Apartheid in Texas Agriculture: A Biography of "Affirmative Action" (Part 1)

Presented at the National Association for African American Studies (Houston: Feb. 16, 1996)

By Greg Moses

In December of 1993, Dr. Garland McIlveen, Jr.–who is here with us today–filed a race discrimination suit in Houston federal court against the Texas A&M University System, alleging several counts of racial discrimination that have overshadowed the past decade of his career. Today, more than two years later, the lawsuit remains unreported by media in and out of Texas.

The lack of public attention to McIlveen’s case is one of the peculiar factors which perpetuate a disturbing pattern of neglect and exclusion, not only for Dr. McIlveen, but for other black professionals in the extension services. Thus, I believe the case serves as an interesting paradigm for the tenacity of racism in our alleged age of affirmative action.

Just this month (February, 1996), Dr. McIlveen learned that his pending lawsuit has been factored against him in his effort to win promotion as director of the Cooperative Extension Service at Prairie View University. Such news serves warning that black talent cannot win on white terms. Prompted to sue for his rights in the first place, Dr. McIlveen is now told, in so many words, that white power will decide when and where his rights shall be conferred. And so far, the time has not yet come.

Dr. McIlveen’s experience as the great invisible man, curiously sacrosanct from media attention, raises serious issues of institutionalized racism which reach far beyond the borders of Texas or the timeframe of this decade. After 30 years of employment within the Texas A&M University System, Dr. McIlveen finds himself scrunched up against an impenetrable ceiling of opportunity. And with each passing year, the number of black professionals employed by the extension service dwindles.

For as long as the Texas Agricultural Extension Service has existed, there has never been a black male promoted to district director, and Dr. McIlveen’s lawsuit revolves around the pointy question of why he was not interviewed for two such promotions doled out to less qualified white men.

Dr. McIlveen’s lawsuit revolves around two documents obtained from the Texas A&M University System after a protracted open records search. They are called consent decree reports because they are records that the extension service has been ordered by federal courts to keep. These documents record important data about hirings and promotions.

According to one of these documents, Dr. McIlveen was disqualified for the job of district director in 1990 because of his, “Lack of recent experience as a County Extension Agent, lack of broad understanding of the total Extension program and no supervisory experience.” Instead, the extension service promoted a white man with sixteen years less experience.

True enough, McIlveen’s days as a county agent, from 1963 to 1971, were not “recent.” After earning his master’s degree from the University of Florida, Dr. McIlveen returned to Texas in the summer of 1972 and never again worked as a county agent. He went on to become a specialist in entomology, serving for a time in the very district that he would later be judged unqualified to direct.

Another consent decree report explains that Dr. McIlveen was disqualified for a district director position in 1993 because of, “Lack of experience in Extension programming at the county level.” Once again the extension service promoted a white man with sixteen years less experience.

“Mr. McIlveen has devoted the past 29 years of his life to developing a reputation and expertise in the field of entomology,” says his petition to the court. “During this time Mr. McIlveen has coordinated numerous programs and studies; secured grants or been a party to contracts totaling over $654,000; and authored many state and national publications, papers, news articles, studies and reports, including the development of international programs.”

The lawsuit charges that Dr. McIlveen’s career has been hampered in various ways as promotions and pay raises failed to keep pace with his white, male colleagues. The suit alleges negligence, racial discrimination, and retaliation. Not only is Dr. McIlveen being held back for the color of his skin, says the lawsuit, but he is also being punished for filing an earlier lawsuit in federal court that he had the misfortune to lose in 1990.

The previous lawsuit alleged a fact that was difficult to prove–was it race discrimination that caused him to fail a four-hour oral examination in 1986 while he was attempting to earn his Ph.D.? Certainly, he was the first African American to attempt the doctorate program in entomology at Texas A&M University, and records reflect that he was also the first student in the history of the program to be flunked for an oral exam. Did the fact that he was the first black in such a position contribute to his singular failure? The judge in this case ordered the jury to find Texas A&M not guilty. And the attorney who handled Texas A&M’s side of the case has since been appointed statewide director of affirmative action.

