Black Girls after the Great Migration
In May 1960, Chicago’s West Woodlawn Woman’s Club and local aka
chapters presented a $1,300 gift to Daisy Bates, the civil rights activist who
represented the first nine African American students who integrated Little
Rock Central High School. Bates, a former Arkansas state president of the
naacp, recounted to five hundred Chicagoans the desegregation battle
waged nearly three years earlier. Images of mobs of segregationists, fright-
ened black children, and, eventually, National Guardsmen accompany-
ing the students to school riveted the world.1 At the close of that fateful
1957– 1958 school year, the city’s leaders had closed all public schools in an
attempt to circumvent further school desegregation.2 While some white
students attended private schools and others enrolled at newly opened
“segregation academies,” many black students were left without access to
public schools. Three black girls from Little Rock suddenly found them-
selves migrants to Chicago after their local high school closed. The girls
enrolled in Wendell Phillips High School. Chicagoans raised money to
pay for the girls’ nonresident tuition of nearly $1,500.
Bates also shared an anecdote that illustrated the conditions of black
girls’ lives in the South as the First Great Migration moved into its final
decade and school integration battles were propelling a new generation of
southern black girls to ponder their futures. A teenaged girl approached
Bates about enrolling at Central High, but her father stopped her because
he “feared retaliation on his job.” Bates argued that the father’s decision
was wrongheaded; the girl had already been active in local demonstrations,
and she was simply trying to make a difference. The man failed to see that
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