The Racial Integration of Saint Louis University
On Friday, February 11, 1944, Father Claude Heithaus, S. J. was saying the 8:45 a.m. Mass in St. Francis Xavier College Church at Saint Louis University. Father Heithaus had given hundreds of sermons at Mass before that Friday, and he would give hundreds more. Yet no sermon he gave would generate the intense discussion of such an important issue in American society as the sermon he gave that morning. The issue Father Heithaus raised at Mass was racial prejudice in America. Saint Louis University’s response to that issue ultimately was the racial integration of the University.
Although Jesuit officials and the University administration had been discussing integrating Saint Louis University, it was the message Father Heithaus delivered in his sermon that was the call to action. In the summer of 1944, the University admitted five African-American students, two undergraduates and three graduate students. Saint Louis University was the first school on any level in St. Louis to admit black students and the first university in any of the 14 former slave states to admit non-white students. Remember that this was 10 years before the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that separate facilities for the races were unconstitutional in the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision.