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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's strategy to appeal to Arkansas men

Brewer illuminates WEC's strategy to reopen and integrate the public schools. She discusses how the women played up the conventional southern gender roles and the economic decline of Arkansas businesses to appeal to men's sensibilities. As a result, men began to move away from their dogmatic stance on race. Women began to assume a public leadership role as well, as men took a backseat to the women activists.

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

ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Okay. What were the primary activities of the Women's Emergency Committee? What did you all do?
VIVION LENON BREWER:
It became absolutely necessary that we win elections. There was just no other way we could control anything, because Faubus was constantly trying to get the legislature to pass new laws and get the wrong people on the school board. That first election, which we lost, said we had to either integrate all the schools or not integrate any of the schools. Even the way it was on the ballot, * of course, was so rigged that it was impossible to fight it. * The ballot read: FOR racial integration of all schools within the school district AGAINST racial integration of all schools within the school district
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
But you had just organized at that time.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Yes. We had only a couple of weeks. In fact, he moved the election up, and he moved it to a day when there was a football game in Fayetteville. (Laughs) But you know, that's one of the things, I think, that carried me through all that period. I just couldn't believe we wouldn't win. I was just sure that there were enough people that would see that we had to have schools. And I was just amazed when we didn't. It was a real blow, but I can't remember losing my optimism; I just felt that we had enough women interested by then that we'd have enough momentum that we'd go to work and . . .
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Also, didn't you feel that you made a very good showing, given the way the thing was worded on the ballot?
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Well, yes, but the vote was decidedly against it. But the very fact that we were doing something, you know, because those of us who felt so strongly about this had really been ill with worry over what was going on. And if you can get up and tackle a problem, then you feel better.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
That's right. It had been a whole year now that Little Rock had been just in complete chaos, and now you were taking the bull by the horns.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
No body doing anything.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Why? Why did the men remain silent?
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Afraid. I'm sure they were all afraid. And in the end, I think the most important thing we did was to write that Little Rock Report.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Yes.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Because it's a sad thing that it's true, but it's when the pocketbook is hit that you get some reaction. And we really, for the first time, proved to the men that they were losing business, that the state was losing its best citizens, that we weren't getting any new people in, that the industries were all going down, that the whole picture was of the city and probably the whole state just being destroyed.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
And the WEC ladies went out and interviewed businessmen all over the community, and compiled all this information.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
And it was a tremendous job, just a tremendous . . . And even putting the thing together was. Wasn't there a copy at Smith?
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Yes.
VIVION LENON BREWER:
It took you can't imagine how many hours. We would work not only at the office, but we'd take material to the homes, to make the graphs, you know, to get the percentages, work this out. One of the things that really tells something about the emotional spirit of that time is that when we did send girls, we had to be very careful to send girls with Southern accents.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
Oh, is that right?
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Yes. If we sent anyone who sounded at all an outsider, they were not received.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
(Laughs)
VIVION LENON BREWER:
Isn't that silly?
ELIZABETH JACOWAY:
But that's not too hard to believe. (Laughs)
VIVION LENON BREWER:
(Laughs)