The College Board’s Quiet Campaign to End Racial Segregation at SAT Testing Centers in the South

Jan Bates Wheeler, associate director of accreditation in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness at the University of Georgia, recently completed her doctoral dissertation on a little-known chapter in southern history. Her research documents an effort by two men working on behalf of The College Board who, in the early 1960s, sought to desegregate SAT testing centers throughout the South.

Wheeler’s research included researching 10,000 pages of documents, letters, memos, and other correspondence on the siting of test centers in the South. Her research found that black students were often turned away from testing centers because of the color of their skin and were not permitted to take the test. In other areas black students were permitted to take the test but in a different room from white students.

Beginning in 1960 Ben Cameron Jr. and Ben Gibson of Atlanta traveled to nearly every SAT testing center in the Deep South states of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. They told the principals at the schools where the test was given that they had a choice of either operating racially integrated testing centers or being denied by The College Board of the ability to administer the test. Often the two men were called “nigger lovers” and were quickly shown the door. But Cameron and Gibson held firm and closed testing centers that refused to racially integrate their facilities.

Many schools that were used as testing centers were unwilling to cooperate with The College Board. As a result, in the early 1960s, the test was given at military installations throughout the South where blacks and whites took the test together in the same facility.

The integrationist effort was largely kept from public view because Cameron and Gibson wanted to avoid publicity that would have galvanized white support against their efforts. Also, they wanted to avoid subjecting those principals who cooperated with their efforts from retaliation by white members of their communities.