Fighting for equality

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When Leroy Bogan earned his bachelor’s degree he still wasn’t allowed to set foot on the campus of the Texas college of his choice.

Bogan graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science from Bishop College, and earned his master’s degree in 1957 and ultimately a doctorate, both from the University of Denver.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Growing up in Texas in the 1950s, Leroy Bogan was part of the first litigation brought by the NAACP to end segregation in the state’s higher education system.

It was only after receiving three degrees that Bogan would find himself living in a time when he could take classes at the University of Texas-Austin, in his home state.

Until 1956, as a black man, Bogan was not allowed in a classroom of higher education in most of the public universities in the Lone Star State.

Black students were allowed in the classroom at University of Texas in 1956, but it wasn’t until May 1964, that an integration of the residence halls was voted upon and approved by the board of regents.

While he took advantage of other educational opportunities via a historically black college and a more tolerant university system in Colorado, Bogan was very much a part of the early fight to bring equality to the Texas educational system.

Bogan was among a dozen young students, still in middle school, who were the plaintiffs in the first group of lawsuits brought against the university by the NAACP.

“We knew we would be denied entry to the University of Texas-Austin due to race,” Bogan said. “But we were qualified, had the grades and we were citizens of Texas.”

Now a retired teacher and principal, Bogan, 87, lives in Rio Communities with Jim and Kathy McDonald as a participant of the VA’s medical foster home program. The program gives vets who are unable to live alone an alternative to nursing homes.

Born in Waco, Texas, Bogan knew one thing from his first day of school — if he was lucky to make it to the eighth grade — there would be few, if any educational opportunities for him.

By the early 1940s, Bogan was in the fourth grade and officially barred from attending Texas public schools due to his race. His family sent him and his brother to live with their aunt in Oklahoma City so they could continue their education.

Bogan’s parents remained in Texas so his father could keep his many jobs.

As a child, Bogan remembers his father working five and six jobs to make ends meet. But to the eyes of the Anglo world, he and they would never be enough, he remembers.

“My dad worked to make a living to take care of his family. But how dare we think we were equal,” he said. “All he wanted was for his children to get an education.”

When the NAACP approached the family about using Bogan and some of his peers as a test case, there was never a doubt they would participate.

“The simple answer was we were Americans and wanted to go to school. My father wanted all children to get an education and there were no comparable schools. It wasn’t a militant thing. It was a matter of enough was enough,” Bogan said. “We were living in a time when we couldn’t sit in a restaurant and order a hamburger; in some cases, we couldn’t stand in the alley behind that same restaurant and ask for a hamburger to go.”

The “separate but equal” argument never held any water with Bogan, even at a young age.

When there were modern schools with all the amenities in his neighborhood that accepted Anglo children without a murmur, and he was being bussed across town, Bogan knew something was wrong.

“We were talking about little school children who wanted to learn and were denied. Told, ‘Nigger, you can’t sit in that chair,’” he said, voice shaking with emotion.

Because of his father’s dedication to his education, Bogan was able to attend ninth and 10th grades in what he calls one of the most modern schools in Oklahoma City.

He came back to Texas, and the family moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, where he graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1946.

Bogan says Texas public schools at that time were an “odd mix,” with some integrated and some not.

“My parents made me keep my grades up,” he said. “There were some little pockets in Texas where there were black colleges. But those didn’t really expand or catch on. For most young people, it was either go there or don’t go (to college).”

After graduating, Bogan enrolled in Bishop College in Marshall, Texas, and earned his bachelor’s degree in three years.

During his senior year, Bogan was drafted. He was studying medicine at Bishop, and due to the Army’s lack of medical specialists, was placed in the Army Medical Corps.

“They told me if I kept my grades up, I could finish college,” he said.

During his two years of stateside service, Bogan was stationed in Fort Sill, Okla., Camp Chaffe, Ark., and finally Fort Sumner Army Hospital in Colorado.

Given his experience with institutionalized racism, one might think Bogan would be resistant being drafted.

One would be wrong.

“I’m still pro-America,” he said. “When I was drafted, I didn’t ever think of not responding. It never crossed my mind.”

While the Army wanted Bogan to go on for officer training, he was more interested in continuing his education.

“So I finished my time, said, ‘No thank you,’ and enrolled in the University of Denver,” he said.

Bogan was discharged as a sergeant in 1952.

In the six months just before his discharge, Bogan said the Army gave him time to contemplate his return to civilian life, and think about what he wanted to do.

So it wasn’t unexpected that a man who was part of the fight for equality in education and held both a master’s and doctorate in education would look for a job in that field.

He started exploring opportunities with the U.S. Department of Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Bogan found that the BIA needed teachers for tribal schools around the country. He ultimately ended up as a sixth-grade teacher at the Cheyenne Boarding School in South Dakota — and possibly the only black man in the state, he said.

In 1960, Ebony magazine produced a nine-page spread on the then 30-year-old bachelor and his time in South Dakota.

Bogan reported to the magazine that he “never encountered racial discrimination,” but he did run into several cases of mistaken identity.

“I guess I was somewhat unusual for the area,” he says with a chuckle. “Someone thought I was an Aberdeen basketball player, or a musician, singer.”

He spent most of his three-decade career teaching in South Dakota in Eagle Butte, teaching children of the Lakota tribe, but he worked with and visited at least 25 tribes around the United States, including Alaska.

Bogan retired after 30 years with the U.S. Department of Interior and was honored with a silver medal and certificate for his years of dedicated service.

During his time as an educator, Bogan told Ebony he had become convinced of one thing:

“… our country needs to have interracial faculties and student bodies so that we can all learn that God made each and that each has pride, whether his face is white, black or yellow.”


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.