Frances Pauley (1905-2003)
Frances Pauley, social activist and political organizer, devoted her life to the battle against prejudice and discrimination in the South.
Pauley first took up the cause of social justice in the era of the Great Depression and New Deal. In the late 1930s and early 1940s she and a group of like-minded churchwomen worked with the county's public health professionals to establish public health clinics for the indigent population in DeKalb County and brought a hot lunch program to the county schools. The Great Depression was an important lesson for Pauley, as she witnessed the nearly equal suffering of the poor, whether black or white. For the remainder of her career, she combined efforts to combat racial discrimination with sympathy for the plight of all who lacked basic resources and services.
After World War II (1941-45) Pauley joined the League of Women Voters of Georgia and for the next fifteen years used the league to support racial desegregation and the broader issues of democratic citizenship raised by the civil rights movement. League work also launched Pauley into the controversy over school desegregation in the early 1960s,
As executive director from 1961 to 1967 of the Georgia Council on Human Relations, a statewide civil rights organization affiliated with the Southern Regional Council, Pauley encouraged interracial organizing, advocated enforcement of constitutional rights for African Americans, and championed improvement in the well-being of Georgia's blacks. She traveled not only to such well-known hot spots of the civil rights movement as Albany but also to towns and hamlets across the state. Her work with an explicitly interracial organization, particularly in the small-town South, is one of the many untold stories of the civil rights movement.
From 1968 to 1973 school desegregation consumed most of Pauley's time and energy. As a civil rights specialist for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, she deployed federal authority to move recalcitrant school districts in the South into compliance with school desegregation regulations. She retired from the federal government in 1973 and turned her attention to the issue of poverty. In 1975, at the age of sixty-nine, she founded the Georgia Poverty Rights Organization and coordinated its efforts with and on behalf of the poor for more than a decade. Believing that the poor lacked an effective voice in Georgia politics, Pauley worked to educate the public and the Georgia legislature on the origins and nature of poverty and move them to more humane action. Even after her retirement in the late 1980s, Pauley continued to work on poverty, homelessness, and gay rights.
Julian Bond, a friend and colleague from the poverty rights years who memorably called Pauley "everybody's grandmother and nobody's fool," said that her life stands as an injunction to those who wonder how they might possibly make a difference. For more than fifty years Pauley worked tirelessly for social justice, turning for assistance to elected officials, government agencies, and the public at large.
Pauley died in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on February 16, 2003. She was ninety-seven.
Paul E. Mertz, "'Mind Changing Time All over Georgia': HOPE, Inc. and School Desegregation, 1958-1961," Georgia Historical Quarterly 77 (spring 1993): 41-61.
Kathryn L. Nasstrom, Everybody's Grandmother and Nobody's Fool: Frances Freeborn Pauley and the Struggle for Social Justice (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000).
Kathryn L. Nasstrom, University of San Francisco, California
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