The University of Texas at Austin
  • The story of a voice

    Published: Jan. 31, 2011

    This story originally appeared in The Alcalde.

    It was a dark chapter in the university’s history — and one that many of today’s students and younger alumni don’t know much about. That’s one reason the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History drew on its archives to help produce a new film about it.

    Made possible by AT&T and other Briscoe Center donors, “When I Rise” is a potent documentary about Distinguished Alumna Barbara Smith Conrad, who came to The University of Texas at Austin as a gifted music student hoping to develop her considerable talents and explore a world beyond her East Texas upbringing.

    Watch the “When I Rise” theatrical trailer:


    Conrad instead found herself the subject of national headlines as a target of racial prejudice. Cast in “Dido and Aeneas” opposite a white male classmate in 1957, not long after the university’s undergraduate integration began, the young mezzo-soprano was expelled from the production when then-president Logan Wilson caved into pressure from members of the Texas Legislature.

    The story has been told before in The Alcalde and elsewhere, and in recent years Conrad has returned to campus from her New York City home to perform, teach master classes and work with the Briscoe Center on its American Spirituals Initiative.

    But even to those already familiar with the events, the full extent of the bigotry she endured at the university is shocking. It was decades before she was able to truly make peace with what happened.

    Watch the video clip “University incident becomes national news”:


    There are poignant moments in the film when Conrad, having long since ascended to the heights of her field at the Metropolitan Opera and on other stages around the world, recounts episodes of being threatened and even spit upon by classmates.

    Friends and contemporaries, including Harley Clark describe the tumultuous race relations on campus in the late 1950s. Hundreds rallied but the atmosphere was overwhelmingly hostile to students of color. After the story broke, national figures such as Sidney Poitier and Eleanor Roosevelt voiced their support for Conrad.

    Harry Belafonte offered to pay for her to attend another university. Even so, she chose to complete her education at The University of Texas at Austin. As the film makes clear, Conrad, is no quitter.

    “In the world of performing arts,” she tells the camera at one point, “it’s called survival.”


    “When I Rise” was directed by Austin’s Mat Hames, whose previous work includes “Last Best Hope,” about the Belgian Resistance in World War II, and “Fighting Goliath: Texas Coal Wars.”

    Hames also directed and produced the 13-part series “State of Tomorrow.” That Emmy winner, which focused on cutting-edge research at The University of Texas at Austin and other top Texas universities, aired on Texas PBS stations and was distributed to K-12 schools throughout the state.

    “Our involvement with this film is an excellent example of what makes the Briscoe Center unique among history research center,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center and executive producer of the film. “We not only serve as a repository for the evidence of history — we bring that history to life.”

    Watch the video clip “Returning home to Center Point”:


    Upcoming opportunities to see “When I Rise” and Barbara Smith Conrad in person:

    When I Rise: Film Screening and Performance
    When: Feb. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
    Where: LBJ Auditorium, 2313 Red River
    Cost: Free; RSVP online or call 512-232-3617

    Black History Month Concert featuring Barbara Smith Conrad
    When: Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m.
    Where: Bates Recital Hall, 2420 Robert Dedman Drive
    Cost: Free

    “When I Rise” premiers on the PBS series “Independent Lens”
    When: Feb. 8 at 9 p.m., Feb. 10 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 13 at 3 p.m. CST
    Where: KLRU-TV/18-1, Austin PBS
    Information: Check local listings for show times in other areas; more on “When I Rise” on PBS

    Related content:


