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A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America's Schools

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A new history of school desegregation in America, revealing how girls and women led the fight for interracial education

The struggle to desegregate America's schools was a grassroots movement, and young women were its vanguard. In the late 1940s, parents began to file desegregation lawsuits with their daughters, forcing Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights lawyers to take up the issue and bring it to the Supreme Court. After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, girls far outnumbered boys in volunteering to desegregate formerly all-white schools.

In A Girl Stands at the Door, historian Rachel Devlin tells the remarkable stories of these desegregation pioneers. She also explains why black girls were seen, and saw themselves, as responsible for the difficult work of reaching across the color line in public schools. Highlighting the extraordinary bravery of young black women, this bold revisionist account illuminates today's ongoing struggles for equality.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published May 15, 2018

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Rachel Devlin

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 44 reviews
Profile Image for Brina.
887 reviews4 followers
February 9, 2020
The first week of February is in the books and I finally completed my first book for African American history month. A Girl Stands at the Door had been on my radar since last year when it was recommended to me by a member of the non fiction book club. Last year, my reading took a civil rights bent as I honored the 100th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s birth. Reading many books on the same theme became redundant so for this month I only chose a few select books. While Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball, Thurgood Marshall and his team of NAACP lawyers took to the courts in an attempt to desegregate America’s schools. The result was a prolonged battle to ensure racial equality for children at all educational levels. Rachel Devlin pays homage to the firsts, the children and university students who first integrated schools and are often lost to history.

The first integration cases actually occurred prior to World War II. African Americans, encouraged by the Great Migration north, made strides to integrate southern graduate schools. Rachel Devlin points to Lloyd Gaines and Lucille Bluford who desired to attend law school at universities in Kansas and Oklahoma. In both cases, the state provided segregated colleges for African Americans, who were barred from attending the state universities on the basis of race. Thurgood Marshall was beginning to make a name for himself as a counsel of the NAACP but did not have seniority yet; that would come during the 1940s into the 1950s as he argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the late 1930s, the NAACP believed that the best course of action was equalization of existing facilities; however, states refused to divert funds to enhance black colleges. Even in the best situation, a small black school would not have all the resources of a state law school, and the NAACP moved toward integration instead. The leading counsels desired that men become the plaintiffs and preferred cases in Texas due to local branches deep coffers there. In both cases in Texas featured in this book, plaintiffs Lloyd Gaines and Herman Sweatt did not have the metal to withstand a long court case. Devlin notes that the NAACP turned to Kansas and Oklahoma cases featuring female plaintiffs as their preferred plaintiffs disappeared. This set the stage for a generation of desegregation cases at the elementary school level.

Senior lawyer at the NAACP Charles Hamilton Houston noted that “a girl stands at the door and a generation waits outside.” Although Devlin glosses over why girls were chosen as plaintiffs and pioneers in the majority of civil rights cases prior to the passage of the civil rights act, her thesis is that in most cases the firsts to integrate schools were girls. Boys did not have what it took to testify in court and did not want to leave the comfort of their all-black schools or lives. This makes for a weak argument because over the course of the book, Devlin notes that girl firsts weighed the opportunities at both black and integrated schools before agreeing to switch. Many of the plaintiffs were daughters of local branch NAACP members, businessmen, and political organizers and given no choice as to whether they wanted to integrate schools. Their parents believed that they would be a testament to the race and provide opportunities to generations of African Americans moving forward. Although the crowning achievement was Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, girls featured in this book undertook to integrate schools in Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, and New York at a great personal cost to themselves. Each one should be lauded as a pioneer even if many are mere historical footnotes.

