tv Rachel Devlin A Girl Stands at the Door CSPAN July 5, 2018 3:00am-4:01am EDT
who is an award-winning historian and associate professor at rutgers university since 2011. whose interests are in the politics of girlhood, sexuality and race in the postwar united states. she is the author of relative intimacy, father's and daughters in postwar culture. and she received her phd from yale university and currently lives in brooklyn, new york. she has published several articles in the journal of social history. the yale journal of law and the humanities and the american history. she is also received awards from american council of learned society. the do boys institute of harvard university, the charles warren center for studies in american history at harvard university and the social sciences research council. this evening, rachel devlin will discuss her latest work, "a girl stands at the door".
the generation of young women who desegregated america's schools. this illustrates external bravery of young african-american woman who made racial integration in schools a political priority and imaginable reality. please join me in welcoming, rachel devlin, to both support and the pratt library. [applause] >> thank you. it is great to be here. i've been looking through the volumes in the back and all my favorite books are here and books that i used for this research. it is very exciting to be speaking among them. "a girl stands at the door" is a retelling of brown versus board of education.
it is a retelling that situates the story with the young girls and women who were plaintiffs in desegregation lawsuits in the late 1940s and leading up through brown versus board and by telling the stories of the young woman who volunteered to desegregate the schools, especially in the deep south. these young women took great risks in filing desegregation lawsuits. especially in the late 1940s. they suffered backlash from often, the white community but also within their own communities and they filed these desegregation lawsuits early on in the late 1940s. historians have looked at brown versus board and assumed that it was an idea hatched by naacp lawyers and brought to the supreme court by thurgood marshall who most people know and the naacp. what this book does is it says
that brown forced board would never have happened without the labor and contributions and leadership of girls and young women. girls who approached white schools, talked to angry and hostile principles, turned around and went and spoke to the press. who testified in court. he met with lawyers and who stuck with their cases and became the face of desegregation for the larger community. uprooting a white school in 1947 or 1948 was a radical act of social optimism. no one had ever seen black and white students go to school together. no one could really imagine what it would be like. it was very dramatic. when a young girl attempted to walk into a white school. she very often did not get very far. usually just the front door. i'm just going to read quickly to you one case in 1947 in washington d.c.. on the morning of april 13, 1947, the
14-year-old went with her father to elliott junior high school, the white school closest to her home in washington d.c. and attempted to enroll. the principal tipped off that she was on her way, met her on the steps. as she stood facing him, the white students pressed up against the windows to see what would happen. across the street, teachers, students, genders, pta and the principal of her junior high, brown junior high school, stood on the sidewalk. to their minds, it was something made up. something fantastic. but here, this child is just coming on. engaging a situation, she recalled what her parents had taught her about how to act in polite company. and so she says, i smiled nicely. and when the principal told her, you don't want to come here, she responded, respectfully, but firmly, i do
want to come to the school. the response carried within it, the contradictory attributes that were required in these kinds of confrontations. she smiled. a sign of social reciprocity, trust, a willingness to engage. she also compatibly and courageously talked back to the white school official borrowing away from the newly built citadel learning, two blocks from her home in washington d.c.. she sued elliott junior high school. in her case, this was one of the earliest school desegregation lawsuits. of the postwar era. it was one of about a dozen lawsuits that were filed everywhere from rural texas to kansas, washington d.c. and virginia. in the late 1940s. most of these cases never went to the supreme court and they had been forgotten. but these were the case that first got the attention of
thurgood marshall and the naacp and laid the groundwork for brown versus board of education. girls in these cases approached white schools, talked to hostile white principles, turned around did a great job with the press. had endless, meetings with lawyers and if you ever had a meeting with a lawyer you know how long and boring they can be. for young women. my apologies to any lawyers in the room. and they talked about their cases with conviction and concise self-possessed ways. to both the black and white press. the first the white press wanted to know from all the school desegregation plaintiffs, was one thing, do you want to go to school with white students? do you think you will become friends with white students? these were difficult even explosive questions to ask a young person and girls did well with these questions in general. the central question at the heart of the book is, why did
girls act as plaintiffs and later as desegregation -- there are two reasons for the first is that girls, disproportionally, believed in the idea or ideal of desegregation. they believed that segregated schools were a moral crisis and they believed that they should change that. what allowed a girl to look at the edifice of a white school building and say to herself, her lawyer or her parents, i can go there, i can talk to the hostile white principal. i can hold my own with the white students. again, they felt a sense of responsibility that was unique to girls. when women recall their desegregating years they say things like, i just felt in my heart and my soul that i had to do it. or they would say, somebody had
