“Judith,” I said, as I dropped the newspaper down on her immaculate desk. “How’d you like to
be a furniture upholsterer?”
She laughed and spun her desk chair around to face me. “Another hair-brained idea,” she said.
Judith was a tall, young, elegant black woman who took her job as Program Director in
our service organization very seriously.
“Turmoil” best defined the South in the mid-1960s, where schools were being desegregated, fire hoses
turned on black and whites who marched for equal rights, and black children cowered in fear on school buses.
Later, seated across from Judith at the lunch table, I began reading aloud an advertisement in the local newspaper:
“Students wanted for upholstery class at local technical college.
Will assist in finding employment upon completion of the course.”
“What’s this got to do with me?” Judith asked, puzzled but clearly interested.
“The technical college is all-white. I’d like to challenge that by both of us enrolling in the evening upholstery class, “ I explained, smiling broadly.
I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to persuade Judith to help me test the system. I could hardly believe it when we got up from the table and Judy placed her hand on my arm.
“Ok, I’ll do it. Let me run it by the boss.”
The next afternoon we left our office early and drove straight to the technical college.
As planned, Judith stayed in the car while I entered the imposing front doors and looked for
the registrar’s office.
I had barely taken a seat when a tall, jovial man in his fifties entered and shook my hand.
“I’d like to enroll in your upholstery class,” I offered. “Do you still have any openings?”
“As a matter of fact we do,” he smiled broadly. “It’s a popular evening class and we still have 8 openings.”
“Wonderful! I replied. “Is it ok for me to invite a friend to join me?”
“By all means,” he answered enthusiastically.
“Great!” I replied. “She’s in the car. I’ll bring her in.”
“I’ll have the applications ready for you to fill out and you can begin classes tonight.”
I almost ran to the car to tell Judith the good news. Suddenly, she looked frightened. But I reassured her it was the proverbial piece cake and not to worry.
“Here’s my friend!” I said with enthusiasm as I introduced the registrar to Judith.
”I uh, I’m sorry. There’s been a misunderstanding. We only have room for 1 more person. I was mistaken.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. “Just a couple of minutes ago you told me you had eight openings.
“I checked the enrollment sheet while you were outside,” he explained lamely.
“Can we see the class enrollment sheet?” I asked politely.
“Listen, ladies,” he said, his temperature rising. “I’ve told you there is only one opening left and that’s all there is to it. If you don’t want to register,” he said, nodding to me, “then I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“Sir, I said, “I believe you are refusing my friend admission on the basis of her race. I must tell you that
if you do not let her sign up for the upholstery class as promised, I will report you and this technical college to the state’s Civil Rights Commission and you will be called to the state capitol to testify.”
“Listen!” He thundered. “If you don’t leave this campus immediately, I’ll call the campus police to escort you out!”
“We’re leaving!” I replied, my voice several decibels above its normal level.
Back in the car, we both were shaking; Judith from fear while mine was from anger.
Our employer provided legal counsel and papers were drawn up, requesting permission for Judith and me to appear before the Civil Rights Commission.
I was a nervous wreck facing a bank of cameras as well as the media but I testified of our meeting with the registrar and his refusal to admit Judith.
Judith and I were subject to intense questioning and at one point our senior senator, a member of the Civil Rights Commission, pointed his finger at me and sneered contemptuously, “I don’t believe even one word of your testimony.”
The next day our pictures were plastered all over the state’s leading newspapers. In some circles we
The Civil Rights Commission and the courts ordered the immediate desegregation of the college. Today nearly half of the 8,500 students are non-white.
“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail…”
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