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The Education of a WASP

Lois M. Stalvey

Publication Year: 1989

Brimming with honestly and passion, The Education of a WASP chronicles one white woman's discovery of racism in 1960s America. First published in 1970 and highly acclaimed by reviewers, Lois Stalvey's account is as timely now as it was then. Nearly twenty years later, with ugly racial incidents occurring on college campuses, in neighborhoods, and in workplaces everywhere, her account of personal encounters with racism remains deeply disturbing. Educators and general readers interested in the subtleties of racism will find the story poignant, revealing, and profoundly moving.

“Delightful and horrible, a singular book.” —Choice

“An extraordinarily honest and revealing book that poses the issue: loyalty to one’s ethnic group or loyalty to conscience.” —Publishers Weekly

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography

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Author to Reader -1988

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pp. vii-viii

When this book was first published, I hoped that it would soon become only a history of what racism used to be. I feel profound regret that it has not. The book is the story of my family's education, of the racism I found in my heart and head, how it got there, and what I did about it. Some of the national events...

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Author to Reader

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pp. ix-x

There are many books by experts on America's racial crisis; this is not one of them. This is simply the testimony of what happened to one WASP family-my family-inside us and around us. It is not offered as The Solution. Indeed, I wonder if anyone, expert or not, can prescribe one solution for something as complex as relationships...

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Introduction by U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm

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pp. xi-xii

Lois Mark Stalvey's experiences vividly recount to the reader the author's harsh, rude awakening to the realities of America's racist society. The extent and depth of racism is rendering America vulnerable to the attacks of opponents here at home as well as those abroad. Mrs. Stalvey's soulsearching, supplemented...

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Chapter One

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pp. 1-10

A young black man, his shaved head revealing ugly scars on his skull, stood in my living room in Philadelphia. "It's too late for talking, white lady," he screamed at me. I reached out my hands to him instinctively. He backed away, shaking his head, and walked to the door. Then he swung around...

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Chapter Two

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pp. 11-28

Introducing the idea of a Negro teacher for our school was to be deceptively easy. Ben, who often found the flaws in my enthusiasms, had listened, smiling, as I described my feelings after the Panel luncheon. I half expected him to ask some question I hadn't considered...

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Chapter Three

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pp. 29-46

Events moved swiftly for everyone, following my meeting with Grace Christopher on May 6, 1961. I mailed her an invitation to Noah's birthday party, hoping to reinforce my verbal invitation the night we had met. Noah's party was May 24. Between our meeting and Noah's...

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Chapter Four

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pp. 47-53

My first act when I got home from the Kozarik house was to call Joan Benson. Describing the house in detail and enthusiasm, I missed her reservations about its four-bedroom size. Joan said she'd talk to Paul and call me back...

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Chapter Five

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pp. 54-60

The Paul Benson who greeted us that night was entirely different from the dynamic, debonair doctor we knew. We had never seen him without a suitcoat or without his amused assurance. Now he sat across from us in shirtsleeves, quiet and somber, asking me to repeat what I had told Joan...

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Chapter Six

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pp. 61-67

Helping the Bensons, I realized now, meant looking outside our immediate neighborhood. There were no houses for sale near us nor, I suspected, were there likely to be soon. Like Ben, most of the men in our suburb were executives in the main offices of their firms. Promotions could be expected, but not company transfers...

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Chapter Seven

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pp. 68-80

Of all the dangers and difficulties Joan and Paul had tried to warn us about, they hadn't mentioned the one problem I would find most difficult to cope with-silence. Yet I couldn't let the subject lie there, between me and the women who had been my friends for five years. If none of my friends would speak out in a group, perhaps they would talk about it individually...

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Chapter Eight

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pp. 81-96

On November 18, 1961, President John F. Kennedy went to Bonham, Texas, for the funeral of Sam Rayburn. If any prophet had told us that two years, four days, and sixty miles away from Bonham, President Kennedy would be assassinated, you and I would have pronounced the prophet mad. On a television program that...

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Chapter Nine

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pp. 97-110

The month of December 1961 was like a landslide for us. Small rocks I had dislodged months before gained momentum; now, inside and around me, everything was moving too fast to stop. In mid-December we heard the rumbles; when the month had ended, we felt the crash...

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Chapter Ten

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pp. 111-126

Now, looking back, it is clear that I spent the last months in Omaha trying to make myself a moving target against my emotions; keeping too busy, physically and intellectually, to feel. All I could give Ben was my pretense of optimism. Over and over again, I predicted this would turn out to be the greatest stroke of luck we had ever had. I thought I was lying, but Ben began to act as if he believed...

