Season 1

Feminist Files: Episode 4 – On the Record
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As the hearings continue, Edith Green dives into territory beyond education; reaching a tense crescendo as Green presses Frankie Freeman, the only Black woman serving on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as to which is worse: sexism or racism in America? A very salient conversation about intersectionality ensues decades before that term even existed.

EPISODE 4 – TRANSCRIPT

[STANDBY RECAP MUSIC BEGINS.]

 

Leigh: Bunny had become a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about discrimination in employment and in admission practices. It was a pervasive problem that Bunny became convinced could only be fixed by the force of law.

 

Jodie: I think I ended up filing about 250 complaints, including all the California state system, all the Florida state system, all medical colleges, and whatnot. So I’m filing complaints like mad, and Edith Green gets interested. She decides she’ll introduce a bill.

Rora: Edith Green from Oregon, who is on the education committee and is a former teacher herself, has wanted to do something about this for a long time, but there’s been no constituency.

Leigh: Until she met Bunny Sandler.

Jodie: And the women’s movement is bubbling. And Edith Green was in a position where she could do something about education.

Leigh: For five days in June of 1970, a group of women held hearings on Capitol Hill. And one by one, they testified.

Jodie: So I worked on the hearings in terms of who to invite because I knew all the people. And I testified also at the hearings.

Leigh: The hearings came to be known as the Edith Green hearings.

Jodie: When Edith Green held her hearings, very few people came to those hearings. Very few congressmen, even the men on her committee. One or two came to show up as a courtesy, but they didn’t stay. But it’s an official record. Everything was in the Congressional Record.

Leigh: Edith Green wasn’t deterred, and she wasn’t finished yet. She thought that they ought to continue hearing testimony on H.R. 16098. And so as spring turned to summer in DC, Edith Green reconvened the hearings. She created part 2, a sequel.

[STANDBY RECAP MUSIC ENDS, AND OPENING MUSIC PLAYS.]

Leigh: From Frequency Machine and Leigh Fondakowski comes the story of the 1972 landmark legislation for women’s equality in education: 37 words that would change the world.

[SONG AND AUDIO CLIPS PLAY.]

 

Leigh: Join me and an ensemble of actors as we discovered the stealth politics of Title IX. This is Feminist Files episode 4, “On the Record.”

The year is 1970, but in many ways, it still feels like the 1960s. It’s another year of war and protest of enemy body counts, of burning flags and draft cards. College students at Kent State are shocked by the National Guard. “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming…Four dead in Ohio” as it’s remembered by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. With society in turmoil, social fabric fraying, the national spotlight is focused on the loudest and angriest voices.

But a quiet revolution is also underway. A revolution of smart and nerdy women in Washington. The women behind Title IX.

Great Aunt Bunny was in charge of the witness gathering for the Edith Green hearings: the witness list. According to Bunny:

Jodie: A major organization is the American Council on Education, so they were asked, “Would you like to testify on this bill?” And their answer was “No, thanks. There is no sex discrimination in colleges. It’s not a problem.” And that is almost a verbatim quote.

Leigh: But they now had proof that sex discrimination existed. They had hundreds upon hundreds of complaints filed against colleges and universities all across the country.

Jodie: One of the things I’ve become very interested in is how the women’s movement took off as things began to be named. Aha! Sex discrimination. And this is a relatively new word, and it names what’s been happening to women. A lot of people my age, you look back before the women’s movement, and you say, how come I didn’t see any of this? And I think because it didn’t have a name.

Leigh: The academic sex revolution was an analog movement, not a digital one. They took out ads in the paper. They talked on the phone. They collected data. They figured out that without good data, you don’t know where you are. And if you don’t know where you are, you can’t know where you’re going.

Jodie: Gloria Steinem said every woman had her personal clique. Her personal clique. Where once you have the name of something, you begin to see it very differently. And I think that’s what made a difference: having the word sex discrimination.

Leigh: The plot thickens in part 2 of the Edith Green hearings. And here’s why. The first bill Edith Green proposed was H.R. 16098. This was the bill that preceded what eventually became Title IX. H.R. 16098 was trying to accomplish three things. Number one:

Mercedes: To prohibit discrimination against women in federally assisted programs and in employment and education.

Leigh: That’s clear enough. In any institution receiving federal funding, no discrimination is allowed. Number two:

Mercedes: To extend the Equal Pay Act to include discrimination in administrative, professional, and executive employment.

Leigh: This was Edith Green’s unfinished work on the Equal Pay Act, which in the final bill had exempted equal pay requirements for professional women, including those in education. That’s clear enough. She wanted to right that wrong. But there was a third proposal in H.R. 16098, something not talked about in relation to Title IX, but it was part of the initial bill that eventually became Title IX. And that was this:

Mercedes: And to extend the jurisdiction of the US Commission on Civil Rights to include sex.

