NAACP & the Ada Sipuel Case
In the 1930's.
Charles Hamilton Houston, special counsel for the NAACP, instituted
a strategy for challenging segregation in education through the
courts. These major cases in the years before 1951, paved the way
for Brown v. Board of Education.
Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938)
The University of
Missouri refused to admit Lloyd Gaines to its law school because it
believed the school was only for whites. It was common for the state
to send black students to neighboring states for courses of study
not offered in the black schools. Since Missouri did not have a
separate and equal law school for African Americans, the U.S.
Supreme Court ruled Gaines must be allowed to attend the University
of Missouri Law School.
v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (1948)
When Ada Lois
Sipuel was denied entry to law school, the University set up a
"class" overnight with 3 instructors, 3 classrooms, and
separate access to the law library at the state capital. The U.S.
Supreme Court ruled this was illegal, and she was finally allowed to
v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950)
The U.S. Supreme
Court ruled that George W. McLaurin, a student who was required to
eat and study at separate tables, must be treated the same as white
students. Chief Justice Fred Vinson said in the ruling that separate
accommodations denied McLaurin "his personal and present rights
to equal protection of the laws" under the 14th Amendment.
Continuing, Vinson said "McLaurin must receive the same
treatment...as students of other races."
This case was an
important predecessor to Brown v. Board of Education, because the
U.S. Supreme Court decided 9-0 that the "separate but
equal" doctrine established in the Plessy case was unworkable
and ultimately doomed.
Murray v. Maryland
The first of such state cases
was that of Donald Gaines Murray, a graduate of Amherst College
(Amherst, MA), who unsuccessfully applied to the law school of the
all-white University of Maryland. Supported by the NAACP through
his counsel, Charles Hamilton Houston, Murray claimed the right to
admission under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Judge Eugene O'Dunne of the Baltimore City Court issued a writ of
mandamus on June 25, 1935 ordering the school to admit him. Murray,
the first and only black in his class, entered the law school in
1935, from which he graduated a few years later, seemingly without
overt racist incidents. The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld
O'Dunne's order In January 1936
Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, first
African-American to attend and graduate from the OU Law School.
Sipuel v. University of Oklahoma 332 US
Ada Lois Sipuel, a black, was denied admission to the law
school of the University of Oklahoma and thereupon promptly
requested legal assistance from the NAACP, which filed a
petition in the Oklahoma courts requesting an order directing
The petition was denied on the grounds that the Gaines
decision did not require a state with segregation laws to
admit a black to its white schools. Further, the Oklahoma
courts maintained that the state itself was not obligated to
set up a separate school unless first requested to do so by
blacks desiring a legal education. The decision was affirmed
by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma.
- The U.S. Supreme Court, however,
reversed this decision, and held that the state was required to
provide Blacks with equal educational opportunities as soon as
it did so for whites.
University of Oklahoma (1948)
and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950)
Despite the Plessy
“separate but equal” precedent, schools and colleges for blacks
and whites were nowhere near equal. Black schools were poorly
funded, resulting in few books and mediocre teachers. In the 1930s
the issue of the inequality between black and white colleges was
brought to light in a series of cases, beginning with the Gaines
case. Lloyd Gaines, an African-American, had been refused admission
to a law school in Missouri because of his race. The Supreme Court
ruled that a state offering legal education for whites must offer it
to blacks as well, but did not specify that it must be in the same
In 1948 Marshall argued the case of Ada Sipuel,
who had been denied admission to the University of Oklahoma’s law
school, before the Supreme Court. He had lost in the Oklahoma state
court, which had ruled that although there was not a law school for
blacks in Oklahoma, the Gaines precedent did not require a state
with segregation laws to admit black students to the white law
schools. Marshall appealed to the Supreme Court, where he also
questioned the continuing influence of Plessy: “Beyond that [the
immediate issue of the lack of legal educational for
African-Americans in Oklahoma], the petitioner contends that the
separate but equal doctrine is basically unsound and unrealistic and
in the light of the history of its application, it should now be
repudiated.”1 The Court gave a short decision holding
that the state had to provide equal education opportunities for
blacks as soon as these facilities were available to whites, and did
not mention Plessy.