to do it. and it might as well be me. or if i didn't do it, who was going to do it? so there is an incredible sense of responsibility there. girls as young as six exhibited the ability to lead. jean fairfax who was in naacp coordinator, went to mississippi in 1964 to help the school desegregation process. the schools were to be segregated the next day. the night before, the kkk went around and harassed all of the families. all of the families backed out except for one. she went to their house late at night, the night before the schools were to be opened. and the speaking with the family. and she remember sitting down at the kitchen table and there was silence. all of a sudden, deborah, the daughter who was six, said, what is everyone waiting for? i am ready to go! the six-year-olds can have an opinion and they can in fact,
inject agency into political goals. the other reason that girls tended to desegregate schools was because they were good at it. and in order to desegregate school you need to call is for the first is physical courage. and the other thing that you need is social dexterity. these girls were self possessed, they will polite, personable, composed, diplomatic and they were patient. all of these qualities were needed if you were going to spend large amounts of time with white adults and white students in hostile difficult situations. black girls from a young age learn the skills. as an everyday part of their lives. diplomacy, self position and
poise. they learn how to protect themselves out in the streets. when white men would harass them. when they will be sexually harassed, insulted on the streets.the only way girls had to defend themselves was to be self-possessed, be calm and to calmly give a good rhetoric to someone insulting them. girls learned the skills on the streets as i say as a matter but self position, poise and grace was also drilled into them by teachers, ministers, older sisters, their aunts, everyone told girls they needed to be extremely poised as a way to move through the world as black young women. girls were also used to surveillance when they worked in white homes by the white men of the house, the sons in the house. being in a situation, an
intimate situation or where you are on display, where you are being looked at where you are being tested, this is something that black girls already had in place. they had skills in place before they ever reached the schoolhouse door. that is the larger picture of girls and what they did. just to put the movement in some kind of chronological perspective. and i do call it the school desegregation movement. it was a grassroots movement. it was not something achieved by the naacp lawyers and filtered down. lucille bluford was 26 when she tried to enroll at the university of missouri school of journalism. she applied 11 times between 1939 and 1942. she kept going back to the campus and attempted to enroll. the school eventually granted her a nuisance and barter from
the school. in 1942 they actually shut down the school of journalism which was an internationally known, claim school of journalism. rather than admit her. she really got the ball rolling. after lucille bluford, the university of oklahoma -- to become a student at the law school. she was the first person to sue a graduate school after world war ii. she was the only graduate student to say no, unequivocally when estate offered to set up a separate school for african-americans. a separate black law school. she said no, i will not do this. she became famous, she was constantly in the black press but increasingly in the white press. every time she went to the university of oklahoma, the school warmed to her. they warmed to her because she had an uncanny ability to speak to the press. when she won a supreme court victory that helped her to
eventually enroll at the university of oklahoma and she came back to oklahoma, when she got off of the plane, in oklahoma city, the black press and the white press rushed up to her to ask her what she thought of decision, which actually going to go to the universe of all, for she did say i triumphed, she didn't say the naacp had won. she said justice is for everyone in the united states. ... a beautiful constitution on
return to the united states so she kept her way to her way so called and charismatic with the press and by the way like people were not allowed norman after sundown was a to try to desegregate that she was so good on her feet with the press that her present began to see normal if not inevitable. she got there and enrolled and said i hope to make friends i'm not here to socialize but i am here to study and also added if they call me names i will not hear them.
i'm socially open but i am impenetrable. you want to make friends i will but if not it will not bother this made her a segregation after she became very popular in the press girls 14 to 17 or 18 began to approach just for the attempt to enroll and in arlington virginia 17-year-old woman someone try to walk in the high school she filed her own lawsuit and enrolled texas to twin went to the high school to enroll and again the principal came out small town
and would not even let them in the front door met them on the steps and that you are not coming in here then they went to waco and filed a lawsuit the first lawsuit third. marshall from the naacp there are too many desegregation cases we don't know to do with all of them were not even interested in facing just filing the cases at the point down to argue the case. eventually the parents and young women were so determined the patient and it was so increasingly popular with the black press that thurgood marshall was forced to take it to the and my recipe for many years before he anticipated i just want to read to you what he told interviewer 19 when asked people are not yet
convinced we had a program from the beginning to the end there was no plan on. none. the best proof of my two offshore graduate school then college junior college or high school probably down. but obviously there was no plan in the next case was elementary school there was no plan we didn't want to but we had it so it took this long let's take a couple more years now here we go. this is thurgood marshall after they continue to write the history of brown but in fact all the cases but in fact all the cases coming in new york and essentially thurgood marshall had to take it on.
