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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Vivion Lenon Brewer, October 15, 1976. Interview G-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

WEC members concentrate on reopening public schools, changing its initial mission

Brewer describes her initial involvement with the Women's Emergency Committee. Although the organizers of the group supported alleviating racial problems, the larger membership focused primarily on reopening the public schools. As a result, the mission of the Committee had to change.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Vivion Lenon Brewer, October 15, 1976. Interview G-0012. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

VIVION LENON BREWER:
...So I had had a very close relationship with Adolphine (Terry) during that time, you see. So when she began to think, "Now, what can we do?" she talked to Velma about calling me. And I had met Velma--I didn't know her well at that time, but I had met her--and discussed the racial problems, and we agreed. And so she said she felt sure I'd be interested, so Adolphine called me, and Velma and Adolphine and I met and decided we would call what friends we thought would work with us, for a meeting, and spent some time on the telephone and were very pleased when we had the initial meeting. 7 7 The initial meeting was held in the fall of 1958, shortly after Governor Faubus had closed the schools. Far more (58) came than we ever thought would. But it just didn't work as we hoped it would. See, our whole idea was that we were going to do something about the racial problem. The problem with the schools was back of our interest, of course, but the real thing was to do something about the racial problem. But that meeting fell to pieces.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Why? What happened?
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Mrs. Terry had said, "Now look, you've got to take hold of this and be Chairman," so I'd spent the weekend planning committees and thinking what we could do. I remember one thing, I wanted very much to ask Marian Anderson to come here for a concert. Just a lot of things. And I began to see the whole group just flutter. And finally one woman who had two children out of school (by that time you see, Faubus had closed the schools) rose and cried out, "But what do we do about the schools?"
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Now the chronology on this is that you all called this initial meeting very soon after Faubus closed the schools.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
The very next week.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Yes.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
And she said, "My boys are out of school, and that's what I'm interested in. This is what I want to do." And it immediately dawned on me that we couldn't hope to do what we first thought we wanted to do.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
That's right. You couldn't be that straightforward.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
That's right, and we had to go around the mountain.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Yes.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
So then we changed all of our tactics and organized the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
And so the full title was Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Which was a terribly cumbersome name.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Yes. (Laughs)
VIVION LENON BREWER:
But it said . . .
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
It said what you were about.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Yes. And lots of people later advised us to change that name, but I felt, when you have a momentum, if you start changing things you're going to lose a lot of it. So I kept insisting we stick with it, and in the end we were known as the WEC. It lost all that long name anyway.