ABA Senior Lawyers Division
Women Trailblazers in the Law
Interviewer: Naomi Mezey
Dates of Interviews:
December 5, 2005
March 9, 2007
May 22, 2007
August 8, 2007
August 28, 2007
Georgetown University Law Center
ORAL HISTORY OF PATRICIA KING
December 5, 2005
Tape 1 of 5 (Revised April 2010)
Naomi Mezey: This is December 5, 2005. We’re at Georgetown
University Law Center. I am interviewing Pat King, I’m Naomi Mezey and
this is part of the oral history project of the ABA called Women Trailblazers
in the Law. Pat, I just wanted you to I guess I just want to start at the
beginning and have you describe for me the world that you were born into a
little bit. I think most of us don’t have a very most especially when I say us
most of us white people don’t have a very good sense of Norfolk, Virginia in
the 40s and 50s.
PK: Naomi, thank you for conducting these interviews. Well, Naomi
planning to do this with you has made me relive my life with mostly positive
but sometimes negative thoughts, but mostly positive. It’s a good
experience and thank you again. The very first memory I have is waking up
in the middle of the night because dogs were barking. I must have been
about a year old. But I can describe the room. I’m the oldest child in my
family. I have a sister and we lived in a one bedroom apartment in Roberts
Park in Norfolk, Virginia with my parents. Roberts Park was a public
housing development. Public housing in those days was not what we
consider public housing today. For example, it wasn’t low income public
housing; it was more like affordable housing. A key difference was that in
low income housing in Norfolk your rent went up if the family income went
up. It was a sure way to make it impossible for people to escape low income
public housing. I was very fortunate. The standard rent helped my parents
make progress. When I was born my mother worked for a black newspaper,
the Norfolk Journal and Guide, one of several African American newspapers
across the south and parts of the Midwest. My father was in marketing at the
same paper. Later he went to work for another African American
newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My first
memory is about the arrangement of the family bedroom. My sister must
have been a brand new baby. We are 16 months apart because in waking up
in the middle of the night I remembered that my bed was next to my parents’
bed and across the room there was a crib where my new sister was. And that
is all I know, so that’s my first memory. We didn’t live in that apartment
very long. We moved to another place in the same development, a two-level
attached house with two bedrooms and that was a real step up. I lived in an
all black neighborhood. In fact, for the entire time I lived in Norfolk, it was
always a black neighborhood. Norfolk is a sizable city as southern cities go
and a flat city because it’s on the coast. I lived in that two bedroom house
and all I really remember is that my parents were not doing very well.
Maybe it was because my father was away a lot and my mother had the
responsibility for taking care of us; maybe it was because when my father
started traveling for the Pittsburgh Courier he started to drink. In any event
I remember the arguments that they used to have. I was the oldest child, and
I had a lot of responsibility. Parents did things in those days that might be
considered neglect today. My parents would play cards with neighbors and
my mother would wake me up in the middle of the night and tell me I had to
look after my sister and tell me where they were and where to come if
something should happen. So of course I never went back to sleep because I
was a very responsible kid. I don’t remember a lot about Roberts Park
because I was so young. I do know that my mother’s two sisters lived in the
same development and my grandmothers were then alive. It’s a bit hazy but
in 1948 when I was six and starting school, my mother was seriously ill.
She was hospitalized and my sister and I went to live with my grandmother
for a year. I was in first grade. They thought that my mother would die. By
some miracle she did live but she was ill for a very long time. She also
moved to my grandmother’s house. Shortly after her recovery my parents
did separate permanently. My younger sister went to live with my mother
when she was able to take care of herself and because I was still in school I
continued to live with my grandmother until the school year ended. Not
surprising in retrospect, I felt abandoned. My grandmother, Clara Wood,
was a wonderful woman, but not my mother. My grandmother was really
tough. She lost her husband, John Wood, to tuberculosis when my mother
was five. My mother was the youngest child. My grandmother raised four
children, three girls and a boy by being a domestic. She cooked mostly and
she was a very proud woman. She knew things that I would not in retrospect
have expected a black woman to know how to do in that time and place. You
just didn’t pick up everything working as a domestic in people’s houses. So I
speculate, and there is some evidence, that at some point her family had been
fairly well to do in comparison to African American families in Middlesex
County on Virginia’s middle peninsula. When I knew my grandmother,
however, the family wealth was a mortgaged house that my grandmother
Eventually, I joined my mother, Grayce King and sister (Frieda King
now Lacey) in Liberty Park where they lived. Liberty Park was also public
housing. I lived there until I graduated from high school. My father,
Addison King, as I recall, (both my mother and father are dead now) paid
two months of child support before he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He
went to a sanatorium because that is what happened if you had TB in those
days. I must have been about seven and he didn’t get out of the sanatorium
until I was a teenager. So my mother took care of us. She was the secretary
to the Director of Parks and Recreation for black neighborhoods. Her family
especially often pitched in so that we had food and clothing. My extended
family on both sides had middle class aspirations so we were always dressed
appropriately. My mother, I think, struggled with her plight. She thought
that it was a terrible thing to be a woman without a husband raising children
alone, to be separated and divorced as they eventually were. She considered
it something to be ashamed of She was a wonderful mother and worked
very hard to raise my sister and me, never remarried because as she always
said, I don’t want to have to worry about conflicts between my girls and
another man in the house.
So I started school at Lott Carey Elementary School and then I
transferred in Fourth grade to Liberty Park Elementary school which was
down the street from the house where I was then living. Norfolk was a city
with a large enough African American population so that wherever there
were these housing development projects there was usually a recreation
center and next to it an elementary school. My life was pretty confined to
the neighborhood for the most part until I was in junior high school. We did
not have an automobile so we rarely saw other parts of the city. The public
transportation system that we used had lines into African American
neighborhoods. I did not encountered what many African Americans
encountered—being asked to move to the back of the bus because
passengers could go from our neighborhood to the downtown area on a bus
that essentially served only African Americans. It was quite unusual to see a
white person on the bus. And I should add that where I grew up there were
lots of trees and grass in the yard—grass my sister and I mowed. It was not
like urban public housing which is our current image of public housing. So
while I knew I lived in public housing and I had friends who didn’t, the
neighborhood extended beyond Liberty Park with lots of homes that were
owned by their inhabitants. Many of us in Liberty Park and those outside
didn’t have the sense of being totally deprived. I went to the same church
every Sunday. We were all Episcopalians.
NM: Your mother was religious
PK: She wasn’t particularly religious in the sense that she thought she
had to go to church every Sunday. In fact she liked the fact that we did
because it was the only time she had any peace but in later years she did and
she participated in church organizations. She wasn’t a woman who quoted
the Bible all the time or at least in those years, as she aged she began to
change. But it was important to her, certainly her faith got her through a lot
of really tough times. So we were good church goers but you know it wasn’t
a consuming part of our lives, at least when I lived with my mother.
NM: Can I ask you another question about that the world that you
lived in? Did the racial divisions in the larger country penetrate into the
community where you lived?
PK: I was aware of the racial problems elsewhere in the country and
in the south. We read black newspapers and magazines. The city was
segregated. There were issues but when I look back I really think I had a
very sheltered childhood. You have to remember I’m talking about the
period from roughly 1950 to 1959. There was radio and TV was coming
into its own. There are two big events that I remember well–Brown v.