Amos T. Hall, resident counsel for NAACP; Thurgood
Marshall, attorney from New York NAACP office; Dr. H.W. Williamston, state
president of the Oklahoma NAACP; with Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher, first
African-American to attend the OU Law School (right)
George W. McLaurin attends his first class at the University of
Oklahoma under segregated conditions. The lecturer is Professor F.A.
Balyeat, of the College of Education (left)
In 1949 Ada Sipuel
was finally admitted to the law school in Oklahoma. The University
established a law school just for her - in a roped off section of
the state capitol in Oklahoma city, where they assigned three
instructors to teach her. She suffered this treatment until Marshall
won the McLaurin case in 1950. George McLaurin was a sixty-eight
year-old African-American with a master’s degree in education
pursuing an Ed.D. at the University of Oklahoma. He, like Sipuel,
was segregated within the school itself; he was required to sit at a
special table in the classroom, library, and cafeteria because of
his race. Marshall lost the case in the local court but appealed
immediately to the Supreme Court. Unanimously, the Supreme Court
declared that black students must receive the same treatment as the
white students and that the schools could not be segregated. This
greatly improved the situation in colleges, but not necessarily in
lower schools. The Court again skirted the issue of overturning
Plessy, but it was to be resolved five years later, in Brown v. the
Board of Education of Topeka.
A Defiant Life: Thurgood Marshall & The
Persistence of Racism in America (p.73)
* * * *
A Defiant Life: Thurgood Marshall & The
Persistence of Racism in America
By Howard Ball
Thurgood Marshall's extraordinary contribution to civil rights and
overcoming racism is more topical than ever, as the national debate on
race and the overturning of affirmative action policies make headlines
nationwide. Howard Ball, author of eighteen books on the Supreme Court
and the federal judiciary, has done copious research for this incisive
biography to present an authoritative portrait of Marshall the jurist.
Born to a middle-class black family in "Jim Crow" Baltimore at the turn
of the century, Marshall's race informed his worldview from an early
age. He was rejected by the University of Maryland Law School because of
the color of his skin. He then attended Howard University's Law School,
where his racial consciousness was awakened by the brilliant lawyer and
activist Charlie Houston. Marshall suddenly knew what he wanted to be: a
civil rights lawyer, one of Houston's "social engineers." As the chief
attorney for the NAACP, he developed the strategy for the legal
challenge to racial discrimination. His soaring achievements and his
lasting impact on the nation's legal system--as the NAACP's advocate, as
a federal appeals court judge, as President Lyndon Johnson's solicitor
general, and finally as the first African American Supreme Court
Justice--are symbolized by Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark
case that ended legal segregation in public schools. Using race as the
defining theme, Ball spotlights Marshall's genius in working within the
legal system to further his lifelong commitment to racial equality. With
the help of numerous, previously unpublished sources, Ball presents a
lucid account of Marshall's illustrious career and his historic impact
on American civil rights.
* * * *
Defense Fund Memorandum
TO: Charles Houston
FROM: Thurgood Marshall
RE: Ada Sipuel
DATE: September 10, 1946
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Ada
Sipuel, who has been rejected from the University of Oklahoma Law
School, ostensibly because of her race. I strongly recommend that we
pursue litigation on behalf of Miss Sipuel and seek her admission to
the University of Oklahoma Law School. I recommend this action based
on the following conclusions:
The facts of Miss Sipuel's case are favorable
and her liabilities as a client or witness are manageable.
Miss Sipuel has both the character and
commitment for a protracted case such as ours.
Miss Sipuel shares our goals.
The nature of her case and the remedies we
seek fit well within the precedents we established in Gaines
v Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938).
I also believe that, if we are able to frame the
issues properly, we should seek to overturn Plessy with this
case. Such a scenario is risky and I do not propose it lightly. Much
will depend on the groundwork we lay in the lower courts. The basis
and the reasoning for my conclusion follow.
Ada Sipuel has lived in Oklahoma her entire life.
