Oral History of June Jeffries
Second Interview
November 30, 2018
This interview is being conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project of The Historical
Society of the District of Columbia Circuit. The interviewer is Will Weaver, and the interviewee
is June Jeffries. The interview took place at the Alumni Relations Center in the Hotung Building
at Georgetown Law School on Friday, November 30, 2018. This is the second interview.
MR. WEAVER: During our first session, we talked about where you come from, your
parents, your family, and your childhood. We left off talking about how
you ended up going to college at Wesleyan in Connecticut. You started in
that school in the second ever co-educational class, if I remember
correctly. What was that like?
MS. JEFFRIES: We were the second incoming co-ed class. They had gotten some transfer
students. Actually, what that meant was when I got to Wesleyan, the
proportion of men to women was decidedly larger, but when they brought
in the classes, each class was probably around 50/50 so that each year, it
was more and more women, and by the time I left, it was totally 50/50.
For the university, for us women, I would say really the only problem was
space like in the gym and the locker room, and they had to build to
accommodate that. But they had done a number of things, hiring faculty
and staff, to be supportive and to work with incoming women students and
to help make the transition. There was one woman who was on staff, I
can’t remember her particular position, but her name was Sheila Tobias,
and she was a very outspoken, very feminist-type woman, very supportive,
not quiet, vocal. She was good to have on campus during that time. And
other people. All in all, it went very well.
MR. WEAVER: Were there any challenges? It sounds like it was a very smooth transition.
MS. JEFFRIES: I think it was a pretty smooth transition. Like I said, since they had
brought in some transfer students, it happened that in my dorm the RA
was a senior. She had transferred to Wesleyan in her junior year. Bonnie
Blair, who is a lawyer here in D.C. now. She then went on to Harvard
Law School. That assisted us as well, even though we were the first
incoming class, there were some upper-level women there. And Bonnie, I
went to Harvard summer school the summer of 1974, and she was up there
for the law school, so I met her at the law school, and she took me around.
That was good having met her.
MR. WEAVER: That’s exciting. Tell me what it was like when you left home to go to
college for the first time. Did your mom drop you off?
MS. JEFFRIES: Yes. My parents, both of them, took me. I don’t know if I said this,
because I have to look at the transcript, that summer I went to a summer
program in New York for six weeks, which was for pre-med minority
freshmen from about ten colleges and universities, many of them ivy
league schools, and I had at that time when I went to college, I wanted to
get both a medical degree and a law degree, so I had done that program,
flown to New York by myself, spent the six weeks there, which is a pretty
exciting thing to do. I would point out on the very first day of that
program, I met the guy who went on to become my first husband. But
anyway. After prep was over, I went home, finished my preparations for
Connecticut, and my mother, father, and I drove out there. I had not
visited Wesleyan before. I don’t think it was uncommon that people
didn’t visit, and they certainly didn’t do the grand tours that people do
now. We didn’t have the Internet, but I had a friend at Smith and knew
some other people and talked about it. So going to Wesleyan for us was a
good trip.
When I was born, it was always that I was going to go to college,
so that had never been an iffy thing or a question. My mother used to talk
about me going to Harvard or going places, so it wasn’t out of the question
I was going to Wesleyan. I think my father wanted me to be closer to
home. He had been interested in Michigan or Michigan State, and I guess
my mother told her at one point she could have put a stop to all of that, but
she didn’t. So they got me there to Connecticut, and I was so ready to be
there. I was so ready to be there. I don’t think I cried or anything when
my parents left. I was happy. This is my time. So they left, and I started
doing what I had to do. We had roommates. It was called a double, but
we each had our own room with an adjoining door between us, and there
was a balcony, so the door to the balcony was in Juliette’s room. So to use
the balcony, I had to go through her room. She was nice. She was from
New York. She was from the Bronx. That was good too because I had
just spent the summer in the Bronx. Juliette had a different kind of life
from me because you know those New York people didn’t live in houses.
She lived in an apartment. They had seven kids in her family. I don’t
think her mother worked. Her father worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,
which it seems to me that maybe the Navy Yard had closed some time
recently and maybe he was out of a job, but he worked there. Her parents
were really into education for their kids. Juliette’s older brother had gone
to Yale, and then he may have gone to Yale Law School. So her older
brother was working as an associate at a law firm in Manhattan. I think
she had a sister at Smith. Juliette was at Wesleyan. My recollection that
I’ve always thought through these years, and I have to ask her if we
communicate again, is that Geraldo Rivera had been her brother’s
roommate at law school or college.
So for me going to college was a good transition. Wesleyan was in
Middletown, which is a smaller city. Back then maybe it was 35,000
people, so not as large as Detroit. The campus was beautiful. Being in
New England in the fall, that was spectacular. I was meeting people. So
many people were from the East Coast, but people were from around the
country. Many of them had gone to private schools or top public schools.
People traveled around the world. I had only been to Canada and Mexico
City. People had different experiences. A lot of rich, rich-like people. It
was good for me. It was expanding my world.
MR. WEAVER: For someone who grew up in the Midwest and spent a lot of time in the
South, was New England kind of a culture shock, or had you already spent
enough time there?
MS. JEFFRIES: My only time in New England had been when we went to Montreal and
drove there, and I decided then that I wanted to go to school in
New England. I had seen movies and TV, and they talk about how you
have these small towns in New England that would have these town
council meetings once a year and they’d come in govern. If you see the
movie with Doris Day and Jack Lemon called It Happened to Jane, and
they were up in New England, and that’s what they did. They had this
town council and this meeting. I thought that was very quaint. Whatever
you had learned in American history and the revolution in school. So I
wanted to be in New England. And the weather didn’t bother me. I was
in Detroit, so that wasn’t an issue.
What I think about Wesleyan, which they sometimes call a little
ivy is that certainly they have resources, they give you opportunities, there
are people who you are interacting with who, whether you realize it or not
then, you will be seeing or hearing about in the future as they go about
their careers out into the world, and you have connections in that way.
But also I think what those kinds of schools is people there have a sense of
entitlement, many of the people who come, so if you were a person who
didn’t have a sense of entitlement, and you could say that would be true
about me, you go there and learn to have a sense of entitlement. So people
go to places, they expect to get the things that they want. That’s their
expectation, that’s how they’ve been raised, that’s what their parents do
for them, that’s what they do for their children. An example I would say
is my mother, she came from a different kind of background, say we’d go
out to eat sometimes and then she’d want something done a particular way
or whatever and she would ask the people if they could do this, if it’s
possible, and I didn’t mean to do things in a rude kind of way or anything.
I said you don’t have to do all this kind of asking all tentative. Just tell the
people what you want. You get what you want. It doesn’t have to be an
issue. So anyway this whole sense of entitlement. So that’s one of the
benefits of going. You learn the entitlement game because it’s played all
around. Well, let me say that entitlement was played all around me
throughout my legal career.
MR. WEAVER: When you would go to college and pick up on that entitlement issue, when
you would interact with your mother in a situation like that, did you notice
it more after that? Is it something you talked about?
MS. JEFFRIES: Certainly as I aged and my different experiences, I was cognizant of that.
I would tell my mother she’s so authority bound because I think that’s the
way they indoctrinated you growing up as little sharecropper children in
segregated Mississippi. We’d be driving down the street, or I’d be driving
and she’d be sitting there and say there’s the police, and I’d say I don’t
care about the police. You don’t have to be announcing that to me. There
were some differences because of our different experiences and attitudes.
But good. It was good. I’m an extension of my mother. My mother was a
very vocal person. She was no pushover. My mother was a very vocal
person, very astute. But there were some differences. Being up there at
Wesleyan, there was another big thing. When I went to Wesleyan, you
could have pets in the dorm. So for 2 ½ years, I had a dog.
MR. WEAVER: What kind of dog?
MS. JEFFRIES: First I had some kind of little dog, a little mix that I had gotten over the
summer of 1972, and I took that dog to Connecticut with me. That’s when
my father got sick and died, and I left the dog there because I had to go
home. That little dog was named Jamaica, and Jamaica got hit by a car.