Board of Topeka was handed down when I was in junior high school. We
actually believed that the schools would be integrated the next year. We
were so wrong. Norfolk schools weren’t integrated until 1959, the year I
graduated from high school. The other event was the Emmett Till murder in
Mississippi which penetrated every black community. Still I was sheltered. I
did not have to directly confront racism every day. For that matter my
mother didn’t have to confront racism every day either. My experience in
this respect was not the experience of black people generally. One final
point, even though newspapers, magazines, and books were available
staying abreast of national events was not as easy to do then as it is today if
you lived outside of urban areas. In this regard I was luckier than most
because I was able to start reading the New York Times in my teens. When I
attended elementary school some of my teachers told my mother that I was
an exceptionally bright kid. I skipped grades twice. When I went to junior
high school, Ruffner Junior High School, I was asked to be the school
reporter to the Norfolk Journal and Guide newspaper so I had my own
column in the paper every week. I became interested in my surroundings
and the impact of events of my small school community. Somewhere in my
early teens I noticed a friend of my uncle’s purchase the Sunday New York
Times at the drugs store across from the church we both attended. I was
always interested in the headlines, so he started buying me my own copy of
the Sunday New York Times. It was my opening to the outside world. My
father was a voracious reader. When he learned that I liked to read too he
subscribed to magazines, Time and Reader’s Digest for me. I was, however,
a very unsophisticated reader. Learning really needs to be guided and
interpreted. A young kid cannot pick up reading material and understand
what is going on without being able to ask questions or to get some guidance
or some history. A young person needs help. So I had glimpses of the
outside world. I knew there was a world beyond my community. My
mother always said that as long as she could remember, I always said I was
leaving Norfolk one day and I wasn’t coming back.
NM: You said that.
PK: Yes I did and I don’t know quite where all of that comes from or
why I felt that way but it was pretty consistent. Life in a relatively small
community is confining. I found it particularly confming because on the one
hand adults always talked about how bright I was and what an exceptional
young woman I was, on the other hand being smart didn’t make me popular
with peers. I didn’t fit in very well. Now some of this is normal for all kids
but my development was complicated by being a girl and doing well
academically at a time when women were supposed to get married and raise
children. African American women have always worked but they usually
worked in jobs to help support a family, so you were a school teacher or you
were a social worker, maybe you worked in the church but rarely in my early
experience did women work because they had goals for themselves. I did
not know what I wanted to do with my life but I knew I did not want to be a
NM: I wanted to ask you about gender divisions not just in that
community but you know also in your family and you grew up pretty much
in a family of women after your dad left and the grandparents that you
mentioned were women and then your mom’s own feelings about being
without a husband. This is helpful to sort of get the sense of what sort of
gender life was like then.
PK: I left Norfolk when I was 17 to attend a woman’s college. So I
will share my impression of gender issues that were a part of my
environment. One of the memories I have is listening to the women that
surrounded me when they talked about men they, talked about them in
economic as distinct from emotional terms. The focus was on men as good
providers. I remember that this bothered me. This probably disturbed me
because like most young kids I had romantic notions about love and
relationships, etc. and to assess men in terms of their economic capacities
was troublesome for me. I couldn’t understand why women couldn’t take
care of themselves. It was a naive view as I came to understand. Many
women really couldn’t be independent or if you worked, as all the women in
my family did, you worked in jobs that barely provided enough money to
take care of ordinary needs. Often women supported families or were coequals in families but it was not something to be proud of because the
dominant culture which everybody aspired to was just the opposite. That is
men were the breadwinners and women stayed home and raised the children.
Women were to be protected, women were to be sheltered and they were to
represent all the finer things in life. Later in my life I read books written by
southern white women who felt as confined by their lives in the dominant
culture as I felt confined by mine. But that was the culture then. Yet, I saw
in my daily life that being dependent on men created vulnerability. Since I
started to believe that I didn’t want any part of this life I started to create
difficulties for myself in terms of how am I going to adjust and how am I
going to make it. I think the gender relations I witnessed were linked to
slavery and the disruption of black family life and in some form persist even
now. It was never easy for me to have a relationship with an African
American male or any male for that matter unless he was exceptional in the
way he regarded women. And there were and are such men but you really
had to search carefully. The gender issues are tough and when we come to
the Thomas hearings we’ll talk some more about the gender issues and you
can see how I expressed myself even as an adult about some of those issues.
NM: You said you had expressed from an early age this desire to
leave and not come back. Do you remember having a sense of what you
wanted to be when you grew up?
PK: No, I’ve often thought it was a sad commentary on my life and
others like mine in that we were shaped more by what we didn’t want which
is a negative approach than being shaped by what we aspired to be and that
was certainly true of me. In my case this approach worked well because if I
had actually fixed on models for the future I might not have set my sights
high enough. Everything started to change in the 1960s and 70s. None of
my dreams would have prepared me for what minority women were able to
accomplish. It would have been hard to imagine an African American
women teaching in any capacity other than elementary school or maybe high
school and only in a segregated system. My mother could not imagine me
being a lawyer.
NM: With retrospect with the hindsight now do you feel there were
more positive inspirations either from people or events that you attribute to
helping you end up where you have ended up.
PK: Absolutely, it’s very simple. I couldn’t have gotten out of Norfolk
if a lot of people hadn’t helped me. I’ve already talked about how wonderful
my mother was while she didn’t always understand my frustrations she
loved her kids. Her world was different from mine. She didn’t quite
understand why we’ve wanted to do something different and that’s true for
my sister as well. But she was terrific because she always said go for it. I
never knew her to say that I was getting in over my head or who did I think I
was or anything like that.
In addition to my mother I had some extraordinary teachers who
pushed me. I grew up in a period when middle class blacks were severely
constrained in terms of where they could work. Consequently many very
well trained people were teaching in the school system. I had teachers in
high school, for example, who had Ph.D.s and the fact that they had been
able to get a Ph.D. was extraordinary in that period. But the only place they
could find employment was in a segregated school system. This was a
deprived segregated southern system to be sure though lawsuits seeking
equality in pay and to end segregation were underway.
One of those extraordinary teachers was my high school physics
teacher, John Perry. One day after class he asked whether I thinking about
college. I said yes I was going to college but I didn’t quite know where. I
thought I was going to apply to Hampton Institute (now Hampton
University) maybe Howard University in D.C. He asked me what I was
doing about planning for college. Well I wasn’t doing much because I didn’t
know what to do. He suggested that I take the SAT; I think that is what it
was called then. He explained to me what it was. He explained that I had to
take a basic test and subsequently would take three achievement tests as they
were called in those days. Well his suggestion presented a lot of problems.
