History of the Symposium


The Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights is an event organized by the students, faculty, and staff working on the Heman Sweatt Symposium Steering Committee. Annually held during the spring semester, all events are free and open to the public. The symposium is named after Heman Sweatt, the first African American admitted into the UT Law School.

Heman M. Sweatt applied for admission to The University of Texas Law School in 1946, but was denied admission on the basis of race. Mr. Sweatt, with the help and assistance of the NAACP, brought legal action against the university. In the landmark case, Sweatt v. Painter, The United States Supreme Court ruled that separate law school facilities could not provide a legal education equal to that available at The University of Texas Law School, one of the nation’s ranking law schools.

The Supreme Court ruling established an important precedent for the desegregation of graduate and professional schools. Challenging the “separate but equal” doctrine, the court affirmed Mr. Sweatt’s right to equal educational opportunity and in 1950, he entered the University of Texas School of Law. The Sweatt decision helped pave the way for African-Americans’ admission to formerly segregated colleges and universities across the nation, and led to the overturn of segregation by law in all levels of public education in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education four years later.

Stories from first generation African American students at UT


Past Symposiums

January – May 2011

Theme: The 25th Anniversary Celebration
Speakers:  Dr. Kevin Foster, Louise Iscoe, Gary Lavergne,  Dr. Edward Sharpe, Dr. George Wright, The Heman Sweatt family

April 22-23, 2010

Theme: 60Years of Integration, Civil Rights Then and Now
Speaker: Dr. Edmund T. Gordon and Dr. Raymond Johnson

April 14-17, 2009

Theme: Sidelined: Racial Politics at Predominately White Institutions
Speaker: Jerry LeVias

March 25-28, 2008

Theme: The Powerless Majority: The Black and Latino Experience in America
Speaker: Ron Kirk

April 26-27, 2007

Theme: Bridging Economic Disparity Through Education
Speaker: Jackie Joyner-Kersee

April 24-28, 2006

Theme: Health Care Disparities: A Civil Rights Issue
Speaker: Dr. Deborah Prothow-Stith

April 25-29, 2005

Theme: Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act
Speaker: U.S. Representative John Lewis

April 20-23, 2004

Theme: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision
Speaker: Dr. John Hope Franklin

April 23-25, 2003

Theme: Progression versus Regression: The State of the African American Community
Speaker: Ed Gordon

April 11-19, 2002

Theme: Reparations: Does America Owe African Americans a Debt?
Speaker: Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr.

April 17-20, 2001

Theme: Capital Punishment In Texas: Is Justice Served?
Speaker: John Artis

April 11-14, 2000

Theme: The New Civil Rights—Fifty Years After the Sweatt Decision
Speaker: Dick Gregory

April 12-16, 1999

Theme: The Role of Art and Artist’s in the Struggle: A Retrospective Look at Civil Rights in the 20th Century
Speaker: Nikki Giovanni

April 16-17, 1998

Theme: From Sweatt to Hopwood to Success: Solutions for Creating a Diverse University
Speaker: Wilhelmina Delco

April 17, 1997

Theme: Heroes in Action: Building a Community of Respect and Dignity
Speaker: Performance of Camp Logan

April 26, 1996

Theme: A Celebration of African American Music: Songs from the Soul in the Struggle for Justice
Speaker: Barbara Conrad

April 19, 1995

Theme: Civil Rights Revisited
Speaker: Jesse Jackson

April 1-8, 1994

Theme: Images of Blackness: Past, Present & Future
Speakers: Bell Hooks, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

March 24-25, 1993

Theme: Beyond Kente: A Cultural Continuum from Ghana to Texas
Speakers: Kofi Awoonor, Randall Robinson
Performance By: The Ghana National Dance Ensemble

April 2-3, 1992

Theme: A Sense of Origins – The African Global Presence
Speakers: Joseph E. Harris, Howard Dodson, Jr., Olly W. Wilson and Deborah L. Mack

April 3-4, 1991

Theme: Community, Self-Help and Entrepreneurship: The Roots of Civil Rights
Speakers: Robert L. Woodson: “Resurrection of the Black Self-Help Tradition,” followed by a panel discussion moderated by John Q. Taylor King

March 29-30, 1990

Theme: Multiculturalism: Different Cultures Sharing Common Ground
Speaker: Dr. Samuel D. Proctor: “Education and the Pursuit of Genuine Community in America,” followed by a panel discussion moderated by Betty Sue Flowers

March 30-31, 1989

Theme: The African-American Experience: The Paradox of Civil Rights
Speaker: William J. Wilson: “The Inner City Ghetto,” followed by a panel discussion moderated by Ray Marshall