    • Quote 2
      claradehuevo said on Feb. 18, 2012 at 10:12 p.m.
      Thank you for you reply
    • Quote 2
      Andra said on Nov. 24, 2011 at 3:59 a.m.
      The real people documentary always grab my attention. I can learn from their struggle before got their success.
    • Quote 2
      diet to go coupons said on Oct. 3, 2011 at 6:33 p.m.
      This is such an uplifting article. I enjoyed the videos and so admire Barbara for what she has been through.
    • Quote 2
      jes extender edward said on Aug. 23, 2011 at 6:17 p.m.
      Thank you, There's a lot of great motivational tales there waiting to be found but we are often too scared to revisit them.
    • Quote 2
      Steve | empresa paginas web said on Aug. 8, 2011 at 10:49 a.m.
      we should promote more frequently documentaries like this, and teach more about the history of the past to today's children's understanding of a little more present.
    • Quote 2
      June Harris said on Aug. 4, 2011 at 6:18 a.m.
      We call ourselves a civilized society, but we still have people who view others as inferiors on the basis of race, etc. I don't know when human beings will become human beings.
    • Quote 2
      Daniel Symons said on July 15, 2011 at 11:42 p.m.
      Just ordered an Independent Lens copy on Amazon after watching the trailer here. There's nothing so moving as being able to look back on injustice with enlightened retrospect and shame. How anyone could have been viewed inferior on the basis of race, color or any other arbitrary genetic trait is so far beyond me. I'll be checking my mail eagerly for the documentary. Thanks!
    • Quote 2
      Chris said on July 11, 2011 at 10:47 p.m.
      I enjoyed watching this director's "Last Best Hope" so I'm sure this movie will be good as well. Thanks for the article!
    • Quote 2
      SEO Basics said on July 8, 2011 at 7:25 p.m.
      Barbara Smith Conrad showed a quality I admire quite highly. That is persistence. She is inspirational and is an example of holding fast to her dreams despite those that tried to silence her and put in roadblocks. Great videos, thank you.
    • Quote 2
      Pocket Video Camera said on July 2, 2011 at 6:06 a.m.
      When you see how far we've come to overcome racial boundaries then it's always a reminder how much farther we have to go even today. A great tribute to Barbara Smith Conrad!
    • Quote 2
      Borris said on July 2, 2011 at 12:58 a.m.
      Thanks for the info, I appreciate your efforts... keep up good work! Cheers.
    • Quote 2
      chinaflowers said on July 1, 2011 at 3:09 a.m.
      Stephens is a great school
    • Quote 2
      Alexa Jenner | como quemar grasa corporal said on June 9, 2011 at 4:44 p.m.
      I don't know how to express how much this means to me. My mother grew up in the south, and could easily compare life stories with Ms. Conrad. I too have had my share of racial incidents, but nothing compared to what Blacks of that time period had to go through. So, it is important to recognize when a wrong has been done and to make it right as possible. Thank you UT. Keep up the good work.
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      Sell House Denver said on May 24, 2011 at 12:10 p.m.
      What a great tribute to Barbara Smith Conrad. Great video posts.
    • Quote 2
      soshorry said on May 18, 2011 at 12:22 p.m.
      Hello DoorMagazine! I think friends and contemporaries, including Harley Clark described race relations on campus turmoil in the late 1950s. Hundreds of files, but the mood was overwhelmingly hostile students of color. After the story broke, national figures such as Sidney Poitier and Eleanor Roosevelt had voiced support for Conrad.
    • Quote 2
      soshorry said on May 18, 2011 at 12:19 p.m.
      Hello DoorMagazine! I think Hames directed and produced 13-part series "State of Tomorrow. That's an Emmy winner, which focuses on cutting-edge research at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas universities leading other broadcast on PBS and is distributed to Texas K-12 schools statewide.
    • Quote 2
      DoorMagazine said on May 11, 2011 at 2:30 p.m.
      I’m thinking of sending my son to Stephens and we are looking forward to the visit to look around and see what facilities are available.
    • Quote 2
      Jaguh Forex said on May 10, 2011 at 1:49 a.m.
      The real people documentary always grab my attention. I can learn from their struggle before got their success. Get article and keep them coming.
    • Quote 2
      Winncie Buttler said on May 3, 2011 at 12:25 p.m.
      I love documentaries such as this one where the past is preserved and told through the eyes of real people. It's a great history lesson on what has happened. We are not out of the woods yet as there are still hatred and biogtry around us. Winncie
    • Quote 2
      K Mosher said on May 2, 2011 at 3:01 p.m.
