The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America’s Schools




The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education struck down the Constitutional basis for racial segregation and kicked off years of struggle to integrate America’s public schools. The case is commonly understood as the capstone of a careful legal strategy planned and directed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Legal Defense Fund. But, as historian Rachel Devlin has discovered, Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights lawyers only mobilized after students and families began independently filing desegregation lawsuits in the 1940s. Strikingly, nearly all of these early lawsuits were filed by girls and young women.

In A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America’s Schools (Basic Books, 2018), Devlin offers the first new history of the struggle for school desegregation in over four decades, revealing that it was a grassroots movement led by girls and young women. In the immediate aftermath of World War II, young women and girls, almost exclusively, attempted to register at white schools, met with local white administrators and school boards, testified in court and talked with reporters about why they wanted to attend schools with white students. After Brown, girls would continue to lead the effort, by volunteering, in vastly disproportionate numbers, to desegregate formerly all-white schools in every region of the country.


Find Rachel Devlin on Twitter @@racheldevlin9 
A Girl Stands at the Door was published by Basic Books on May 15, 2018. Photo credit (above): Evan Sklar



Rachel Devlin's latest book, A Girl Stands at the Door, is available at these online retailers: 
AmazonBarnes and NobleIndiebound





“Before reading A Girl Stands at the Door I would have imagined that nothing new could be said about the struggle to desegregate schools—and I would have been wrong. Rachel Devlin has uncovered a neglected history of how parents and, importantly, children braved rejection, hostility, even assault to insist on their right to a decent education. Possibly most surprising, these courageous students were mostly girls, a finding that challenges some assumptions about risk-taking behavior. Not least, the book is a great read.”
Linda Gordon, author of The Second Coming of the KKK


“Bold and unforgettable, the girls whose vivid portraits Devlin brings to life through priceless interviews should be household names for their moral courage and stalwart persistence in challenging segregated schools despite the personal costs. This book brings under-recognized female leadership in the black freedom struggle dramatically to the forefront, redrawing the known landmarks in that history.” 
Nancy F. Cott, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University


A Girl at the Door reveals black girls’ under-appreciated role in the Civil Rights Movement. Devlin relates the stories of well-known child activists such as Ruby Bridges, as well as the stories of numerous other brave black girls whose names have been forgotten by many. The book follows black girls down the halls of schools from Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia. The stories unveil much about the struggles of black girls' daily lives and their steadfast determination to find a way in an often hostile world.”
LaKisha Michelle Simmons, author of Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans

A Girl Stands at the Door forces us to view a central stand of civil rights history in an entirely new way. Rachel Devlin has discovered something that should have been in plain view but nonetheless has remained invisible—that girls and young women stood at the center of the massive effort to desegregate American schools. In this compelling, lucid, and deeply researched book, Devlin makes them into flesh-and-blood actors, whose words, initiative, and subtle everyday negotiations helped shape an important strand of American history.”
Kenneth Mack, professor at Harvard Law School and author of Representing the Race


“In this accomplished history of the school desegregation fight from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, Devlin…offers a cogent overview of the legal strategies employed and delves into the stories of the African-American girls (and their families) who defied the ignominious public school systems of the Jim Crow South.…Devlin’s use of diverse secondary and primary sources, including her own interviews with some of the surviving women, bring fresh perspectives. This informative account of change-making is well worth reading.”
Publishers Weekly


“Devlin…spotlight[s] the fact that the majority of black students who stepped forward to integrate colleges, high schools, and elementary schools from the 1940s to the 1960s were girls. Some of these courageous women retain a place in American consciousness…but have since faded into obscurity. The decade of work Devlin put into recovering this underappreciated aspect of civil-rights history is fully on display.”



Rachel Devlin is currently on book tour for A Girl Stands at the Door. Listed below are events confirmed to date; additional events will be added. 


May 20, 2018
Charleston, SC
Blue Bicycle Books
with Pam Grundy and Millicent Brown

May 31, 2018
Cambridge, MA
Harvard Book Store
with Professor Kenneth Mack


June 2, 2018
Wilmington, DE
Barnes & Noble
with Doris Rae Jennings Brewer and Doris Faye Jennings Alston

June 9, 2018 – 4pm
New Orleans, LA
Leona Tate Foundation for Change
1235 Deslonde St., New Orleans
with Nikki Brown

June 12, 2018
Baltimore, MD
Enoch Pratt Free Library

June 23, 2018
Topeka, KS
Barnes & Noble
with Katherine Carper Sawyer


July 18, 2018
Kansas City, KS
Rainy Day Books &
The Kansas Public Library


August 23, 2018
Dallas, TX
Interabang Books

August 30, 2018
Atlanta, GA
Atlanta History Center; Margaret Mitchell House
130 West Paces Ferry Road NW
7 pm
with Elaine Green and Shirley Alexander

August 31, 2018
Decatur, GA
The Decatur Book Festival
Decatur Court House (6 miles east of downtown Atlanta)
2.30 pm



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 holds a BA from Barnard College and a PhD in History from Yale University. 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), Devlin 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, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History (Harvard University), and the W.E.B. DuBois Institute (Harvard University).

See A Girl Stands at the Door in the press
Follow Rachel Devlin on Twitter @racheldevlin9



Rachel Devlin welcomes reader comments and questions.