So while I was home in Detroit after my father died, I got a cocker spaniel,
Nicky, and Nicky went to college with me. Nicky was my very close
friend. She lived in the dorm. People had a lot of dogs at Wesleyan.
People had Irish Setters. There were two Newfoundlands, Alice and Thor,
that stayed on the porch at Downey House. We had a lot of dogs. It kind
of got out of hand. So I would take Nicky back and forth to Connecticut
with me, and she became famous too.
MR. WEAVER: Your father passed away your sophomore year of college. What kind of
impact did that have? Did you think about staying home for a while or did
you go immediately back to college?
MS. JEFFRIES: Let me talk about that. My parents took me to school again sophomore
year, and I moved into East College in the Law Avenue dorms, and they
went back to Detroit and I’m doing my Wesleyan life. Wesleyan has a
place, Foss Hill, I had lived on Foss Hill freshman year, and the football
field is there and you can see the library and North College and those
places. It was a beautiful day, on a Monday. It was a very beautiful
September day, and I liked the weather so much I just sat on Foss Hill and
enjoyed the weather. I was just sitting there enjoying the weather. So
when I finally went to my dorm, there was a note on my door from my
faculty advisor. My roommates were saying my mother had been calling.
It turned out my father had a stroke the night before. I went home to
Detroit. He was kind of paralyzed on one side, and his speech was
impacted, and I guess the doctors thought he could probably regain some
of that. It’s unclear to me. It seems like maybe I went back to school for a
week or something, but I must not have. Probably at the end of the week,
he had a second one, a cerebral hemorrhage. He was in a coma, and things
were much worse. So I was staying in Detroit because you didn’t know
what would happen. It was very stressful. He was at Henry Ford
Hospital. By now we’re into mid-October, and it was getting colder, as it
would do, and I was in Detroit, but my clothes were in Connecticut. So
finally I told my mother I had to go back because I had to go back to get
my clothes and do whatever. I decided I would go on a Thursday and
come back on Saturday. So back then you could fly student standby.
Those early years I could fly roundtrip to Detroit for $64.00. So anyway, I
came home. I got back to Connecticut on Thursday. At Wesleyan I was
kind of excited because Ted Kennedy was going to be speaking on Friday
afternoon or evening. So I’m there for a couple days, I can see my friends,
get my clothes, go see Ted Kennedy. My mother was always a big
Kennedy person. So I can go see Ted Kennedy. This was kind of some
relief for me, and then I was going to fly back to Detroit. My mother
called me on Friday and said things were really bad. They put a feeding
tube in my father after I left. For whatever reasons, the contents backed
up, he aspirated the contents into his lung, and then he had pneumonia. So
then it was really bad. He had a doctor, who was probably like a chief
resident, and he was a very dour person. He had always said things were
bad, you could hope for the best, expect the worse. I must have talked to
him, and he said he’s really bad. Anyway, my mother’s calling me, and
I’m like ma, I can’t do anything, I’m here in Connecticut. And then he
died. He died Friday afternoon. So I left, and I flew back home. So, of
course, I didn’t see Ted Kennedy.
I stayed home for that semester. It was very hard. That was hard,
and it was hard going back to school because I probably said when I was a
kid, my father worked midnight and he would come home and he was
home during the day all the time I’m growing up with his work schedule,
so I was used to having my father around the house. But then suddenly
my mother’s back at work and all day long it was just me. We had two
dogs at home. All of my friends from Detroit were away at college. My
college friends were in Connecticut, so I really didn’t have anybody
around. It was very quiet and still. I think you can feel, there’s a
difference in the feeling in your house or wherever you live, there’s a
difference in feeling when a person is dead as opposed to they just went to
the store or work. When they go to the store or work, it doesn’t feel
empty, but when they die, you feel it. It’s different.
And then Wesleyan would not start until around January 24, so
when other people came home for Christmas, they went back earlier.
That’s the way the time period was. I wasn’t really doing anything. And I
don’t know why I didn’t get a temp job or do any volunteer work, but I
didn’t. So one day, I woke up, and I was there, my mother had gone to
work, and I was dusting the furniture. That’s not particularly exciting.
And the dogs and I just got to thinking that I had like another six weeks
before I went back to school, and this was so boring. It was another six
weeks. So my mother called me when she was on her lunch. When she
called me, and then I just became hysterical, crying. I was very upset. My
mother came home from work and sat with me and talked with me. I
guess I calmed down. She had me go stay with the neighbors while she
went back to work. So the next day, I went to our family doctor, and
Dr. Arrington gave me a prescription for valium. So the valium I think
you take like every four hours. It didn’t knock me out or anything, but it
calmed me down. I was chill. I would do that. I took the valium probably
every four hours the first few days, which was fine. Then I got to where
maybe I’d take one in the morning and one at night, but I took them at
night in particular because I think valium suppresses your dreaming, and
when I didn’t take them, then I had these bad nightmares. I had
nightmares that my mother died and stuff. So even at 18, I heard about
suburban housewives being addicted to pills and stuff, and I didn’t want to
be addicted to pills. I would take one at night, I might take one during the
day until I went back to school. So as soon as I got back to school, I went
to student mental health and saw a psychologist. His name was Dr. Wolf.
I go in and I see him, and he says to me, “Why are you here,” and I said,
“My father died, and I’m very upset.” And that’s the way I said it. He
said you don’t seem upset. I said believe me, this is upset. So he said our
game plan was for me to stop taking the valium and then we would talk
about things. I did that for three or four weeks, and we got through it, and
so that ended me and the valium.
I need to back up and say this. When my father died and I’m there
in Detroit, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to go back to Wesleyan
because of the money and stuff, so I was thinking I’d go to Michigan. I
didn’t do anything to try to go to Michigan, but that’s what I was thinking,
that this would be the case. But my mother never said anything about that.
She never asked me to stay home or change my plans. It was always
about me going back. Wesleyan was very good, and so I went back. I
was afraid.
One of the issues for me in going back was really my mother
because she was one of eleven children and whatever, and when she
moved to Detroit, she had lived in a boarding house, a rooming house,
with other people, and then when she married my father, she’s living with
him. They lived in a boarding house with other people, then they bought
the house, and it was the three of us, but at some point my grandfather had
lived there, daddy’s daddy. My Uncle Richard lived with us until I was
six. So she had never lived alone. I felt for her, and that first day when I
went back, I called her, and I think I cried. But it was okay. She never
asked me to change my plans, never complained, and it was good. My
mother’s a working woman. All my life, and most of the women in my
life were working women, and this is true even of my friends in Detroit
whose fathers were doctors, their mothers were teachers or librarians or
social workers or whatever. Most of my friends’ mothers worked. Most
of them. So by my mother having her own job when my father died, she
was the one. We had Blue Cross. We were on her insurance, so she had
her own pension and stuff. My mother had her own money as I was
growing up, so she never had to ask my father if she wanted to get her hair
done or buy a new purse or anything. She had a charge account or two in
her name at stores where she shopped. So she did things. When my
daddy died, Mrs. Ice, her daughter Patricia and I are very close friends,
Mrs. Ice she didn’t work, but she had been a teacher, and her husband was
a surgeon, and she had stopped working at some point. She was helpful to
my mother. She told my mother that she needed to get a charge card, like
a MasterCard or a Visa or something. One of their friends, one of the
Ice’s friends, Mrs. Farmer, was a travel agent, so she turned my mother
onto Mrs. Farmer. When I would want to come home, I’d call
Mrs. Farmer and tell her I wanted a plane ticket or whatever. So anyway,
things were good because I had my mother working. And then she could
work overtime, or if you worked, especially back then, on Sundays, and
you’re in the union and stuff, because stores and places used to not be
open, so for places to be open on Sundays, that was a big deal years ago.
You’d make double time. On holidays she’d work. She could make triple
time. So she did all that when I was in school.
So I went back to Wesleyan, and I, of course, was happy to be
back. But at some point, sophomore year, I had been taking organic
chemistry, and the book was Morrison & Boyd Organic Chemistry. I’d be
studying organic chemistry, and I’d have tears going down my face, so I
decided to not continue with the desire to be a doctor. I was never going
to be a science major. I was interested in government, urban studies. So I
stopped taking those science classes and concentrated on my major.
