Performing “Civic Decency”: The Black Women and Girls who Desegregated American Schools

Lecture Description

This talk describes the philosophy and personal commitment to the notion of “civic decency” that drove Black young women and girls—in vastly disproportionate numbers—to volunteer to file school desegregation lawsuits and, after Brown, to desegregate formerly all white schools in the South. Girls and Young women articulated a vision of what Lucile Bluford, who attempted to enroll at the University of Missouri eleven times between 1939 and 1946, called “civic decency.” Through their calm, upright, irreproachable and socially open performances in front of white students and school administrators, black girls and young women embodied a set of civic values that they wished to see enacted in the public sphere at large. In so doing they led the way in desegregating American schools and set a new standard for all races to emulate as they sought to find a way to coexist in the public schools. In the age of Trump, when the most basic standards governing civic decency are under assault, it is helpful to remind ourselves of the work Black women and girls did to bring about a more inclusive, open and decent society—and how that legacy still lives on today.

CATEGORIES

African American Women

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