When Peggy Drake Holland attended the University of Texas, she lived in segregated housing and couldn’t participate in organizations. In the halls, students would bump her or purposefully knock the books out of her hands, and she recalls more than one instance when a professor discriminated against her. When Drake Holland finally graduated from McCombs in 1963, she was the first black person to do so.
“I always thought if I came to this institution of higher learning, the teachers would be more broadminded because I know people have prejudices,” she said. “Everybody has a prejudice of some sort. I was just so disappointed that so many adult people acted on those prejudices. I thought at that time, that with education came intelligence, and that didn’t seem to be the case.”
Drake Holland was particularly disappointed by the behavior of some professors, who would refuse to meet with her during office hours or call on her during class. However, there were a few professors who showed her kindness, by watching over her closely during a field trip to an area with an active Ku Klux Clan, or by helping her get the GPA she needed to graduate.
“I have mixed emotions,” Drake Holland said. “Probably anywhere I would have gone or most places I would have gone to college, I would run into something like that or in life, period. I wouldn’t say that I regret it totally because it’s strengthening, too, to arise from that type of experience.”
She married fellow UT student, Leon Holland, and after graduation, took on the life of a military career officer’s wife. She traveled the world and spent time dedicating herself to various causes, such as the Red Cross. She also became involved with some organizations and committees, including the Precursors, a group of some of UT’s first black students that support new black students at the University. Though Drake Holland believes the situation facing black students isn’t perfect, it looks completely different from when she went to school.
“It’s such a world of difference,” Drake Holland said. “For one thing, they can live in dormitories. They have a support system within our group and the leaders at the highest level have done a lot to try to improve the lives of African Americans here, and they continue to do that. They can join the band, do the things that they could not do before – what we could not do, I should say. There’s a world of difference, and there’s still room for improvement, but it’s being worked on.”