First, tests cost money. Two, the tests weren’t given in any facility in the
African American community. I would have to find a way to get to a site in
the white part of town. It would be a challenge on many fronts. But the big
obstacle was the money and I said I’m simply not going to go home and ask
my mother to give me the money to take these tests for something that she
clearly doesn’t understand and I’m not sure I really understand either. John
Perry pulled out his checkbook and he wrote a check for the application fee
for the exam. Because he was often an obstreperous person he threw the
check at me. I’ll never forget that because he said, now you have no more
excuses. So I took the exam. You know many people remember their SAT
scores. I don’t remember my SAT scores and the reason I don’t remember is
because I don’t think I understood their importance and this was all new. But
I must have done well enough because at a later time Mr. Perry asked
whether I would consider applying to schools that were not African
American schools. He advised me to broaden my horizon and told me about
an organization called the National Scholarship Servicing Fund for Negro
Students. He said to write to them, which I did. NSSFNS, as it was called,
asked me to fill out many forms, asked what my interests were and what
kind of college I was interested in. The latter was an interesting question
because I had not given that much thought beyond the few colleges in the
immediate vicinity. My maternal uncle had a girlfriend who had attended
Bryn Mawr, so I had heard about Bryn Mawr being a girls’ school. So I
thought I probably needed to attend a girls’ school. Less pressures! So I
completed the NSSFNS forms and indicated I preferred a woman’s college. I
started receiving catalogs from women’s schools both in the Midwest and in
the East. I was overwhelmed. Mr. Perry did not let up. He asked where are
you applying. I responded by saying that I didn’t think I was applying to
any white schools. I was hesitant. It cost $15.00 to apply to these schools.
I just couldn’t justify asking my mother who was working three jobs then, to
pay these application fees. Mr. Perry asked me to go home and talk to my
mother. So we talked and we agreed that I should apply to one white school.
I should study all the catalogues carefully and decide where I wanted to
apply. I narrowed my search down to Wellesley and Wheaton Colleges. I
had heard of Wellesley before. I had never heard of Wheaton. They
actually are not very far from each other. I decided I was going to Wheaton
because I reasoned that if I had heard of Wellesley it had to be a better
known school and thus I would probably not get in, and I would have a
better chance of getting admitted to Wheaton with a scholarship. So that’s
what I did and Wheaton admitted me. I got lots of support from my teachers
and my mother. I was woefully unprepared, however, in terms of what I was
getting into by deciding to attend Wheaton. I realized much later that
teachers had identified others like me and pushed them to stretch when it
came to college. I was the beneficiary of a small but serious effort to help
talented black students. Mr. Perry for example knew a world outside of
Norfolk and he chose to help others like me to see it.
NM: These are more of your glimpses of the outside world.
NM: That was John Perry.
PK: John Perry is dead now. But he was a very special person. I’ve
learned that education matters. It opens up new worlds. There are of course
other important determinants of accomplishment, but Thurgood Marshall
and Charles Houston were wise to focus on the education systems as well as
governance systems when they started their efforts to break down
NM: I’m assuming that it wasn’t just in high school that you were a
star student and that you stood out as smart kid and did you have an identity
of a sort of
PK: Being a star student wasn’t always an easy identity.
NM: As a brain, I don’t know what the social cliques were
PK: I stood out and it wasn’t much fun.
NM: So it wasn’t a positive identity.
PK: No, not at the time. I was proud of what I was able to accomplish
but academic success didn’t always gain respect from peers. I really didn’t
fit in. In my high school, students were placed in tracks. I was the only girl
in my ability group and that wasn’t particularly useful in terms of
socializing. No one ever asked me for a date. It wasn’t until later in my life
that I thought it was okay to be smart and it was okay to have aspirations and
seek to go places where blacks and women were rarely found. Unlike my
sister I rarely visit Norfolk. I have few friends male or female from that
period of my life. In some sense I still do not believe I belong there and
while I always talk about my roots and how wonderful people were to me, I
do not have deep, deep ties.
NM: You talked about being a weirdo, I think a lot of us have had
experiences with being weirdos in our lives and I was wondering what your
personality was like as a kid, I mean I have a sense of you now, what were
you like as a kid
PK: Bookworm is what they called me. I was very tall and very thin
and I always had a book and books are useful things. They can be shields as
well as a source of knowledge, I always had a book. I was very withdrawn, I
never talked very much. There is a family joke—”gee whatever happened to
Pat, there was a time when she would never say anything and now we can’t
shut her up.” My sister Frieda laughs about this all the time because there
has been such a noticeable change in my behavior. I could sit so still that
people used to forget I was in the room. I always observed and I always
listened and I never said anything. So I was a little weird. I was chastened
by the fact that although I was a good student and I read all the time, my
mother’s punishment was to take away my library card. She said that it was
the only thing that worked. My mother used to say that I had a lot of book
learning but not good common sense. That used to make me so angry. It
was very satisfying that when we were both older my mother finally
acknowledged that I had some sense too. Parents have power with respect to
their children’s lives and they don’t even know it. I’m sure my mother never
understood at the time that when she said I had no common sense that I
would see her comment as a put down. I did weird things in order to avoid
interacting with people. For example, I preferred staying up at night reading
or watching TV and sleeping all day. Perhaps I was depressed I don’t know
but I certainly found the teen years tough. I think I needed someone to
connect with, to talk to but that didn’t happen until much later.
NM: In all those books you read are there some that stand out for you
or was it more just the world of books that attracted you?
PK: It was really just the world of books. Books were a way to escape
the environment. My reading was not focused. I would go to the segregated
public library and I would just go along the shelves and I would pull down
books. I had no idea about how to judge the value of a particular book. If
they looked interesting I would read it. I basically read non-fiction books
which I still prefer because they opened a world that I could access. Fiction
required more. It didn’t transport me elsewhere in the same way. I needed
to connect in some way with my own experience but I didn’t find the
connection in most books I read. So I was drawn to factual information and
biography or science. In addition, segregated public libraries did not offer
much in terms of variety. It was possible to find a few biographies of black
people but not much else. It was not until my college years that I read black
authors, black history and books on racism and prejudice.
NM: Did you have you said it was hard to get jobs, did you tend to
have jobs growing up, jobs within your community?
PK: At home we had responsibilities because my mother was an
immaculate housekeeper and she worked. I did the cleaning and my sister
did the cooking. We were latch key children. We took care of ourselves, we
took care of the house, and we grew up very fast. I was really an old kid in
many ways. I remember at ten years old getting on the bus going downtown
(because that is where you shopped for groceries) which was not a part of
the black community by myself. I would take the bus, buy groceries, get the
shopping bags, get back on the bus, come back home. I was ten years old.
Nothing untoward happened to me–you know you do what you have to do.
We did. My sister and I didn’t babysit. In my community people couldn’t
afford babysitters. During the summers I did work in YWCA camp. The
YWCA had black and white chapters and in large cities they had a dual
setup and Norfolk was such a city. The Y (Young Women’s Christian
Association) and the Girl Scouts together offered a summer camp
experience. Typically camp lasted for two weeks, sometimes four weeks. I
started out as a camper, then I became a junior counselor, and then I became
a senior counselor. I worked at camp several years before college.
NM: These were the Girl Scouts or the Y summer camps?
PK: They combined basically
NM: What was it like?
PK: Like any camp I guess. Camp Young as it was called had cabins,
a swimming hole, archery, arts and crafts, etc. I liked camp because I liked
being away from home. Since I preferred to lie on my bunk and read, camp
was not a place that I loved. This changed when I became a counselor and
lived in a cabin with older counselors and camp leaders. In my usual way I
listened and absorbed everything. I listened to what they were doing with
their lives. I also heard a lot of things that I guess I didn’t need to hear but
hanging out with young adults was great.
NM: Tell me a little bit about your relationship with your sister,
you’ve mentioned it a little bit but especially if you weren’t having a lot of
PK: My sister and I are very different. She was much more outgoing
than I was. She had a good peer group. She loved being with her friends.
