When Hillary Clinton Went Undercover To Fight Racism

When Hillary Clinton was a 24-year-old law student, she participated in an undercover operation to uncover a series of racist practices that were designed to hurt the educational opportunities of black children.

Clinton was working with Marian Wright Edelman, the civil rights advocate and children’s education activist, who wanted to prove that the Nixon administration was refusing to crack down on pro-segregation academies in Alabama that had been set up to evade the Supreme Court ruling against such schools.

After Mrs. Clinton spent several weeks studying the issue and establishing relationships in Atlanta and Alabama, she and other researchers were sent to different parts of the South to gather data and report firsthand on the private schools.

They delivered their findings to Mrs. Edelman’s and other advocacy groups that were trying to pressure the Nixon administration. Civil rights lawyers had had success in sending “testers” to investigate whether white and black couples received equal treatment in home rentals and purchases, as required by the Fair Housing Act, but going undercover to test private schools was less common and carried more risks.

Clinton wrote in her book Living History that “many of the school districts in the area were draining local public schools of books and equipment to send to the so-called academies, which they viewed as the alternatives for white students.”

Despite the good intentions of Clinton and other activists, the campaign ran into a brick wall with the Nixon administration’s unwillingness to buck the system that benefited whites in his political base. The system of schools continued, and to this day only have a few black students.

It is likely that the experience contributed to Clinton’s worldview that has sometimes run into conflict with the desire of progressive activists to get monumental change done overnight. Over the summer she told activists from Black Lives Matter as much, arguing, “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate.”

Featured image via Clinton Library