Leigh: The US Commission on Civil Rights, first established in 1957, a bipartisan independent commission was charged with the responsibility for investigating, reporting on, and making recommendations concerning civil rights issues in the United States. Lyndon B. Johnson was the Senate majority leader at the time the commission was established. According to LBJ, the commission could “gather facts instead of charges, sift out the truth from the fancies, and it can return with recommendations, which will be of assistance to reasonable men.” Yes, he did say “men.” And yes, that was a slight Texas accent. Sorry, LBJ.

The US Commission on Civil Rights was behind the scenes, doing the information gathering, finding the proof that racism existed in all facets of American life. Hard facts, hard data. This was not always easy. Early hearings involved voter suppression in Montgomery, Alabama; implementation issues following Brown vs. Board of Education; desegregation of schools; housing discrimination in New York, Chicago, and Atlanta; and the commission provided material support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. After the passage of these laws, the commission’s job got a lot bigger.

There would also be pressure to expand the scope of the commission to investigate claims of discrimination on the basis of sex, as well as race. Expanding their jurisdiction to include sex discrimination would greatly affect how the commission operated, structured its time, and committed its resources, both human and financial. And that’s where Edith Green comes in. Bunny recounted in the oral history transcript:

Jodie: It is also traditional to ask government agencies to testify. Anyone with interest in the bill, like someone from the Women’s Bureau testified, and then Commissioner of Education testified.

Leigh: One of those agencies was the US Commission on Civil Rights. There were six commissioners appointed to lead the Commission on Civil Rights, and they had a small staff. Frankie Freeman was the first and only Black woman on the commission. Commissioner Freeman was the natural fit to testify at the Edith Green hearings.

I asked one of my associate producers on the project, Margo Hall, who’s also a brilliant actor, to read the role of Frankie Freeman. Margo had done a bit of research before our recording session, and we talked about the character before getting started.

Margo: She is very direct, precise. I feel like she’s very smart, very proud. And she is but she’s not harsh, you know. She has kind of a smile in her voice. That’s how I’m doing it. I think later on she doesn’t get defensive, but she gets a little sterner.

Leigh: You’ll see why she gets a little sterner.

Margo: She’s kind of formal too, you know. I think she grew up in the South, and her mother was a teacher. Her father owned a business. So she kind of grew up with manners and things like that but was always told you have to be the best. You have to be better than everybody. You have to be the best, you know. Basic Black story.

Leigh: Frankie Freeman or Frankie Freedom, as some called her, was a pioneering civil rights lawyer, graduating from Howard University Law School in 1947. She was first known for her work as legal counsel for the NAACP, fighting in many landmark cases. Another of the most consequential feminists of the 20th century who you may not have heard of.

Feminist file from part 2 of the Edith Green hearings: the testimony of Commissioner Frankie Freeman. No recordings of the hearings are part of the public record. We only have a printed transcript, and until now no one has ever heard these stories.

Here’s Representative Edith Green as read by Mercedes Herrero.

Mercedes: We are delighted to have you here this morning. You are one of the few women in the government in a position to speak on this subject about which so many of us are concerned.

Leigh: Here’s Commissioner Freeman as read by Margo Hall.

Margo: I am Miss Frankie M. Freeman. I’m a member of the US Commission on Civil Rights and a practicing attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. I am, as you see, a Black woman in a society which, in many respects, still continues to view women and Black people as less than full participants. My life has been spent in the constant struggle to overcome inferior status which both of these categories have imposed upon me. I can assure you that an individual’s resolution is tested throughout her life by this double need to prove her strength and to gain her freedom in such a society.

Leigh: Commissioner Freeman was appointed by then President Lyndon Johnson in 1964. And the commission is basically tasked with dismantling Jim Crow laws and practices across the American South. The work of the commission is monumental.

Margo: Well, I do not oppose extension of the commission’s jurisdiction to include deprivation of equal protection of the laws based on sex. I strongly would object to such an extension if it was not accompanied by a substantial increase in commission resources.

Leigh: So Commissioner Freeman agrees with Edith Green in theory that sex discrimination is a problem. But she adds a note of caution.

Margo: As one whose experience in this regard is not academic, I must add a note of caution. I urge you not to forget that the great issue in this country, the great danger, and the great source of despair is the discrimination endured by minority people.