To this day, Dr. McIlveen is convinced that he was flunked for the color of his skin, not the content of his intellect, or lack thereof. His major professor, however, at one time publicly insisted that Dr. McIlveen was not even up to the level of many undergraduates. Dr. McIlveen says he clearly remembers the professor laughing and poking fun during the oral exam, saying, “How about an uneducated guess, Garland?” But I have heard the professor say his own memory on the subject is hazy, and he doesn’t recall whether he laughed or not.

But to bring this episode to a close, Dr. McIlveen persisted, won his way back into the Ph.D. program, passed the oral exam, completed his dissertation, and was awarded his Ph.D. at Texas A&M in the Spring of 1995. As the last lawsuit was dismissed by various establishments, the present case draws remarkable silence. Dr. McIlveen says he has been offered $20,000 to drop the current case and retire. “Can you believe it?,” he asks. (After 30 years of service, you get a glass ceiling and a check to cover your attorney’s fees?) “It’s insulting, really, when you think about it.”

Getting to Know Garland

It was shortly after the 1990 debacle in court that a friend of mine, Professor Bill Plapp, from the Entomology Department visited my office at Texas A&M University and sat very still until I agreed to look into the peculiar case of Garland McIlveen, Jr. Until Professor Plapp’s visit, I had a tidy theory, shared by many white Americans, which held that modern-day racism was largely born of ignorance and cultural inertia. White folks, I reasoned, were largely sincere about equal opportunity–they just didn’t know enough about their own residual prejudices. Professor Plapp’s visit changed all that.

Apartheid in Texas Agriculture: A Biography of "Affirmative Action" (Part 2)

Presented at the National Association for African American Studies (Houston, Feb. 16, 1996)

As Professor Plapp explained it to me, the extension service establishment would prevent African American empowerment within the traditionally all-white agency, and Dr. McIlveen would pay the price of this obstruction. As the first African American to enroll in the Ph.D. program in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M, Dr. McIlveen was gathering impeccable qualifications for career advancement, and this would not be allowed.

Professor Plapp encouraged me to help, because he believed Dr. McIlveen had been flunked from the Ph.D. program for reasons which had nothing to do with ability or willingness to learn. Not knowing where else to begin, I met with Dr. McIlveen, heard his incredible story, and began to file open records requests.

Briefly, let me recount the early career of Dr. McIlveen, who grew up on a farm in East Texas, graduated from the segregated Prairie View College, and entered upon two years of obligatory service in the Army. In 1963, with a glowing recommendation from his commanding officer at Ft. Hood, Dr. McIlveen entered service as a Negro County Extension Agent, because, in those days, you were either, by title, a County Extension Agent or a Negro County Extension Agent.

Dr. McIlveen’s early years at the extension service were marked by troublesome signs. He was quickly called upon to perform janitorial services at a boys’ camp and was subjected to a nigger joke told at a professional meeting on the Texas A&M campus. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, however, promised a new day of opportunity, and Dr. McIlveen hung in for the better, despite the worse.

In the early 1970’s, Dr. McIlveen won entrance to a master’s program at the University of Florida campus at Gainesville. It took him a year to determine that he was indeed eligible to participate in the program as an extension service employee, and his bosses at the extension service wanted to revoke his development leave once he got there, but Dr. McIlveen managed to find his rights and hang on to them in spite of the provocations.

After turning down an eight-page job description from the extension service with no salary attached, Dr. McIlveen returned to Texas, employed by the Cooperative Extension Service (CES) at Prairie View, apparently more in keeping with the color of his skin. As we shall see later, the extension services continue to operate according to traditional lines of race separation. The extension service at the College Station campus harbors the white tradition, while CES at Prairie View has been historically black. And the bottom line is this–while the extension service at College Station has been growing, the one at Prairie View has been steadily shrinking during the past decades.

While these events were taking place in Dr. McIlveen’s life, another black employee of the extension service filed a class action lawsuit against Texas A&M alleging race discrimination. Mr. Preston Poole’s 1974 lawsuit in Texas was echoed at that time by legal challenges against extension services in North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, all alleging similar problems of race discrimination. And Mr. Poole is with us in the audience today. As a result of Mr. Poole’s action, Texas A&M was made to pay cash settlements and was forced to integrate its headquarters operation at the College Station campus. As part of the ensuing settlement, Dr. McIlveen was brought to the College Station campus in 1977 as a specialist in entomology. Since that time, the few African Americans who were court-ordered with Dr. McIlveen into leadership at the extension service have been phased out of the headquarters staff, leaving Dr. McIlveen as their last legacy.

