James S. Robinson, noted scholar on Africa, speaks with Trinity students in 1961 during a conference held at the University.
As the civil rights movement gained momentum in the early 1950s, Trinity began preparing a strategy to integrate the University community.
The University had begun admitting students of all colors to its downtown evening school in 1949, but no such policy yet existed on the Woodlawn campus, or in turn, the Skyline campus.
The move already had overwhelming support from faculty and students, as Trinity President James Laurie consulted the Trinity faculty in January 1953. Faculty members supported the admission of Black students to University classes but established no timetable for such an event.
Trinity students of the 1950s had begun expressing opinions regarding a number of contemporary issues, including race, anti-communism, loyalty oaths, and presidential campaigns. In 1954, this openness extended to the issue of integration.
In an open letter in the Trinitonian on May 21, seven Trinity students challenged University officials to move expeditiously to enroll Black students in the upcoming fall semester. The students cited Trinity's role as a leader in Christian education as motivation for implementing campus integration.
"If the government can go this far," the letter asserted, then Trinity "can do no less than voluntarily lead the way to a true brotherhood of man on the college campus.”
Two years later, the student association initiated a referendum on desegregation that called for "continued and immediate progress of desegregation in social, religious, and academic areas at Trinity University." About 75 percent of the Trinity students who participated in the election endorsed the referendum, 12 percent opposed it, and the rest indicated no opinion on the subject.
Speaking to the Board of Trustees, Dean Bruce Thomas bluntly summed up the sentiment of the Trinity community on the matter: When queried by a board member about whether administrators intended to admit only “qualified” African Americans, dean Bruce Thomas replied, "Those are the only kinds of students we admit, either white or black."
In October 1955, Thomas informed Trustees that seven Black undergraduates had already attended Trinity during the summer and that seven more were taking evening graduate courses during the fall semester. Integration was proceeding smoothly.
As more and more students of color reached campus, the Department of Athletics also made moves to support this decision. Basketball coach Bob Polk, along with athletic director Jesse MacLeay, recruited Trinity's first black basketball players, including Larry Jeffries, Jim Boles, John Lynch, Bill Stokes, and Felix Thruston.
By the late 1960s and the 1970s, students of all colors were living, learning, and growing together across all spaces on campus.