She says she had a hard time because she was my sister. We had the same
teachers and she followed me by two years. Teachers are unfair because they
expected her to be like me and of course she decided to be just the opposite.
She was determined to show she was not me so she didn’t perform up to her
abilities. There was of course a lot of sibling rivalry. She married when I
was in college, had a daughter and dropped out of college. She lived in
Maryland until her marriage broke up. She moved back to Norfolk with her
daughter and finished at Norfolk State University. I think she would agree
with what I am about to say. I kept nudging her about leaving Norfolk after
she graduated. I kept telling her that opportunities were really limited in
Norfolk. I urged her to go to graduate school and offered financial help. I
was working at the time. She decided to move to the D.C. area and started
graduated school at the University of Maryland. Within three months of her
arrival she was diagnosed with a very serious condition and she had to drop
out. She finally recovered enough to go back to school and she finished.
She taught elementary school in Princes Georges and then in Montgomery
Counties and she never married again. She is now the deputy superintendent
of Montgomery County Public Schools; she’s done a terrific job. She started
at entry level as a special education teacher and moved to the top of the
system. I’m as proud of her as she is of me. As adults we have formed a
very close relationship. There are just the two of us and our children and her
grandchild. We are a very small family.
NM: Can I ask a little more about high school. Did you have a social
PK: A little social life.
NM: What was that like?
PK: Mostly group social life. I had a peer group in connection with
my church for example. I didn’t’ date but if there was a big party I went. I
started to learn how to play tennis. Black men in Virginia were organizing
programs for young people. Arthur Ashe, the great tennis star, was the big
success from these efforts. I went to movies but keep in mind that
everything was segregated. There was one theater for Hacks at the time. We
went to segregated beaches in the summer. I met my daughter’s godmother
during this time. She lived in Richmond, Va. And by the time I was in high
school I went to Richmond frequently. My senior year in high school was a
pretty traumatic year. My mother became very depressed in the beginning
of my senior year in high school. Our family life was difficult and
complicated. Fortunately, her boss was a sympathetic man. She didn’t go to
work very much but continued to draw a salary. By the time I graduated in
June 1959 she had lost lots of weight. She finally improved the following
year when I was in college. The Norfolk public schools were being
desegregated under court order. All of the secondary schools in the city
except for three black secondary schools were under court order. The city
fathers decided that all schools under court order would close. Only the
black high school and two black junior high schools were open and within a
couple days of opening, black schools were shut down too. The idea that all
the black kids in the city were going to school except for the handful that
were plaintiffs was too much to bear I guess. My high school did not open
until sometime in October as a result of a court order. This was the period in
Virginia known as “massive resistance.” So after the black secondary
schools opened, there was discussion about closing all public schools as was
done in Prince Edward County. In January 1960, a courageous federal
district court judge ruled that all Norfolk public schools had to be reopened.
The order was obeyed. The presence of the Navy helped. The courageous
editorial in the Norfolk Virginian Pilot helped too. The school year was very
difficult particularly for seniors because we didn’t know if were going to
graduate or not. At Booker T. Washington High School, which I attended,
we made up the lost time by going to school on Saturdays. In retrospect the
year was traumatic for white kids in the city as well. After I finished my .
freshman year at college, I was invited to a meeting sponsored, I believe by
the School Board, of persons who were seniors the prior year. The number
of white seniors who never finished was significant. If you lost a semester,
as they did, then you had to go to summer school or an additional year in
high school. Many young white students were not willing to do that. In my
senior year there wasn’t a lot of time to socialize. There was one positive
development however. On one of my trips to Richmond I met a young man
who became my first boyfriend. I went to his senior prom.
NM: Was the integration process such that when the school was
required to reopen there was some integration occurring or was that not the
PK: Desegregation was slow in coming. I never attended public
school with a white person. I never had a white teacher. I never had a social
conversation with a white person before attending Wheaton College. The
high school I attended was one of the last to be desegregated. Whites did
not want to send their kids to formerly black schools. Today, people find
my remarks startling. Norfolk, unlike many southern communities, was
large and blacks could stay easily especially youth within their own
community. I did work at the Main Post Office once when I was in college
for the Christmas holidays. It was really an awful experience. A young
black woman should not have to work late at night with mostly white men
which is what I did. Before Brown public schools used to do exchanges–the
black choir would sing at a white school or the white choir would come to a
black school and sing. These exchanges stopped after Brown. I remember
vividly attending a meeting of people who were high school seniors in 1959-
60. I believe I mentioned the meeting earlier. We were talking to the school
board about our experiences after senior year. I left the meeting to walk to a
store in the downtown area. A white girl who was in the room and was
struck by something I said walked with me. We had a grand time
exchanging experiences. I at least was aware of stares. It was June 1961.
She was the first white person that I had a social conversation with in
NM: You were saying everybody was startled by it and yet I guess it’s
funny people should be startled by it given that there are zillions of white
people who went through their lives especially if they weren’t living in areas
of the country where there was black populations and never had social
conversations with black people. And if that’s not startling I don’t see why it
should why it should be startling with your experiences.
PK: A very good point! I’m going to remember it the next time
somebody says my early experiences startle because actually people are
really startled. I guess it tells me a lot about America.
NM: While people went to colleges where there were a handful of
blacks and they probably didn’t have social conversations with black people
either. . Did you visit your dad from the time he went into the sanatorium till
he came out, did you see him or
PK: Yes, you are right. Some young white women were not thrilled
that I was at Wheaton. Children weren’t allowed to visit the patients in the
sanatorium. When my father was finally released he lived with his mother.
I remember seeing him only once or twice during this period. I don’t think
he was anxious to see us either. He didn’t have a job for a long time after he
came out of the sanatorium. I invited him to my high school graduation
although not without serious qualms. I did it because my mother told me I
had to invite him. He didn’t come. During my college years he started to
work. President Johnson’s Great Society programs created employment for
many blacks especially in cities. He got a job as the bookkeeper at a local
community development organization. He worked there until he retired.
Early in those years we got together once for lunch. It was not a good
experience. Two things happened. I was unforgiving because I didn’t
understand why he hadn’t made contact all those years while I was in
college. He was not prepared to deal with my anger. He married again and
his second wife, Armitta I believe, was determined to get us all back
together. It didn’t work very well but she was determined. He
subsequently divorced her and later married a third time, her name was
Hermione I believe. By this time I was married to Roger and his third wife
who was what I would call a social climber liked being linked to Roger so
my father got back in touch again. I was always polite but there was no real
interaction. He died June 9, 1994. In retrospect, I have come to appreciate
his life more and I thought about the years in the sanatorium differently. A
good friend of our colleague Dick Chused named Charles Jones, who taught
with Dick at Rutgers, got a masters degree at Harvard when I was there as a
law student. As a young man he had tuberculosis and had to go to a
sanatorium. One evening while we were having dinner he told me what it
was like to be in a sanatorium. He was in a sanatorium in Indiana. His
description of sanatorium life prompted me to get in contact with my father.
It was the meeting that I just referred to. I still had anger and could not
understand then what he had endured, especially in a segregated facility with
little support to offer poor and disabled people.
NM: Did you have a period when you were close to him before your
parents split up and he got sick?
