Title: Oral History Interview with Vivion Lenon Brewer, October 15, 1976. Interview G-0012.
Interviewer: Jacoway, Elizabeth
Interviewee: Brewer, Vivion Lenon
Subjects: Arkansas--Race relations School integration--Arkansas Women civil rights workers--Arkansas
Abstract: Vivion Lenon Brewer grew up in an affluent white family, unaware of the plight of blacks in Little Rock, Arkansas. During her later tenure in Washington, D.C., she became very ill. While recovering, she drew close to a fellow employee—a black woman from whom she gained new insights about the destructive impact of racism and segregation in the United States. When she moved back to Arkansas, Brewer sought to reduce the poverty and illiteracy that plagued blacks in the South. In 1957, Governor Orval Faubus chose to close Little Rock public schools rather than integrate them. Brewer, along with several other prominent local women, including Adolphine Terry and Velma Powell, organized the Women's Emergency Committee to Open Our Schools (WEC). The group initially proposed a mission to alleviate racial tensions between blacks and whites. However, in order to garner the support of other prominent and forceful local Arkansas women, the WEC founders reconfigured the original mission to one centered on reopening the public schools. The women, unlike men, were unharmed by the Faubus machine's economic intimidation tactics; they were able to engage in effective and dedicated strategies to open the public schools. While the WEC experienced remarkable success, Brewer does recall some difficult realities the group had to address. She explains the purposeful omission of black women from the Committee, in order to permit the WEC activists and the larger white community to gradually accept racial integration. Many frustrated white segregationists viewed WEC members as disregarding their racial heritage. Brewer describes the palpable fear the women activists regularly felt. After the WEC disbanded in the early 1960s, Brewer continued her activism by organizing educational programs for black children in the low-income Scott community of Little Rock. She concludes the interview with an assessment of contemporary race relations in Little Rock.