Some Unexpected African American Students at Rice, 1964

Yesterday afternoon I left campus right after lunch to start packing for our move to a new house. The movers will do a lot of it for you but I can’t find a way to trust anyone else with my books and papers. Ordinarily I wouldn’t mention this but things did not go as  I expected. There are several shelves in my home office stuffed with various Rice publications, from Campaniles to General Announcements to what you would have to call “miscellaneous.” As I was putting them into boxes this caught my attention:


I knew immediately where it had come from– Professor Jim Castañeda’s office, which I packed up after he passed away a few years ago. It then went to the Woodson where we determined that we already had a copy and didn’t need another, which is how it wound up on my shelf at home.

Well, you’re probably wondering, so what? Here’s what: quite some time ago I got an email from a woman at UT about a family story that had her cousin, an African American, attending a summer Spanish class at Rice in the summer of 1964, a year and a half before we desegregated.  I looked every place I could think of but wasn’t able to confirm the story for her. As I flipped through this very long document, though, I discovered a page of photographs of all the participants and sure enough, there was a black woman. I stood straight up, grabbed my purse, headed for the car, and went back to Rice as fast as I could.

And there, in the back room of the Woodson, was the 1964 report for the same course, also with a page of photos. I don’t generally like to assign racial categories based on blurry images, but there are at least a couple of black women in this and one of them is Alma Henry, the cousin of my correspondent:

Summer Spanish Institute 1964 3 053

Here’s everyone on the steps of Chem Lecture:

Summer Spanish Institute 1964 2 052

The course provided intensive training for teachers of Spanish and as a federal program was certainly bound by a non-discrimination clause. My best guess here is that President Pitzer was well aware of this and in the tense atmosphere that surrounded the charter change litigation simply decided 1.) to go ahead and accept participants without regard to race and 2.) not say a single word about it to anyone.

Bonus: These students all lived for six weeks at Rice, on the third floor of Jones. Mrs. Henry, who taught Spanish at B.C. Elmore Junior High, stayed in Room 334. It looks like they all had a great time:

Summer Spanish Institute 1964 4 054


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6 Responses to Some Unexpected African American Students at Rice, 1964

  1. monicajcoe says:

    Good catch. You rock!

  2. George Webb '88, '91 says:

    Really cool story!

  3. Yvonne says:

    Melissa, It took me a long time to find the pieces of the puzzle to give you enough to go on–it really helped when she remembered Dr. Castaneda’s name last year! Thank you so much for your help in finding the documentation regarding my cousin’s story of her time at Rice. It’s important to her personally, but it’s also an important piece of the full story of the university’s history. Very appreciative of your efforts!

  4. David Vassar says:

    It looks like possibly Dr. Urrutibéheity’s wife (or other family member?) was part of the “conga line” in the Gran fiesta española. Perhaps he knows more about this group…though upon further investigation, he doesn’t arrive to Rice unitl 1967.

  5. Lou Ann Montana says:

    This may sound a bit silly, but as a Jones 3rd floor North alumna, I am thrilled that the students stayed in Jones! Thanks for a great find of a story, Melissa.

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