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Fri, 01.10.1936

Thelma White Camack, Educator, and Activist born

Thelma Joyce White

*On this date in 1936, Thelma Joyce White was born. She was a Black activist.

Thelma was the daughter of Ray and Johnnie Mae (Dickins). She was born in Marlin, TX, and moved to El Paso with her family as a small child.  She attended the city's segregated school for blacks and, in 1954, graduated as class valedictorian from Douglass High School.

Shortly after graduation, White applied for admission to Texas Western College. Her application was rejected because the university system maintained a policy of racial exclusion. From 1954 to 1955, White attended New Mexico A&M College in Las Cruces, New Mexico, rather than travel across Texas to all-Black Prairie View A&M College. In March 1955, lawyers acting on her behalf filed suit in federal court, seeking her admission to Texas Western (TWC). Two months later, while the case was pending, the United States Supreme Court confirmed its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision striking down segregation in schools.

The University Of Texas Board Of Regents responded by accepting Black students that July.  White's attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall, refused to abandon her suit.  On July 18, Federal District Judge Robert E. Thomas issued a declaratory judgment on her behalf, permanently instructing the UT system to deny her or any other Black student the right to study at Texas Western. Twelve Black students then enrolled at TWC in September 1955, but White was not among them.

She felt uneasy about the possible hostility over the lawsuit, plus she had made many friends at New Mexico A&M and returned to Las Cruces. After another year, she left school and married Major Curtis Camack. The couple had four children, three of whom later attended the University of Texas at El Paso, (previously) Texas Western College in 1967. She worked at White Sands Missile Range for many years before health problems forced her to retire.

Thelma White Camack died in El Paso on August 9, 1985. An academic support network for African American students at UTEP was founded in 1993 and designated in her honor.

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