The case of Hocutt v. Wilson occurred this month in 1933 in North Carolina and is reportedly the first attempt to integrate a higher learning institution. While the matter was unsuccessful, it laid the groundwork for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision some two decades later.
Thomas Hocutt, then a 24-year-old student at what is now known as North Carolina Central University, tried to enter the University of North Carolina’s school of pharmacy which only admitted white students at the time. The matter was taken up by local Black lawyers Conrad Pearson and Cecil McCoy with the NAACP also getting involved.
While Pearson and McCoy began the initial steps of the case, the pair reached out to NAACP General Secretary Walter Francis White for financial help. The NAACP lent support by having William Hastie lead the trial portion of the case. Durham, a generally progressive southern city, was divided on Hocutt’s case and felt it was disruptive to accepted societal norms of the time.
The attorneys knew that the case was largely impossible to win, but thought it would set some precedent. The case was ultimately thrown out after Hocutt failed to produce a transcript. But according to documents filed at the Library of Congress, Hocutt’s college president would not release his transcript.
The case helped spurn similar cases across the South and brought Pearson and McCoy into the forefront of the growing civil right rights movement.
The Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954 made the “separate but equal” doctrine of segregated schools unconstitutional.