Rachel Devlin is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University specializing in the cultural politics of girlhood, sexuality, and race in the postwar United States. She is the author of Relative Intimacy: Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture (2005). In her most recent book, A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America's Schools (2018), she draws on interviews and archival research to tell the stories of the many young women who stood up to enraged protestors, hostile teachers, and hateful white students every day while integrating classrooms. Among them were Lucile Bluford, who fought to desegregate the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism before World War II, and Marguerite Carr and Doris Faye Jennings, who as teenagers became the public faces of desegregation years before Brown v. Board of Education. Devlin has received fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University.
Esther Brown was the "guiding light" of the first school desegregation case in Kansas (Webb v. School board, 1948) which helped to convince the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund to pursue a second case in Topeka (Brown v. Board). For the Webb case Brown led a year long school strike, travelled the state to raise funds and incurred the wrath of her neighbors. After winning Webb v. School Board she moved to Topeka to work tirelessly on the Brown case. So instrumental was she--she located plaintiffs, found expert witnesses and handled the lion's share of the logistics in the case--that Topekans took to calling her, affectionately, "the White Mrs. Brown." This talk examines Brown's deep roots in the Communist Party which trained her to become the organizer she was for school desegregation. It also examines the work of women activists across racial lines and their relationships to one another. It ends with a discussion of Jewish women's significant contribution to the civil rights movement overall, and their differing inspirations for joining in struggles for social justice.