In 1979, Dr. McIlveen enrolled in graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in entomology, and we thus return from our brief digression about his early career in the extension services. Suffice it to say that Dr. McIlveen would find himself flunked from the Ph.D. program by 1986 and facing a federal judge in 1990, seeking redress for race discrimination. Dr. McIlveen’s day in court lasted about a day and a half before the judge gaveled the proceedings to a close.

And this is how I found Dr. McIlveen when he was introduced to me: A man full of the most unbelievable stories you ever heard, one after the other, spanning decades of discrimination. And while his story continues to be ignored, the plight of black professionals in the extension service continues to deteriorate.

The Meaning of the McIlveen Case

After 80 years in the business, the Texas extension service has successfully guarded itself against any serious threat of integration. And informed sources indicate that the story is no better in other parts of the United States.

But Dr. McIlveen would not let his rights die beneath his feet. After he was unable to secure interviews for promotions that went to white men with sixteen years less experience, he got a new lawyer and complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After some time, the EEOC responded that it would not be able to conclude its investigation, but would allow Dr. McIlveen the right to plead his grievances, at his own expense, in federal court. And this he has done for two years, with the help of Bryan attorney Gaines West.

All this brings us back to Dec. 6, 1993, when Dr. McIlveen’s current lawsuit was filed in Houston federal court. Soon after, we looked to the newspapers. Christmas passed, then New Year’s. King’s birthday, then Valentine’s Day. I called a few reporters, left a few messages, waited a few more months. How many days pass when some lawsuit or other is not reported page one? How many months pass when some scandal about Texas A&M is not in the paper? And yet this peculiar silence. Indeed, this black hole.

After a long, hot summer I sent essays and background material to several editors. A month after that, I mailed copies of the court petition. I will name names: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, 60 Minutes, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, The Houston Chronicle, The Houston Post, The Dallas Morning News, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, The Austin American-Statesman, and The San Antonio Express-News. If the media have a contract with the public interest, there must be an escape clause for Dr. McIlveen. His lawsuit would not be news.

At the same time, Dr. McIlveen’s story was having a powerful effect on my students. Every semester I found some reason to tell the tale and present Dr. McIlveen for questions. Without fail, the power of his story, and the grace of his personality left indelible impressions on hundreds of young souls. And they wanted to know some things.

How do you get through this? Why don’t you run away? Why aren’t you bitter? What would you do differently? Have the media been informed? Won’t the newspapers print this story? How is this possible? We thought–we all thought–this sort of thing couldn’t happen any more.

UCLA Professor Lawrence Bobo is one among many experts examining racial attitudes in the U.S. And there are certain features of white opinion, documented by such experts, which help explain, if not excuse, the silence of the media when faced with a case such as McIlveen vs. Texas A&M. By and large, white folks do not acknowledge structural inequality in America, nor do they sense that prejudice is still widespread.

In other words, white America today is like I was three years ago, or like my students before they meet Dr. McIlveen. We are simply not prepared to believe this sort of thing, and when the facts demand attention, we want to isolate their implications. Isolated incident. Just one man. He should have left the state. Startling allegations. No system is perfect. And so on.

And so this is how I imagine that the media are reacting–no better or worse than white America itself behaves on a daily basis. For white America, Dr. McIlveen is the new invisible man. But the facts do point to a structural problem. The dots can be connected. Dr. McIlveen’s life is emblematic of a generation of black talent. The raw numbers tell us with each new year, that the black presence in the extension service is losing a war of attrition.

Civil Rights, The Next Generation

Having celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, it is time to take stock of the changes won as a result of that galvanizing law. When Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his dream from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he said it was time for our nation to pay up. For too long, he said, America’s promise of equality had been kept like an unpaid debt.

“It is obvious today,” said King, “that America has defaulted on this promissory note in so far as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked `insufficient funds.’. . .”