Leigh: Three years into her term, Commissioner Freeman, who saw how bad things truly were, wrote a report in a US Commission on Civil Rights publication. She quotes from it here:

Margo: In 1967, I expressed my concern when I wrote: “We are now on a collision course which may produce within our borders two alienated and unequal nations confronting each other across a widening gulf. Our present crisis is a human crisis, engendered and sustained in large part by the actions, the apathy, and the short-sightedness of public officials and private individuals. It can be resolved only by the commitment, the creative energies, and the combined resources of Americans at every level of public and private life.

Leigh: Commissioner Friedman has seen so much racial injustice in America. She has seen it all.

Margo: I am obviously not unmindful of the problems faced by women. If this legislation is going to give jurisdiction to the US Commission on Civil Rights, it must also include authorization for additional funds. Unless this legislation does so, we would have to take the position that the effectiveness of the commission would be diluted. We certainly believe that it is the obligation of this government not to diminish in any way this nation’s ability to deal with the problem of racial injustice in the United States.

Leigh: In part 2 of the Edith Green hearings, I was expecting more testimony on sex discrimination in education. I wasn’t expecting a conversation about race in America, but that’s exactly what I found.

Hold that thought a moment while we take a brief intermission.

~

Leigh: As dramatists, we’re always looking for the tension in the material. And here is where we found it.

Mercedes: Thank you, Commissioner Freeman for your testimony. It is rather refreshing to have this one agency come up and take some definite positions. I think you are right. If you’re going to have new responsibilities, you must have the funds and the staff to do an effective job.

Leigh: So Edith Green and Commissioner Freeman are on the same page here. And then this happens:

Mercedes: It does disturb me a little though. If as I believe the discrimination against women is as bad as the discrimination against minorities, then you have placed a higher priority in one field than the other. I assume you would not agree with Congresswoman Chisholm that the discrimination she has suffered has been much greater because she is a woman than because she is Black.

Leigh: Shirley Chisholm, a New York Democrat, testified during the hearings. This is the passage that Edith Green is referring to as read by actor Christina Sajous.

Christina: During my entire political life, my sex has been a far greater handicap than my skin pigmentation. From my earliest experience in ward political activity, my chief obstacle was that I had to break through the role assigned to women. A young woman in a newspaper story I read somewhere defined that role beautifully. She was talking about her experience in the civil rights movement. We found that the men made policy, and the women made the peanut butter sandwiches.

 

Leigh: To which Commissioner Freeman responds:

Margo: I think Congressman Chisholm speaks from her own background. And I speak from mine. I am a Southerner. I speak as a Southern Black woman. I have been denied admission to places of public accommodation, not because of my sex, but because of my race. We have conducted hearings in Mississippi and Alabama. And in many places, we have received testimony from women and men who were denied the opportunity to vote. I do not know of any white woman who has been denied the opportunity to vote, but I know that there are Black men and women denied that opportunity. So I don’t know that we can say that women are equally discriminated against. I cannot give such an answer, because I speak from the standpoint of my background.

Leigh: Now the debate is heating up. Commissioner Freeman continues:

Margo: We know racial discrimination is pervasive in places where there’s still a struggle for the right to vote. A right which is very basic. I have not heard or read any white woman who cannot vote. But you see when women were given the right to vote, all white women could vote. But it did not make any difference in Mississippi. You couldn’t go in and say, I want to vote because I am a woman. If you were Black, you couldn’t vote.

Leigh: When I read the transcript, I surely thought that Edith Green would back down at this point. I want her to, but she isn’t.

Mercedes: I know of no discrimination that is greater than the discrimination against women. There are places where I cannot go in the front door because I am a woman.

Leigh: Edith Green is talking about men-only clubs, which were still a thing in 1970. Commissioner Freeman isn’t backing down.

Margo: You can go in many front doors that I can’t go into because of color. As recently as 1961, I took a bus ride to southeast Missouri. I had to speak there on Sunday. They said, “Ride the bus and leave the driving to us.” At the first rest stop, I got off the bus and went inside the restaurant and right away I could feel that there was something happening. The climate had changed. And as I approached the ladies’ room at the restaurant, there was a woman who was standing there, and she said to me, “Don’t you hear her?” And it seems that the waitress had been telling me something. And so I stopped because this woman was blocking the door to the ladies’ room. I stood, and the waitress came over and said, “Colored people go in the rear.” Then of course you can understand, or maybe you can’t understand, that I really had a problem because I had to decide whether to remove her. But you see, it was not because of my sex.

Mercedes: This was in 1961. Would this be true in 1970?

Margo: It would be true in some places in the South in 1970. The Civil Rights Commission held hearings in Montgomery, Alabama in April 1968. That’s just two years ago, four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And we received testimony from Black people who told us about the discrimination they encountered about the things that you take for granted: public accommodations, employment. It ran the gamut. We received testimony from a Black woman who worked as a domestic six days a week, and she received $12 a week.

