Facing the winds of change with dignity, courage and wisdom, that was the theme of a celebration Friday afternoon at the University of Texas. The celebration honored the very first African-American undergraduates to attend the university.
The University of Texas first opened its doors to nearly 100 African-American students in 1956.
Leon Holland was one of them “Our parents pay taxes, and why would we pay taxes for something that we can't participate in.” Although he said his memories of college are not so sentimental. “My fondest memory was leaving here, 27th of January 1961. I've publicly stated that when I left here, I wouldn't want to come back only because of the way I was treated and what was done to us,” he said.
For many, including Leon's wife Peggy, it was about pursuing higher education and creating greater opportunities for themselves. “I was here not to be social with the students but to get the education and the degree,” she said. She went on to be the first African-American to graduate from the School of Business, unknowingly making history, “I wasn't thinking in the terms of anything historical. I just came here to school, and I had my goal, that didn't hit me until much later,” she said.
60 years later now known as the precursors, the group of African-American alumni and the pioneers of change are being honored. Bold, fearless and courageous are just a few words many described of the undergrad group that paved the way for thousands of other students. Dr. Gregory L. Fenves is the current President of the University of Texas at Austin. “They're role models, they are advisors and they're inspirations to future generations of all races, backgrounds, ethnicities, about what's possible when you pursue your dreams,” he said.
Standing on the stage at the event, Leon Holland felt something he didn't feel nearly six decades ago, school spirit. “They were doing thing constructive things to improve diversity with that type of action it caused me to become more involved and I have said before, I now bleed orange,” he said.