Taken in this context, King’s dream expressed the urgent hope that a great nation would soon find the means to fund its outstanding obligations. Either America would embrace all of its people, or there would be no America.

How have we faced up to King’s challenge in the past 30 years? The answer, informed by the peculiar case of Dr. McIlveen, is that we have done worse than anyone might imagine. King’s mighty dream has become laughable, and America totters when it should be tilting toward democratic fulfillment.

Since I do not want to be more negative than necessary, it is important to point out that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had a profound effect on Texas A&M, instigating a radical shift in traditions. No longer would the campus be the exclusive domain of a white, male Corps of Cadets. The student population boomed from 5,000 to 42,000 in three decades.

On the other hand, the civil rights bonanza at Texas A&M has largely benefited white folks. Whereas African American students were excluded from campus in 1963, they make up only 2.7% of the student population three decades later. (Texas is 12% African American, 25% Hispanic.) If the Civil Rights Act was conceived for the purpose of empowering African Americans, then it has had some success at Texas A&M, but by far the biggest beneficiaries have been white students.

The Texas A&M paradox thus leaves African Americans in a frightful struggle for opportunity against crowds of white folks who have virtually monopolized the de-segregation boom. In fact it is possible to see a more vicious dynamic at work when the new crowds of white folks assume the cultural heritage left them by a white, male, militaristic institution. Under such conditions, you get the worrisome phenomenon witnessed in the Fall semester of 1994 as the public opinion of some 35,000 white students was galvanized by the charge of “reverse discrimination” leveled with public glee by the campus chapter of the College Republicans.

Continuous with this swing of mood, the President of Texas A&M one year later vetoed a faculty recommendation to require some multicultural studies for every student. In sum, white opinion holds that white privileges are under attack and that white minds are imposed upon when required to take seriously nonwhite cultural contributions. The behavior of the Texas media in the McIlveen case has allowed such myths to flourish unchallenged.

When County Agent Poole took his class-action case to court against Texas A&M, his loyalty was questioned. His final evaluation stated that he did a pretty good job working as a professional for the system for 30 years; nevertheless, County Agent Poole was not to be counted among the loyal. Somehow, Poole’s efforts to continue the struggle for civil rights were construed as opposing the “loyal” interests of the Texas A&M University System.

Indeed, the first generation of the post-Civil Rights Era produced some heroes among us, but mostly, as Hunter Thompson swore, we were a generation of swine. When the Civil Rights Era began in 1964, the extension services in Texas employed about 125 African American professionals. Today, that number has dropped to 30. Yet Dr. McIlveen is viewed as an isolated case? Indeed, the only thing unique about Dr. McIlveen is his determination not to be swept along by the trend of his generation.

Talk until your heart is Republican blue about the threat of reverse discrimination, but please study the facts. As far back as 1941 there were 85 African American County Agents in Texas. Today, the Aggies have cut that number by more than half. There have never been any African Americans ever to serve as County Agents in West Texas (west of Interstate 35 North) since the founding of the extension service in 1914. Since the Civil Rights Act, African American employment has been whittled away until, today, if you are an African American County Agent, chances are good that you work near Houston.

Racism in the Agricultural Establishment

Racism in the extension services is neither new nor surprising, and it is remarkably well documented. Immediately after the Civil Rights Act was passed, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (CCR) filed a report on the agricultural establishment: “the Commission found gross discrimination and inequity in a number of Department of Agriculture programs, particularly the Cooperative Extension Service.” Responding to these findings, the chief Civil Rights officer for USDA, “initiated, staffed, and received approval for a Departmental complaint procedure for extension workers who felt they had been denied equal employment opportunity because of racial discrimination.”

Apartheid in Texas Agriculture: A Biography of "Affirmative Action" (Part 3)

Presented at the National Association for African American Studies (Houston, Feb. 16, 1996)

So what’s wrong with this picture? Nothing yet. CCR finds discrimination, USDA prepares to respond. But that’s as far as the good news goes. “The procedure, although signed by the Assistant Secretary for Administration, was withdrawn by Department officials upon the report of the Administrator of the Federal Extension Service that it would meet resistance from the States.” And this is where we begin to see how the agricultural establishment works. Because, at this point, the whole matter was turned over to the Land Grant Colleges.