after brown girls would continue to lead the way athlete would agree and volunteer schools and in 18579 due to segregated central high and then for girls is segregated and in new orleans and bridges is well known but then also a group of three by the end of their first day all the white children were gone how did they get" academic testing, psychological testing did you have two parents in the home? but the final thing you had to do before you could enter a white will was to have
an interview with the superintendent was extremely caps off you were there but girls proved to be very good at a great example of desegregation in the charleston high school degree that summer father said that on your sunday best we are going to school they arrived at the school board and said they are waiting for you go in and the entire white all-male school board is sitting around the table and they wanted to ask her a few questions. do you like your black your classes? you have written? are you doing extracurricular work? she answered yes to all the questions so why do you want to leave all of that and go from place you don't know anybody?
as unprepared as she was she shot back i make friends wherever i go and in that moment captivated the whole crew the question back at them i don't know what you do but i make friends so wet she had to push them off the track she was on the front page of the new york times outside of the school talking to a white girl and it looked as though she was making friends although it was a bomb scare but ultimately she succeeded and went it was very violent just went to read quickly what happened in the middle school when the three submittals will
be met by the time they were in middle school oppresses on the police were going and every grade that's a segregated now that was desegregated by their was a target on her back. said teachers were no better then the kids they encourage them to fight or do whatever it took could 98 in the cafeteria they would in our food. it was hard to use the restroom we cannot drink out of the water fossett was reviewing and punching down the steps i got hit with the vast in the face they reduce it all and slingshot company was constantly doing this to
you it was just terrible. every day. every day and the teachers encouraged it. this is what they went through in new orleans and baton rouge for girls segregated the high school and life threatening the difference that the girls started to fight back and actually that help to make the violent little more manageable. in general people want to know when i write about the jean women what happened afterwards? how did they survive this? most of them were exhausted emotionally and then to figure out what they want to do
desegregate because what will people do? many failed out and then they had a hard time. the by the time i interviewed them for those six years after the fact, all of them had achieved to desegregate business offices the chicago symphony orchestra have taken these experiences to use those later in life and if you think about when i them throughout the united states, they did a lot and it was the kind of wisdom from desegregating
faces about hatred and to not backhand how to survive. and then i would like to and take the question by mentioning she graduated from university of oklahoma first african-american to pass the bar was actually educated in oklahoma. the first faculty member color at the university and she a and became a member of the very board of regents try to make sure she entered. her last act upon retiring was to create the endowed chair for and needed health and hired her initially and when she would testify at the
thomas hearing she came to rely on her very quickly what she had to say fema this is a need to tell talking neck as i settled into my role there i drew on her yet another week she supported me today i got there and then finally when i needed it most when my job was threatened after i testified in 1991 at the senate confirmation for judge clarence thomas. her support was vocal in public and private setting and
data university function days after my testimony she greeted me with the enthusiastic manner and said anita, you are my kind of woman i knew then i could weather the trials and she was my role model of strength is committed leadership in making ration to remain hopeful and she still is. any questions? female b9b9
[inaudible] >> so at first i was doing research and i wanted to find out about black girlhood so i went to the library pulled out copies of anthony and i would go through page by page. and whenever there was an article about segregation was a girl. and i thought why is this? maybe it is editorial bias? but then i thought brown v board was filed on behalf of and then movie bridges and just a little fast i thought i need to find out i went to the library of congress and looked at the records and as it turns
out there were a multitude of lawsuits being filed equalization suit and desegregation equalization at equal number of girls and boys dancing to that desegregation for all filed on behalf of girls i figured somebody had written about this and for years i just kept waiting and reading historical journals and nobody said anything i just kept waiting and reading historical journals and nobody said anything looking but a lot of women change their names i wanted to find out why margaret met the people on the front steps at junior high file that lawsuit i went to the marriage bureau and found her marriage and found her marriage i called her up and set ac that you filed a
lawsuit 47 would you be willing to talk to me? she said what took you so long? it was at that moment that i do there were women who hadn't talked to by anybody so if i didn't then who would join you i had to get out there and find women and interview them. i looked other archive in charleston new orleans and called them up just old calling people and how did people respond? those that i called that were happy to talk to many had not been interviewed i was honored
and humbled to hear their story. it was quite an experience for me i would go to their house and sit at the table for two or three hours to tell me about their family and friends and it was difficult only one person that i can't talk about that it is too awful. [inaudible] >> now in southwest georgia where six girls desegregated the height 1964, they became very tight with one another
and they would meet after school and confide in each other they did not confide in their parents which i found pricing at first but it was clear that their parents of what they were suffering they would take them out they were seniors and volunteered they only talked to one another so they could only get real understanding from each other yesterday feeding touch they are still in touch and time-saving creation together on -- they vacation together. >> were the lawsuit just in the southern united states? that's a great question interested in everything even where it was prohibited or illegal.