As this book focuses on the girls, Thurgood Marshall’s role in desegregation is diminished. Last year I read a memoir by a member of the Little Rock Nine, and as a group, they revered Marshall as a personal hero. His role should hardly be glossed over. The first half of the book read slow for me because until Devlin got past Brown v. Board and focused on the pioneers, her historical background moved slowly. She devoted a chapter to the Jewish Mrs Brown of Kansas City, Kansas who gave her life to the desegregation cause. While this was intriguing to me due to alliance between Jews and African Americans in the 1960s civil rights movement, I would have rather that Devlin only mention Mrs Brown in a chapter focusing on Kansas. Esther Brown while an important figure on the ground in Kansas did not actually integrate the schools. She had empathy but did not step foot into a previously all white school as an African American girl. Likewise the most interesting anecdote for me focused on Deborah Gray who was chosen along with two others to integrate an honors program in a New York middle school. The school had been integrated but not the honors program and Gray lost out on her social life only to find out that the program had not been determined on merit but on race. Gray ended up having primarily Jewish friends until she attended a traditional black college, as did many of the other firsts. The emotional costs of being one of a handful of blacks in a white school was just too high for a lot of these girls. While they may have paved the way for their race, Devlin argues that it was at a great cost to themselves, similar to what Jackie Robinson experienced for his first two years playing on integrated baseball teams.

As an avid lover of history, what I actually found most interesting was Devlin discussing the ramifications of the Brown case. The Supreme Court might have ruled that school segregation was unconstitutional but did not lay out to what extent. Two girls integrating an entire school and being taunted and isolated is not full integration. In many cases school districts set up the pioneers for failure, leading some of the first integration students to return to their safety net of all black schools. What has resulted in the past sixty five years since the Brown ruling is generations of busing and in many cases de facto segregated schools, many of which still do not receive the same funding as primarily white schools in affluent areas. Had the Brown case laid down the gauntlet more forcefully, perhaps education in the United States would have had an alternate history. Rachel Devlin pays homage to the girls who helped to integrate America’s schools at all levels of education. I just believe that she could have framed her still worthy argument differently.

3.5 stars
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,659 followers
August 31, 2018
This is an interesting idea for a book and there are some interesting interviews and historic tidbits, but the narrative is problematic in several ways. First off, she skips over the big WHY. Why were girls chosen? She dismisses the obvious hypotheses in the intro without any support. She seems to think it's because girls were just better at dealing with the press? This is totally reductive and ahistorical. MLK and other male civil rights leaders were very good at dealing with the press. Two, she focuses a lot of the book on a white woman, Ellen Brown, who was a complicated and problematic figure in this story. She seemed to have inserted herself into the fight and was even shunned by many leaders in the black community. Third, she writes out or minimized the NAACP and Marshall, which seems weird given Marshall's huge role in the desegregation fight. She seems to think that he just swept in before Brown. There are a few other places where I felt like Devlin was just writing a nice feel good story instead of really probing the history. Especially because the fight for desegregation was not seen in all quarters as a total success--the loss of black teachers and black community support for example. Devlin seems to think that people who worried about that were just not with the times.
Profile Image for Scott.
1,707 reviews117 followers
November 18, 2018
"A girl stands at the door, and a generation waits outside." -- NAACP attorney Charles Houston

"We didn't have dogs. We didn't have the water hoses. But the [isolation] was . . . insidious." -- Elaine Chustz Green, an integration 'firster' student of Baton Rouge High School in September 1963

Rachel Devlin's work examines the various landmark school integration occurrences (elementary / secondary / college levels) in midwestern and southern U.S. from the 30's to the 60's. More often than not the students chosen / or who volunteered were African-American girls and young women. They are frequently described as exemplary pupils, serene in nature but well-spoken and possessing a certain inner toughness that was required for the disgusting harassment they would encounter.

The book is a little dry at first -- the older cases in the first half of the book understandably rely more on court documentation records and newspaper articles than recent interviews to describe events. However, when the focus moves to the southern incidents in the late 50's / early 60's during the fiery and vaunted Civil Rights era, Devlin obtained vivid first-hand accounts - like from Ms. Green, as quoted above - from the ladies who remember their turbulent experiences with a stark clarity.
Profile Image for Cynda .
1,253 reviews141 followers
February 16, 2020
Rachel Devlin makes a nod to non-black Others. She mentions in her opening comments that Amerindians, hispanic, Asians all also had difficulty fighting for desegregation.

