This Week at Rice, March 1947

I ran across something interesting today. In the usual way of things, I picked up the box that was next to the box I needed just to see what was inside it. It turns out that we have a full collection of weekly campus calendars from their inception in 1947 until 1990. I was flipping through them and had just about decided to start posting one each Monday, as a sort of “This Week in Rice History” thing. (Which I still think I’ll do.) But then this one caught my eye. Click on it and see if you can guess what grabbed my attention.

Most of what’s here is pretty normal–meetings of religious clubs and various engineering societies, a couple of dances and a picnic, and even a physics colloquium given by Rice’s new president, William V. Houston. This was standard operating procedure at American colleges for many decades. What caught me by surprise is the speaker at the Methodist Student Union meeting on Tuesday noon. My immediate reaction proved correct: the Be Bee Tabernacle was was a black church, part of the Colored Methodist Episcopal denomination. (Today it’s been renamed Christian Methodist Episcopal.) This would have been unusual in 1947. And note that the event took place at Autry House, a setting that was technically not part of Rice, even though it seemed like home to the students. It’s also interesting to me that this meeting took place during the lunch hour. Interracial meetings were much more problematic when meals were involved–eating together in public was a breach of segregation etiquette pretty much everywhere in the South. If I were guessing, I’d guess that the students ate lunch but the speaker did not.

The newspaper clipping to the right (you have to click on the long piece twice to get it big enough) appeared in the Thresher two days later, on the front page, and it’s frankly quite remarkable. The pastor, identified only as Mr. White (and the “Mr.” is significant, a small thing that openly signifies respect), has given a forthright and ultimately optimistic analysis of the possible future of southern race relations. Just from leafing through the Threshers during this year it seems clear that 1947 was a year of many and large changes at Rice, and the willingness of the Methodist Students to hear points of view that would have been dismissed before the war is evidence of this. The following week, by the way, they heard from a rabbi. Lots more to follow.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my first book explores the post-war changes that led the South’s private universities, including Rice, to desegregate. It’s called Desegregating Private Higher Education in the South: Duke, Emory, Rice, Tulane and Vanderbilt.

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2 Responses to This Week at Rice, March 1947

  1. Frank Smith says:

    Melissa, I was a graduate student at Rice in the spring of 1947, taking Dr. Houston’s Physics 350 class, and I remember his lecture on Beta Rays. (I didn’t say I understood it, but I remember it.) It was about a month later that Texas City exploded, and I was distracted from my Rice studies.

    I don’t recall any active concern about race relations at the time. I think I and most of my friends just accepted changing customs and moved on, like I feel today about same-sex marriage, which seems to be on the front burner in Washington, but I couldn’t care less – I have other priorities. I just wish the Administration would take the same attitude toward marijuana prohibition that it is taking toward DOMA – don’t enforce it. That would save a few billion dollars, and even generate a few.

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