the fact that it was everywhere one of the earlier lawsuit now working for topeka was in rural arkansas i'm sorry kansas. it was illegal in kansas you can only practice segregation in cities of over 15000 over 1948 were in 1849 in overland park a filed a lawsuit and went on strike and set up their own school in a church and filed a lawsuit the naacp came to help them pay one and when they whine world that the naacp and we can prevail that
we should violently peek a so that didn't come until he had already won the so new jersey, new york, california, all the places had segregated schools and girls try to walk in that most of acting on their own without interference or the naacp and somebody places were very irritated and not the legal way to proceed with messy and wanted to do things by the broker in the courtroom that students just wanted to do it now you are mentioning all of the desegregation work later.
>> massively and so that they pass a of laws and the houses making it illegal to teach the desegregated will making it illegal to apply to white schools are doing anything they could to pass a law to push against brown. so the naacp and lawyers had to litigate every school district and that's why it took ten years to get the student because they had to relitigate every and there is a lot of litigation out to be segregate especially in alabama trying to separate themselves from larger districts to make a smaller white district and that
movement composed of young people and the local police chief and his response to the marches was to simply take the demonstrators and lock them up in jail for most of the women he segregated for was part of a all of their lives in many had been to jail many were segregated adventure jail seven times and in community jail often to put upwards of 80 girl so -- cell. no water, sent, truly horrific experience and in 1863 with other schools segregating all the large heterogeneous group of girls and boys showed up also to segregate they
arrested them all and sent them to jail. the following year people showed up to try to walk into albany high and again all girls but i will read you what beverly had to say. fema multi- school senior started with a 12 grade wanted to graduate from where they were at they didn't want to come over but then she said i didn't feel that i was giving up something i felt that i was working toward for freedom. you had the right to go there or the right tuesday and i wanted to make that adjustment that i had marched for and to hear martin luther king on the march on washington for because i was in the march on washington and this was the next to integrate.
why stop now? >> and then shirley lawrence alexander also desegregated albany high remembered it this way. >> i anticipated that i wouldn't put myself about that but i was ready for whatever. because when you have gone that far there is no turning back you cannot turn back you stated you believe in and if you are going to run? i don't think any of us thought about running but to endure it to the end no matter what and that is the note on how i and the book. he met albany high school quickly became all-black and
it only took a few years and the same thing happen where the first three first-graders desegregated it it also became all-black and the reason they were in middle school was because they were still all white so that idea try to keep segregating. but elsewhere in places like nashville or some of house like north carolina the school district did achieve fully desegregated schools but in 198815% of african-american were formally in all white predominately white made of anywhere between teen or 35% of the world body.
after 1988 you would see rapid desegregation throughout the united states was a 74 to make it illegal for schools to look at me in admission and the roberts court decided 2007 again for the only way to stop decisions on color if you stop basing decisions on color that the school board cannot try to make their schools racially diverse could not be the over goal. so on the legal and, brown has slowly been shipped away by the court. as they began to chip away
they were more emboldened and began to remove their white segregated schools. so we are at a moment now where we are looking around at the highly segregated school systems in places you would not expect and feel a lot despair but the women that i spoke to don't see it that way. they the brown an important decision that is not that it wasn't a good decision to make either lessons about all these
segregation? or have there been enough cases of successful segregation with the proper way to do it? >> here is what we know. there is a lot of research whether or not diverse classes are beneficial all of the physiological research shows students do better in diverse classroom white students, african-american, actually did beneficial to the entire student body on learning outcomes and social outcomes that is why the parents are so desperate to create the mono creatinine on -- monochromatic white school district because
research shows that on the college level african-american students who do not have a cohort of other african students don't do as well in college so they have the students of color together in a group to help to get that group into a college and then they stayed together throughout the four years and meets with the advisor every week so there are programs that are trying to help on that level but at the high school or grade school level, it is still a battle.