I grew up in South Texas where the American South meets the American Southwest meets the Gulf Coast. I have seen and experienced social prejudice of various kinds: women, hispanics, blacks. It is always based on In-grouping and Out-grouping practices, on Otherness barricading.

My mother remembers being among the first hispanic high school students integrated in our what was then a growing town.She said that the small hispanic group stayed to themselves, seeking safety in numbers. I remember starting at a new school in a new neighborhood, a neighborhood often used for white flight. Unlike my mother, I was almost alone. The other few hispanics in my grade level had niche social positions: Cool hispanic dude, quiet hispanic girl. I was too white for the hispanics and too hispanic for the whites, characteristics which left me open to being socially strange and perhaps contagious. Insults hurled indicated how catching and unwelcomed my condition might be. I got hit with hands and bikes. These are experiences similar to the experiences of black students integrating into the public schools post WWII. But not as dramatic--nowhere near.

Devlin details the particular self-sacrifices these little and young women committed to. They did it so other black folk could receive the same education as the white students, as the insiders. They sought integration. The schoolhouse and workplace and neighborhood have never been the same. Their committment allows us to be color brave, to be human inclusive. The importance of this works cannot be overstated.
15 reviews2 followers
November 8, 2018
Interesting book and I learned a lot but it didn't really hang together so well. That said, she added important perspectives to the desegregation fights and I really enjoyed hearing from and learning about some of the families, girls and young women at the forefront. And one quibble: she doesn't mention Constance Baker Motley, who was a pioneering NAACP lawyer and African-American woman who represented James Meredith and wrote the original complaint in Brown. I'm really scratching my head at this omission.
Profile Image for Glady.
586 reviews6 followers
May 6, 2018
I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an impartial review.

Reading a book like A Girl Stands at the Door can only be described as humbling. Little girls, pre-adolescents, teens and young adults displayed a courage that far outweighed their years. Covering the time period from the 1930s through the present, Devlin manages to humanize the struggle for desegregation prior to the Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, as well as the aftermath of that decision.

There was some disagreement in the African American community and among its community, legal, and political leaders whether desegregation or equalization was the appropriate attack. Many felt that equalizing the educational system in black schools would achieve far greater benefits than true desegregation. Such equalization, however, usually only began after white schools were threatened with black enrollment. The disparity between black schools and white schools, especially in the South, was so great that equalization was absolutely impractical.

The first court cases were focused on higher education - access to graduate schools and law schools. Here it was very clear that there simply were no viable alternatives to what traditionally had been whites only education. Despite the somewhat obvious nature of the inequities, there were some hurried attempts to set up black law schools and graduate schools. Their effectiveness and quality were so lacking that such attempts were unsuccessful.

Civil rights lawyers like Thurgood Marshall traveled the country selecting cases and arguing them in state and federal courts. At times, cases were selected based on a community's ability to support the legal maneuvers long term. The steadfastness of the plaintiff(s) and their families was a major factor since physical harassment, job loss, and violence were inevitable results. The length of the fight sometimes exceeded a particular plaintiff's educational experience. Sometimes, a younger sibling was then substituted for the original.

Many of the "firsts," the first children to attempt enrolling in a white school, were female. The girls were raised to be polite, gracious, quiet, and well-spoken. Academically, they were stellar students who entered the white school well-prepared for the imagined rigors of the experience. For many, however, the pervasive loneliness of being a black student in a white school far outweighed the daily insults and threats they encountered. These youngsters had no one to talk to, and many could not confide in family members since they did not want to worry or disappoint parents and a hopeful community. Sadly, many educators allowed their personal prejudices to surpass their professional ethics and responsibilities. Their failure to protect and nurture all their students created a caustic environment where children paid a heavy price.

I read this book while protests are ongoing across the country that demand more funding for public education and its teachers. The inequities in public education have not been erased but have been exacerbated by white flight and uneven public financing. As a nation, we still have far to go to achieve a true equal and exemplary education system for all children.

Profile Image for Porter Broyles.
418 reviews37 followers
September 4, 2018
I listened to this book via my public library and have to say it is a phenomenal work.