MR. WEAVER: What was it about the experience of loss and grief that caused you to
rethink what you were studying. Do you think it was the need for
something new, or was there something intrinsic within the study of
molecular biology versus taking a different path?
MS. JEFFRIES: I think anybody should take organic chemistry because organic chemistry
is really where everything is, everything that happens. You’ve got those
esters and all those things, detergents and soaps and all these things come
from organic chemistry. Inorganic chemistry is not a very big subject at
all. If people took organic chemistry, they’d understand all the politics of
oil and stuff. But it was just like this was not working out for me. So I
decided to let that go and go with the flow. Being a lawyer was okay. I
didn’t have to be both. Although now, I often sit around and really feel
like now I’d go to med school now. That would be no problem because I
see myself, I could be a neurosurgeon now and doing brain surgeries.
That’s what I think about a lot now. I think of other things too I could do,
but I could see me being that right now. But I don’t think the med schools
would want to take me now at my age, plus I don’t want to pay for it. But
if they’d take me free, I’d go. And I’m a person who’s a committed
person. I haven’t wanted to take another test since I put my pen down for
the bar exam. But I could do that.
MR. WEAVER: Who were your closest friends in college?
MS. JEFFRIES: I should begin by saying I told you when I was in that program in New
York in prep that’s where I met my now ex-husband, who, his last name is
Jeffries as well, spelled the same way as mine. So for 3 ½ years, I would
spend a lot of time at Yale and in New Haven, but at Wesleyan, I had
some women friends, Arlene and Ramona, Lynn, and Debbie, and we
lived together often over those four years, or lived near. I became friends
with Rick Blake. Rick was a senior when I was a freshman, and he went
on to a three-year program at New York Medical School. I graduated on
Sunday, June 1, and Rick graduated medical school on Tuesday, June 3,
and on Saturday the 7th, he and my roommate, Ramona, got married, and I
was in their wedding in Long Island. That union did not last. Rick was a
doctor down here, and I’ve always been very close with him and his wife,
Joann. Rick died last year on December 20. So Rick and I were good
friends from Wesleyan. I have another friend Leslie Anderson. She was
from Norfolk, Virginia, and ultimately Leslie lives here in Silver Spring,
so we used to live about ten minutes from each other. When I was
working at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she worked at AARP, so we were
only two blocks from each other. We were friends. I also worked at the
library for 3 ½ years, a Work Study student. There were a couple girls
there I worked with, Lisa and Nicky. Lisa Hernandez. She was from
someplace in New York. Her father was Cuban, and her mother was
Jewish. And Nicky, her parents were Greek. I don’t know that her
parents were born in Greece. Nicky and her siblings were born here.
They lived in Stoughton, Massachusetts, outside of Boston. So that
summer I spent at Harvard Law School, Nicky’s mother was a good cook,
and I’d go over there maybe once a week. And this was when things were
really coming down on Nixon. I’d go over to Nicky’s mom’s house and
her mother would cook. She’d cook leg of lamb with a lot of garlic on a
rotisserie, and then she would take the pan juices and mix it in with a can
of tomato sauce and orzo pasta, so really I had only had lamb once before
and I’d never had orzo pasta before, and that lamb and pasta was so good.
We’d be there talking because people knew Nixon was leaving and it was
a countdown. People were taking bets on what day it was happening. So
I’d go over there. Nicky and I were good friends. We’re not in contact
now, but Nicky got married, and Lisa did too. Both of them got married
the summer we finished college. Nicky married Paul, who finished
engineering at Northeastern University, and he got a job with U.S. Steel,
which then was building the largest taconite iron ore facility in the iron
range of northern Minnesota. Lisa moved to Florida. So my first year of
law school, Nicky was pregnant, spring break was coming up for me. She
said why don’t we go visit Lisa in Florida. So I went to Florida for a
week, and that was my first trip to Florida, and I visited with them. Lisa’s
Aunt Bubby would come down from New York, like a lot of Jewish
people do, and they had these apartment buildings. A lot of them were
there in Miami. We went to Miami and visited her, and her aunt took us
out to lunch, and then we’re driving around Miami. This was 1976, spring
of 1976. Carter was in office, and you know we were having oil problems
and they wanted you to turn the heat down to like 65 and stuff. They did
that. We were having some exam at Wesleyan and it was like 65 degrees
and my hands were all cold. Anyway, there was an elevator in her
apartment building because it was all elderly Jewish people, they had signs
in the elevator that people should wear sweaters so we could end our
dependence on the oil bastards. So we did that. That was in law school.
And then Nicky and Paul lived in Minnesota, so I went up there for spring
break. I must have gone to Florida my second year of law school. The
first year, Nicky and Paul had moved to northern Minnesota. Nobody they
knew was up there, so they sent me a plane ticket, and I went to northern
Minnesota for spring break visiting my Wesleyan friend. Let me point
this out. I went in March of 1976. The day before I left D.C., it was
83 degrees. I got up to Minneapolis, the snow at the airport was taller than
I am. We drove four hours north to the iron range and it’s like 30 below at
night and people were wearing all these thermal jumpsuits and plugging in
their car batteries, which I’d never seen that happen before, and they’re
driving around on snowmobiles. And I can also tell you there are no
Black people up there in the iron range. So I took my law books with me.
Nicky and Paul would go to work during the day. I went to the store one
day, and the lady at the store says to me, “Oh, you’re not from around
here.” And I’m like really, how would you know? So the next day, Nicky
and I go to the store together, then the woman sees Nicky with me, and
she says you girls aren’t from around here. Like really, how do you
know? But here’s what people do in the iron range in northern Minnesota
because it’s so cold. They have a lot of people up there, they call them
Finlanders. I would call them Finnish; they call them Finlanders, and they
make hot dishes, otherwise known as casseroles. So they make hot dishes,
and people drink a lot of alcohol because there isn’t much to do up there.
And this year somewhere like I think in the Washington Post food section,
one day somebody wrote an article about hot dishes because she was from
up there. Well I knew all about that because of Wesleyan.
Here’s a good thing about Wesleyan. Wesleyan was into
ethnomusicology, and my junior year, they opened up the Center for the
Arts, which is maybe fifteen buildings, so this is a Wesleyan thing. You
learn these things from these people. They had this tract of land and they
wanted to do an arts center, and they got these architects to submit
proposals, but the stipulation was that whatever they did, they could not
tear down any of the existing trees. So they had to build around the trees.
So literally there’s one building that’s built around a tree and has this
center courtyard. So that’s about aesthetics because people with money
have time to pay attention to aesthetics that other people on the lower level
might not necessarily have the time just to devote to aesthetics. So that’s a
Wesleyan thing. They wanted the proper aesthetics for that field. You’ve
got instant landscaping as opposed to all these new little trees you’ve got
to wait fifty years for them to grow. One of the buildings they did is the
Gamelan building. The gamelan is an Indonesian, or maybe Malaysian,
instrument, and at that time, Wesleyan was one of two places in the
country to have a gamelan, and to play the gamelan, you have like 20 or
30 people play, so they had the Gamelan Hall. As an alum, my mother,
Rudy, and I were up at Wesleyan, and we went to a gamelan concert.
These concerts go on until around 2:00 in the morning and they start at
8:00, so you’d be sitting there, and they had staggered seating. It wasn’t
chairs. It was just like steps really. So you’re there at the gamelan
concert, and people lay out at the steps and listen. They may play a piece
that’s maybe like 30 minutes, and then that piece not everybody is playing,
so those people might walk around and do stuff or lay down or whatever,
and then they’d take a break. People may eat snacks or refreshments, and
they’d start another one, and that would go on for hours. So that’s like a
Wesleyan thing. So you can tell a real person if they went to Wesleyan if
they know what a gamelan is. I did one of these tours of an embassy, and
I went to the Indonesian embassy, and they had a gamelan there. I know
the Kennedy Center or somebody was having a gamelan concert in the
past year. I meant to go, but I didn’t. So that was a really Wesleyan thing.
But that whole aesthetic thing is important. In later years I was up there
for something and I went to a meeting of the board of trustees and they
were about to do this big renovation of all 80 classrooms, and one of the
things that Peter said, the University treasurer was Peter Patton, they were
redoing these rooms because they wanted them to have the proper
ambiance, the proper lighting, all of this. So when you have money, all of
that is important. If you haven’t paid attention to those things beforehand,
you learn to pay attention to them afterwards.