PK: No I was only six and he had been away in Pittsburgh most of
young life but he is the parent I identified with. My dad only finished high
school but he was a really smart guy. He was the person who liked to read
and he was the person who thought a lot about the issues of the day. He was
a union organizer at the Norfolk Journal and Guide, our black newspaper.
Though we didn’t talk or see each other much, he always sent me books and
magazines. He knew I liked to read. So I always identified with him but our
relationship never really got beyond that. It was a complicated relationship.
I don’t think he really knew how to be a father. But then I didn’t know very
much about his life other than the few snapshots I had.
NM: Did you have a relationship with his mother?
KP: Not really. Her name was Elizabeth. I also have a vague memory
of seeing her mother who had been born a slave. I do have miniatures of
them both. She died when I was about 10 and so did his father, David King.
The person who helped us after my parents separated was his sister Vivien
and so I knew her a little bit before she started having mental problems. His
brother David lived in Washington. When he found out I was also in
Washington he and his wife took me out to dinner. They introduced me to a
few young people but I never got to know them very well. He died a year or
two so after I arrived. My father’s two siblings did not have children. Both
sets of my grandparents owned their own homes which is something that I
have always been amazed about. My mother’s mother owned her own home.
She had married a person who died circa 1921 of tuberculosis. His name
was John Wood and he had a very good job as a clerk in the Navy Yard, an
unusual job for a Negro in early 20 th century. He bought the house and my
grandmother somehow managed to keep it while raising four children as a
NM: Do you think that since both of your parents worked at
newspapers that your family more sort of politically aware?
PK: Not my mother. She always read papers but she was too busy to
do much more. No, I think the only person who tried to learn what was
happening was my father.
NM: I want to be respectful of your schedule. . . . [END
ABA Senior Lawyers Division
Women Trailblazers in the Law
Interviewer: Naomi Mezey
Dates of Interviews:
December 5, 2005
March 9, 2007
May 22, 2007
August 8, 2007
August 28, 2007
Georgetown University Law Center
ORAL HISTORY OF PATRICIA KING
March 9, 2007
(Revised April 2010)
Naomi Mezey: This is March 9, 2007 and it is the second interview
with Pat King for the ABA Women Trailblazers in the Law oral history
project. We are at Georgetown Law School in Pat’s office and in addition to
Pat, I am the interviewer, Naomi Mezey. So I guess I wanted to pick up
where we were last time and you are the end of high school. You told me
about Mr. Perry and the sort of just fortuitous things that led you to college
and Wheaton in particular. And I guess I wanted you to begin with how you
ended up with Wheaton. I know that you’ve talked a little bit about that last
time, that you had heard about a couple of other places and you chose one
that you hadn’t heard about and I thought we could maybe start there.
PK: Okay. I received lots of catalogues from women’s colleges which
is what I was particularly interested in. My mother told me I could apply to
one college because that is all she could afford. Application fees were then
$15.00. We didn’t think about the possibility that a school might waive an
application fee. So I looked at the materials. I somehow had it in my mind
that I wanted to go to New England. So I narrowed my choices down to
Wellesley College and Wheaton College. They were both in Massachusetts.
I really didn’t have a person that could give me guidance. I decided that
Wellesley was better known than Wheaton so they probably had more
applications and my chances would be better if I applied to Wheaton, so I
did. And I got in. I had a number of local scholarships and Wheaton gave
me a scholarship. I had enough to cover the first year’s room, board and
tuition. And I can’t remember the specific day I left home for college. I
remember that Wheaton required that I be there on a specific day when
freshmen arrived. At the time there was no airplane that could get me from
Norfolk, Virginia to Wheaton College in one day. Wheaton would not allow
me to come early. This created a minor crisis for me. They of course didn’t
understand my problem. I had never been out of the south before. I had
never been in a hotel before. I had never been on a plane before. The family
did not have a car. No one could afford to accompany me. Ultimately I
flew from Norfolk to Providence. This was ’59 so it was pretty slow. I
arrived in Providence. Fortunately one of the students in my high school,
two years ahead of me and trying to get out of the south like I was, was
attending Brown University. He agreed to meet me at the airport and get me
to the hotel in the city where I was staying. I spent the night at the hotel,
scared to death. I could not keep food on my stomach. I had just turned 17
June before. The next morning I had to take my first train ride to Mansfield,
MA which was as close as I could get to Wheaton College by train. I was
staying at a hotel that was across a huge great big square from the train
station. I had lots of luggage so the next thing was to try to figure out how to
get from the hotel to the train station. And somebody said well you just take
a cab and you know cabs cost money, a cab to go across the square? But I
did it. My cash was dwindling rapidly. I don’t remember how I got from
Mansfield to Norton. I was one of the very few kids to arrive without
family. The college was very good. They did assign someone to me and she
paid particular attention to me and she made sure I got to dinner. At dinner
other upperclassmen were there to help the freshmen. Dinner at Wheaton
was served family style on long tables that seated 12. I remember looking
around the dining hall and saying to myself, there’s got to be another black
person on this campus. The table conversation was about what
upperclassmen had done in the previous summer. I happened to be sitting
with a group of kids who had been in Europe. They were talking about Italy
and the art in Italy that they had seen. I had never been in a museum before
so this was unsettling for me. How was I doing to fit in at Wheaton College?
There was a dorm party for the freshmen that evening and then I did get sick
drinking apple cider. I still don’t drink apple cider. So that was my
beginning at Wheaton. And I must say that everybody was really quite nice.
I also discovered that first day another African American woman whose
parents had at one time lived in Richmond, Virginia and had known my
parents before my birth. She had grown up in New York City. She and her
mother sought me out. I realized fairly quickly that class differences
mattered. Meeting someone of the same race wasn’t always enough to make
me feel comfortable. I got through freshman week and during the process I
found out there were five African American girls including myself on
campus. The others were Joan Logue from New York, the woman I just
described; Ruth Ann Stewart whom I still keep in contact with from Chicago
and a graduate of Hyde Park High School; a woman named Pamela Douglas
who left after two years to go to the University of Michigan. She had gone
to Shaker Heights High School in Ohio, and finally Julia Gill who had gone
to the Bronx High School of Science in New York. Life was better but I still
felt like a duck out of water. Other students thought my southern accent was
funny. I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay but my mother was a woman who
always believed that you must try. She always said, nothing beats a failure
but a try.
NM: Can I just clarify. There were four others. You had made it
sound like you were the only southern one but wasn’t there one from
PK: Joan was born in Richmond but she was raised in Garden City,
New York. So there were only five of us and we were all freshmen and
there weren’t African American upperclass students to help us. Some of us
could have used help. A major problem (to some extent shared) was what to
do with my hair. This is frequently a problem for African American women.