Her father is a Baptist minister and a staunch anti-racist. Ada grew
up hearing about the evils of segregation in church and at the
dinner table. Her determination to attend an all-white law school is
very much a product of her family's commitment. Miss Sipuel graduated summa cum laude from
the State College for Negroes in Langston, Oklahoma. Her major was
Political Science. When she graduates from law school, she wants to
practice law in Oklahoma, using the legal system to fight the
pervasive bigotry in that state. I teased her, asking why she would
not attend Howard, where all the finest civil rights lawyers go. She
was adamant: she wants an Oklahoma legal education, studying
Oklahoma law, developing the Oklahoma legal connections she will
need to practice in her home state.
Miss Sipuel has other good reasons for wishing to
stay in Oklahoma. Her father lives there and she wants to be near
him. He is a widower, and though he is in good health, he may need her help in later years. Just as important
is the moral strength she draws from her family. Her father hates
segregation and so does she. In a long, frustrating court battle,
this may prove to be crucial. Finally, there is her ambition: she
hopes to eventually abolish segregation in Oklahoma.
To that end, Miss Sipuel completed her application
for the University of Oklahoma Law School and hand-delivered it to
the Dean of Admissions. He grudgingly admitted that she had
outstanding academic qualifications -- "for a Negro" --
but that she could not attend the school. He explained that Oklahoma
law makes it a misdemeanor for any school to teach Negroes and
Whites in the same classroom, punishable with a $500 fine for each
Help, however, was on the way. The Dean said that
Oklahoma was creating a "Negro Law School" by roping off a
small section of the State Capitol building for a classroom, and
drafting a few black lawyers to teach there. She could attend that
school whenever it was ready.
Miss Sipuel does not want to attend this putative
Negro Law School. She wants to attend "a white law
school," and "go to class with white students." She
in a "separate but equal" law school, not
only because she "hates segregation" but also because she
would suffer from her inability to form the intellectual and
professional relationships which make all the difference in a
lawyer's career. She told me emphatically that she does not want the
NAACP to seek "substantially equal" facilities for her. If
we want to sue Oklahoma to admit her to the law school, we could not
have a more tenacious client.
Only one liability mars this otherwise ideal client.
Since she was rejected from the law school, Miss Sipuel has worked
as a clerk in the Post office in Langston. The job is unsuited for a
woman of her intelligence and education and she despises it. A long,
painful lawsuit might mean staying in her job for years. She is not
sure she can stand this, and not merely because of the boredom.
Her boss is white. He is less educated that she is.
Since she began working at the Post office, he has made comments
about her race, her sexuality and her physical appearance. This
infuriated her and she told him what she thought of him. He
retaliated by putting several negative employee reports in her file.
She is worried that these reports will come out at trial,
embarrassing her and hurting her case. Overall, Miss Sipuel seems to be an intelligent and
resourceful woman. The possible danger of the employment reports is
far outweighed by her assets as a client.
Client's Goals and Concerns
As discussed above, Miss Sipuel's goals are very
much those of the NAACP. She wants to attend Oklahoma State
University; we want her to go there, too. She is willing to endure
the years of hardship which this case will entail. However, at the
end of those years, she wants some assurance that she will actually
attend the University of Oklahoma Law School.
To achieve her goals, the NAACP must do three
things: first, get her the ruling she needs; second, implement the
ruling; and third, press for more sweeping changes. We could do all
these things piecemeal. But I believe that a strategy which combines
the three actions will be better for Miss Sipuel and the NAACP. This
strategy is outlined below.
Negro law students are entitled to
"substantially equal" educational facilities as those
provided for white students in the same state. The much we
established in State of Missouri et rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305
U.S. 337 (1938), and in Pearson v. Murray, 169 Md. 478
(1936). If the state cannot provide those facilities, it must admit
Negro law students to its all-white schools. Gaines, 305 U.S.
This case is explicitly covered by the reasoning in Gaines
and Pearson. The facts bear this out. Like Lloyd Gaines, Miss
Sipuel applied to her state law school. Like Gaines, she was turned
down because of her race. Like Missouri, Oklahoma has
"plans" to establish a law school for Negroes. Applying this reasoning, Oklahoma is required to
provide a legal education for miss Sipuel; they must provide it now,
not at some indeterminate point in the future; and the facilities
for her and others like her must be "substantially equal"
to those for white students.
Up until now, however, the Supreme Court has not
ruled on what "substantially equal" means. If they decide
that the roped-off portion of the capitol satisfies that standard,
we will have succeeded in setting back Miss Sipuel's cause for a
couple of decades.