The book starts in the 1930s with Lloyd Gaines, a black man who wanted to attend the Missouri Law School. It talks about his fight to gain acceptance to the school, the accompanying attempts to negate the court ruling, and his subsequent disappearance.

The book then covers a number of other cases wherein black women tried to get accepted into various graduate/college programs. The author posits that most of the cases involved women for a couple of reasons (for example, men were expected to be employed and didn't want to put off their career to fight the legal battles putting off their professional objectives.) She also points out that by design or happenstance, having black women fight for equality tapped into another communities fight for equality---white women.

The book goes into a fair amount of discussion about Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP, and the Legal Defense Fund and their strategy for desegregation---that they were going to start at grad school, move to colleges, then HS, Middle School, and finally integration of elementary school. But this strategy was undermined by the grassroots black community who wanted equality for their kids. Over and over again the NAACP/LDF were turning down cases involving elementary schools, until it reached the point they were dragged into the cases!

It teaches you about the typical pattern that occurred when parents sued for equality. The parents would be fired from their jobs and those associated with the parents would lose their jobs. The suit would continue. The school district would improve conditions at the school in question or open a new school, thus undermining the original legal suit. The suit would then have to prove that the new school(s) weren't the equals of the existing schools. (Most early cases focused on the "equalization" in "separate but equal".)

She covers the various court cases that evolved into the Brown V Tulsa Board of Education. How those cases came about and the challenges they encountered. How the cases changed from "equalization" to "desegregation". Then how Brown played out in subsequent years.

The book ends in an introspection of how the various "Firsts" viewed their legacies. The commonalities they shared and the differences. About how some feel it was a mistake to desegregate (e.g. blacks face more pressure in integrated schools and might have a higher graduation rate in an all black school). But how most are proud of their legacy.

I highly recommend this book to anybody who wants to understand the history of school desegregation and how race relations formed over the past 100 years.
Profile Image for Zoë Forbes.
74 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2020
This book traces the story of desegregation in US schools and colleges and makes you think about why black girls and women, rather than boys and men, were the pupils and students who paved the way.
2 reviews3 followers
June 18, 2018
This is an extraordinary book. I recently finished it, and my first impulse was to return to the beginning, and, having arrived again at the end of the epilogue, my impulse is to return to the beginning yet again. We should all read this book -- ALL of us -- or listen to it, or both at once, as the case may be. To do so is to enjoy a fundamentally better understanding of a crucial seam in the social and political fabric of the United States, and of those who wove it. Brown v. Board of Education is "a defining decision in US history," Devlin writes, "but it is time to incorporate the stories of girls and young women who were integral to the school desegregation process" that it reflects, which "would not have happened without their commitment and skills."

Their collective story, she continues, and not just the famed decision that resulted, is "in the twenty-first century, a vital measure of American Democracy" -- of what young girls and women, young people generally, can accomplish, with the support of grown-ups around them and an unwavering moral compass. To read this book is to have one’s faith restored in the arc of history, and in those who will bend it toward justice, even in the face of extreme adversity, and who are, as it turns out, just exactly right in front of us.

And "not least" among its accomplishments, no less than Linda Gordon testifies, "the book is a great read" -- a GREAT read! To strive for intellectually rigorous writing is surely to risk writing that is overly "academic." Not so here, in the least. It is a joy to read, a "page turner" to be sure, with many, many "radio moments" -- in which, arriving here or here, we find ourselves still standing on a train station platform, or sitting in a parked car, anxious to finish reading or listening to this or that bit of the story.

