Transcript of video clip from James W. Benton, Jr., oral history interview

Judge Benton: I went to Booker T. Washington High School so I lived about five blocks from there. That’s where I attended. I had some wonderful teachers there and again when I look back over my life experience and I look at people who were influential one of them was a woman named Alene Black Hicks who had an interesting history with the Norfolk School Board, but she was very influential, not only in those of us who went out to picket and to sit-in at lunch counters but also just our academics and making sure that we always stayed on top of what we were doing.

Cassandra Newby-Alexander: Tell me a little bit about her.

Judge Benton: Well, she taught chemistry at Booker T. Washington High School and back in the ’40s she sued the school board of the city of Norfolk because African American teachers were paid I think roughly half the salary of white teachers, and when she sued the school board fired her, would not—. I don’t know if they fired her; they wouldn’t rehire her for the next term. As a consequence of her not being rehired and not being a teacher they then moved to dismiss her case because she was no longer a teacher and didn’t have “standing”, a legal term, and in fact it was dismissed. She went off to get her master’s degree somewhere in New York and another teacher at Booker T. Washington brought a suit, the same kind of suit, and I think Alston was his name [Melvin O. Alston]. That suit [Alston, et al. v. School Board of the City of Norfolk (Virginia), et al., 1940] ultimately succeeded. He was represented by Thurgood Marshall, by the way. That suit ultimately succeeded, teachers were given equal pay, and Alene Black Hicks was reinstated in the Norfolk school system. I think she went to Columbia and by then had almost gotten her PhD, came back to teach, and she was a very forceful advocate in the high school at that time. She instilled in all of us a desire to succeed but also to fight against segregation. . . .