April 13, 1947, holds little significance in the American historical memory, and yet that day was one in a long series that led to the legal desegregation of American schools. On that morning, Marguerite Daisy Carr, a 14-year-old black girl from Washington, D.C., attempted to enroll at Eliot Junior High School, the all-white middle school closest to her home. Carr’s efforts to integrate the school, which were supported by her family and local black community, preceded the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education by seven years ... Recognizing the young black girls and women who were at the forefront of the civil rights movement is the central achievement of Rachel Devlin’s meticulously researched history, A Girl Stands at the Door. ... A Girl Stands at the Door tells an important story about young black women who ushered in a movement. Just as black women 'set the world on fire' — to quote the historian Keisha N. Blain — in global freedom struggles, young black girls took it upon themselves to stand up when others would not.
Devlin takes an unusual perspective on the story of school desegregation in the U.S., which culminated in the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, by spotlighting the fact that the majority of black students who stepped forward to integrate colleges, high schools, and elementary schools from the 1940s to the 1960s were girls ... She also offers analysis of the social and cultural skills marshaled by black Americans in resisting racism, prejudice, and discrimination and covers persistent attempts to roll back a crucial legal decision.
In this accomplished history of the school desegregation fight from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, Devlin, a Rutgers University associate professor, offers a cogent overview of the legal strategies employed and delves into the stories of the African-American girls (and their families) who defied the ignominious public school systems of the Jim Crow South. After the landmark Supreme Court cases that broke down racial barriers in graduate education, families of school-aged girls in several states launched full-scale desegregation battles in elementary and secondary schools ... In an invaluable postscript, Devlin recounts what happened to some of the “firsts” later in life. The telling at some points lacks verve, but Devlin’s use of diverse secondary and primary sources, including her own interviews with some of the surviving women, bring fresh perspectives. This informative account of change-making is well worth reading.