Mabeleen Washington Wozniak, Georgia Hoodye Cheatham, Gloria Odoms Powell and Helen Jackson Franks, to enroll in the university. Today, First Five Freedom Hall is named after this historical moment.
Although Texas State has made a conscious effort to give the namesakes of notable people of color to places around campus, there is still the stark contrast of controversial names that do remain. Flowers Hall remains the namesake for the building of the College of Liberal Arts, despite there being 630 non-Hispanic Black students a part of the liberal arts program.
Another building name that has come under scrutiny is Beretta Hall. Sallie Beretta was a part of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Once again, this is another example of an individual who has participated in or stood on the side of racism. Although it is progress to rename some of the buildings after people of color, it’s contradictory to still keep buildings of those who worked against them.
Additionally, it’s not like Texas State lacks successful Black alumni. There’s Thomas Carter who is a director, producer and actor; Anna Uzele who is a Broadway actress and Charles Austin who won a gold Olympic medal to name a few.
As a university we need to continue to honor and create traditions around those who we can look up to and admire. It’s not enough to rename a couple of buildings and forget about the pasts of the problematic ones that remain.
- Hannah Thompson is a History Senior.
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