MR. WEAVER: Were there any professors at Wesleyan who had a major impact on you,
either your choice to go to law school or anything else?
MS. JEFFRIES: My first faculty advisor was Dr. Seiss. He was a chemistry professor, and
he was a nice man. But then I changed and became a government major.
Wesleyan doesn’t call it political science. I was interested in urban
studies, and my advisor was Professor Russell Murphy. I feel I had good
guidance from him. I was interested in urban studies. You could craft
your own major. He told me I could be a government major and just take
those classes and have the impact of being a government major as opposed
to urban studies. And that was good. A book he had us read in the class I
took by this guy Edward Banfield called The Heavenly City. I read that
book. I had a lot of disagreement with Banfield, his views as a white
person writing about people in the cities. Subsequently, many years later,
I think I read an update or I read some things about him. I know I
remember when Banfield died. Reading that book was of interest to me
with Professor Murphy. Another thing that happened at Wesleyan is
junior and senior year, I got into take art classes. It was called Art
History, and the book he used I still have it. I forget the name of it.
Anyway, it was very interesting to me because when you take art history
what they’re rally teaching you is white people’s art through the years, and
you might have a chapter where they give you three or four pages about
while this was going on with da Vinci, people in China were doing this, or
here’s some African art or whatever. It was very dominated by their art.
One of the things I’m into is how culturally how the dominant culture
moves to dominate people and to minimize other people’s cultures and
talents. So Shakespeare is always played up in western education. I’m
here to say I don’t like Shakespeare. I have no moment for Shakespeare.
I don’t enjoy Shakespeare, reading him, I never do, I don’t enjoy his plays.
And I’m not willing to say he’s great just because some other people have
decided he’s great and they want to push that on you. I don’t think the
Mona Lisa is great. I have no interest in why she has that look on her
face. I have no interest in it. Just because people say it’s great, I see
nothing about it that’s great. A painting of Edward Hopper just sold for
$90 million, which was the highest price for a piece of work by a living
artist. But the week before, somebody else’s painting, who’s dead, sold
for $91 million. I think people need to think about that philosophically.
The Mona Lisa is probably the size of this folder as far as I know. There
is no piece of canvas that is worth $91 million. And it’s only worth that
because someone was willing to pay it. And other people were willing to
anoint it. How can they say that that painting is worth $91 million but my
painting is not? So it’s really much what you like. I don’t like
Shakespeare, so he’s not important to me. I prefer a world where we can
value all kinds of contributions. I have to qualify that, because when I was
in high school, Mrs. Hamburger, the drama department chair, would have
a trip to Canada. We’d go to the Stratford Festival and we’d see a
Shakespeare play every year. Yes I did like doing that, and now I want to
go back to the Stratford Festival. But it’s not because I like Shakespeare.
I did like the experience. So I’m not interested. And the older I get, I
want things easier for my head. I’m not interested in working through the
language. I want it written as I speak. I don’t have time to work through
this language. So when I took art, one of my classes. Okay, I wanted to
get into drawing class because I can’t draw, but I don’t want to do realistic
kinds of paintings. I’m more abstract. But be that as it may, it’s a good
skill to have, drawing, and to understand how to get these things on paper.
But there are always more people who wanted to take the class than there
were slots, and the guy had some kind of lottery or maybe he had you
draw something and then he chose people, so I never got chosen. I tell the
Wesleyan people to this day that is my one disappointment with their
university. I did not get into the class that I wanted. But I did some
painting or did something, and one of my art people said, the professor
said to me, that I had a primitive art style, somewhat like Grandma Moses.
But he said there was a place for the primitive artist. Well that’s very
condescending. You think you all’s art is better than my art. It’s not. But
I did do art.
So if I were going to be a lawyer again, and in college and stuff, I
would be an art major and then just take classes to get into law school
because when I wanted to do the urban studies stuff, Professor Murphy
said to me I could do my urban studies and everything, but he said for law
school, the important thing when they’re looking at you, they wanted to
see you took classes that demonstrated that you could read, that you could
write, and you can analyze, and I always took those kind of classes as
well. But you could do the art. And I will say from my college years, the
most tangible things I had were those paintings that I did. I’m not a
person to keep all my textbooks or papers or exams. I don’t want those.
But I had those pieces of art, and I liked them. But I haven’t done
anything with that since I left Wesleyan.
So I did get into art while I was there. I liked that. I wish I had
done more things. I wish I had done things in the theatre department. Not
that I act. When I was in high school, I did some costume crew work and
stuff. I wish I had done that.
MR. WEAVER: In a minute I’m going to move on and ask some questions about how you
started thinking about law school, taking the LSAT, and applying, but
before we leave the college years, is there anything else, any other event
or person that you came across in college that kind of had a big impact on
you or your career?
MS. JEFFRIES: I’m not thinking of anybody at the moment, but I liked the whole
Wesleyan experience. I liked what they had to offer. I liked the support
that they gave to students. I liked their sensitivity. It was a good thing for
MR. WEAVER: When did you start applying to law school?
MS. JEFFRIES: Senior year. I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 5. Perry Mason was my
mother’s favorite TV show. We watched that. I guess maybe she said you
should be a lawyer. So that was always something. I actually never had a
conversation with a lawyer until I was in law school, and I did not really
know what I would do with my legal career, but I wanted to go to law
school. So I started doing that senior year, and I was interested in going to
law schools I would say maybe in particular places. So say like Boston. I
think I applied to BU. Now let me say this. Paper Chase came out while
I was in law school. I told you I had visited Harvard Law School when I
went to Harvard summer school. When my daddy died, I lost that
semester and I wanted to graduate on time, so the following two summers,
I went to summer school. In the summer of 1974, I went to Harvard
summer school to get credits. So having seen Paper Chase and their
experiences at Harvard Law School, I did not think that was the place for
me, so I did not apply. I did apply to Yale. I applied to Columbia. Of
course I applied to Michigan, Northwestern, and for me, Washington, D.C.
was a city I could be and I felt just based on whatever limited stuff I knew,
that if I was going to go to law school in Washington, Georgetown was the
place. So that’s what I did. I got accepted to Georgetown. Okay, so my
mother and I had to come here for me to get an apartment, and they said it
was very expensive, and we came here. This campus was not like this
when we came in August of 1975. This neighborhood was not like this
when we came here. We saw it and I was like ‘Oh my God.’ I thought I
wouldn’t have a car. But we found a place that was a great apartment for
me. I was here at the law school. Two of my Wesleyan classmates, Susan
and Cliff, were classmates at Georgetown, and then a guy who graduated
before us, Elmo, was also in our class. Anyway, Cliff was from here, and
he walked up to me one day and told me if I was looking for a job, the
Archives needed someone, and I got a job there. I subsequently worked at
the Federal Trade Commission, and I was going to work there the summer
after second year law school, and then that April, they called us all in, the
law clerks, and said they were over budget. The new manager of the
Department had looked at the budget and they had over-hired, so they
were going to let almost all of us law students go. Which meant that I
didn’t have a summer job for second year law school, which is kind of a
big deal. So you could say I was kind of irritated about that. But probably
within three weeks of losing that job, I got a letter in the mail from the
District of Columbia. I qualified for unemployment. I never would have
thought of that. So the summer of 1974, I got unemployment. I worked
some temp jobs. I did a temp job for a man who I had never heard of
before but have certainly heard of him since named Julius Chambers. He
was a big civil rights lawyer from North Carolina, and they had a class
action suit against the headquarters of the American Red Cross for racial
discrimination, and we were doing discovery, going through their
personnel files and copying them. We would sit there and go through the
files. It was interesting to me. I learned something about Mr. Chambers,
but I learned a lot about the Red Cross. I would have never known this.
