Fellowship Projects and Purpose
News coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1960s focused on violent confrontations, organized protests and points of conflict. These events often generated powerful images that captured national attention and continue to inform our collective understanding of the civil rights struggle. While these accounts remain vital to this chapter in American history, the mobilization of women throughout Southern communities has been critically underrepresented in the civil rights story. As confrontations and protests were underway on the national stage, important action at the local levels of society was advancing behind the scenes of the larger history still developing. On the local front in Denton, Texas, a group of black and white women joined forces to dissolve the barriers built by segregation and prejudice that had divided their communities. An idea to improve race relations through cooperation and cross-community interaction led to the formation of the Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship. Throughout the 1960s the group worked to improve living conditions in Southeast Denton, organize job-seeking programs, and embrace a non-confrontational approach to avoid conflicts similar to those reported on the national level.
Timing played a critical role in shaping the projects and purposes of the DWIF. In 1964, the group’s founding year, Denton began the process of school integration, the Civil Rights Act finally struck down Jim Crow in public accommodations, and the U.S. was in the midst of a presidential election. As mothers, the women of the DWIF were especially motivated to facilitate desegregation of Denton’s public schools. Their concerns prompted them to establish programs for tutoring and transportation, and their efforts inspired other local women to join their cause. “The commitment of the white Fellowship members to the tutoring and transportation programs,” writes Richard Byrd, “helped dissolve the mistrust and suspicion Denton black women had for the motives of the white women in starting the group.” As their numbers grew, so did the scope of their projects. The group mobilized to encourage voter registration in Southeast Denton through a door-to-door initiative aimed to increase participation in the political process. The DWIF also organized community projects to address conditions in Southeast Denton, and a street paving campaign led by member Trudy Foster was fundamental to the improvement of residential standards. The group, under Foster’s leadership, gathered research on absentee landlords and publicly listed the names of property owners. By 1970 the campaign dramatically enhanced living conditions in the area by paving the streets and motivating landlords to make the necessary repairs to rental properties.
In this series of excerpts, collected from interviews conducted in 2017, members of the DWIF discuss the group’s various projects and goals. Their stories have been recorded to preserve an important piece of local history and to introduce a lesser known, but equally powerful aspect of the civil rights movement.