“Thereafter,” reports CCR, “it was agreed that a committee of the Association of Land Grant College Presidents would work cooperatively with the Department of Agriculture to develop a more acceptable procedure. Although this was anticipated by January 1967, it was not until January 1968, following an opinion by the Department of Justice supporting the Assistant to the Secretary’s efforts, that the decision was taken to promulgate essentially the same procedures which had been suggested 18 months earlier. In May, 1968, the proposed regulation was published in the Federal Register.”

On April 16, 1969, a Republican Attorney General wrote to the Secretary of USDA: “Despite the evidence of these widespread violations of the law disclosed by your department’s investigations, I am not aware of any meaningful action which has been taken to correct the situation.” As a new decade began to put the sixties behind us, CCR echoed its own somber assessment: “It is disheartening to note that as of 1970, salary disparities and segregated service patterns still exist in the Extension Service offices.”

“The plain fact is,” concluded the CCR in 1970, “that some of these laws are not working well. The federal civil rights effort has been inadequate to redeem fully the promise of true equal protection of the laws for all Americans. As a result many minority groups are losing faith that equality can be achieved through law. It is important that their faith be restored and that the promise of the hard fought battle for civil rights laws be redeemed.” In 1974, still operating under a Republican administration, the CCR returned to the field for further study.

In its seven-volume review of the federal government (compiled in 1974, published in 1975) CCR limited its entire chapter on the USDA to a discussion of one program–the Extension Service.

The Landmark Civil Rights Report of 1974

“This report focuses on the Extension Service because, as the education arm of the Department of Agriculture the Extension Service has significant impact on the lives of millions of families, especially in rural areas, and is the USDA assistance program with the greatest breadth (25-26).”

As the report was reviewed for publication, USDA Assistant Secretary for Administration Joseph R. Wright, Jr., submitted running commentary which attacked at every turn the text of the CCR, beginning with the avowed intent to focus on the Extension Service:

“It appears that the primary objective of the Commission is to build a straw man and then propose to tear it down by citing many examples of contrived discrimination,” wrote Wright (26).

Earlier reports from the CCR had already declared that there was something wrong with the very structure of USDA, noting especially how USDA’s own Office of Civil Rights did not report directly to the Secretary of Agriculture, but to the Assistant Secretary for Administration. In the first generation of struggle over affirmative action, proponents insisted that affirmative action officers should report directly to the chief executive. As with USDA, this advice was generally ignored.

The skirmish of words between CCR and USDA was part of a tedious battle waged since passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With rare exception, the CCR never had been happy with USDA, nor had USDA ever expressed any but the most reluctant interest in civil rights. In the long-considered opinion of CCR, the office of USDA’s Assistant Secretary for Administration was a bureaucratic tool for blocking civil rights.

Returning to CCR’s landmark report of 1974: “the Department of Agriculture has had a history of operating and funding programs which have been discriminatory in the services they offer and in their employment practices. Perhaps the most serious problems have been in the Extension Service” (31-32).

A weighty footnote cites five previous reports which, “found that recipients of USDA-funded programs have provided less assistance to blacks than to whites, that county committees serving USDA-funded programs have been chosen by discriminatory election procedures, that blacks in the South were underutilized as employees by USDA recipients, and that USDA itself in its direct assistance programs has provided assistance to blacks which was inferior to that which it provided to whites” (32).

The USDA itself in 1974 audited extension services in 19 states. “Overall, the audits showed that, despite affirmative action requirements, discrimination continued to permeate the State Extension Services” (81). According to USDA’s own figures, one un-named state paid higher salaries to its white women agents than its black women agents, despite the fact that the black women agents averaged ten years of service more than their white counterparts and had more years of education (81).

Reviewing the audit results, Extension Service administrators agreed with the Federal Office of Equal Opportunity that every state on the list needed, “at least some corrective action” (82). Moreover, “OEO and ES determined that about one-third of the States audited were in substantial noncompliance with the law” (82). The Department of Justice also drew up a list of states deemed to be the worst offenders, and although no names were reported to the public, “For the most part, these were the same States which USDA identified as being in substantial noncompliance,” reported the Civil Rights Commission in 1974.

