The young, white woman listened intently as others in her office decried the fact that the local Technical Institute barred the door to non-whites. Though the curriculum offered only training in blue collar skills such as auto maintenance and upholstery repair, it was a state-funded facility and classes should have been opened to anyone qualified to apply, regardless of race.
But this was at the height of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s in the South. Tensions were high and old traditions were revered and tenaciously gripped with iron fists. British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke said it best over 200 years ago: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
The young woman looked around the conference table where she worked. This was an integrated group which enjoyed an uneasy relationship with the rest of the community. Some of the program directors and secretaries were black. It was a community service organization which tried to mend the fractures in race relations quietly and behind the scenes all over the South.
She mulled an idea for a few days, then discussed it with one of the directors. She was given immediate approval.
The young woman phoned the Technical Institute to inquire how many openings were still available in the upholstery class.
"We have about 16 openings," she was told by an administrator.
"I'd like to enroll. May I bring a friend to enroll also?" she asked politely.
"Absolutely. We'd love to have your friend."
Selecting a tall, well-groomed, college educated black woman from her office who became a willing participant, the two drove to the Technical Institute. Her black co-worker remained in the car when they reached the Institute.
"I called earlier to inquire about your upholstery class. I would like to enroll," the young white woman explained quietly to the admissions director.
"We'll be happy to have you. Here's the application. You may fill it out now or return it to us by mail," the director replied with a broad, welcoming smile.
"Oh, I also brought along a friend to apply. You told me on the phone you have room for her, also."
"Bring her in. I'll get an application for her," he replied.
The young woman accompanied her black friend into the building. The admissions director blanched, stared in confusion, then stammered, "I'm sorry. I was wrong. Our classes are all full."
The young woman asked if he was denying her black friend admission solely on the basis of her race. He reiterated that their classes were now full.
The young woman politely asked him to reconsider. Again he refused.
"I need to tell you, then," the young woman said," that I am going to the local newspaper with this story, using your name. Then I plan to appear before the Civil Rights Commission at the state capitol with my friend to testify that you are denying admission to her because of her race. I want to ask you once again to reconsider and admit her.
He straightened his shoulders in defiance and asked them to leave the campus.
The young woman kept her promise and appeared before the state Civil Rights Commission along with her black co-worker. Her name was splashed boldly on the front page of the state's major newspapers along with her testimony. At the Civil Rights hearing, the senior state senator called her a liar, and asked that her testimony be disregarded.
But it wasn't. The wheels of justice began to slowly grind, the small state-funded Technical Institute was ordered by court to admit blacks, and today the institute is a fully accredited community college with 238 faculty members, 11,657 students in curriculum programs and 20,699 students in continuing education programs. And today 37 percent of the student body are minority students.
The young white woman was grateful to have had even a small part in righting a dreadful wrong.
I was that young woman.
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