They have a lot of interesting jobs over there, and they’re doing things all
around the world. So that was pretty eye-opening. I did some other temp
things. Some guy was researching something about the Tennessee Tom
Bigby Waterway Dam. I’d have to research that. I had a job ion law
school with the Wyatt Company, which was an actuarial company, maybe
the largest actuarial company in the world. Again, I had never heard of
that before really. They had bought a company that did executive
employee benefits consulting. So the project I did and this will relate back
to Wesleyan, working for them was they bought a share of stock in each of
the Fortune 500 companies, and with that, they got the annual reports or
whatever, and the SEC required that for the top three employees, you had
to report what the pension and compensation benefits were, so I would
read these to get that information to chart this because this is the area they
had bought this company. Well, one of the companies, Kimberly Clark,
the CEO, President, was a man named Roger Smith. Well I had actually
gone to Wesleyan with his daughter, and we had been in the same dorm
freshman year, and she was from Wisconsin. So she’s this white girl from
Wisconsin and from talking to her, I gathered they had money, but I didn’t
know what her folks did, but it was Wisconsin. So I thought maybe were
rich dairy farmers. One day we were in my room, and I had a “Playboy”
magazine, which I actually used to read because they had some interesting
interviews. This is true. I read it. I didn’t care about the pictures.
Anyway, John Wayne had been interviewed, and he’s an awful person. I
said John Wayne was an awful person, although I do like his movie, The
High and the Mighty, and Rio Bravo, he still an awful person, anyway I
read that interview, so she was in my room and we were talking and she
says her father’s company makes the paper that that’s printed on. So I’m
thinking what company is that. Somehow it was Kimberly Clark, which I
didn’t really know they made paper, per se. I know they made sanitary
napkins, so I’m sitting there with her thinking this is what her father did. I
know he wanted to buy her a car, but she didn’t want to take it, and I was
like if my parents wanted to buy me a car, I would take it. Why wouldn’t
you take it. So instead, she got an expensive stereo system. So anyway,
that’s what her father was. He was CEO of Kimberly Clark, so I read his
compensation package when I was in law school.
Here’s another Wesleyan thing. These experiences open your
eyes. I took a weekly seminar junior year, Monday afternoons, and there
was a guy named Stewart Jacobson in my class. He was from Texas. It
was a small seminar, about eight people. So we’re there one Monday
before class starts, and I’m talking to him and ask what he did for the
weekend. His response was my father and I had dinner with Senator
Kennedy. I said, “I’m sorry, what did you say?” And he said it again.
That is not what I was expecting. I thought maybe his father was some
Texas cattleman or oil person. I didn’t per se know that his father did. So
here’s the deal. My son was born in 1985, and that summer, we flew to
Pittsburgh to visit my mother-in-law. There was a People magazine, and
the cover story was on Rock Hudson because it had come out that he had
AIDS and I wanted to read the story, but I didn’t want to be a voyeur and
go straight to the story, so I’m thumbing through the magazine, and there’s
an article and it had a picture of a guy at the beach and he’s jumping up in
the air, and it says something like Stewart Jacobson is jumping for joy
over whatever. And I’m thinking I knew a guy named Stewart Jacobson.
So I start looking at it. Well, this is Stewart who was in class with me, and
it said after he’d gone to Wesleyan, he had done some modeling. He wore
glasses in college, but he didn’t have glasses on in this picture. He had
done some modeling and different things, but his father was some big-time
cardiologist in Dallas. Stewart got the idea of writing a book about giftgiving,
and he tried to get a publishing company to back him, so Stewart
wrote letters to thirty family friends, or more, asking them to front him
$10,000 each because he wanted to do this book thing, so he raised
$300,000, and then he wrote famous people and asked them the question,
what’s the best gift you ever received, what’s the best gift you ever gave,
and then he met with many of these people and took pictures, and boom,
gets this book published. It’s a coffee table book, and one of their friends
was Mary Kay. She bought 5,000 copies to give away to her Mary Kay
people. I go to the china department over at Woody’s and the book is
there. Later on, my current husband and I went to the Virgin Islands, and
we’re in the Islands and went in some shop somewhere in St. Croix, and
there was the book there. So this is how they can do it. He could ask
family friends and raise money. My friends, we weren’t able to do that
kind of thing. Anyway, so that’s a Wesleyan kind of experience.
MR. WEAVER: It’s kind of special to be in the city and on the campus where you went to
law school. Tell me a little more about when you came down here. D.C.
was a city that you were familiar with but tell me about starting 1L year.
How was the experience for you? 1L is, I think for a lot of people, kind of
a grueling experience. It’s not particularly fun. How was it for you?
MS. JEFFRIES: My apartment was in Southwest at 1245 Fourth Street Southwest,
Apartment E608. I lived there for three years. You really could if you
wanted to walk from there to here, but I drove. Georgetown was just this
building right in front of us, and it didn’t have that front addition. I came
here, I had not visited the law school, like I hadn’t visited colleges. When
I got here, number one, I certainly was surprised because Georgetown had
more Black students than I expected. So for me, there was a good
number. Maybe we were 10%. I must give all the credit to a person
who’s well known in D.C., Dave Wilmot. He was the Dean of
Admissions then. A young Black man at the time, a lawyer, and he is very
much responsible for there being as many Black alumni at Georgetown as
there are. I didn’t know Dave’s story. He’s gone on to be a businessman
and do different things. I didn’t know his story, but I listened to this
podcast, a local man who’s known in media, Andy Ockershausen, he used
to be with WMAL, he does this podcast called Our Town, and he
interviews people, and he interviewed Dave Wilmot, and I listened to that
this year. Dave explained all of it, how he came to be at Georgetown,
what he did, and all of that. So I was so happy to hear that. In fact, now
that I’m thinking about that, I meant to write Dave a note. So anyway, I
was here. I had people I could be friends with. I’m also friends with
white people, but there were Black students here. People asked me about
law school. Then and now, this is my response. I did not find law school
to be a fun activity, and if people said to me oh I really loved law school
or whatever, I’d find that to be a curious response. Law school to me was
one, you’re doing all this reading, you may read a 100-page case, what’s
the bottom line here, where are we going to this, but you’re reading a 100-
page case, you have these dissents, you have to do the analysis, the fact
patterns, and then, of course, you’re trying to do the best you can do first
year of law school because you’re rewarded by going on law review. So
what that means is you go to law school, you work really, really hard, and
your reward is you’re given another assignment where you have to work
even harder and do all this stuff. I will say June did not make law review.
But anyway, you have to get into that, the reading, writing, the analysis.
Another thing about going to law school at Georgetown, and I was a day
student. They had a night program. I think most of us got part-time jobs,
which was a big experience that people could be here in the city working
various places whether it was on the Hill, law firms, non-profits, or
whatever. So at the same time you are in law school, you’re doing that.
So that’s why I worked, as I said, at the Federal Trade Commission. I was
on the investigation of the funeral home industry. Things are very slow at
the Federal Trade Commission. So that was a very good thing to be here
at Georgetown and have that opportunity.
I still was not particularly sure what I would do, and I graduated
without having a job, and I went home to take the Michigan bar. So I
enjoyed being at Georgetown, and I felt it was the right place for me and
being there. At that time, a lot of students from Howard Law School
would come and study at the Georgetown Library. I often didn’t study at
the library because I thought it became kind of a social place because so
many people would hang out there. I considered Georgetown to have
been a positive experience for me, and the little exposure to the Jesuits.
MR. WEAVER: Did you study in a study group, or did you study alone?
MS. JEFFRIES: I mainly studied alone, although there were a few times I did study groups.
I took the notes. You do the outlines. I remember freshman year I went to
some party that December, and there was a guy, a third-year student, who
was there, and he was in a tizzy over his exam the next day. He was in a
tizzy because there were no Gilberts, no nutshells for the course. So I
asked what was the problem? The problem was he had never gone to the
class until like the very last day and found out that it wasn’t the class he
thought it was so he didn’t know. I learned something from that. You
need to go to class.
I had some interesting professors at Georgetown. Professor
Richard Allen Gordon for Contracts. He was quite a personality. He had
been roommates or good friends with William Peter Blatty who wrote The
Exorcist. I think Professor Gordon helped negotiate his contract when
they sold it to the movies or whatever. I had Larry Richey for Criminal
Law. I got called on to talk about Miranda. I remember that. I had two
Black law professors, Patricia King. I had her for Commercial Law, and I
had Jerome Schulman for Corporations. I want to say this very clearly.
