You probably don't know the name Blois Hundley but you might recognize T. C. Williams, especially if you're from Alexandria, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from where I live. You might know that T.C. Williams is a high school named after a longtime superintendent of Alexandria public schools. You might even know that the school gained national prominence via the film "Remember the Titans, " a somewhat romanticized version of what happened in 1971 when an African American head coach led a newly integrated football team to a spectacularly successful season despite racial tensions on and off the field. At the end of 1971 the Titans were the second highest-ranked high school team in the nation. Especially in the film version, with the coach, Herman Boone, played by Denzel Washington, it's a feel good story.
No one has yet made a movie about Blois Hundley but it might make a good one. One evening in 1958 she was at a PTA meeting at the black-only Alexandria high school her children attended. A representative of the NAACP was there and asked if anyone was interested in having their children attend a white school. As the story was told recently in the Alexandria Times by journalist Jim McElhatton, Ms. Hundley raised her hand. "It was a decision she likely made without hesitation, but which would help change history and her own family's course," he wrote. She wanted her children to learn a foreign language and she thought the instruction was better in the whites only school than at the one her children attended. Her children, Pearl and Theodosia, became part of a federal lawsuit that would, eventually, integrate Alexandria public schools.
The Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education had declared "separate but equal" schools unconstitutional but that didn't mean that integration wasn't being fought in many ways across the South. In Alexandria, longtime superintendent of schools, T.C. Williams, was hostile to integration and did everything he could to slow its adoption. A few days after the PTA meeting, Blois Hundley was told that she was fired from her job as a worker in a school cafeteria and, just in case there was any doubt about why, Mr. Williams said, in an interview after the firing, that her work was "very satisfactory." It was her attitude that was not. Ms Hundley never returned to Alexandria schools to work and, a few years later, she and her children moved to Washington, DC.
But the story has a twist that might would not be out of place in a Hollywood script. One day, shortly after the firing, one of the Hundley daughters opened the front door of their house to find a man there wanting to interview her mother about what had happened. He was no ordinary reporter. Rather, he was Philip Stern, owner of the Northern Virginia Sun, well-known as an editor, writer and philanthropist. He came by his philanthropic passion honestly. He was the son of New Orleans activists Edith and Edgar Stern and the grandson of Julius Rosenwald. Racial equality was one of the principles to which he dedicated his exceptionally varied career which included stints as a Democratic party activist and fundraiser. Stern interviewed Hundley and, impressed by her character, offered her a job as his family's cook. She accepted and worked for the family for 35 years.
In a film version it would definitely be non-traditional casting to have Phil Stern played by Denzel Washington -- but I bet it could be made to work! It was my good fortune to meet Phil Stern, who died in 1992, many years ago. This story makes me wish I had had the chance to know him for a longer time. And, as always, stories like this one renew my respect for those many, many people whose efforts -- in so many different ways, from raising your hand at a meeting to having a first class legal mind and education -- put an end to legalized segregation.