We have four separate goals:
1. We want a favorable reading of Gaines; that
is, one which includes Miss Sipuel in its scope.
2. We want the court to rule that the Oklahoma
misdemeanor statute violates the Equal Protection Clause; preferably
on its face, but at the very least, as applied to Miss Sipuel.
3. We want the court to rule that whatever law
school Oklahoma sets up, it cannot possibly be "equal":
the intangible benefits of reputation, classmates and experienced
professors are impossible to provide in a hastily-assembled Negro
law school. We want a court order stipulating that Miss Sipuel be
admitted at once to the University of Oklahoma Law School.
4. We want the court to admit that, in Oklahoma, as
well as in the rest of the country, a system which forcibly
separates Negroes and whites cannot promote equality.
In other words, we want the court to overrule Plessy
v. Ferguson. 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
Despite the dismal state of the Oklahoma state
courts, we are better off there than in Federal District Court.
This, as you must know, is because of the doctrine announced in Railroad
Commission of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941): (1)
when there are both federal and state claims before a federal court;
(2) the case involves a sensitive area of state social policy; and
(3) the state law at issue is unclear, the District Court may
decline to hear the claim. This can result in severe delays for the
plaintiff. Here, a state misdemeanor statute is at issue. It
presents a tempting excuse for any federal court -- District,
Circuit, or even Supreme -- to decline jurisdiction. We should bite
the bullet and file in state court.
We will bring our claims directly under the equal
protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. We should seek the
a declaration that the State of Oklahoma's
inability to provide legal education for Miss Sipuel violates
the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment;
an injunction ordering the President of the
Oklahoma School of Law to admit Miss Sipuel forthwith;
in the alternative, an injunction ordering the
State of Oklahoma to establish a "substantially equal"
law school immediately;
a declaration that the Oklahoma misdemeanor
statute which makes it a crime for students of different races
to be taught together violates the Equal Protection clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment;
an order enjoining the Governor from enforcing
the statute against Miss Sipuel or any other student similarly
I am fully prepared to lose on all of these counts.
The government of Oklahoma is implacably racist. In 1915, the
Supreme Court struck down Oklahoma's "grandfather clause"
in Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347 (1915). The Oklahoma
legislature turned around and passed an almost identical law, which
it enforced for twenty more years. If we lose outright in the trial
court, then we appeal every ruling, all the way to the Supreme
However, the court may take what it thinks is
"the path of least resistance": refusing all of our claims
except the one to establish a "Negro law school." Once the
school is established, Miss Sipuel should refuse to attend, citing
inequality of facilities. We go back to court, seeking a contempt
order against the Oklahoma Chancellor of Schools for violating the
injunction. When the judge refuses to enter the order, we appeal that,
plus all our other claims. The evidence will be all too plain:
what Oklahoma offers its Negro law students is not equal.
At the contempt hearing, we will have to offer
evidence of the gaping inequalities between the "Negro Law
School" and the state law school. We will need experts on legal
education, successful lawyers who have graduated from the state law
school, and students who are still there. These witnesses can
testify to the "intangible" benefits of a law degree which
bears the imprimatur of the state. I fully expect to lose both here
and in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, setting the stage for a Supreme
Court argument on equality of facilities.
If, on the other hand, the trial court does not
order Oklahoma to establish a separate law school, we will have to
settle for a replay of Gaines, unless we decide to go
after Plessy on this case. Either scenario offers us an
opportunity to do so. I discuss the Plessy strategy below.
The Supreme Court
Our goals will not truly come into focus until we
reach the United States Supreme Court, as follows:
1. Replicating Gaines. This is the easiest part
of our task. The facts of Gaines are nearly identical to
this case, with one or two important exceptions.
2. Invalidating the Oklahoma "mixed-race
classroom" statute. This is where push comes to shove
in our case. If the statute is upheld, then Miss Sipuel cannot
attend the law school of her choice. However, to invalidate the
statute, the Court may have to overrule Plessy. Whether they do
this will depend on the issue we present to them.