"On the morning of April 13, 1947," the story begins, "fourteen-year-old Marguerite Daisy Carry went with her father to Eliot Junior High School, the white middle school closest to her home in Washington, DC, and attempted to enroll." The process of telling it begins in earnest, Devlin recounts in the "Acknowledgements," when she first reached out to speak with her, in 2008, now Marguerite Carr Stokes. "What took you [historians] so long?," she mused. Now that the wait is over, finally, and we have the full story, finally, we ALL should wait not a moment longer before enjoying and learning from it.
Profile Image for Brandi.
561 reviews1 follower
October 21, 2018
This comprehensive look at the young women involved in the battle for desegregation is well researched and important. Yet, the author doesn’t offer much of an explanation as to why it was mostly female students involved in early litigation aimed at desegregation. Admittedly, there were likely many factors involved in the why, but an overall discussion of these potential contributing factors would be welcome. A significant portion of the book focuses on the story of a white woman who served as an early advocate for desegregation, despite opposition to her involvement from the NAACP. While the woman in question is admirable for her work on behalf of black students and may be considered deserving of her place in the history books, this book would have been better served focusing on the girls “standing at the door” (young black women attempting to enroll in and desegregate white schools). Recommended for researchers interested in the movement to desegregate schools or civil rights in general, but casual readers would likely be better served by seeking out memoirs/biographical works on the young women involved.
July 31, 2018
This book is excellent; not only does it convey an enormous amount of information on the entire school desegregation battle, it is extremely well written and very readable. I highly recommend it. It would make an excellent addition to reading lists for high schools and colleges, and for serious book clubs.
Profile Image for Rachel Rooney.
2,021 reviews82 followers
October 30, 2018
Historian Rachel Devlin tells the story of the many girls and women who were on the front lines of school desegregation. I particularly liked the section on Lucile Bluford. I think it was ultimately just more information than I wanted, which is more of a reflection on me and my attention span than the book itself.
Profile Image for Denise Kruse.
1,025 reviews11 followers
October 16, 2018
While the subject matter is important, the book was so very dry. Even if I had chosen to read a textbook (and I didn't wish this to be) this telling did not engage me.
Profile Image for Gabbi Levy.
72 reviews8 followers
June 4, 2018
I deeply enjoyed this moving account of the unsung work that these women and girls did to literally open the doors of schools in the face of ugly, insidious racism and two hundred years of institutionalized discrimination. We know Thurgood Marshall, but history has forgotten Ada Sipuel, Lucile Bluford, the Jennings sisters, Margurite Carr, Leona Tate and so many others. They deserve to be celebrated and remembered. My interview with Rachel Devlin:

BROWN V. BOARD OF Education of Topeka, the landmark 1954 schools desegregation Supreme Court decision, has been called on of the most consequential court rulings in American history.

But aside from a handful of main players – Thurgood Marshall, the founder of the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, who argued Brown v. Board before the court and eventually became its first black ashociate justice, and perhaps Ruby Bridges, one of the "desegregation firsts" whose integration of a New Orleans school was commemorated in a Norman Rockwell painting – few of those who worked to strike down school segregation are known to the general public.

In her new book, "A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America's Schools," historian Rachel Devlin illuminates the largely unknown lives of the girls who made up the vast majority of plaintiffs in desegregation cases, and the women who battled racist school officials, their skeptical neighbors and sometimes even the NAACP to force desegregation into the public consciousness. Devlin recently spoke to U.S. News about the unsung but critical role these young women played in changing the course of American history. Excerpts:

Many people would be surprised to learn that the desegregation of public schools was so largely driven by girls and women. What about this fight made it so attractive to women – or unattractive to men working in other areas of civil rights?

Women and girls showed a stronger commitment to the idea or the ideal of school desegregation. To them it seemed very simple: they said, 'It was just wrong,' 'It had to change.' They were able to articulate their commitment to school desegregation in part because they could envision themselves in white schools.

To them it was a form of radical social optimism to imagine what at that point was unimaginable. Black and white students had never gone to school together before, and most people, including African-Americans, believed that there was too much hostility between the races, and coexistence in the school was a dream. That's why when girls approached these schools and attempted to walk through the front door, such large crowds would gather, because it was truly radical to see a black child attempting to walk into a white school.

People are used to men and boys in general, men and young men, being historical subjects. We're used to thinking of civil rights leadership as being male. Fundamentally, they were not interested in this work and some of it was that they didn't have the skills that they needed. It was really grueling and grinding work. If you've ever spent any time with a lawyer, these are terribly boring meetings, and talking to white school officials, testifying in court, then in the process of desegregating, sitting in classrooms with white students for seven hours of the day, nine months of the year. A lot of black young men, when it came to desegregating the high school, said, I don't think it's worth it, or I'm not interested in that job.

