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Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice (Jess and Betty Jo Hay Series) Hardcover – September 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

1954's Brown v. Board of Education is the one of the most celebrated Supreme Court civil rights rulings, but the dry run against racial segregation began four years earlier, when Heman Marion Sweatt, an unassuming Houston mailman, emerged victorious in the struggle against the University of Texas Law School's admissions policies. Focusing on the lead-up to the Sweatt v. Painter case, and the case itself (which proves somewhat anticlimactic), Lavergne provides a penetrating, if occasionally dry, history of the carefully calibrated NAACP-led fight against intractable state officials at a time when there were no professional or graduate schools for blacks in most southern states; "Heman Sweatt will never darken the doors of the University of Texas," remarked the Texas attorney general at the time. Thurgood Marshall, the future Supreme Court justice who led Sweatt's New York-based NAACP legal team, confronted not only white segregationists committed to the status quo, but also Texas blacks, who were split on the issue. Though Sweatt's victory is ultimately bittersweet (finally admitted to the law school, he later dropped out) Lavergne makes a powerful argument for the role Sweatt v. Painter played in ending segregation. Photos.
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"The fight to open the University of Texas to all was a turning point that led to the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the racial segregation it had sanctioned in Plessy. Those who take racial diversity at our preeminent institutions of higher education for granted do so at great peril and diminish the sacrifices of Sweatt and others. Read this book and find out why." (Amilcar Shabazz, Professor and Chair, W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst)

"Like Texas’s founding fathers, Sweatt fearlessly faced evil, and made Texas a better place. His story is our story, and Gary Lavergne tells it well." (Paul Begala, political contributor, CNN)

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Product Details

  • Series: Jess and Betty Jo Hay Series
  • Hardcover: 385 pages
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press (September 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0292722001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0292722002
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,660,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gary M. Lavergne was born in the small Southwestern Louisiana Cajun community of Church Point where he attended a parochial elementary and a public high school. He was the son of a policeman and a cafeteria worker in the elementary school Gary attended. In all of his messages and presentations, Gary draws from his unique, rich Cajun background.

Gary earned a B.A. in Social Studies Education (1976) and a M.Ed. (1981) in Secondary School Teaching from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In 1988, he earned an Education Specialist degree (Ed.S.) in Educational Administration and Supervision from McNeese University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Today, Gary is the Director of Admissions Research and Policy Analysis in the Office of Admissions at The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of numerous Admissions Research reports for the University of Texas. In March of 2001 he gained international attention with his New York Times Op-Ed piece entitled "Is This the End of the SAT?"

Gary has been published in regional, national, and international scholarly journals. His award-winning book, A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders, has received rave reviews from best selling authors and many of the nation's largest and most respected dailies and trade magazines. On August 1, 2006, the Austin American Statesman called Sniper the definitive account of the Texas Tower Tragedy.

Gary's second book, The Bad Boy from Rosebud was released in July of 1999. Dan Rather of CBS News called it "classic crime reporting." The paperback version of Bad Boy from Rosebud was released by St Martin's Press in November 2001. It is still available and is entitled Bad Boy.

Gary was also a featured author for Southern Scribe and the 1997, 1999, and 2003 Texas Book Festivals. He was also chosen to moderate sessions for the 2004 and 2009 festivals.

His third book is entitled Worse Than Death, and is the story of the largest mass murder in the history of Dallas, Texas.

Just recently Gary announced that his third book will be entitled Before Brown and will be an account of the events surrounding the dramatic 1950 civil rights case Sweatt v Painter. Pamela Colloff of Texas Monthly said that the manuscript was "Vivid, absorbing, and gracefully written... Gary Lavergne's gifts as a storyteller bring Sweatt's journey, and the context of his struggle, alive. With a novelist's eye for character and detail, Lavergne gives us an intimate portrait of Sweatt... Before Brown is both a monumental work and a great read. Sweatt's story is one that every American should know."

Gary Lavergne is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and has appeared on DATELINE NBC, the Today Show, the History Channel, Biography, American Justice, and The Discovery Channel.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Heather on May 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Reviewed by:

Stuart Stern
Grant Writer
South Texas College of Law

Most readers of civil rights history are undoubtedly familiar with Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the two most well-known legal cases affecting the racial composition of public schools in the United States. But few, I'd venture, have heard of Sweatt v. Painter (1950). Yet this Texas case was called "the big one" by none other than Thurgood Marshall, who argued both Sweatt and Brown before the U.S. Supreme Court--and won each of them. For Sweatt, which was heard by the Court in 1950, resulted in the desegregation of the University of Texas School of Law and paved the way for Brown four years later.

In his engrossing book BEFORE BROWN: HEMAN MARION SWEATT, THURGOOD MARSHALL, AND THE LONG ROAD TO JUSTICE, Gary M. Lavergne presents the stories of plaintiff Sweatt, a black Houstonian, and his attorney Marshall, the star counsel of the NAACP, and depicts the painstaking groundwork that was laid by Marshall and his legal team to achieve victory in the landmark case. (The Painter they opposed was acting UT president Theophilus S. Painter.)

Heman Marion Sweatt was what we would today term a second-career student, which adds to the impressiveness of his accomplishment and makes him an intriguing figure. Sweatt was a thirty-seven-year-old mailman with a wife, an undergraduate degree in biology earned sixteen years previously, and a house on Delano Street in the Third Ward. In one of the ironies of the case, Sweatt, who said he wanted to be a lawyer when he applied, in 1946, for admission to UT, had originally wanted to be a doctor.
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Format: Kindle Edition
The Beginning of the End of American Apartheid
Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice
Gary M. Lavergne (354 pp.)
School segregation did not end overnight with the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that in public education separate is inherently unequal. Rather, Brown was the culmination of a carefully planned campaign by the NAACP to chip away at the Jim Crow laws underpinning America’s apartheid. Sweatt v. Painter (1950) was an important step, when the Supreme Court ordered for the first that an African American be admitted to an all-white institution of higher education – The University of Texas Law School.
Gary Lavergne is an admissions officer at the University of Texas and an amateur historian in the very best sense of the word – he does it because he loves it. His other works include A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders. In Before Brown, Lavergne sets the scene of the first great desegregation case with the personal and family histories of its two great protagonists: Thurgood Marshall and Heman Sweatt, as well as the culture of the South and the – even then – different culture of Austin and The University of Texas.
He also tells us about UT President Thaddeus Painter, often portrayed as the “villain” on the other side of the “v.” in that seminal case. Yet we learn that Painter accepted Sweatt’s application politely and set up the question for the Texas Attorney General and the ensuing litigation starkly, writing that Sweatt “is duly qualified for admission to the School of Law at the University of Texas, save and except for the fact that he is a negro [sic].
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author's book is a well researched history of the struggle to open the doors of educational opportunity for blacks in the United States, focusing on Heman Sweatt's lawsuit to gain admission to the University of Texas School of Law. The author clearly supports the cause, but neither demonizes nor lionizes the individuals involved in the struggle. The Sweatt case undermined Plessy v. Ferguson by redefining "equal" in the public education arena. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education had to explicity overrule Plessy before many courts "got the word;" even then many refused to listen.
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