Those two professors were treated differently by my white classmates than
the way those same classmates treated the white professors, and they
challenged them all the time over things that they said. They did not do
that with the white professors, and I want to say that very clearly.
MR. WEAVER: Did you take Criminal Law 1L year?
MR. WEAVER: Was that of particular interest to you then, or did you know that that was
going to be an area that you wanted to go into?
MS. JEFFRIES: I did not know. And it’s funny because I became a prosecutor and became
a litigator, and you have to work in the courtroom. I think if you asked
anyone who knew me back then, if you’d asked me, if you’d asked my exhusband
if I’d end up being a prosecutor, being a litigator like that, I think
most people would have been surprised. I’m surprised. But as I said, I
didn’t really know. Maybe it was in my Tax class, but one of my
professors would talk about ERISA a lot, which is the pension thing, and
he said if you went into ERISA, you could make $200 an hour, and I
thought that was very interesting. I didn’t pursue it, but I was exposed to
things here at the law school that people were doing that I would not have
known otherwise.
I graduated from Georgetown Law School, and I went home to
take the Michigan bar, and I didn’t have a job. So here’s the deal. My
mother was a grocery store cashier, and she knew a lot of people. And
this is the way I got my first job. This is for real. I’m home, going to take
the Michigan bar, I’m asleep one morning. My mother calls me from
work and said that one of her customers worked at the courthouse and he
knew a job I could get, and I needed to get up and go see him then because
he was going on vacation the next day. So I did. And his name was
Morgan Carroll. He was a courtroom clerk in Detroit Recorder’s Court,
which was then the Criminal Court for the City of Detroit. They had an
office called the Misdemeanor Defender’s Office, which was a contract
office, and this guy, Bob Gold, got the contract and then they would assign
these misdemeanor cases. I went down there. Bob was on vacation, but
this other guy, Sam, was running the office. I met Sam, and he says okay,
you’re hired. So that summer I started doing these misdemeanor cases.
Bob comes back. He said if I passed the bar, he’d hire me as a staff
attorney, and I said okay. So I’m studying for the bar, and I end up
passing the bar, so I worked there for nine months doing misdemeanors in
the City of Detroit. I probably have a lot to say about that experience and
the way things worked. But anyway, that was good for me, and that
exposed me to these criminal cases and stuff. Detroit, as I call it, a crimefree
city. Hah hah. So there was a lot going on and a lot of trials you
could go see and things in the news. I did that.
I talked earlier about my fifth grade teachers, Mrs. McQuarry and
Mrs. McFadden. Mrs. McFadden had a son who is older than I am, and I
had never met him, but I knew of him, and he had gone to Harvard Law
School. I can’t remember, but maybe my mother ran into him, anyway,
somehow I got put in touch with him, and he was working at a small Black
law firm in Detroit, and I meet him and through him, I ended up getting a
job with them at this law firm, Patman and Young, which at most we had
nine lawyers. This was a very interesting and good experience for me. It
was, even though there were things about it that maybe weren’t the best,
but still positive in my life. Patman and Young did a lot of entertainment
work, although this was post-Motown. Motown had moved away, but
they still did a lot of things. Patman and Young had been IRS agents and
went to law school and night, so they did tax work. We also represented a
lot of the Black professionals in their professional corporations, lawyers,
doctors, dentists, business owners. A woman at the firm did domestic
relations, and we did wills and estates. In the course of the corporate
work, for instance, we did work for the Detroit Public Schools, which you
could call essentially a Black client. So I did work there at Patman and
Young for 2 1/2 years. I did wills, I did some entertainment things. The
big thing was, when I started with them, if you know Motown, they had
these songwriters and producers, Eddie and Brian Holland and Lamont
Dozier, otherwise known Holland, Dozier, and Holland, and they wrote all
these songs for the Supremes and the Temptations and others. When I
started with Patman and Young, Eddie and Brian were suing Lamont and
Lamont was suing them back, and they were about to go to federal trial so
everyone’s working on this, and then they settled. Eddie and Brian were
our clients, and they were living in California. They would fly back to
Detroit from time to time in their leisure suits, their jogging suits,
complaining about the weather in Detroit because California is all warm
and everything. Well we got their quarterly royalty statements, ASCAP
and BMI, we’d get their royalty statements, and so June would read their
royalty statements, and that was very interesting to me because they were
making money off of music that had been recording fifteen and twenty
years earlier, and they were making good money. They did not have to
work as they could just collect these royalties. We had some other
interesting clients. So I worked there. It came to be the point where my
boyfriend who I talked about was at Georgetown Medical School and
maybe he graduated so anyway we decided what we were going to do, so I
left Patman and Young and came here for three months to see what we
would decide to do. We decided to get married, but he was married in the
Navy. He had gotten a Navy scholarship, paid for him to go to med
school, so he had to do a year of ship duty. I went back to Detroit while
he was on the ship. I was picking up cases in court because my mother,
she’s the best career person. She’s a cashier, she knew Judge Willis Ward.
He was on probate. Well the probate judges give assignments, so he gave
me some assignments. They would do the mental commitments, so I
would represent respondents, or if they had people were petitioning to be
conservators or guardians, and they appoint you as guardian ad litem, and
I’d go out and do interviews and write reports and go to hearings. Once he
started giving me some, other judges gave me some of those. I picked up
some criminal cases. I had a criminal case where a judge, he was so hard
on me. But anyway, then he calls me. I had applied to the U.S.
Attorney’s Office. Well he had hired the U.S. Attorney to work under
him, so he called to put in a good word. There was a hiring freeze, but
through that judge, he suggested I apply to the prosecutor’s office, so
that’s when I went to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. I worked
there, but I knew I was going to leave because I was going to get married.
I worked there for nine months, and when I told them I was leaving, they
were willing to try to work something out with me so I could stay, but I
said I had to go on and go to Washington.
I got my job here at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. This is how that
came about. I told you I had applied to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in
Detroit, but then there was a hiring freeze, and Judge Henry Heady had
called Lennie Gilman, who was then U.S. Attorney, and put in a good
word for me. So I didn’t get hired because there was a hiring freeze. Well
Law Day was coming, and I went to the Law Day luncheon. I don’t know
if I talked about this already. Lenny Gilman was the speaker. The
Temptations were coming to town, and they had in the paper that there
was some complaint against Eddie Kendricks about taxes, so I went up to
him and said all my life, the Temptations are my favorite. I want to see
them, but will Eddie be in jail. He said he thought something would work
out. I told him I would be moving to D.C., and I was interested in the U.S.
Attorney’s Office here. I asked him if he knew anyone in the U.S.
Attorney’s Office, so he wrote a man’s name on a piece of paper, and told
me when I was ready to apply, to let him know. I put the piece of paper in
my checkbook, I come here, and after a month of being a housewife, I
decided I should look for a job. Well the man on the piece of paper was
Joe iGenova, who was then the principal assistant U.S. Attorney, and what
everybody in town knew but I didn’t know was that Joe was going to be
the next U.S. Attorney. Stanley Harris was the U.S. Attorney at the time.
He had been a Superior Court judge, and they were really just waiting for
a vacancy on the U.S. District Court, and Stanley Harris was going to go
there, and Joe would be U.S. Attorney. So I sent in my application in
October, and I will say that on January 1 of 1983 at 3:10 in the afternoon,
Stanley Harris called me on the phone and said he wanted me to join them,
except I didn’t quite know what he meant, and I said you mean right now?
Because I was having people over to my house. Was he inviting me to a
New Year’s Day party? [Laughter]
So then I started working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for 25
years, 7 months, and 3 days. At that time, we were in Superior Court, but
probably in 1985 or 1986, we moved two blocks away on the other side of
the freeway to that building, so I would tell people in my legal career, I
had only moved two blocks, and that’s where I was for the bulk of my
career here in D.C.
MR. WEAVER: If we could, I want to put a pause on that because we are going to dig into
more of that in our later session. I have a couple questions about things
you mentioned about law school, and the first is you talked about noticing
the sort of racism and the lack of difference that some of your white
classmates had for your two Black professors.