What made girls better suited for the task?

They were taught from an early age to be self possessed, poised, polite, diplomatic, to smile, to always look adults in the eye. Their daily lives were full of insults, surveillance, harassment, sexual harassment, from white men on the streets, from men and boys in the houses where they worked, and from adults in general. Black girls were really never left in peace, and so their parents and ministers and school teachers and relatives constantly instilled in them the necessity of having what they called correct behavior. Girls knew they had these skills, and that gave them the confidence to be able to approach these schools. Black girls were taught to act as if they were socially open, while remaining in fact, somewhat emotionally closed.

Unlike lunch counters or public transportation, which involved fleeting interactions, schools desegregation was only the first step in an arduous process. Describe what it was like for these first girls after they were allowed through the doors?

"Desegregation firsts" often used war analogies. They called themselves soldiers, they called themselves warriors, and it was a state of high alert every single day in the school. Every moment, someone was trying to make you collapse and get you to withdraw: The students would trip these girls, kick these girls, hit these girls. The young men as well, but actually girls received more violence, which is counterintuitive to some people, but it was because they were smaller and easier targets. The worst things that students would do is spit on them and spit in their food, and the sabotage was ongoing.

Many of these white students were being instructed by white Citizens' Councils in the South to harass the black students in an effort to make school desegregation impossible. Teachers encouraged and refused to discipline students who attacked these girls, refused to call on the girls in class. The girls told me about how they would go through the entire school day without speaking and how eerie it was to not talk. Everybody agrees that the worst part was not the violence but the ostracism that hurt the most. Eventually they would fight back physically; when students tampered with their lockers and their books, sometimes they retaliated and tampered with the white kids' books. Girls often started to speak in class whether or not they were called on.

All of these high schools sang "Dixie" or "Old Uncle Joe" and they had confederate flags, rebel flags, that they would wave at pep rallies. You were supposed to stand up and pledge allegiance to that flag and to a person, these girls all refused to stand for that flag, so that was a form of resistance as well.

And all of the ways in which they fought back and spoke back to teachers and to principals helped them survive the experience.

Read the rest of the interview here.
Profile Image for Gail.
407 reviews2 followers
February 10, 2020
This book was amazingly well researched and for a non fiction book. It was uplifting and upsetting. Please read this
Profile Image for Anne.
82 reviews
January 1, 2019
I found this a compelling contribution to the history of the mid-20th century desegregation of public schools in America - a history I lived through but not with this comprehension nor sense of intimacy. Devlin spends the first two-thirds of the story fairly methodically developing the sequence of actions taken and individuals involved building towards the famous Brown vs. The Board of Education desegregation decision - individuals who were, for the most part, new to me - Lucile Bluford, Ada Louise Sipuel, Esther Brown, Lucinda Todd, Thurgood Marshall. Devlin has been criticized for using a narrative research style to develop the drumbeat progression & understanding of how the structure of the push for desegregation was constructed. But I found it meaningful history, particularly as she developed the intersecting theme of the crosscurrent of gender issues.
The last third of the book was emotionally gripping & hammered the history in place. The story of adults, often parents, using their children, especially their public school age children, to forward the agenda of desegregation was, frankly, riveting - a strange combination of social justice passion and what today, in some of the circumstances, would be seen as emotional abuse.
I came to the end & spent some real time with the pictures, particularly the one of the 6-year-old, appearing tiny & slightly shell-shocked, a huge white bow in her hair, watching guardedly over the shoulder of the big old federal marshal driving her to the White school.
Profile Image for Megan.
2,083 reviews11 followers
August 7, 2018
While the answer to the thesis question of “why were mostly girls involved in school desegregation?” is fairly obvious and comes early, and may be a bit too simple, this is a valuable look at that history. The background of desegregation in education all the way back to the 30s is very interesting, and the personal details of the women and girls who so often did the nitty-gritty work of testifying in courts, talking to the press, and entering and persevering in white schools. So much attention and adulation goes to organizations and their adult male leaders and legal teams; this book does a nice job examining the under-appreciated women and girls (and a few boys) who made it happen. The book is a bit shorter than I would have expected (really only about 250pages after citations and index) and there’s less examination of gender roles and politics than I’d have expected. It’s largely telling these women’s stories and sharing their voices, bringing their personal details and experiences into the legacy of the fight for racial justice in America - and that is certainly an important and interesting effort all on its own.
Profile Image for AK Wintzer.
166 reviews
August 7, 2019
This book reviewed the integration of blacks into white schools from the perspective of the children, who are now grown. Those who were portrayed & interviewed, unsurprisingly, are mostly successful professionals who hold prominent, high profile, positions. Many were ground breakers at the young age of eight, & in mostly Southern towns. They endured taunting, jeering, & psychological abuse from other students, teachers & even parents of classmates. In some cases they were the only person in their class for an entire year as parents withdrew their children from school.