Ten years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an exasperating process was already recycling itself. Reports, findings, and determinations repeatedly warned that the extension services were civil rights offenders. In response to these reports, USDA simply asked the more egregious state offenders to produce new plans, revised procedures, and renewed assurances. Meanwhile, with each new fiscal year, USDA continued to allocate money in support of the extension services.

“Each new procedure was to be the last–recipients who did not comply were to be subject to enforcement actions. However, these promises to resort to sanctions have never been executed. Instead, USDA has shied away from enforcement action, appearing to hope that the noncompliance would go away by itself. As a result, the net effect of the series of new procedures to effect compliance has been to give recipients more time to continue their illegal practices” (90).

“When, in 1973 and 1974, USDA conducted audits of compliance with affirmative action plans of 19 States, OEO and ES agreed that the audits would be the final step in the compliance process–if the audits revealed that the plans were not being implemented, USDA would carry out its commitment to take enforcement action. This agreement was not in writing and was not adhered to” (94).

“A new agreement, superseding the oral agreement between ES and OEO, was signed in August 1974, when the Extension Service and the Office of Equal Opportunity effected a Memorandum of Understanding” (96). Evaluating the 1974 Memorandum of Understanding, CCR complained that the new process actually allowed more time for delay and provided an additional loophole which would allow extension services to wiggle free. “Moreover, as weak as the agreement was, it has not been adhered to” (97-98). “More than 14 months after the last audit was completed, USDA had not ensured that corrective action had been taken” (100).

Meanwhile, facing pervasive and unregenerate discrimination, with no relief in sight, a few black citizens had sued the extension services. “Private citizens who have been subject to racial and ethnic discrimination in ES-funded programs have had to seek corrective action through the courts because USDA has not taken effective action to require its recipients to come into compliance,” with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (32).

Of ten civil rights cases being handled by the Department of Justice in 1975, four were filed by black county agents against their respective Extension Services in Alabama (Strain v. Philpott, 1971), North Carolina (Bazemore v. Friday, 1971), Texas (Poole v. Williams, 1972), and Mississippi (Wade v. Mississippi Cooperative Extension Service, 1974). “In each case, USDA was named as a defendant” (32).

By 1974, the Justice Department was pleading with USDA, “Please let us handle Texas.” USDA would send files over to Justice, but would not ask the Justice Department to intervene. “In the case of the Texas Cooperative Extension Service [now TAEX], however, the Department of Justice has requested a formal referral, and USDA has effectively refused to make the referral” (100).

Why did the Justice Department want to handle Texas? “DOJ noted that: (1) Both the USDA audit and a DOJ investigation revealed actionable noncompliance in employment and services. (2) TCES [now TAEX] was in violation of its affirmative action plan approved by USDA more than 18 months earlier, indicating that further efforts at achieving voluntary compliance would be fruitless. (3) A referral would assist DOJ in its representation of USDA officials in the Poole case” (101). In other words, Texas was the picture-perfect example of a civil rights offender.

“Nonetheless, USDA effectively refused to make a formal referral on the grounds that it had not yet informed the Texas Cooperative Extension Service [now TAEX] that USDA found that compliance could not be achieved by voluntary means. Clearly, there was sufficient evidence for USDA to send such a letter to TCES [now TAEX], but USDA apparently chose not to do so. As of May 1975, USDA had not even sent Texas recommendations resulting from the audit” (101-102).

Enter USDA’s Assistant Secretary for Administration Joseph R. Wright, Jr., with his commentary on the matter: “We take issue with the wording of the above paragraph . . . . It refers to USDA’s alleged refusal to make formal referral of the Texas Extension Service to the Department of Justice. USDA did not, as stated, refuse referral but rather declined to immediately refer the matter on the basis that requirements of the Department’s regulations had not been met and the areas of remedial action proposed by the Department of Justice did not include all areas of concern to USDA. The Department proposed to take immediate action to fulfill the prescribed requirements and invited the Department of Justice to participate in such efforts” (102).