I had assumed that hair products for black women would be available
because that was so throughout the south. I went marching off to the one
drug store in Norton looking for something called Royal Crown, it’s a hair
oil and of course they never heard of it. So I found out that there were no
people of color living in the town either. I was in a panic because I had to
take swimming twice a week. It was a freshman requirement. This was
before the time of Afros, braids or anything like that. Everyone used hot
irons to straighten hair including a lot of non-African Americans girls who
had curly hair. The problem was that water in any form returned hair to its
curly state. I was swimming twice a week!! I went to Boston with another
African American girl and we found some supplies. But I had never done
my own hair before. The one person who was prepared was this young
woman I was telling you about from New York. She offered to do our hair
for a fee. I was disappointed. I thought we African American girls were in
this together. I was surely naive but I began learning something about gender
and race bonding. Another African American girl, Julia Gill, solved the
problem. She found out that there was a place we could go to in New York
City. We went and I had my introduction to chemical straightners. I went to
New York for this purpose for four years. The chemicals were very strong
in those days. I don’t think my hair has ever recovered. So that was one
Swimming was another experience. Even though I grew up in a city
on the ocean, I had never learned to swim. In order to graduate from
Wheaton College, a student has to pass a swimming test. I tried to learn how
to swim, and I almost drowned in the process, leaving me very fearful of the
water. I was really having a hard time. The physical ed instructor pulled me
aside and told me if I wanted to graduate I had to get over my fear. Together
we worked out a program so I could pass the test without having my face in
the water. It took two years but I passed using the side stroke and back
stroke. I still don’t do a crawl or breast stroke. An adult I have taken
swimming lessons but I gave them up. I have not successfully mastered my
fear of the water.
I did pretty well in terms of my relationships with the other girls in my
dorm. This was despite the fact I also encountered racism. Wheaton rules at
the time required scholarship students to live in a double. I certainly filled
out a lot of forms concerning roommate preferences. But I was given a
single room. In fact all the African American girls were in singles and we
were all on scholarship. At that time Jewish girls were placed together. The
Catholic girls were as well. The housing patterns reflected America. It was
true, however, that after freshman year, you could room with any other
member of the class. On the other hand, from day one, I knew I was
different. As it turned out the housing policy worked to my benefit. I liked
having a single. My room also became my refuge. When all else failed I
could retreat to my room and pull myself together before assuming my mask
and facing the world.
I was academically challenged from the beginning of course. My
faculty advisor was an older woman, probably in her late 50s or 60s. I just
vaguely remember her. I believe her last name was Burton. She met with
me to talk about my schedule. All I remember about the meeting is that she
told me that the fact that I was my high school valedictorian would not
necessarily take me very far at Wheaton. I was a valedictorian but a
valedictorian at an African American high school in the south, I would have
a really hard time at Wheaton. I’ve never forgotten that conversation
because it was really discouraging. Perhaps she was trying to prepare me,
but believe me it came across that way and it just threw me for a loop. Had I
made a big mistake? Fortunately, I’m a very stubborn person but I really
struggled. I was not doing well in any of my courses with the exception of
organic chemistry. My European history professor took me aside and told
me that I obviously understood some of subject matter but my performance
on tests was very poor. He asked me to come see him and gave me help in
how to study the materials. He was wonderful. His name is Paul Helmreich
and he still lives in Norton as a retired professor. His intervention was a
turning point for me. Over the years there were many others who helped me
get through academic and personal crises. I got through the first year. I also
worked in the library and dining hall. I certainly didn’t have much money. I
lived on what I earned. Ultimately, in the first year I did not do well
academically except in organic chemistry. I lost my scholarship which
created major problems. I wasn’t sure I could return. Wheaton agreed to
give me a large loan. And my uncle, my mother’s brother, bless his heart,
who inherited the family house but never married, mortgaged his property in
order to give me the money I needed to return to Wheaton my sophomore
year. My uncle and I weren’t very close. I’m going get teary about this
because there are some things you wish you could undo. He was the one
person in the family who had graduated from college. He always seemed a
little strange. I mean I was stunned that he was willing to do this and deeply
grateful but in some ways he was really quite strange to me and very distant.
I found out when I was a teen that he was gay. But no one ever talked about
it. For older members of the family it was a source of shame. I had always
struggled with their views. He was family!! I just didn’t understand why it
was an issue. I have always regretted that I did not confront my family. He
was extraordinarily generous to me. Perhaps he (his name was John Wood)
understood more than I thought. I think he shocked the rest of the family. I
learned that my uncle was gay from a high school classmate. I’ve never
understood his motivation for telling me but I came to appreciate the fact
that I did know. Otherwise I might have become homophobic like my
family. The lesson I learned was that every individual is deserving of
respect irrespective of race, gender or sexual preference.
NM: A high school classmate told that your uncle was gay?
PK: Yes, it’s very hard to keep anything secret in a small community.
In any event, my uncle made it possible for me to go to Wheaton for the
second year. He never asked to be repaid.
NM: Was he the same uncle who gave you the New York Times?
PK: It was his friend who gave me the New York Times, a person that
everybody thought that my uncle had in the past had a relationship with. He
was the business manager at the local college. I learned all of this years
NM: Did you think about not going back?
PK: I’m sure I did but I don’t remember—or I probably buried the
memory very deep. I believe that when I faced obstacles I focused on the
obstacle as I though I had blinders on. It’s a survival technique. I do
remember my mother saying then and at other times that it was okay to fail,
it was not okay not to try. It was always her view of life. It has become my
view too. There is no shame in failing only in not trying. And I had a much
better second year. I took a course in the Old Testament, and I loved it. I
became a Religion and Philosophy major. I found the Old Testament just the
most fascinating period and it caused a lot of personal re-examination so I
re-examined my Christian faith. I re-examined the church in terms of how it
treated women and minorities. I’m Episcopalian and the church was
segregated. Even though the civil rights movement is closely connected with
the black church, the civil rights movement was secular in my eyes. I just
couldn’t identify with any organized church. The ongoing crisis in the
Episcopal church today about recognizing gays always carries me back to
my early questioning. And I loved the history. I came to appreciate Judaism
for its appreciation and attention to history and preserving culture. I was less
interested in philosophy but enjoyed overall my introduction to the major
thinkers in the West. I also discovered that I loved history. By the time I
graduated I had more hours in history than in my major. I certainly didn’t
have much of a social life. Wheaton was geographically isolated and there
were very few African American males in New England schools at the time.
In retrospect perhaps the lack of a robust social life worked to my advantage.
The best employment on the campus was to manage either the
dormitories, which were student run, or the dining halls. By my junior year
through an election I was the number two person in the dormitory and I was
the manger of the dining hall. I was getting traction in my college
environment. I was learning how to manage people and how to lead. It was
so affirming to have others recognize my strengths.
I was doing better academically my sophomore year and did even
better my junior and senior years. My scholarship was restored at the end of
my sophomore year. Ultimately, I graduated with honors. At the end of my
junior year I was approached by a group of students who urged me to run for
president of college government. I was stunned. But they convinced me to
do it and I won. During my junior year I took a course in race relations.
Taking that course stared a lifelong interest in American history, African
American history, the psychology and sociology of race.
Looking back, senior year was mostly good. I had survived and
started to even flourish a bit. Yet senior year brought its own issues. What
would I do after graduation? I knew I didn’t want to go back to Norfolk, but
in those days women’s colleges didn’t have very large placement operations.