Leigh: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended to include sex. And at the time of that vote, Edith Green voted against that amendment.

Mercedes: I voted against the amendment to add sex to Title VII in 1964. And I did it, because I thought it was a gimmick to water the bill down and to really defeat the Civil Rights Act. And I said definitely that I felt discrimination against women was great. And that while I had suffered discrimination, I felt discrimination against Blacks was far greater. And therefore, I voted against adding sex to it.

Since 1964, I have seen a great deal of progress in terms of ending discrimination against Blacks. And I think the median salary, for example, the median salary right now is higher for professionally trained Black women than for professionally trained white women.

Leigh: I don’t know if we can verify this statistic, but Mercedes gets exasperated here. She breaks character.

Mercedes: And now she’s saying that Black women actually get paid more than white women. Is this what she has the nerve to say? She just told her that they were making $12 a week. For  working six days. She’s not listening. Okay.

Leigh: Then we return to the transcript.

Mercedes: I would have to say if I had my vote to cast over in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, I would vote to add sex. I think this aspect of discrimination has been completely ignored.

Leigh: And here is Edith Green’s main point that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 fixed the race problem in America. And now it’s women’s turn.

Mercedes: So with the exception of the vote and in isolated instances, I must say that I would have to say that I would feel today that the discrimination on the basis of sex is an equal problem in this country to discrimination against minority groups. And while I realize your background and Shirley Chisholm’s is different, and all our backgrounds are different. Nevertheless, I think from now on, I cannot support any legislation that will leave out sex and that will not so a government concern about this discrimination.

Leigh: Commissioner Friedman offers a measured response. She’s not conceding to Edith Green’s point. She also takes her stand.

 

Margo: We are not in any disagreement with the respect for the need to legislate. The point that I am making is that with respect to the jurisdiction of the Civil Rights Commission, this legislation must be accompanied by additional resources.

Mercedes: I understand. I fully appreciate this.

Margo: There’s still pervasive discrimination in education and employment.

Leigh: But Edith Green is not letting it go.

Mercedes: The only disagreement I have is: How do you place one discrimination above the other?

Margo: Oh yes, I do. I absolutely believe, and I think the factual situation in this country will indicate that racial injustice is more pervasive.

Mercedes: I think that could be debated. I think the testimony we have been having would raise serious questions about that.

Leigh: Margo and I then took a pause in the recording to talk through this whole section of texts. When Shirley Chisholm testified in the Edith Green hearing, she says at the time that she had experienced more discrimination as a woman than as a Black person. She’s talking about it in the context of the civil rights movement–discrimination by her brothers in the movement. Shirley Chisholm is no longer alive. We cannot ask her if she still feels that way now, or to break it down and give us the nuances. So I asked Margo how she felt about it.

Margo: Yeah. I mean, I could say that I don’t think that’s true for this moment right now. Because, maybe because, the feminist movement has gone past the Black Lives Matter movement.

Leigh: One of the ways to understand history is to talk to researchers and historians about these matters. Another way to learn about history is simply to talk about it. Here’s a text to 1,200-page document testimony that no one has ever heard before: testimony by Frankie Freeman. And Edith Green pressing her to admit that sex discrimination is worse than race discrimination. And then going back and forth, arguing about it. Sometimes you just have to hit pause and talk about it. This is one of those moments.

Margo: You know, I feel like we’re still dealing with a lot that maybe being a woman has surpassed as far as rights. But they’re both still not where either one of them needs to be for sure. But I would say much more for me personally, it’s harder to be Black than to be a woman.

Leigh: It was sort of a laugh mixed with a sigh. But I asked: Why’d you laugh?

Margo: Because it’s like such a profound statement, like how can I even say that? I mean, what does that mean? It’s like this is like my life. This is how I live, and I have to kind of make these determinations. And it’s just interesting to say it out loud, you know.

Yeah. And I’m just trying to sit here right now and think how often do I even think about that. And I’m sure it comes up every day. And I feel like it’s interesting because, as women, we do both understand that. We do both understand the oppression of that, like you and me. You’re white; I’m Black. We can relate to that, right. Sexism. We understand what that means. And we kinda galvanize around that, but it’s hard to talk about.

I mean, it’s not hard to talk about with you, but I’m saying in general, the whole idea of–well, I’m also Black. So I have like these two strikes, right. But women will say, we understand because we’re oppressed too. It’s like, but it’s not the same. It’s different.