really? interesting? cleveland? you are so many other places are the schools and so other women who also desegregated places and i am trying to set up an archive and a database because now people have started to write dollars are getting in touch i interviewed this person and we should put the stories together but ohio and cleveland fascinating to look at as well be nine. [inaudible] >> so did the women themselves
reflect on the fact there were so few boys? interesting, none of them had really given it much thought. in albany with only six girls will be now quite interviewed in 2010 said the girls going over to a school with thousands of white students we can get one boy to go to prom. isn't that something? the only person who had anything to say and elaine desegregated baton rouge ai asked them all by the way so
why do you think young women did this work but because they didn't know it was happening in other cities they just assume that was just from where they live nobody connected.but elaine said she was a principal of the school in detroit and was there when it became segregated as the white body slowly decrease and witness what happened with the white students were no in the building fell to disrepair is very wise also a part of the black nationalized movement and said at this time the three nobody was point to put girls forward with the leadership position in other areas of civil rights some may
have felt this was an opportunity to be a pleasant job that others wanted to do. desegregated other things is one of the worst you could take on. every single day and all of them said the fire was awful the worst part is that they were all ostracize matter what happened it was the silent the way they moved away from them when they sat down for the teacher would not call on in class and it was terrible. and the boys by the way you do is segregate with the girls in charleston and elsewhere when
the situation got like that by november or december many left because they could make it simply moving get a job somewhere else but also they thought this is not doing anything and it wasn't with it. mom -- worth it. >> what about the father's today choose? in was that the fathers who told the daughters? >> yes. you are correct was that the fathers who told the daughters? >> yes. you are correct in general often at the sunset i don't want to go on the interested they were more likely to say that your decision the boys
were given more autonomy for a while those girls did volunteer to desegregate at the high school level but at the grade school level it was more that patriarchal relationship between the father and daughter and many women that i did interview who said in those days when your parents did to do something, you did it but there was another case for the plaintiff all the losses and when the press came to talk to him for two years 1950 through 52 and and i finally got him mother wrestled him down and put in in the living and the press came in and he wouldn't talk
about it. he made it clear to them he would rather do anything else then talk about school desegregation. the boys had ways to resist kids in general made it clear that the boys had a job to resist talking to reporters payment the what is the driving force? >> in the 1940s right after world war ii white white suddenly they had money to put into their own infrastructure
but he to build new schools happening all over united states modern sleep beautiful all structures were erected so they looked at the schools and he became more and more upset and activists on behalf of the children and it was increasingly so unfair so to give an example, the school, the black high school burned down to the ground so they put the black high school and the former german prison of work and they took the gym german of working to the site and propped it up with old tires. so only think about what it means to file a lawsuit
because in rural texas their lives were at the citizen to know what those schools were mike his daughters had to be sent out of state for three years while in the court he had to see if night with a shotgun because of the kkk threatened to kill him but was his choice to send his daughters were present of war camp? when you think about how a movement is created fees are the conditions they were looking at and in washington there was a lawsuit and brown junior high was his bill for about 500 students but had almost 1000 the kid had to attend in shifts the first half for the second half of the day students in one classroom classes were carried on and always her teachers
posi posit, in the basement it was a fire trap and this is the place for learning could not go on with using of the risk that they took so what propelled them to go so far to file a lawsuit to become very unpopular the state of emergency in black and is much as he wanted desegregated schools they also needed functional schools so they have long-term ideas he how far they could get and i would say in the wake of the boxes they started to invest in the black school and many of the people in the area they thought the lawsuit is over
but often the parent to file the lawsuit kept going. and many preferred equalization without it was radical or too dangerous and create too much backlash which is an ongoing team of brown -- critique of brown and the other critique is that it would take resources away from the black black capital and take away what they had managed to create in washington d.c. howard high school these were great in black members of the committee worried about the had really horrible it was and will will