If Oklahoma has established a Negro Law School, then
the Court can rule in one of two ways:
If the Court finds that the Negro Law School is
demonstrably inferior to the State Law School, the Court can strike
down the law by deeming it inconsistent with Oklahoma's obligation
to provide "equal,, education to Negroes. Under Yick Wo v.
Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356 (1886), the Court may strike down a
facially neutral statute which is applied in a discriminatory
fashion. Rather than admitting that the statute is facially discriminatory,
the Court may elect this softer path. They would not have to reach
the larger philosophical question of whether "separate"
can ever be "equal."
If the Court finds that the Negro Law School is
"substantially equal," or that the evaluation of equal
facilities should be left to the discretion of the states, then we
go back to the drawing board and find another state. This is the
scenario I fear most, because it leaves Miss Sipuel without a
remedy. It is also the easiest decision for the Court to make, since
it leaves Plessy untouched, while summarily upholding their
previous ruling in Gaines.
If Oklahoma has not established a Negro Law School,
then we will have to take what we can get: a replay of Gaines,
a dismissal of the statutory claim as unripe. I also fear this
scenario. A Negro Law School can look pretty good to judges when
they have never actually seen one. And since the Negro Law School
cannot be evaluated, the Court cannot determine whether Miss Sipuel
has been injured by the "mixed-race classroom" law.
3. Recognizing the "intangible
benefits" of the University of Oklahoma Law School. Again,
this is dependent on whether we actually have something to compare
to the State Law School. Without an actual Negro law school in
place, the Court can bypass the "substantially equal"
question until it has more evidence. This once again raises the
bifurcated trial scenario from the previous section.
If Oklahoma has established a separate law school,
much of our success with this question will depend on the evidence
we present in the lower courts, an issue which is dealt with above.
4. Overturning Plessy.
I do not suggest this lightly: Miss Sipuel's case
may present the best opportunity in a decade to overturn Plessy.
Several factors favor a charge at Plessy, with a view to presenting
our case to the Supreme Court during the 1948 term.
First, this is the best bench we will get for some
time. Reed and Black voted with the majority in the Gaines case.
Douglas, Murphy and Rutledge are all solid Roosevelt/Truman
liberals. That alone is a majority. Frankfurter and Jackson will
plead judicial restraint and vote against us. Burton is
unpredictable. And nobody knows much about Frederick Vinson, the new
Chief Justice, except that he is President Truman's friend and a
liberal Democrat. However, with Murphy and Rutledge threatening to
retire, this maybe our last chance to plead major change before this
Court. We could hope for a 6-3 vote in favor of overturning Plessy.
Second, the disadvantages of winning by a divided
vote are largely offset by the advantages in enforcement. Harry
Truman is a genuine anti-segregationist. If Vinson votes with us,
the President will be enforcing a decision made by his own
hand-picked Chief Justice. If we wait too long, Truman will be
replaced by another chief executive, who may be far less interested
in aggressively enforcing antisegregation rulings.
Third, the issue of the statute is a natural entry
into the Plessy debate. If we can point to a demonstrably unequal
law school for Negroes, then Ada Sipuel has a right to go
to University of Oklahoma Law School. The only thing standing in her
way is a Jim Crow statute which forbids her sole
Finally, if we ask the Court to overturn Plessy,
and they refuse, the worst case scenario is that we settle for a
repeat of Gaines. We will not ask Miss Sipuel to put her
entire life on the line for a larger cause. In fact the larger cause
may get her more than she would ever get under a Gaines scenario.
I understand that there are arguments against the
above action. The most serious is that, while all of our previous
cases have focused on de-segregating graduate study, overruling Plessy
would suddenly extend our gains to all schools,
everywhere. This may be more than the Court is willing to do. If,
however, they feel pushed beyond their limits, we can offer them
judicial cover by making alternative pleas.
On balance, the factors above favor a direct attack
on Plessy, if the circumstances are right. Those
circumstances may or may not arise during litigation. We should be
prepared for all of these different scenarios.
At present, our goals and Miss Sipuel's are in
conjunction, but at some point they may diverge. I explained this to
Miss Sipuel, as well as our method of dealing with conflicts between
the NAACP national strategy and our client's interests, in
accordance with Rule 1.7 of the model Rules of Professional Conduct.