Leigh: And then we opened up a larger conversation about the feminist movement of the late 1960s and 70s in America: the substance of this series. And did Margo see herself anywhere inside the story?

Margo: When I try to get into the feminist movement, I just always feel like there needed to be a Black feminist movement. And maybe there was, but I’d never learned about that. Because I had to learn about Blackness. And you didn’t have time; you weren’t taught it in school. So what are you going to choose? Where are you going to choose to learn? And what’s going to be more important for you to survive?

So my mother taught me Black history. She didn’t necessarily talk to me about feminism. And I don’t even know how much it impacted her life, because she was just trying to figure out how to survive as a Black woman. Um, yeah, it’s deep.

Leigh: I asked: What are some of the things she taught you?

Margo: I learned a lot about music, Black artists, and how music and religion played into survival. Praying was important for survival. It gave you something to hold onto. I also learned a lot about like Bessie Smith and these powerful Black female blues singers, who were rebellious.

[AUDIO CLIP OF BESSIE SMITH SINGING PLAYS.]

I remember writing a report on Bessie Smith when I was like nine or eight. And we had these history books, and I tore the page out. And I got in a lot of trouble, because you’re not supposed to do that. But I was so excited, because all I knew was she was a badass. And she said dirty songs, and she fought against oppression, you know. I mean, that would be pretty close to women who kind of broke the mold, fought back.

She taught me about Black pride, being very proud of being Black. And she taught me about being a strong woman, you know, even as a child. So I guess that was her way of teaching me about feminism, because she didn’t take no mess. And she taught me how not to take no mess. 

Leigh: Then we returned to the last part of the hearing testimony where Edith Green is just not able to let go of her point.

Mercedes: In the Civil Rights Commission itself, how many members are there?

Margo: Six members. It is a bipartisan commission.

Mercedes: How many women?

Margo: One woman.

Mercedes: How many Blacks?

Margo: One. I am she. I am it.

Mercedes: Again. They get the double bonus if they can find the Black woman. I think this helps support the feeling on the part of many women’s groups across the country that there is just this blatant discrimination against women. And I think it helps to support my feeling that we are making greater progress in ending the discrimination on the basis of race.

Margo: That is just not true. There is blatant discrimination against women, but we are not making greater progress in solving the problem of discrimination against race.

Mercedes: On the Civil Rights Commission itself, how many of those employees are Black?

 

Margo: Of the professional employees, 36 are Black. 42 are white.

Mercedes: How many are women?

Margo: Of the professional employees, 34 are women. 53 are men.

Mercedes: Doesn’t that support my statement that we are making greater progress in bringing about some equality on the basis of race and not much progress on sex?

Margo: No, because I think it would not be taking into consideration the entire picture. It would distort the picture to look solely at the Civil Rights Commission’s employment practices. Because the whole complex of living in a society includes all of the responsibilities of getting an education, getting a job–of being able to live.

Leigh: Tension makes for good drama for a good story. And I think undeniably there’s tension here reflected in the text. Also, to be fair, it’s easy enough for me as a white person to call out 50 years later what I perceive to be Edith Green’s racism. It’s another thing entirely to actually live it.

At the end of Commissioner Freeman’s testimony, after Edith Green thanked her for testifying, the transcript notes: “a discussion off the record.” We do not know what they discussed, whether it was something in response to her testimony or on another topic entirely. We don’t know if Commissioner Freeman was part of that discussion or not.

I imagine Frankie gathering up her papers, putting them carefully back into their Manila folders and those folders neatly back into her briefcase. I imagine that the room is quiet as they wait for her to leave–just the wrestling of papers. I imagine Frankie leaving the committee, going back to her office to her overflowing inbox. Which back in the day was an actual box sitting on her desk, piled high with documents for her attention and a long list of calls for her to return as the only woman and the only Black person on the Civil Rights Commission. It must have felt like the future depended on her, and we’ll never know all the ways in which it did.

Frankie Freeman, Frankie Freedom: one of the most consequential feminists of the 20th century.

Margo: I am, as you see, a Black woman in a society which, in many respects, still continues to view women and Black people as less than full participants.

Leigh: We have her words, because the women showed up in 1970 to tell their stories. And because Edith Green continued to push for women’s equity. These stories are captured in two volumes created after the hearings. This was Bunny’s personal mission to collect this data and to compile it into two books. Remember when there’s a problem, you employ bibliotherapy. You find a book, and you read about it.

Jodie: I’m a great one who believes in books, you know. Whenever something is wrong in my life, I find a book, and I read about it.

Leigh: And if the books don’t exist, apparently if you’re Great Aunt Bunny, you create them yourself.

[CREDITS PLAY.]

© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.