MS. JEFFRIES: Definitely true. I want people to hear this.
MR. WEAVER: I was wondering, I know for instance in the 1980s at Harvard and others
there was a lot of campus activism surrounding the hiring of Black
professors, and I was wondering if that was something that happened at
Georgetown as well. Did you have a sense that there was a lack of Black
professors, or was it mainly just the sort of racist dynamic that you saw
within your class?
MS. JEFFRIES: If you’re someone like me, or as I’m reading Michelle Obama’s book, like
her, we can spend much of our lives in situations where we are the only
Black person or one of two or one of a handful, so to come here and they
only had a couple of Black professors was not a surprising thing. It was
more surprising to me as I said the way that my fellow students would
show disrespect and challenge. But I do not recall that at that time that we
had any concerted movement to get more or that there was anything that
I’m aware of to get more staff in the faculty, certainly probably many of
us wanted that, but like I said, the thing that did stand out was the number
of Black students that we had at Georgetown because it was more than I
had expected because I was used to expecting lower numbers.
MR. WEAVER: Were you involved in any law student organizations?
MS. JEFFRIES: No. I was not. I did join a legal fraternity back then, and the only law
school organization I did is Georgetown has a Gilbert & Sullivan Society,
I did costumes on that. In terms of my classes, I did not do a courtroom
clinical thing. What I did was Street Law. And now I wish I had done
one of the courtroom clinical things, but I was kind of shy and retiring,
and I will tell this. I say to people Street Law was the single – I’ll call it
worse – experience of my life. It was extremely challenging for me. It
was extremely challenging. It was eye-opening, but it was a challenge, the
MR. WEAVER: What was challenging about it?
MS. JEFFRIES: I taught Street Law at Spingarn High School, which is around 26th and
Benning Road. In Street Law, we provided the books. I taught 7th period.
I don’t know, it wasn’t five days a week, maybe three days a week, and I
used the classroom, which was another teacher’s classroom, and for
whatever reasons they chose to do this, she and her 7th period class went to
another room. My very first day at Spingarn, as I’m walking up, a girl
came out and she was pregnant with a maternity top that said, “Baby” with
an arrow pointing at her stomach. I went in the office and they had a
trophy case with all these trophies, which I thought this must be like every
trophy they’ve ever earned at this school, but I think they were only for
recent years. At Spingarn, I taught on the third floor. Class ended at 3:00,
and I’d be in the classroom say like 3:05 or something. They’d come on
over the loudspeaker and say Room 305, are you okay? And I’d say yes.
I never knew why they did this, but they did it. Midway through the year,
they got a new principal. Something happened and they brought in a new
principal and new security and they had locks on the doors, so when
classes started, they would come over the loudspeaker and say you were to
lock your doors because they were going to sweep the hallways, and that
was to keep people from running in your rooms. One day when I got in
class, some guy was in my class one time who wasn’t a student, and he
said things to me I didn’t even tell my boyfriend the things that the guy
The teacher whose room I used would often have the Blackboard
completely filled, and she would ask me if I could not erase anything, and
sometimes she’d ask me if her class could come in and sit in the back so
they could copy what was on the board, and I’d say okay. It was her
room, I didn’t know why she was doing that. I got to school early one day
in around February and I was in the teachers’ lounge talking to her, and
she said that she taught five classes and had one set of books which was
shared between two classes. The other three classes did not have books,
and that’s why she wrote all the stuff on the Blackboard. She said that she
used to type it all and mimeograph it. This is a long time ago. She said
that just became too much. I was totally stunned to hear that these kids
did not have textbooks, so I said to my students this teacher says that she
only has one set of books for two classes and you don’t have books, is this
your experience? And they were like yes, and I said how can this be? I’ve
been in this city, this is my third year, and I’ve never heard this, not in the
newspaper, not on TV, I don’t see your parents up here, I don’t see you
picketing, but we could look out the window and see the nation’s capital.
I said I bet those kids over at Wilson have books, and I don’t understand
why you all are accepting this. That was a tremendous shock for me.
When I was in Detroit, before I went to high school, high school kids used
to have to buy their textbooks, but someone or some group had sued, and
it went up to the Michigan Supreme Court before I started high school,
and the Michigan Supreme Court said that part of providing a free
education was the books, and not only did they have to give you books,
but they had to give you basic school supplies. So in high school, I did not
have to buy the books, and then at the beginning of every semester, they
give you some lined paper and some pencils. You got that as well. Now
if you took a class like I took sewing class or something, you had to buy
your own materials and stuff like that. So these people didn’t have books,
and I said if I didn’t have books, my parents would have bought me books,
but I don’t hear anything about this. That was so flabbergasting to me.
The idea that they’d have these security sweeps. I think they had a
shooting and that’s why that happened. And all these girls were pregnant.
I’d never seen this before. I called one of my friends at home and said all
these girls at school are pregnant or they have a kid or they’re having
another one, and they’re showing me all these pictures of babies. I don’t
like knowing anything about this. She said that’s because when we were
in school, they didn’t allow the girls to go to school if they were pregnant.
I want the girls to get an education, but for me I don’t think that’s the best
to have them at school like that because everybody was accepting of this
and thinking it was the norm. I want you to educate the girls, I want care
for the children, but I also want these girls to know you don’t have to have
babies when you’re 15 years old. I think for many of them, and I
encountered this in my job, I think if people say to them don’t get
pregnant, you don’t have to get pregnant. I just don’t. And the kids just
were not good students. My first exam was a basic civics thing. Anything
on the exam we had talked about or it was in the book. I asked the
question, “What’s the name of the Mayor of Washington, D.C.?” That
was not a hard question because the name was in the question. His name
was Walter Washington. People didn’t get that. I asked people to name
three federal agencies, because I figured most people had folks working.
Couldn’t get that. So many of the kids wanted to do sports. They thought
they’d be professional athletes. So I’d say what do you want to do in your
adulthood. Oh, I’ll play basketball. I said to them you know what, any
Black guy I’ve ever gone out with plays basketball. Not only do they
play, but they all think they’re great, and they’re not. I said and you
know, only one Michael Jordan comes out a year or something. What
happens if you go to college and the coach doesn’t like you, you don’t
make the team, you break your leg. What if you get bent, what are you
going to do. One boy, Rodney, was a swimmer. I said well you know
what, swimming will not keep your head above water in all that you do.
Another guy once said he was going in the Marines. I said I see those ads
on TV. The Marines say they’re looking for a few good men, not a bunch
of clowns, fools, and buffoons. What are we doing here?
So Street Law, it was very hard for me because that was not an
environment that I had been in. No. That was not an environment that I
had been in, and I was trying to relate.
MR. WEAVER: Did you get close with any of your professors when you were in law
school? Do you still keep in touch with any of them?
MS. JEFFRIES: Not with law school professors, I didn’t get close with, although I have
run into some. I’ve seen Patricia King and spoken to her. I’ve seen
Professor Gordon. I called over and some issue came up in life. I called
over and talked to Professor Gordon and someone else. But I didn’t have
those relationships, which I tell young people now. You need to cultivate
relationships with them. That can be very beneficial. I knew some people
on staff because I had a law school job and worked at the law school.
I want to say this though. I had good experiences with
Georgetown, and one thing that happened after I graduated law school.
They have the local alumni group, and I would go to some alumni
activities. There were two Catholic women’s colleges in Detroit, Mary
Grove and Mercy, and I think Mary Grove got a new president and they
were having the convocation to install the new president so they invited all
these Catholic school presidents to come. The president of Georgetown
had been invited and didn’t come but they asked me if I would go and
represent Georgetown. We all marched in. So Georgetown sent me the
complete academic regalia, my robe, the purple thing, the beret and all. I
did that representing Georgetown. I felt very honored to do that and to
have that experience.
MR. WEAVER: Who were your close friends in law school? Did you develop a new group
of friends?
