BACK IN THE DAY: CIVIL RIGHTS MAVENS OF INTEGRATION

By Shaun Treat 

The “Black Awareness ‘77” program at NTSU brought together students and community leaders that included CWIF members.

The “Black Awareness ‘77” program at NTSU brought together students and community leaders that included CWIF members.

February’s Black History Month is a time to reflect upon the long struggle of human rights for African-Americans, which may make you wonder about Denton’s own Civil Rights legacy. As you might expect by now, Denton has never really fit the mold of what you’d usually anticipate from those divisively troubled times, but there is definitely a heroic story to tell about the Denton Christian Women’s Interracial Fellowship [CWIF]. While many took to the streets and thundered from podiums during the turbulent 1960s, a plucky coalition of Denton mavens quietly decided to forge their own unusual plan for local desegregation and racial integration from within their own living rooms.



Dr. E.D. Moten and family, physician to Denton’s early 1900s Quakertown.

Dr. E.D. Moten and family, physician to Denton’s early 1900s Quakertown.

1963 has cemented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in our collective memory through his soaring oratory in the “I Have a Dream” speech given in Washington DC, which inspired many to think about Civil Rights struggles a bit differently. Given the troubled Texas history of Denton’s 1920 Quakertown eviction, many folks of all races were deeply ambivalent about the inevitable prospect of racial desegregation. Since the 1954 SCOTUS Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, there had been boycotts, marches, sit-ins, and increasing racial violence. Understandably, many parents were anxious about the challenges faced by their children, so a group of Denton mothers began to collaborate on some practical community-based solutions by hosting get-togethers, dinners, play dates, and picnics as they initiated a student tutoring program. By 1964, this growing informal alliance became known as the Denton Christian Women’s Interracial Fellowship [CWIF].

 

“There were not organizations where you would have mixed for any reason,” recalls former Denton City Councilwoman Linnie McAdams, one of the CWIF founders; “Blacks were not a part of any elective bodies. You weren't on the school board or the city council. The schools were segregated. There just were no opportunities to get to know anybody, except you knew your maid or you knew the person who worked in your yard or you knew the person who was the janitor in your building or the cook at the university. Those were the people that you saw. Some women in particular felt that needed to be changed, and if our children were going to have a different attitude, we needed to start with them while they were young. So they came up with the idea of putting together a group that would just meet basically and purely as social. Out of that came a time when we talked about: ‘Well, if there are projects that we can work on together, let us by all means do that’… But we wanted to be able to relate in an equal fashion so that we felt comfortable with each other. I think to a large degree that worked. I think it really was a good thing that we did, and it did a lot to improve relations. It did a lot, I think, to have black people feel that there were people in Denton who cared about them and who were willing to help with whatever the problems were and who clearly did enjoy sitting down talking about things.”

What started as an unceremonious group of concerned mothers from opposite sides of Denton’s railroad tracks, reports the DRC’s Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, soon became an influential force locally and politically. “It was a radical thing to do,” Alma Clark acknowledged to the DRC during their 25th anniversary reunion, since they paired a white woman with a black woman as co-chair for each meeting that alternated between member’s homes. Their Good Neighbor Pledge asserted: "I believe that every person has the moral and legal right to rent, buy, or build a home anywhere without restriction based on race, religion, or national origin. Equality of opportunity is basic to the American society and our religious beliefs. Therefore, I will welcome persons into my neighborhood without regard to race, religion, or national origin, and I will work with them to build, to improve, and to maintain a community which is good for all." The CWIF certainly succeeded in creating long-lasting friendship coalitions that quietly collapsed racial barriers one living room at a time, but soon they were boldly facilitating Denton’s public integration during the 60s and 70s by pushing for paved roads in Southeast Denton, improving neighborhood housing, desegregating businesses on the Square, canvassing voter registration, establishing an integrated Denton Christian Preschool, and sponsoring jobs programs and free tutoring programs for schoolchildren. Several members of the CWIF also became very active in city politics, such as former mayor Euline Brock and Linnie McAdams, who served three at-large terms on the Denton City Council. Others were influential in churches and civic organizations or schools and universities, easing the difficult transitions toward a more equal community.

Meaningful changes were neither easy nor quick, however, and there are so many incredible stories to discover from back in the day. To explore more, check out UNT’s Oral History Project “50 Years of Progress” archive and read about these experiences from those who lived it, or visit the Emily Fowler Library collection. Denton’s own Thin Line Film Fest will also be showing the documentary “When We Were Broncos” as their opening night feature February 12, a chronicle of the young lives impacted by school integration. Today we are challenged to advance further along the path toward MLK’s dream by following in the courageous footsteps of Denton’s CWIF trailblazers, whose neighborly kindness offers inspiring examples of tolerance, grit, and grace for which our entire community is thankful.


Back in The Day is an ongoing WDDI contribution from Shaun Treat, an assistant professor in Communication Studies at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc Treat has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of the fine folks with the Denton County Historical Commission and local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past.