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Women’s group made history

The reunion on Tuesday may have been small in size — about 25 women were present — but the event represented achievements of historical proportion.

The luncheon at First Baptist Church of Denton commemorated the quiet, difficult work the women started in the city 50 years ago — when it became clear that Denton schools would be desegregated.

It was a very different time, but the women who organized the group known by 1964 as the Denton Christian Women’s Interracial Fellowship were mothers, and like all mothers — indeed, like mothers today — they wanted their children to be safe.

The women didn’t want the riots and other violence that accompanied integration at some schools around the nation to occur here. The group started when concerned mothers, black and white, decided they needed to get to know each other.

In early meetings, the women were deliberate in finding ways to eliminate some of the racial barriers between them — for example, pairing a white woman and a black woman to chair each meeting and alternating meetings at members’ homes.

“It was a radical thing to do,” member Alma Clark said.

The women arranged picnics and get-togethers for their children so that they, too, could get to know each other. That was especially important for the older children, who had more understanding, and more fear, of the changes, Martha Watson said.

At first, the women were very nervous, said Euline Brock, who would later become mayor of Denton.

“It was absurd how nervous we were,” Brock said. “We all wanted to be friends.”

Their idea of getting to know each other, of working together to accomplish a common goal, may seem simple today, but as Clark said, it was radical at the time.

But the women didn’t let that stop them, and members of the group soon began to take the lead in many areas of the city.

Group members became influential, if not pivotal, in local politics, serving on the school board and at City Hall. The women also tackled such community issues as desegregating businesses on the Square and lobbying until the streets in Southeast Denton were finally paved.

Linnie McAdams, who would later serve three at-large terms on the City Council, fought for jobs. She said it still bothers her that Denton was home to two universities and it took so long for meaningful change.

“It should have been better,” McAdams said, adding that the women’s group made a huge difference in Denton.

Tuesday’s luncheon was the first time the group had gotten together since a 25th anniversary reunion. Since then, several of the women have died.

The oral history program at the University of North Texas recorded interviews with 19 group members 25 years ago. Transcripts are available in the research collection at the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum and in the special collections at Emily Fowler Central Library, and although the transcripts do not circulate, users can make a copy to take with them.

Denton owes a great deal to the women who took a stand half a century ago by deciding to overcome the social prejudices of the time through the simple concept of friendship. They faced uncertainty and risk with the steady determination of good mothers and creative leaders and helped build a better city.

Their accomplishments should never be forgotten.