In 1962-63 many women focused on getting married or employment until
that goal could be accomplished. Government agencies did visit the
campus. I was interviewed by the CIA and ultimately they offered me a
position. However by the time I received the offer I was already having
misgivings. Before the offer they put me through a battery of tests. When I
got through all tests and interviews I could tell they were concerned about
the psychological exam I had taken. Given my history, a healthy distrust of
authority made sense to me. I also thought some of the questions they asked
me were ridiculous. They asked me many questions about my father. I
knew that my father had tried to organize a union at our local black
newspaper. Some people thought he was a Communist and rumor had it that
he had been reported as such. I kept telling the people who had interviewed
me that I had little or no contact with my father. They were focused on a
period of time before I was five years old. To my surprise they offered me
an analyst position and the opportunity to get a master’s degree. By this
time, however, I had started to think the CIA might not be the right place for
me. My mother knew about the offer and the proposed salary which was
higher than anything my family had known. When I told her I did not want
to take it, she was dismayed. Nonetheless, when she regained her
composure, she was wonderful. I ended up going home to live for what
turned out to be about six months. Please bear in mind that this was preVietnam and the CIA was viewed somewhat differently then. It was a
source of pride in the African American community to be offered a position
like the one I was offered at that time. Moreover there were very few
African Americans in the CIA just as there were very few African
Americans in professional positions in most of the federal government. So
my mother really didn’t understand why I was giving up this opportunity.
She was very wise and she always supported her daughters. I wasn’t having
much success in figuring out what to do next. And while I was there trying
to figure out what to do, one of the black lawyers in town needed to replace
his secretary for four weeks and he asked me would I come in and keep the
office open. He was a friend of my uncle’s and knew I wasn’t employed. So
I did it although I am a pretty bad typist. And after he got to know me he
said what are you going to do? He offered to write to a friend of his in
Washington. He wrote to a man named Louis E. Martin. He had been a
newspaper man and was then Deputy Chairman of the Democratic National
Committee (1960-69). Martin was the ‘go to’ person if you were African
American in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. So I went to
D.C. to see him at the Democratic National Committee. He talked with me
and sent me to see Richard K. Fox, Jr. at the State Department. He was a
career foreign service officer and later Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago.
When I met with him he was special assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary
for Administration. He was among other things trying to get more African
Americans into the State Department. Fox thought that I should apply for a
new management intern program. The recruiting process was very intense.
It was modeled on the process used to recruit foreign services officers. The
final interview was sort of like a Ph.D. examination. They asked me many
questions, most of which I could not answer. There was one black man in
personnel who was in that meeting. I think his name was Fred Day. He told
me later that the committee was really impressed not because I knew a lot
but because they couldn’t shake me. He told me that I have incredible poise.
When I didn’t know something I would just say I’m sorry I haven’t seen a
magazine or a book in weeks, or offer a reason for not knowing. I must have
been better than I thought at the time because they offered me the job.
NM: Were they white?
PK: Richard Fox was black. One of the interviewers, a guy named
Fred Day, was black. Everybody else was white. In January 1964 I moved
to Washington. I had a job at last. A friend helped me find an apartment. I
was a management intern for a year and in my second year I was offered a
budget analyst position. At the end of my second year at the State
Department our program was evaluated. The powers that be decided to end
the program. There were twelve of us. W were all offered the opportunity
to become foreign service reserve officers. We had advanced so rapidly that
we were actually above the entry pay levels of foreign service officers. It
was impractical to have us take the exam and start over. We were equivalent
of a foreign service officer 6. Although it was a great opportunity, I didn’t
want to be a foreign service reserve officer. I had been at State long enough
to know that the State Department was sexist. It was unheard of for a black
female to advance much beyond what I had achieved in two plus years. At
that particular time, for example, wives of career officers like their husbands
were evaluated. But wives weren’t employees. They were very few women
foreign service officers. For that matter there weren’t very many minority
foreign service officers either. While my program was being evaluated I
decided to go to law school. I applied to the Evening Division at
Georgetown Law Center.
NM: So you started law school here.
PK: Yes, the fall of 1965. I stayed at Georgetown for a year. I
believe that in 1965-1966 there were only two women and only two blacks
in the evening division. I liked law school and wanted to go full-time but
that required money. Georgetown knew I had applied to Michigan and
Harvard. Kenneth Pye, who later became Dean at Duke and thereafter
president, was a really a terrific guy who was Associate Dean at
Georgetown. He interviewed me and explained that Georgetown didn’t have
a lot of money for grants. He said I have 25 scholarships a year available to
me if one of them becomes open you get it but you would have to go to
school full-time. He suggested that I could work in a Main Campus dorm to
supplement the grant. He really tried to help me stay. I was admitted to
Michigan and Harvard and I went to Harvard. Harvard, however, would not
recognize my evening decision grades because I had not completed the
entire first year. I started law school again.
NM: How did you decide to go to law school?
PK: I briefly dated a guy who was at Yale Law School. I went to visit
him at Yale Law School and we both went to a Moot Court that he had to
attend. Yale then used real cases for moot court. The moot concerned Mapp
v. Ohio. The case involved the question whether evidence obtained in
violation of the Fourth Amendment could be used in state criminal
proceedings. I watched this moot court and I listened carefully to the
arguments and thought, I can do this. The idea of attending law school took
root. This was also the period in which the idea of using the law to achieve
equality was in full force. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just passed. I
was undoubtedly also influenced by the times. There were terrific role
models only a few years older than I was. This was extremely important to
me. Having role models was something new—Jean Calm, a founder of legal
services; Marian Edelman, Eleanor Holmes Norton—it was the beginning of
public interest law in furtherance of social justice ideals. Also my crowd in
Washington included African American graduates of places like Michigan,
Yale and Harvard law schools. These grads were usually employed in the
federal government because it was still somewhat unusual to be able to enter
the big law firms.
NM: This is side two of the March 9, ’07 tape.
PK: I ultimately chose Harvard though a tough choice because a
former professor and acting president at Wheaton urged me to go. Her name
is Elizabeth May and for that time held a very high government
appointment. She had been appointed a director of Export Import Bank
(1964-69). A friend, Herman “Tex” Wilson, also urged me to attend
Harvard. He was Harvard ’61 and the only black in his class. He was I
believe the first black attorney in the Tax Division at Justice. His view was
that since I was a woman I would be helped by having a Harvard degree. He
understood the gender problem. Tex was really terrific. He understood my
issues. He had grown up in Tyler, Texas in a very poor family and was
raised by his grandmotherr. He had attended a black college and knew about
“culture shock” and how tough it was to keep your sanity. At that time in
my life however I believed that these kinds of transitions were a little easier
for black women than for black men. He knew that going to Michigan was
easier financially but thought Harvard would be better for me. He convinced
me that if I went to Harvard they would not let me leave for lack of money.
We didn’t know then that the world in terms of race and gender was
NM: Can I ask you a question about something you said? You said it
was easier then you thought for black women than for black men to cope
with the stresses of transitions to mostly white institutions.
PK: This is a complicated question. During this period opportunities
were opening up for black men and black women. This was a period when
“exceptional” was the term most frequently used for the black students of
both genders in New England colleges. Black men and black women in these
environments had to grapple with racism and being viewed as different. The
differences between our struggles relate to gender. I think black men had a
more difficult time because of gender expectations. At the time white men
were at the top of the pecking order. They were viewed as providers and
leaders. Black men were not really able to play the roles that white men
played. They were not at the top of the pecking order. Black men had to
grapple with not being emasculated by white men. Fulfilling the gender roles
for black females was quite different. I certainly dealt with aggressive
women stereotypes, and being called a lesbian on occasion, but if the truth
be told I had an easier set of gender issues to deal with because after all a
profession is what I wanted. I delighted in not fitting the stereotypic gender
expectations for women. Moreover, black women had always worked and
contributed economically to the household. My hopes for myself weren’t
that different from my mother’s aspirations as a young girl.
