tv Rachel Devlin A Girl Stands at the Door CSPAN August 17, 2019 11:30am-11:48am EDT
we are alive all day from jackson for the mississippi book festival. you just heard from authors on the desegregation of schools in america.some of the authors are still in the room. having discussions with people that were in the audience listening. we could watch as the authors slowly make their way out of the room. in the next few minutes the next author discussion will begin. it will be a conversation on outlaws in american history. here in jackson mississippi. [inaudible conversations]
while we wait for the next author discussion from mississippi to start, we want to show you a little bit of a program from last year with rachel devlin on the desegregation of american public schools through the actions of young women throughout the country. >> "a girl stands at the door" is a retelling of brown board of education. it's a retelling that situates the story with the young girls and women who were plaintiff in desegregation lawsuits in the late 1940s and leading up to brown v board and by telling the stories of the woman who volunteered to desegregate the schools especially in the deep south. these young women took grace book risks and filing lawsuits especially in the late 1940s they suffered backlash from often from the white community but also in their own
communities when they filed the desegregation lawsuits early in the late 1840s. historians have looked at brown v board and assumed it was an idea hatched by naacp lawyers and brought to the supreme court by thurgood marshall who most people know and naacp. this book does is says that brown v board would've never happened without the labor and contributions and leadership of girls and you. girls who approached white schools talk to angry and hostile principals who turned around and went and spoke to the press. who testified in court who met with lawyers and who stuck with their cases and became the face of desegregation for the larger
communities. approaching 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 that would be like. it was very dramatic when a young girl attempted to walk into a white school. she very often didn't get very far. usually just the front door. i'm going to reach you quickly one case in 1947 in washington dc. on the morning of april 13, 1947 14-year-old marjorie ã what with her father to elliott junior high school, the white school closest to her home in washington dc. ed 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, janitors, the 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. to hear this child just coming on. engaging the situation she recalled what her parents had taught her about how to act in polite company. so, she says, i smiled nicely and when the printable told her you don't want to come here, she responded respectfully, but firmly, i do want to come to the school. her response carried within it the contradictory attributes that required in these kinds of confrontations. she smiled a sign of social reciprocity, trust, willingness to engage but she also compatibly and courageously talk back to the white school official who is barring her way from the newly built citadel learning two blocks from her home in washington dc.
cara sued elliott junior high school in her clays it was one of the earliest desegregation lawsuits. of the postwar era. it was one of about a dozen lawsuits filed everywhere from rural texas to kansas to washington dc and virginia in the late 1940s. most of these cases never went to the supreme court and they been forgotten. these were the cases 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, talk to hostile white principles. had endless meetings with lawyers and if you ever had a meeting with a lawyer you know how long and boring they could be three young women. my apologies to any lawyers in the room. and they talked about their cases with conviction and
conciseness self-possessed ways to both black and white press. the first thing in the book the white press wanted to know from all the school desegregation plaintiff's was one thing, do you want to go to school with white students? do you think you will be conference with white students? these were difficult even explosive questions to ask a young person and the girls did well with these questions in general. the central question at the heart of this book is why did girls act as school desegregation plaintiff and later as desegregation first. there are two primary reasons for this. the first is that girls disproportionately believed in the idea or the ideal of school desegregation. they believed that segregated schools were a moral crisis and they believed that they should change that.
but what allowed a girl to look at thedicef a white school building and say to herself or lawyers her parents, i can go there i can talk to the hostile white principal i can hold my own to the white students. they felt a sense of responsibility that was unique to girls. when women were called they were desegregating years they say things like, i just felt in my heart and my soul that had to do it. or they would say somebody had to do it and it might as well be me. if i didn't do it who was going to do it. it's an incredible sense of responsibility there. girls as young as six exhibited the ability to lead. jean fairfax and naacp coordinator went to leave mississippi in 1964 to help the desegregation process. schools were to be segregated desegregated the next day.
the night before, the kkk went around and harassed all the families. all 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 was speaking with the family and she remembers sitting down at the kitchen table and there was a silence and all the sudden deborah, the daughter, who was six, said, what is everyone waiting for? i'm ready to go. the six-year-olds can have an opinion and they can in fact inject from agency into political goals. the other reason girls tended to desegregate schools is because they were good at it. in order to desegregate the school you have to have two qualities.the first is physical courage which for any civil rights venture you need but the other thing you need is social dexterity.
these girls were self-possessed, they were polite, they were personable, they were composed, they were diplomatic and they were patient. all the qualities were needed if you are going to spend large amount of time with white adults and white students in hostile difficult situations. black girls from a young age learned these skills as an everyday part of their lives. diplomacy, self possession and poise especially they learned these skills as a way to protect themselves when they were out on the streets when white men were harass them when they would be sexually harassed when they would be insulted on the street the only way that girls had to defend themselves was to be self-possessed, to be calm and to calmly give a retort to somebody insulting them. girls learn these skills on the streets as a matter of course but self possession pores and graces drilled into them.
better teachers, the ministers their older sisters, their arms, everybody told girls that they needed to be extremely poised as a way to move through the world as women. girls were used as surveillance when they worked and what homes where the white men in the house by the sons of the house. to being in a situation in intimate situation 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 the skills in place before they ever reached the schoolhouse door. there is a 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 movement it was a grassroots movement
something that was achieved by the naacp lawyers and filter down lucille bluford was 26 when she tried to enroll at the university of missouri school of journalism. she's applied 11 times but between 19 39 in 1942 she simply kept going back to the campus and attempting to enroll. the school eventually granted her nuisance and barred her from the school and 1942 the actually shut down there school of journalism which is an internationally known acclaimed school of journalism rather than admit her. she really got the ball rolling. after lucille bluford ãsued the university of oklahoma to become a student after law school. she was the first person to pursue a graduate law school and she was the only graduate school plaintiff to say no unequivocally when the state offered to set up a separate school for african-americans
she said no out of hand i will do this. she became famous she was constantly in the black press but increasingly in the white press too. every time she went to the university of oklahoma the school warmed to her, they warmed to her because she had the uncanny ability to speak to the press. when she one supreme court victory that helped her to eventually enroll in the university of oklahoma and came back to oklahoma when she got off the plane in oklahoma city the black press and the white press rushed up to her to ask her what she thought of the decision where she actually going to go to the university of oklahoma and she didn't say, i've triumphed, she did say the naacp has one, she said, justice is for everyone in the united states. it's a beautiful constitution. i'm going to be lawyer amplitude learned. this kind of embrace of american ideals made her very
popular with the white press, her upbeat and confident and gracious manner one people over in the daily oklahoma and the white paper that was steadfastly against ãfor years turned around and embraced her as a local hero. and big headlines when she got back from washington dc it says, it's a beautiful constitution on return to the state. she really talked her way into the university as much as she sued her way into the university quickset was a portion of rachel devlin's talk on the desegregation of american public schools. he can watch the entire program online at booktv.org.
>> the mississippi book festival takes place in and outside the state capital in jackson.right now we are looking at the blue maria booksellers tent at the outdoor festival. also known as the literary lawn party. this is live coverage. [inaudible background conversations] this is live coverage of the fifth annual mississippi book festival continuing now. next up is the author discussion on outlaws in american history.