      My neice (caucasion) lives near Austin with her husband and they love the area. My brother in law is a hard working loving black American - who works hard for AT&T and has moved up the corporate ladder because of it and AT&T is to be commended for rewarding his efforts. And I for one respect and admire his accomplishments and we all should use our voice to speak up against tyranny and oppression. It is sad that we can't fiqure out that we are all Americans. We are a great nation that needs to rise above indifference and promote equality and reward hard work and perseverance rather than to suppress it. And as a Baptist I can tell you that we are all Gods children.
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      Standing Desks said on May 2, 2011 at 11:50 a.m.
      This would be an amazing movie to see, I'm always cheerful to see how far we have come
    • Quote 2
      Eviction Form said on May 2, 2011 at 5:59 a.m.
      Completely this film based upon realistic and natural theme so i really encouraged and impressed with this theatrical trailer. Its a pleasant opportunity to know more about.Barbara Smith Conrad
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      Scrapbooking Supplies Online said on April 30, 2011 at 7:21 p.m.
      This was a very interesting article, thanks for sharing. Barbara Smith Conrad is a very inspiring women.
    • Quote 2
      David said on April 30, 2011 at 10:02 a.m.
      I really wish more people like this would come forward with these stories. While it's sad to think that our country was such a segregated place in our not so distant past it's also heartening to see how far we have come. Unfortunately we still have a ways to go but at least we are moving forward
    • Quote 2
      gary said on April 30, 2011 at 9:27 a.m.
      This would be an interesting film to see.
    • Quote 2
      Hibapress said on April 29, 2011 at 7:10 a.m.
      Thank you, There's a lot of great motivational tales there waiting to be found but we're often too scared to revisit them.
    • Quote 2
      Charles M. said on April 28, 2011 at 4:24 p.m.
      That sounds like a really interesting story for sure. Kudos for digging back to darker days in your own history and letting the light shine in. There's a lot of great motivational tales there waiting to be found but we're often too scared to revisit them.
    • Quote 2
      Elvis Impersonator Yorkshire said on April 20, 2011 at 3:07 p.m.
      Great post! Everybody is EQUAL!
    • Quote 2
      Rich Nicol said on April 17, 2011 at 8:38 a.m.
      Very interesting read. Everyone is equal around the world and everyone should be treated the same i could not agree more. One of the most inspirational pieces i have read online.
    • Quote 2
      lizhirong said on April 17, 2011 at 6:51 a.m.
      I am also against racial discrimination, equality in the world, a decline are equal.
    • Quote 2
      st said on April 11, 2011 at 7:27 p.m.
      I think the major problem we have with our kids today is that they don’t know this type of thing. They know Martin Luther King’s name and maybe Malcolm X, but they don’t what they did. They don't know her, they don’t know Shockley Carmichael or Barbara Jordan. They have no idea what they went through. I think they just think Obama decided to run and won. They don’t know people couldn’t drink out of the same water fountains as whites, let alone vote. We’d better wake up and teach them or we all are doing to end up in a place we really don’t want to be. And if you think your kids know and you didn't tell them (and tell them more than once) then I am definitely talking to you. Jewish people honor their history the good and the bad and never let the next geneartion forget any of it.
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      Rick Warrior said on April 11, 2011 at 7:51 a.m.
      I have been on the low side of racial discrimination for years. What we must do is enlighten our youth. We have tried for years with very little success. Yet the light at the end of the tunnel is very bright. Yes Barbara and so many others have run into a brick wall. Still we are taking down those brick walls one brick at a time. Cheers to all who lead the charge.
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      Web designers sydney said on April 1, 2011 at 12:50 a.m.
      I am also against racial discrimination because all people are equal in this world..
    • Quote 2
      Haydn - Chakra Cleansing said on Feb. 27, 2011 at 8:41 p.m.
      Barbara Smith Conrad's struggle against the odds and ultimately ascending to the heights of international opera not only makes for a wonderfully inspirational documentary but is testimony to the power of the human spirit to overcome oppression and tyranny.
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      Nathan said on Feb. 16, 2011 at 11:55 p.m.
      I think that it is so inspiring that the US has moved to actually elect a black president only 60 years after the racially tumultuous 1950's. Still though, I am saddened that people like Conrad had to go through what they did.
