Seventy-two years after Heman Sweatt was denied admission into the UT School of Law on the basis of race, his portrait, which was unveiled Thursday, now hangs in the halls of the School.
Celebration of Diversity, a two day event held by UT’s Law School, honored Sweatt, trailblazing women and people of color with speeches, discussions and the unveiling of Sweatt’s portrait in the Susman Godfrey Atrium.
Sweatt eventually won admission into the law school when he took the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1950. Sweatt v. Painter challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine and eventually paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education, the case responsible for desegregation of American public schools.
“None of us would be here without him,” said Seti Tesefay, graduate law student.
Diane Wood, UT alumna chief judge, was the first woman on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and spoke at the event. Wood said she only had one female professor during her time at UT, a time when no women were on the Supreme Court.
“It was well-known that many (judges) didn’t take women,” Wood said. “I chose very carefully who I applied to when applying for clerkships.”
Tesefay said the University is trying to bring more people of color into the School.
“You definitely notice when you’re one of four students of color out of a class of 80,” Tesefay said.
Tesefay was one of many law students who pushed for greater diversity and for making the portraits in the School of Law more reflective of the student body.
“It was great to hear (Speaker Randall Kennedy) clarify that (the lack of people of color in law) is still a struggle,” Tesefay said.
President Gregory Fenves also attended the portrait unveiling.
“The unveiling of this portrait is a symbol,” Fenves said. “It symbolizes what we celebrate, what we stand for and who we are as individuals.”
Fenves said the portraits in the School of Law display the school’s best students.
“This legacy of segregation is part of the University’s history,” Fenves said. “And we have Heman Sweatt to thank for making it just that — history.”