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Chapter Eleven

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pp. 127-143

In late spring of 1962, as I dismantled, discarded, and packed up five years of accumulation in a house we never expected to leave, the newspaper headlines were not of crimein- the-streets, but of crime-in-the-executive-suites_ Billy Sol Estes and J ames Hoffa made the news...

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Chapter Twelve

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pp. 144-153

The fall and winter of 1962 was, for me, a period of luxurious ignorance; everything-our house, new friends we made, Spike's school experience-had turned out so much better than we expected that it was possible to believe that Ben's job was secure, too-or that he would find another one...

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Chapter Thirteen

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pp. 154-168

No one would have been happier to leave well enough alone than I was as 1962 turned into 1963. Once again, I had everything I wanted. This time, though, my American Dream involved people instead of possessions and it had come true in a community where Americans did blend and complement each other...

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Chapter Fourteen

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pp. 169-184

The black anger evident at the Emancipation Celebration remained suppressed during the rest of 1963. At times I couldn't understand why. On April 25, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy visited Governor George Wallace in Alabama to ask him to obey school desegregation...

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Chapter Fifteen

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pp. 185-197

During the twenty-four months we had lived in Philadelphia, our worry about Ben's job gradually diminished. Perhaps we were so busy living that our initial concern faded into the background. And, of course, it was still possible that Ben's job with the corporation would continue. As it turned out, it was lucky Ben did not grab...

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Chapter Sixteen

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pp. 198-208

The long hot summer of 1964 was one of job-hunting for Ben and turbulent new insights for me. It would also be the first summer of Negro violence. Black patience had finally exploded...

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Chapter Seventeen

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pp. 209-216

In September 1964, the white men accused of killing Lemuel Penn in Georgia were acquitted by an all-white Georgia jury. In October, the Reverend Martin Luther King, then thirty-five years old, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The following month, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover publicly called Dr. King...

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Chapter Eighteen

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pp. 217-238

Ben had never talked so much about his work as he did now. He told me of his trips to see school officials in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida and his occasional visits to other states when he was needed. His assignment was to explain the federal requirements for school desegregation...

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Chapter Twenty

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pp. 239-257

My trip to Omaha had lifted my spirits, but in an unexpected way. I told Ben about Marc Moses, his directness and courage, but also about the dislike Marc had apparently created in both the black and white communities. Now Marc seemed a lonely figure. I asked Ben if he thought I could write Marc a note wishing him good luck...

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Chapter Twenty-one

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pp. 258-270

At first, the aftermath of Ann Peterson's Black Power discussion brought me only a vague, unidentifiable discomfort. I had written to Marc about the evening. He replied, praising me. "You have more soul than the so-called blacks in that group. You were speaking for me-but even more effectively. Those Toms listened to you because you're white."...

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Chapter Twenty-two

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pp. 271-254

The unraveling of black and white relationships that began in the summer of 1966, when Stokely Carmichael yelled Black Power, accelerated by fall. I felt that the black pride that surged up at the sound of those two words finally allowed men like Carmichael to express their disillusionment...

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Chapter Twenty-three

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pp. 255-293

When Newark and Detroit erupted in July 1967, my first reaction was that people would now understand that if "\Vatts was a cry for help, Newark and Detroit were screams. It took only a few days to find out I was wrong again...

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Chapter Twenty-four

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pp. 294-309

Someday, when we look back at the Newark and Detroit Massacres, we may find that they marked a crucial fork in the road where black and white Americans moved swiftly down separate paths. Black friends of ours who had been moderates became angry; those who had been angry became frantic. Yet white people seemed unable or...

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Chapter Twenty-five

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pp. 310-317

When Martin Luther King was murdered, the shock stripped away pretenses and, for the first time, I saw white fear. At first I saw it in public figures, then I saw it in myself. On television, that Thursday night, the message from white officials was a quick, panicky sympathy...

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Chapter Twenty-six

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pp. 318-324

Fear, guilt, and unconscious needs were not the simple solution I had once hoped to find for hate between people. Instead, as America neared the presidential election of 1968, I wanted to believe I was wrong...

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pp. 325-328

A book must end; an education must not, and there must be a better ending for my country than I see now. For myself, one question I asked for eight years was answered the night Richard Nixon was elected President...

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pp. 329-331

Over the years, so many readers have written asking what has happened to me and to my family. I take special pleasure in answering. When the book ended in 1970, I could only hope that I had made the right choices for Spike, then 14, Noah, 12, and 10-year-old Sarah...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299119737
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299119744

Publication Year: 1989

Edition: Second Edition
Series Title: Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography

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Subject Headings

  • WASPs (Persons).
  • Stalvey, Lois Mark.
  • United States -- Race relations.
  • Discrimination -- United States.
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