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      rocky said on Feb. 14, 2011 at 12:09 a.m.
      I am also against racial discrimination, equality in the world, any one race are equal!
    • Quote 2
      Linda Jann Lewis said on Feb. 12, 2011 at 3:50 p.m.
      Barbara Smith Conrad inspired me to or join UT's Delta Xi chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. When her story broke nationally and she was sought on campus, Barbara's AKA sisters protected her by saying they were all Barbara Smith. I wrote about "The Barbara Smith Incident" in my contribution to No Apologies, Radicals from the '60's published by Eakin Press in 1992.Barbara graciously accepted an invitation to sing the lead in Dr. Earl Stewart's phd musical performance, AL-INKISHAFI at Bass concert hall.In addition, Barbara Smith Conrad wowed the audience at Governor Ann Richards'1991 Inauguration with her rendition of The National Anthem. Texas Women are unbeatable and Barbara is an iconic, self actualized artist who was shaped by the UT experience.
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      F5M Bob said on Feb. 10, 2011 at 10:30 a.m.
      This is a sad story about life under segregation. Unfortunately, it takes a generation or more for many of the old attitudes to completely die out. And, hopefully, only a small minority still retain the old views. But, what's most amazing is the positive attitude of Barbara throughout the ordeal. That's the quality of Barbara that makes this story so appealing and inspiring.
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      Robert Kay said on Feb. 9, 2011 at 11:14 p.m.
      Had the good fortune of viewing the special on Ms. Barbara Conrad via PBS. What a magnificent, beautiful,"Class Lady!" I was so impressed with her un-yielding perseverance, while facing so much adversity. Her voice and style kept me rivited for complete hour! Thank you Ms. Conrad!!
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      Hot Article Spinner said on Feb. 8, 2011 at 4:24 a.m.
      I'm against racial prejudice.
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      Chip said on Feb. 7, 2011 at 5:58 p.m.
      This is such a moving and poignant story. We have come such a long way as a country, and as today's politically divisive atmosphere shows, we still have a far way to go. How many of us would have the courage and fortitude to endure even half of what Ms. Conrad had? Not many, I wager.
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      Susan Kirby said on Feb. 6, 2011 at 8:41 p.m.
      This is precisely the reason the university should step up and make sure the Guadalupe Hotel..Travis House..YWCA on Guadalupe Street is of the only places Black women could reent a room and go to UT before the dorms were intergrated, as testified in the public hearings for historic zoning at the City Council last year. Unfortuantely, the city council did not zone the building historic and it is imminently slated to be destroyed if someone does not step forward. UT could be the force to bring it to a halt. In addition to its contribution to the civil rights struggle, the building, with its association with the Y and Commodore Perry, has unique associations with Austin that will be lost in the rush for some placeless structure built with no regard for the history of this city.
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      Justin said on Feb. 5, 2011 at 9:38 p.m.
      Man.... I got so excited about watching When I rise from this article, then realized I don't even have cable TV to be able to watch it :-(
    • Quote 2
      Recky Nunez said on Feb. 5, 2011 at 12:42 a.m.
      Very interesting and informative article. I actually came across your website by accident on to this article which I found was an interesting read. Keep it up :)
    • Quote 2
      Lee said on Feb. 4, 2011 at 10:35 a.m.
      What a moving story and video. Coming from the South as well, although these things were before my time, it still interests me greatly to see the way things were and how far we've come as a society to protect the freedoms of all people. Lee - The GMAT Coach
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      Dan said on Feb. 3, 2011 at 9:41 p.m.
      This is an absolutely amazing story! Barbara Smith Conrad, actually came to my school once and gave a very uplifting speech. It was an honor to hear her speak and I'm really excited about the opprotunity to see When I Rise. Thank you again for this story..
    • Quote 2
      Tweets that mention The story of a voice « Know -- said on Feb. 1, 2011 at 11:03 a.m.
      [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Margarita Jimenez, UT Gradschool. UT Gradschool said: Don't miss Barbara Conrad this Thursday! [...]
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