Stella Courtney Crockett came to Texas Tech the fall after the school integrated.
In 1961, Stella Courtney Crockett was preparing to graduate from Lubbock's Dunbar High School and go to college at a historically black school in Langston, Oklahoma. She had received a band scholarship to help her financially.
That summer, everything changed. Texas Tech University, which had been an all-white school since it was founded in 1923, decided to integrate and the news was all over the state.
Crockett had a new opportunity open to her in her hometown, and she took it.
“Roy Roberts, the band director at Dunbar High School, encouraged other students to drop their plans and stay and go to Texas Tech,” Crockett said. “Most everyone kept their plans, but I decided to stay.”
Crockett was a little disappointed because, like most 18-year-olds, she was looking forward to leaving home and branching out on her own. But she had always been taught to respect and obey her elders.
So in the fall of 1961, Crockett enrolled in classes at Texas Tech. She was an elementary education major. That led to a career in education that lasted more than 40 years. Her contributions are part of an exhibit at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library at her alma mater.
From the beginning, Crockett faced some difficulties on campus. She had an issue with a psychology course.
“I was sitting in the first row; I'm always a front-row person, even in church,” she said. “And then in class the professor used a derogatory term.”
That same day, Crockett dropped the course.
“I felt like if he was bold enough to say something like that in front of me, it would not go well,” she said.
In 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, she heard some students in the Student Union Building use derogatory language again.
“I was in the Student Union having lunch. When they said he had passed away, a group of young men stood up and acted like they were at a football game,” she said. “And then they said ‘Thank God the N-lover is dead'; that really hurt me. There was maybe a group of 10 people sitting at my table – we were not close with the majority students so we sat together at lunch – and it hurt all of us.”
Despite the poor experience with her psychology professor, Crockett learned not all faculty felt the same. She connected with her home economics professor, one of the nicest teachers she had while at Texas Tech. She also had a job in the science department where she worked with an accommodating teacher.
Crockett carried over her experience in band from Dunbar High School to the Goin' Band from Raiderland for two years. She was one of two or three minority clarinet players in the band.
When Gov. John Connally was inaugurated in 1963, the Goin' Band was invited to perform at the ceremony. The band planned its trip to Austin for the performance without some students.
“The band director said we (black students) couldn't stay in the hotel with everyone else; my brother was a drummer and he went with the band,” Crockett said. “Being female, it wasn't too safe to go to Austin and stay in a hotel away from everyone.”
So Crockett and the other black women in the band missed the opportunity to perform at the inauguration with their peers.
“I was able to march on the field in Lubbock,” Crockett said. “I don't remember going out of town.”
After four years of integration, Texas Tech hosted its first commencement ceremony with students of color who attended Texas Tech for four years walking across the stage. Crockett was the first.
“I just felt so wonderful,” Crockett said. “I just felt really good that I made that achievement. It was a milestone for me and my family.”
After graduation from Texas Tech, Crockett dedicated her life to education. She went to Michigan State University and earned a master's degree in special education. She got her first job in Albuquerque at an elementary school. During her years as a teacher, she worked in several states, including Michigan, Rhode Island and New York. She retired in 2009 after 43 years.
“I really enjoy teaching; that was my passion,” Crockett said. “Of those 43 years, probably 40 of those years were spent teaching kids with special needs.”
Today, Crockett is still involved in education. She is the superintendent of the Sunday school program at her church, St. John's Church of God in Christ. Additionally, Crockett meets with a group of retired teachers to talk about education and is a member of the American Federation of Teachers.
She is also featured in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library for her contributions to diversity at the Texas Tech campus. Lynn Whitfield, university archivist at the Southwest Collection Library, said since the university is working to promote diversity, she decided to put together an exhibit featuring people who have contributed to diversity at Texas Tech.
The exhibit includes photographs of those featured, a brief synopsis of their contributions to Texas Tech and an oral history by those in the exhibit. Everyone featured in the exhibit became an educator in some way.
“I think it's important to highlight diversity, because when the university was set up, our charter said, ‘This is a college for students who are white'; that is no longer true and that hasn't been true in decades,” Whitfield said. “The different perspectives of people that make up Texas Tech now are one of the reasons why we are a Tier One institution.”
Juan Muñoz, senior vice president and vice provost of the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity & Community Engagement, said the exhibit at Southwest Collection is important and timely. It provides a sample of the diverse people that make West Texas, Lubbock and Texas Tech a vibrant place.
While Ophelia Powell-Malone was the first black graduate from Texas Tech, Crockett was the first to complete her entire undergraduate degree at Texas Tech, Muñoz said. Crockett's attendance and graduation from Texas Tech and pursuit of a career in education in particular allowed her achievements to be recognized at an important time in regional and national history. As an educator, she helped inspire others by her personal example and professional instruction in the classroom. Texas Tech is an important part of her legacy.
“Their success created a climate that made Texas Tech more accepting to many others. Both women were trailblazers for thousands students of color that would eventually follow in their footsteps,” Muñoz said. “Recognizing their contributions is important in keeping with the highest traditions of diversity, equity and inclusion at Texas Tech.”
Looking back now on her four years at Texas Tech, Crockett said she does not think a lot changed initially. She stayed to herself and focused on school.
“I didn't feel threatened at Texas Tech,” Crockett said. “I didn't feel danger. I just felt like I was there but people didn't want me there.”
Now, Crockett said she can see a lot of change at Texas Tech. She sees it every year when she comes home.
“I never thought back then that Texas Tech would look like it is today,” Crockett said. “I never would have thought Texas Tech would be as fully integrated as it is today.”