What the USDA did, was set up a task force. As Wright says, “The course of action chosen . . . was to appoint a high level task force to achieve, at the earliest practicable date, full compliance by all State Extension Directors” (104). In the eyes of CCR, however, the task force was nothing more than, “a strategy which has effectively delayed compliance even further” (104).

Curiously enough, CCR could never get a straight answer as to the membership of the task force. Certainly, the Extension Service Director of Civil Rights Compliance–as Executive Secretary of the task force–could not participate in task force proceedings, except to take notes, write minutes, and, “upon request provide statistics for the use of the task force” (104). Not so certain, however, was the role of the various directors of the state extension services.

Some USDA staff insisted that state directors were participating as members of the task force. But the official list compiled by the Extension Service Director of Civil Rights Compliance–and reported by CCR–did not mention any state directors (104). Wright himself complained, in his running commentary, that CCR had not reported the full list of task force members (104).

In the end, CCR was not able to gather much information on the work of the task force. When CCR checked with the Justice Department, nobody there had been invited to, consulted on, or informed about the task force (105). “Whatever its work, the task force appears to be one more link in USDA’s endless chain of procedural delays. Even the Acting Director of OEO has stated that he sees the task force as a tactic for stalling” (107).

“The end result of USDA’s inactivity is that although noncompliance has been documented in State Extension programs for over 10 years, USDA has not required that this noncompliance be corrected and it continues to provide funds for the operation of the programs. The role of the task force in perpetuating this situation clearly demonstrates that this blatant violation of civil rights law has the continuing complicity of the USDA Secretaries and other high level USDA officials. USDA appears more concerned about protecting noncomplying recipients than those people whom the law seeks to protect” (108).

What was to be done in the face of such systematic lawlessness? One could only follow the example of county agents Strain, Poole, Wade, and Bazemore. As a private citizen, one could take his case to court at his own expense. Indeed, as a result of such action, another federal agency–the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare–had been directed by federal court, “to begin enforcement action against school districts and systems of higher education which had been found in noncompliance by the agency between 1969 and 1971.”

CCR suggested that the precedent set by Adams v. Richardson, ordering de-segregation of higher education, might be used against USDA. “The Department of Justice has repeatedly cautioned USDA officials that the same principles are applicable to USDA’s continued finding of discriminatory programs, but even this warning has been to no avail” (108).

In retrospect, CCR had it backward. Adams v. Richardson was not to set precedent for the de-segregation of the extension services. Actually, USDA-style stall tactics set the example for tedious non-implementation of court-ordered de-segregation in higher education. And once again, Texas would serve as a model state. In 1981, acting upon a Texas A&M initiative, Texas asked the federal courts to forestall legal action against higher education, in exchange for a “voluntary plan” of de-segregation. A chronicle of subsequent “Texas Plans” would mirror the general structure of “interposition and nullification” so apparent in the history of the extension services.

Integration’s New Clothes

After spending eleven days in June, 1991, looking for civil rights in Texas, a six-person panel from the USDA found the black and white directors of the Texas extension services to be, “committed to the concept of Affirmative Action and to the spirit and the intent of Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity.” In order to reach this conclusion, the USDA civil rights team had only to ignore the facts it found.

USDA’s own report makes it clear that there are two extension services in Texas: the white agency of 1,400 employees headquartered at College Station; the black agency, headquartered at Prairie View, employing 65. The white agency is 80% white and 47% male; the black agency is 90% black and 38% male. When it comes to jobs for executives and professionals, the white agency is 91% white and 60% male; the black agency is 86% black and 50% male.

The white agency, with 21 times the staff of the black agency, reaches out across the 250 counties in Texas. The black agency, with five percent of the staff of the white agency, covers 31 counties already served by the white agency–mostly in the southeast part of the state.

All these findings, and the USDA team reports that “the concept of affirmative action” is understood. What does it mean to “understand affirmative action” under these circumstances?

Nearly two years after the above facts were reported, USDA continued to praise the Texas extension services. “Texas is to be commended for carrying out its civil rights plans. I would like to underscore the importance of continuing to recruit, employ and promote women and minorities,” said the civil rights reviewer. That was her entire commentary for 1993.

