Judith Puhr


As Interviewed by Evan AP, March 18, 2017

Judith Puhr: In Her Own Words

HELLO. MY NAME IS EVAN AUSTIN-PUHR AND TODAY I WILL BE INTERVIEWING JUDITH PUHR ON THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

When I moved to Mobile, Alabama in 1966, and I began to see that there was a big difference in how black people were treated compared to white people. I noticed it when I would go shopping in department stores, and there would be water fountains and bathrooms that had signs on them that would say “colored” and “white”, and I thought that was really odd. But it meant that they, that black people, could not use white people's bathrooms or drinking fountains. Or I would go to the doctor’s office and find that if that doctor did see black people, they had to sit in a different waiting room from us. I was a young, high school history teacher, and I got involved in registering black people to vote.

I started witnessing situations where they would go to the courthouse to register, and they would be asked to take a constitution test, which no white person was ever asked to do, and therefore they might fail it and then they couldn’t register. Or I began to witness the fact that black people could not live in nice houses, they had to live in a certain section of town where things were poorly put together. And I noticed that if they rented apartments, that often the landlords, who were white, didn't spray for bugs, they didn't keep them clean, they didn't repaint, you know, or have better lighting; it was just a very bad situation.

So, being young and interested, I started getting more involved. Some of my friends who had lived there all their lives, some of the other teachers, they didn't notice it. But some of them did, and they began to see that this is not right. So, I had some teacher friends who were agreeable with me, and we did things together to try and help the situation. And then there were other teachers who just thought it was just fine the way it was. They used to say ‘Well, it’s always been this way.’ The teachers that I taught with that knew that my other friend and I were involved in trying to help with voter registration and, you know, go to what they called in those days ‘protests,’ some of them were fine with it. Some of them told us we were very wrong. In fact, the principal of the school where we taught said that she had been contacted, (it was a big Catholic high school), and at that time, the bishop had told her to tell us that we could not do that anymore.

When we did go to the meetings, there was an organization called NOW, Neighborhood Organized Workers. These were the people organized to try to get the word out about voter registration and better housing. When we'd go to those meetings, my friend and I were about the only white people present at the meetings, so we really began to feel what it was like to be discriminated against, although they were very kind to us, we did feel like we were in the minority. We continued with that, because we felt that we were right and as we worked with it and as the year went by, more and more white Alabamians began to see that things needed to change. So, we joined the black leaders in Mobile in order to make things better.

We were involved in two protests. One was for, they had a, they used to have a contest, I don’t know if they still do, called the Junior Miss Pageant and this was like the Miss America Pageant, but it was for younger girls, and they could win scholarships to go to college, and it was held in Mobile, Alabama. But only white girls were allowed to enter. So we went to a protest that we knew was going to be televised nationally saying that all young women should be able to go, too, to enter this pageant. Well, that night the police came and you know, made us leave and you know, told us that we can not do that, even though legally we were just standing there, we weren’t doing anything. Another time I went to a protest which was for better housing. And that night I knew we were going to be arrested, because all of us, this huge crowd of two, or three hundred people, sat down in the middle of the street and wouldn’t move. So that was a protest and that was against the law, but we were trying to get attention for the fact that things were not changing like they should be in Mobile. So that night we were arrested and taken to the jail, and the next day we were released, and we had to go to court, but interestingly enough, nothing ever came of that.