Linton Opened the Door for Today‘s Generation

Impenetrable racial barrier
in higher education broken
50 years ago this fall!

A few months after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered racial integration of the public schools in Brown vs. the Board of Education, young Marigold Linton mustered the courage to break an even more impenetrable racial barrier in higher education — without any fanfare or court decisions.

Brown vs. the Board of Education wasn’t the only civil rights breakthrough in 1954. A few months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision, young Marigold Linton broke a seemingly impenetrable racial barrier in higher education. But there won’t be any fanfare, parades, or proclamations for that courageous “bright little Indian girl” who in September 1954 became the very first Indian from a California reservation to attend college.

At one point, Linton was one of just 14 Native Americans to hold a Ph.D. — her breakthrough eventually has led— in 2002 alone — to 175 American Indians earning a doctorate, 2,419 receiving a Master's degree, and 9,001 earning a Bachelor's degree.

In addition to attaining tenure at San Diego State University and the University of Utah in cognitive psychology, she co–founded the National Indian Education Association and is now is Director of American Indian Outreach at the University of Kansas. Co–author of a bestselling textbook on statistics, Linton has just been named alongside Lance Armstrong as an example of the courage needed to fulfill your dreams in the book Dream It Do It: Inspiring Stories of Dreams Come True by Sharon Cook and Graciela Sholander (Planning/Communications, $16.95, 2004,, 888/366–5200).

Marigold Linton Today

“Just as Lance Armstrong showed incredible courage recovering from his widespread cancer to become the all–time champion of the Tour de France, the teenage Linton had to muster all the courage she could to overcome her fears, defeatism, and a whole new culture to enter the University of California–Riverside in 1954,” explains Graciela Sholander, co–author of Dream It Do It. “Nobody living on an Indian reservation in California had even entered college, much less graduated. Everywhere she turned, she faced discouraging words, and nobody on her Morongo Reservation in Southern California could even tell her what college was. To flourish in an entirely different world than the one she grew up in, Linton embodied the same fortitude and courage that Armstrong has displayed 50 years later.”

Fortunately for Linton and the thousands who have followed in her footsteps, her eighth grade teacher not only knew what college was but recognized college material. Breaking with the tradition that kept white people from setting foot on reservation grounds, Linton’s eighth grade teacher Mrs. Adams visited Linton’s phoneless mother to tell her “Your daughter is very bright. You must make sure she goes to college.” This visit made a huge impression on Linton giving her the goal of attending college, whatever that was.

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But it took more than a dream to get to college in the face of the overt racial discrimination that dominated the 1950s. No other teacher at the off–reservation, nearly all–white Banning Union High School took an interest in “our bright little Indian girl.” And when Linton’s grade point average tied her with another student for valedictorian, the principal arbitrarily dropped to Linton second solely due to her race.

“I thought it was unfair but being stoic, I did nothing about it,” Linton recalls. “That’s just the way things were. But I had begun to think, ’Someday, people will realize how remarkable my performance is.’” Knowing the score, Linton didn’t even approach any high school teachers for recommendation letters for college, instead searching out others with college degrees, including a town librarian and a local newspaper reporter interested in Indian affairs.

“The transition to college can be rough on any child,” notes Sharon Cook, coauthor of ”Dream It Do It.” “But try to imagine the challenges faced by someone who has lived her entire life on an Indian reservation. It’s a brave new world where, at age 18, she had to suddenly learn a whole new way of living that everybody around her had learned since early childhood.”

“Everything was traumatic,” Linton recalls. “First I couldn’t figure out how to catch the bus and then, wanting to remain as unobtrusive as possible, I couldn’t bring myself to pull the cord to get off. On campus I was afraid to make a fool of myself, so I never talked. When called on in class, I would start crying and run out of the room.”

She sure wasn’t getting any support from the folks back home who thought they were being kind and giving her a reality check when they repeatedly told her that she would flunk out before the first semester ended. Her father reassured her that when she flunked out, she was always welcome back home. At the shirt factory where she worked to save for tuition the summer of 1954, her employers tried to talk her out of college. “They basically said, ’You’re going to flunk out anyway, so why bother?” Linton recalls. “They wanted me to stay and work for them for 50 cents an hour, which was 90 percent more than what most on my reservation were making. I thought, ’Well, if I’m that good at the shirt factory, I’ll try college. And if I flunk out, I’ll go back to the shirt factory.” Even though she was terrified of flunking out of college — and half–convinced that she would — Linton was determined to try.

Linton’s courage and native intelligence won out, and Linton entered the newly–opened Riverside campus of the University of California. Foregoing the social and recreational temptations freshmen face, Linton spent nearly every waking moment studying. Receiving straight A’s her first semester, she marched into the university registrar’s office and “told them that there was a mistake and that they had given me the wrong grades. I was quite insistent that they should take these grades back and give them to whomever they really belonged and give me my real grades,” Linton recalls with a laugh. “They thought I was crazy. It took a very long time before I believed I might succeed.”

Slowly but surely, as she learned the ways of a world she hadn’t grown up in, Linton started dating, working part–time, and winning increasingly larger scholarships. And learn she did, earning her B.S. in experimental psychology in 1958 and a Ph.D. at UCLA in 1964.

As her academic career advanced, she could not forget all the struggles she faced leaving the reservation, leading to her new dream to expand educational opportunities for other American Indians. At age 50, she left her secure position as Director of Educational Services in the College of Education at Arizona State University to become the school’s Director of American Indian Programs and then, two years later, Director of American Indian Outreach at the University of Kansas. There she has been awarded grants from NASA, National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation to bring quality math and science programs to Indians living on reservations in Arizona.

Today “our bright little Indian girl” is President–Elect of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science and a member of the University of Kansas’ Women’s Hall of Fame. In 1994, the University of California, Riverside, the college where Linton became the first Indian from a California reservation to attend college, named her one of “40 Alumni Who Make a Difference.” And this year she was named one of 37 role model dream achievers in the book Dream It Do It: Inspiring Stories of Dreams Come True, alongside President Jimmy Carter, Maya Angelou, Barbara Walters, Yo–Yo Ma, Tiger Woods, and Harrison Ford

But as much as things change, they still remain the same. Chances that an American Indian growing up on a reservation will attend college are still pretty slim, explains Linton. “Reservations remain violent. There’s an increasing amount of drug abuse, and there’s always been alcohol abuse. Bizarrely enough, many in the casino–rich tribes still aren’t sending their kids to college because now that they have money. They feel they don’t have to go.”

Yet she persists in trying to give American Indian students more opportunities for academic success. But it’s not easy to convince people that they can achieve when the only environment they’ve known hammers home failure.

“People have different needs at different times,” Linton notes. “Within the American–Indian community, those who want to leave the reservations should. Those who want to stay on the reservations should. But all need to be given the opportunity to develop skills.”

And pursue their dreams.

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To arrange an interview with Marigold Linton, co–authors Graciela Sholander and Sharon Cook, contact Daniel Lauber or Jennifer Atkin at 708/366–5200 (Illinois). Also available to the media from Dan or Jenn, review copies of Dream It Do It: Inspiring Stories of Dreams Come True.

Click on these links to download high resolution photos of Marigold Linton and a color or black & white front cover shot of Dream It Do It

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