MS. JEFFRIES: I was friends with Curtis Scott, and he didn’t finish. Curtis was from
Detroit, and somehow I knew Curtis in some kind of way casually. I had
heard that he was going to be going to Georgetown Law School, so I
probably connected with him before we started. Curtis was here, and he
had gone to Brown, so we knew several people in common from college
years. I became friends with a woman, Lee Adams. Lee and I are still
friends. She was local from here, had gone to Mt. Holyoke, and her
brother Gene had graduated from Wesleyan the year I started. Another
woman, Faith Thomas, she was from Maryland. Faith and I are still
friends. My friend Kim. Kim is from Queens. She’d gone to Cornell. I
talked to Kim not long ago. She ultimately got a job with the ASPCA and
had some interesting work. My job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, some of
my classmates were there. I have a very good friend, Marva. Marva was
older than us, about eight years older. She had worked as a social worker,
had worked out in California, but she’s from Greenville, Mississippi, and
Marva and I became friends, and we are good friends now. She’s up in
Silver Spring. I see other people, Georgetown people. In participating in
some Georgetown things, I’ve met other Georgetown alum. I met one
woman, Beverley Perry, she graduated after I did, but she is older than I
am, and she went on to become a vice president at PEPCO, and now I
think she’s chief of staff or deputy chief of staff to the Mayor. I had good
experiences through my friendship with Beverley. She’s a very generous
person. And some other folks.
MR. WEAVER: Talk a little bit about the summer leading up to the bar exam. Did you
take the bar exam in the fall?
MS. JEFFRIES: I took it in the summer, July of 1978.
MR. WEAVER: What was experience of studying for that like? Were you studying here,
or were you back in Detroit?
MS. JEFFRIES: I was back in Detroit. I took the bar review class. It met down at Wayne
State, and then I was working. The bar review is different now. We had
the books and you went to the lectures, then they would have extra little
classes and practice sessions you could pay for. I don’t think I did. I
maybe did one of those extras. I did a lot of studying myself or with some
people I met, we would study together. For me, studying for the bar exam
was an intense experience. What I said I would do is if the bar exam was
Tuesday and Wednesday, I was going to stop studying Sunday at
5:00 p.m., because if I didn’t know it by then, it was too late. Saturday
evening, this guy called me and asked what I was doing. I said studying.
He asked if I wanted to go out, and I said sure. So we went out, and I
come in Saturday and like 2:00 a.m. or something and go to bed. Okay,
5:00 a.m. I wake up. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t study, so essentially the
studying ended. At that point, I was hyped.
I did not want to not pass the bar exam for the failure of or the
want of a number two pencil, so on Monday, I went down to Wayne’s
bookstore, and I bought twenty number two pencils. I went to the library
or wherever they had an electric pencil sharpener, and I sharpened twenty
pencils and took them up to Lansing that day with me. Herein comes the
single most morally challenging event of my life. Tuesday morning I’m
there, and you’re in those little student desks with the table that flips over,
and I put my pencils there and I’m sitting there, and across the aisle, a guy
asks if he could borrow a pencil. I have to say I’m totally stunned that
anyone would ask me for a pencil. I mean like totally. You would call me
like a nice person. Okay. But I couldn’t believe he was asking me for a
pencil. I looked at my pencils, and I looked at the ceiling, and I looked at
my ceiling, and I’m like I can’t believe it. So I gave him one pencil.
Nobody else was going to get a pencil from me. I was really concerned. I
didn’t want it to be that something would happen and that 20th pencil
would have made a difference.
So anyway, the bar exam was Tuesday and Wednesday. When it
was over, I had used three pencils, but I had been a Girl Scout, and the
Girl Scouts said be prepared, and I used three pencils. By the time I took
the bar exam, I had lost 17 pounds studying for the bar exam and stuff.
That Sunday I told you I woke up at 5:00 a.m. Really from that point on I
couldn’t eat. I had more like tea and toast or something like that. So
Wednesday when we were finished, oh my goodness, I was starving. We
came to Detroit and pigged out on Chinese food.
So then you had to wait. Bar results were coming out in October,
and, of course, it’s not like now. I think now you get them on computer.
They’d come in the mail, and the word was they’d come on a Saturday in
October. I didn’t want to be sitting around the house waiting for the
mailman, so I would go take these long drives. I would go to Canada. I’m
driving around the state of Michigan not to be home [laughter]. This is so
true. I’m going to Canada, I’m doing stuff not to be home. Well the bar
results came out and I didn’t get mine, so then I’m in a tizzy. I get to work
on Monday and trying to call up to the bar place was a nightmare. The
phone was staying busy, I’m at work and people are talking. So one of the
women, Pam, had a friend who worked in the same building in Lansing.
She had her friend go down there and they gave her another number we
could call in on. So when I called in, the woman said that I was one of
fourteen people who they didn’t have certification that we’d graduated
from law school and they needed that and that they had told us that at the
bar exam. I’m here to say no one at the bar exam had told me that because
why would I have sat around in Detroit, why would I be driving to Canada
and everything if I had known they needed that. She said the registrar’s
office could call it in, so we called the registrar’s office, and I talked to
them, gave them the number, and we gave them a chance to call in, then
we called back, and I was on one phone, and Pam was on the extension.
Pam Harwood. So the woman says June Jeffries, and I said, “Yes.” And
she said she passed. Whereupon I became giddy and I threw down the
phone and everything, I’m so excited. I think my mother was at work so I
couldn’t talk to her, but when I got off work, I went home and nobody was
around. I went across the street and told Mr. and Mrs. Tyson, I’m running
around all giddy and everything. But then I got nervous because then I’m
thinking what if I misheard her. What if she said she didn’t pass. But
Pam was on the other end, so she heard it too. So then I kind of waited.
But I did get them, and I was admitted on a Wednesday at the City County
Building in the ceremony there, and then we went over to the Sixth
Circuit, over to District Court and got admitted. I got admitted to the
Sixth Circuit and to that then. That was good. 1978. I got admitted
November 8 or 7, so that’s 40 years ago this month.
MR. WEAVER: We are at I think a good closing point for today. I have one more question
that I want to ask, and it’s kind of a hard question, so if you want to, you
can answer it now or you can think about it, and we can return to it next
session. In our first interview, you told a really great story about how
strangely enough part of the reason you ended up at Wesleyan was the
experience of having apple pie served with cheddar cheese on it. I thought
that was a really fascinating story. I’ve never had apple pie with any kind
of cheese on it. It reminded me of sort of the weird contingencies that
happen and the ways you kind of look back sometimes at your life and
think based on this one strange thing that happened, like things could have
gone differently. We talk a lot about that, and we talk about the stories of
our lives, things could have turned out one way or another, but was there
any event or person that you haven’t talked about yet that you think about
in that way, that you think about and think, huh, if it had gone a little bit
different way, my life could have turned out totally different. I know
that’s a broad question.
MS. JEFFRIES: I do think about that, but even just like I told you how we just happened to
go over into Vermont. If we hadn’t done that, New England wasn’t on my
mind in going to college, in going to Wesleyan. My mother talked about
Harvard and stuff, so maybe I would have applied to Harvard or wherever,
and I was getting those letters, but just going on that trip like that.
People that I’ve met and things might go a different way. There
probably are people like that and some things I’ve been told. I’ll think
about that one. But I think about what if my parents had stayed on the east
side. I’m not an east side person, and I’d gone to different schools and
met different people. Because I would say my friends’ parents for me
were very influential, and I gained a lot from them because like I said, my
parents had not gone to college, but some of my friends’ parents were
doctors or different things and very influential. I’ll say this briefly, I was
in Detroit last month, and I ended up going to a birthday party for a
woman I went to junior high and high school with. She is a judge, but
when we were kids in junior high school, back then, which is the 1960s,
her mother was a judge on Detroit Recorder’s Court. She was the only
Black woman judge on Detroit Recorder’s Court, so as kids, you always
knew that. Debbie posted something on Facebook the other day about her
mother, and I sa’id even though I didn’t know your mother, I knew she
was your mother, and I knew she was a judge and to be a little girl and to
see a Black woman being a judge like that was important and significant.
I should say this, I mentioned Judge Willis Ward, the probate
judge. When Gerald Ford died and his funeral was going on, my mother
and I were in the car and had it on the radio, and George W. was speaking
at the funeral, and he actually mentioned Judge Ward. So I can talk about
that later. I was like wow, okay.
MR. WEAVER: Great. Well thank you very much. We will pick this back up.