I’m truly amazed that these kids, parents & integration ‘enforcers’ were able to accomplish what they did.

Their courage is an inspiration. Perhaps someday, we’ll look back upon the days when we’re averaging around 1.4 mass shootings in one day and praise leaders that blazed the way forward through this crisis.
Profile Image for Sarah.
92 reviews
April 20, 2019
This book was an incredibly well-researched and written combination of all of my favorite topics, so I never doubted that I would thoroughly enjoy reading it and learn much from it. An inspiration view at the dozens of young women who led the way for the school desegregation movement, and sobering to think of the numbers of girls whose stories haven’t been told yet. From the 1930s to late 1960s, this book allows readers to see biographic (and autobiographic) snapshots of the young women who desegregated American schools and the unique challenges that their gender caused as they took up the mantle of desegregation for future generations. Took me a while to read but I’m glad I did - and I keep saying I wish I could have written this as a PhD dissertation someday!
70 reviews
October 31, 2018
I've been looking for a book like this for a while. One that would go into detail on the tactics and trials of the civil rights era, so that I might study it and hopefully apply it to my advocacy for the neurodiverse. This book did not disappoint. It is a remarkable tale of resilience and the challenges one will face from all sides when trying to change society. These girls and women were truly inspirational and accomplished a miracle far earlier than many ever thought possible.
Profile Image for L.
83 reviews
February 17, 2019
Well worth reading, but at times difficult to absorb — all the venom and hatred directed at those young people (often very young girls and women) — “the firsts” who endured isolation and threats to desegregate schools and colleges. And now here we are today with judicial nominees hedging their responses to the importance of Brown vs Board of Education. It boggles the mind. Have we learned nothing?
28 reviews4 followers
July 10, 2018
This perspective of how school integration activism became "women's work" was fascinating, and I'm pleased to have more knowledge of the history around it. I found the author's emphasis on civility as crucial to progress to be challenging to read at present, but the book was very good even if I disagree with some of the interpretations.
Profile Image for Anne.
167 reviews13 followers
August 16, 2018
We learn about history, but it is another thing altogether to learn from the people who actually experienced it. This book details what it was like for African-American students to desegregate schools. This is something a history class can't teach you.
Profile Image for JodiP.
1,063 reviews2 followers
September 10, 2018
This was even better than I anticipated. I really appreciated the attention to early desegregation efforts, and to the various strategies considered by the NAACP. The girls and women shine and the author does a wonderful job of giving them depth and feeling.
Profile Image for Gussy.
346 reviews6 followers
October 27, 2021
A really interesting read that looks at the girls who pioneered desegregation from the 1940s to the civil rights act. Not just a couple of girls with recognizable names but dozens of girls from several different states and why they did it and what they endured.
Profile Image for Marlene.
61 reviews
December 10, 2018
very informative history of desegregation and the women who shaped the course of history. If you think you know the challenges of desegregation , think agin and read this book.
Profile Image for Parthena Wollen.
104 reviews2 followers
January 10, 2019
Eye opening! The girls and women in this book inspired. Didn't get a five because of the writing. Didn't flow smoothly enough and engage enough like other historical favorites of mine.
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