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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

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No blacks allowed



1957_0509_dido_pix May 9, 1957
Austin, Texas

Texas State Rep. Joe Chapman is no opera lover, especially when the cast includes an African American in the lead. He wants soprano Barbara Louise Smith out of the university production of Henry Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" immediately and has threatened to cut campus funds if officials don't comply.

According to Smith, Dean E.W. Doty said University President Logan Wilson decided to ask her to step down "to ensure my well-being... and... there was a possibility my appearance would precipitate a cut in the university's appropriation by the Legislature."

Although stunned by the action, Smith said: "I began to realize that the ultimate success of integration at the university was more important than my appearance at the opera."

Campus officials generously said they would allow Smith to attend the performance even if she couldn't be in it.

The university's action provoked immediate protests from the Student Council, the Young Democrats and the Young Republicans. And showing that hate doesn't discriminate, Chapman, Smith and State Rep. Jerry Sadler were all hung in effigy in the state Capitol, the Mirror said.

More important, eight Texas legislators signed a letter of apology and Henry Belafonte called Smith to express support, not only from himself but from Sidney Poitier and Mahalia Jackson.

Smith ultimately adopted the stage name of Barbara Conrad and her singing career included appearances at the Metropolitan Opera.

Read an interview of her here.

And read about the incident here.

This is the city of Austin's website on the incident.

As for Texas Rep. Joe Chapman of Sulphur Springs, Texas?  He apparently vanished into the mists of history.

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