Of 28 district-director jobs which existed in the white extension service in 1990–14 districts, each co-directed by a man and a woman–only one had once been held by a black woman, none had ever been held by a black man. In fact, the last time a black man, Dr. McIlveen, got close to a district director’s job–in 1993–the district was simply abolished. This is how things proceed today in Texas, under federal scrutiny.

Fooling the feds has been routine business for the extension services since 1964. And the feds have become ongoing partners in this dangerous dance of deception. Affirmative action is understood, but by no one. Texas is to be commended, but for what?

As we saw from the exhaustive report of 1974, there was a time when federal administrators had energy to challenge the white extension service. The Justice Department once declared that affirmative action began with the Kennedy White House in 1961. Yet, 35 years later, affirmative action is still a hate-word in the South. What has happened between Camelot and now?

The spirit of affirmative action was born when Dr. King was thrown in prison for driving without a license. Two weeks before the 1960 elections, candidate Kennedy called Mrs. King to offer help. That dashing yankee liberal dared to call a black family in distress, and the spirit of affirmative action was born. Heretofore, it was enough if one did not discriminate. Hereafter, one was called to reach out. Thus we see how “affirmative action” is a white-oriented expression for white folks who do more than sit on their thumbs.

Is the white extension service committed to affirmative action? Does it reach out? Has it produced more than token results? McIlveen’s experience threatens to re-confirm what Du Bois realized upon his departure from the NAACP, and what Harold Cruse reiterated in 1966–so long as black folks continue to work on white terms, retirement shall precede promotion.

White terms still prevail at the white extension service. During the period studied by USDA, 85% of the professionals hired by the white extension service were white, 90% of the promotions were given to whites, and most of the people fired were not white. If you are black, and you aspire to top responsibility in this lifetime, somewhere there is a small, black extension service for you. If you are white, however, the sky is the limit.

Speaking metaphysically, everything possible is really possible. But speaking from the experience of the extension services in Texas, white possibilities are more real. And this is what passes for evidence that affirmative action is understood?


In the Fall semester of 1994, the student chapter of the NAACP at Texas A&M held a rally on the College Station campus. Official programs of that rally published Dr. McIlveen’s name, and the students celebrated his heroic life

The next day, following Dr. McIlveen’s speech, we turned to the campus newspaper and found a very nice report of some things that were said as we prepared to hear from Dr. McIlveen, but you will not find in that newspaper any hint of Dr. McIlveen’s presence or any suggestion that the rally was held in his honor. The student newspaper mimicked its professional peers in the blackout that has become Dr. McIlveen’s story. But now you know a few things about the secret life of Dr. Garland McIlveen, Jr., and the meaning it suggests for American history.

As we come to a resting place after this long story, I think it is important to view Dr. McIlveen as a hero and as a paradigm. I have not mentioned names of any of the defendants in his pending lawsuit. Their deeds are not remarkable, and they do not deserve widespread notoriety. Dr. McIlveen, on the other hand, is a rare individual who has much left to contribute to this world, and I hope TAEX will someday let him serve his home state in the manner to which the public is entitled.

For several years, I have attempted to get some salaried journalist interested in this story–someone who gets paid for getting in this kind of trouble. Somewhere out there are a dozen reporters capable of reporting the fact that a lawsuit has been filed. Surely there are a dozen who are by now aware of such a fact and who can call the obvious officials to account for their record. Maybe someday these journalists, too, will disclose what forces kept them quiet for so long.

In the meantime, I have been relieved of my own employment at Texas A&M University. My annual salary of $23,000 turned out to be a sum that could not be re-budgeted for the current year. So I am learning about New York winters. I think it is important to say for the record that the media have been gross in their negligence to the point where the collective behavior of the media can fairly be judged racist. Neither the media, the extension service, nor the Texas A&M University System has yet taken advantage of that historical opportunity called the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And this has grave implications for the fabric of justice in America today. In closing, I would like to thank Dr. McIlveen and Mr. Poole for being here today. May your examples serve us well.


Page numbers refer to The Federal Civil Rights Enforcement Effort–1974. Vol. VI: To Extend Federal Financial Assistance. A Report of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Nov., 1975.