Specifically, if we have to diverge from Miss Sipuel's goal --
admission to the University of Oklahoma Law School -- either
temporarily or permanently, we will consult with her and try to get
her consent. If she refuses, we may have to seek another client.
However, since our overall objectives are the
same, I believe we are well within the model Rules if we forcefully
argue for our strategy. See Model Rules of Professional Conduct Rule
1.3(a). We are not doing Miss Sipuel any disservice by bringing our
expertise to bear on this matter.
I also assured Miss Sipuel that her communications
with me were confidential but that I would have to share them with
NAACP legal staff in order to prepare her case. See Model
Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6. She understands this and
told me to do what I need to do.
Ada Sipuel as a Client/Witness
Miss Sipuel's dedication and commitment are definite
assets to our cause. Her education and background are impeccable.
Nor is she likely to wilt on the witness stand. I have explained to
her that the litigation is likely to be long and difficult, that
there may be threats against her and her family, and that we may not
ultimately get the remedy she seeks. She seems ready and willing to
bear this, and her family is behind her. Nonetheless, I told her to
give the matter some thought before committing. I will call her
again within the week.
On the other hand, Miss Sipuel's courage and
determination could become a liability if we are not careful. She is
a proud woman capable of flashes of anger, as evidenced by her
run-in with her supervisor. She must learn to keep her cool when
some white supremacist lawyer is trying to rattle her. She must
resist the temptation to show that she is smarter than some
ward-heeler judge in the trial court. Since these are skills I have
had to learn myself, I will try to teach her.
Finally, the matter of the employment file is a
potential time bomb. At first, I thought we should attempt to
suppress the file -- but this would probably fail in an Oklahoma
So, I say we introduce the file, along with
the sordid tale of her treatment at the hands of her supervisor. The
story we tell is not the story of some uppity black postal clerk who
won't take orders. The story we tell is that of a young, intelligent
woman trying to defend her virtue in the face of her brutish boss's
advances. Given white people's obsession with young women's
chastity, this could play well in Oklahoma City. In any case, it is
better than having the State lawyers spring it on us during
cross-examination. If we tell our version of the story first,
the opposition will have the burden of refuting it.
Last, if we want to continue having a healthy and
dedicated client, we should see if we can help Miss Sipuel find
another job. She loathes her position at the Post Office. If her
supervisor finds out about this lawsuit, he is likely to step up his
campaign of harassment, leading to more confrontation and more
reports in the file. I am sure we know some black business leaders
in Oklahoma who could offer her better employment. If we limit our
involvement, this should not violate Rule 1.8 (e) of the Model Rules
of Professional Conduct, which prohibits financial assistance to
If we take the above steps and precautions, we can
assure that Miss Sipuel will be a strong client who will stick out
Our immediate action is to wait. I have not and will
not tell Miss Sipuel of our immediate plans until she has spoken
with her family. If she agrees to be our client, we should prepare an
immediate filing in state court, requesting the relief detailed in
Section X. At the same time, we should start contacting legal
education experts to support our position in court. Once we know
whether Oklahoma is establishing a separate law school, we can
formulate the rest of our strategy. At all times, we should be
prepared for contrarian action by the ever-resourceful white
supremacists on the Oklahoma state legislature.
If we want to make a run at Plessy, we will
have to pay particular attention to mobilizing massive shows of
resistance. To this end, we should find out how much the faculty and
students of the Law School support Miss Sipuel's admission. Law
schools are generally more enlightened places than state
legislatures, and we should canvas the school to find out which way
the wind is blowing. The spectacle of hundred of law students and
faculty systematically violating the "mixed-race
classroom" statute should wake up a lot of people.
Let me know your thoughts about our strategy,
particularly with regard to Plessy. I look forward to seeing
you back in Baltimore.
Source of Photos:
Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Collection
Western History Collections
University of Oklahoma Libraries
Chapter VI. "The Instruction of Negroes." In Edgar W.
A Documentary History of Education in the South before 1860. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 1953
Chapter 10 "Up From Slavery: Educational and
other Rights of Negroes." In Edgar W. Knight and Clifton L. Hall. Readings
in American Educational History. New York Appleton-Century-Crofts,
Many states had laws prohibiting
the education of blacks; here black youngsters are turned away at the
* * *
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
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update 30 December 2011