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Publisher's Summary

A new history of school desegregation in America, revealing how girls and women led the fight for interracial education 

The struggle to desegregate America's schools was a grassroots movement, and young women were its vanguard. In the late 1940s, parents began to file desegregation lawsuits with their daughters, forcing Thurgood Marshall and other civil rights lawyers to take up the issue and bring it to the Supreme Court. After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, girls far outnumbered boys in volunteering to desegregate formerly all-white schools.  

In A Girl Stands at the Door, historian Rachel Devlin tells the remarkable stories of these desegregation pioneers. She also explains why black girls were seen, and saw themselves, as responsible for the difficult work of reaching across the color line in public schools. Highlighting the extraordinary bravery of young black women, this bold revisionist account illuminates today's ongoing struggles for equality.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2018 Rachel Devlin (P)2018 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"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 underrecognized 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 Stands 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)

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Clarifying our past, giving hope for our future

This is an extraordinary book. I recently finished it, and my first impulse was to return to the beginning, and, having arrived again at the end of the epilogue, my impulse is to return to the beginning yet again. We should all listen to this book -- ALL of us -- or read it, or both at once, as the case may be. To do so is to enjoy a fundamentally better understanding of a crucial seam in the social and political fabric of the United States, and of those who wove it. Brown v. Board of Education is "a defining decision in US history," Devlin writes, "but it is time to incorporate the stories of girls and young women who were integral to the school desegregation process" that it reflects, which "would not have happened without their commitment and skills."

Their collective story, she continues, and not just the famed decision that resulted, is "in the twenty-first century, a vital measure of American Democracy" -- of what young girls and women, young people generally, can accomplish, with the support of grown-ups around them and an unwavering moral compass. To read this book is to have one’s faith restored in the arc of history, and in those who will bend it toward justice, even in the face of extreme adversity, and who are, as it turns out, just exactly right in front of us.

And "not least" among its accomplishments, no less than Linda Gordon testifies, "the book is a great read" -- a GREAT read! To strive for intellectually rigorous writing is surely to risk writing that is overly "academic." Not so here, in the least. It is a joy to read, a "page turner" to be sure, with many, many "radio moments" -- in which, arriving here or here, we find ourselves still standing on a train station platform, or sitting in a parked car, anxious to finish reading or listening to this or that bit of the story.

"On the morning of April 13, 1947," the story begins, "fourteen-year-old Marguerite Daisy Carry went with her father to Eliot Junior High School, the white middle school closest to her home in Washington, DC, and attempted to enroll." The process of telling it begins in earnest, Devlin recounts in the "Acknowledgements," when she first reached out to speak with her, in 2008, now Marguerite Carr Stokes. "What took you [historians] so long?," she mused. Now that the wait is over, finally, and we have the full story, finally, we ALL should wait not a moment longer before enjoying and learning from it.