NM: And that was true for all women at that time in the way that it
wasn’t true for all men to be emasculated by racists.
PK: It was true of me and others that I knew but I will not generalize
from there. There were also African American women who wanted to fill
stereotypic gender roles but what I am also saying is that culturally most of
us were raised around women who worked. Prevailing gender roles for
women, white women in particular, did not have the same prominence in our
worlds. It was also the case that at this period in my life the cracks in
gender stereotypes were beginning to crack for us all. There were
complications of course. I wanted my own professional life but I also
worried that I might never marry and have children. A classmate of mine at
Harvard who was also a City Council member in Boston as well, told me
once not to force marriage, to stop worrying about it. He told me not to
settle, do what you want to do. If you found someone you want to marry do
it. Just don’t force it. He warned that I would make myself miserable as
well as the poor black fellow that married me. He was the first black man
who ever said something like that to me. He didn’t say you are too
independent, too controlling. He just said be yourself everything will work
NM: Doesn’t surprise me.
PK: During my third year at law school, I learned more about my
`twoness’ however. Firms did not hire many blacks or women at that time,
but I was able to get offers from several firms. Firms gave themselves good
marks for considering a black person and I believe that a black woman was
less threatening than a black man. Of course I may have just been an
outstanding applicant. Perhaps all of the above carry some truth. Another
example, Harvard offered psychiatric services to its students. In order to
receive the services you had to be screened. The person who interviewed
me was a white male psychiatrist, the director of the program. As a result
of agitation by women and black students, female and black psychiatrists
were available. He asked me if I had a preference. To my surprise and his I
asked if he had any African American women psychiatrists and he said no. I
replied in that case I just as soon come see you. Well he was completely
shocked, but I think intrigued. He wanted to know why I would you make
that decision. I said the last person I want to see is a black male psychiatrist
because I can’t imagine that person understanding anything about black
women because I am sure they have their own problems even though they
are trained psychiatrists. Moreover, white women do not understand
anything about what it means to be a minority woman so you’ll do. I came
to understand that one of my issues was that my race and my gender made it
difficult for me to trust what others said about me—complimentary or not. I
always worried about the possible racism or sexism of the source. How to
assess what others say about my strengths and weaknesses for example is
still a problem, but I think I’m better at coping. But I also trust more. When
my daughter Elizabeth was young, my husband Roger tried to explain me to
her. Your mother, he would say, is like an Ironweed. He was referring to
the title of a book by William Kennedy which won the Pulitzer Prize in
1984. I hadn’t read the book so I did not really understand. I asked, what is
Ironweed? Roger explained that I was like a little weed that comes through
the crack in the sidewalk and nobody can keep the weed down, they just
grow and grow and he said you’re tough as nails. You’re a survivor. I didn’t
know whether it was an insult or a complement at the time but I have come
to understand that Roger understood my life trajectory very well. I still
haven’t read the book. I’m blessed in the sense that I have a pretty good
mind, it is not a trained mind or a cultivated mind and with a lot of help from
the context and the environment I have been able to come so much further
than I ever expected to come in my life that everything that has happened to
me brings mainly joy because my expectations were not very high. I don’t
want my daughter to go through what I experienced. I hope hers is a
brighter time. I’m a product of my era and the product of a period of
increased opportunities, a time when being a black woman could be a
NM: Wasn’t that part of Ironweed is that sort of just strength and
stubbornness but also just raw talent?
NM: You know not a nurturing environment just will and smarts.
PK: I used to think I was unique but I’m not. There are lots of people
who weren’t nurtured and didn’t have many advantages. They too managed
to achieve and to survive.
NM: I have a follow-up question about Wheaton and I’ll let you stop.
I know this is probably exhausting. I just remember from last time we were
talking that you had grown up in an all black community and didn’t interact
with white people and that didn’t strike me as strange because I do think
most white people grow up that way too but as I was thinking about your
story of going to Wheaton I kept thinking my God what a transition, and the
hotel, the food, the hair, I thought it was interesting that you didn’t mention
racism or prejudice I guess I was sort of wondering what form prejudice
took at school.
PK: Racism and prejudice certainly existed at Wheaton. I probably
didn’t mention it a lot because it wasn’t always in my face. Wheaton was
similar to many schools in New England schools at that time. Blacks were
few in number. Most of the prejudice was directed at Catholics and Jews.
Wheaton had recently dropped its quota against Jews. According to common
knowledge, in my freshman class year, 20 percent of the class was Jewish.
There were only six Jewish kids in the senior graduating class. In other
words Wheaton was a WASP school. But this was still a time of de facto
segregation. Most blacks in Boston lived in Roxbury. Boston schools were
in effect segregated until a decade after I graduated. I started at Wheaton in
the fall of 1959. The civil right movement was just gathering steam. That
said, there were always little things. And the big disputes at Wheaton were
public school versus private school kids but mostly a lot of anti-Semitism.
There was just all that kind of subtle stuff. There was a quite unattractive
girl from Richmond, Virginia who participated in a discussion group about
race and discrimination. This woman said you know I’m not afraid of Pat
here but when I get into an elevator with a black man I am really frightened.
Her fear was rape by a black man but I thought that few men would be
attracted in any case. I also had a government professor who taught Brown
v. Board of Education. He believed it was wrongly decided. In his class he
always raised the idea that since there are species of dogs why aren’t there
also species of human beings. He taught that people were members of
biological racial groups. I went ballistic and so did the Jewish students in
the course. The irony of this was that he was one of the very few Jewish
professors on campus.
NM: Did the whites students react against this?
PK: Some, but remember the times. This was a WASP environment.
Freshman year housing policies made this point clearly. After I graduated
from Wheaton, I was asked to participate in a conference of college
admission officers at Hampton Institute, a black institution. The goal was to
get more black kids to go to New England schools. I spoke at the meeting. I
described my experience before going to Wheaton of being asked to fill out
housing forms, who would I like for a roommate, smokers, non-smokers,
etc. I described how disappointed I was because when I got to Wheaton all
the black girls had singles and all the Jewish girls roomed together and all
the Catholic girls were together too. The Wheaton person was very angry.
But I thought Wheaton was insensitive in terms of how we were all going to
feel. They thought it would spare us embarrassment. The racism was subtle
and just below the surface. A friend wanted another African American girl
to be in her wedding. Her parents said no. I encountered racism at Wheaton
but I also flourished there and was introduced to theories of prejudice and
bias as well as the history of black, Caribbean and Jewish history by a
Professor who taught Race Relations. I was also able to meet Malcolm X
because the Professor took me and another African American girl to a
Harvard seminar to hear him. What an experience. His class opened up a
whole new world for me. My regret is that I am not a good writer. I would
love to be able to write about the black woman’s experience in that
particular time and place. There were so few of us in comparison to today’s
NM: Have you tried to write it?
PK: No I’m talking about it to you but I’m not confident enough about
my writing to tackle the project.
NM: I think you need to take your mom’s advice on this one. It’s
okay fail but you have to try Pat.
[END OF RECORDING]
ABA Senior Lawyers Division
Women Trailblazers in the Law
Interviewer: Naomi Mezey
Dates of Interviews:
December 5, 2005
March 9, 2007
May 22, 2007
August 8, 2007
August 28, 2007
Georgetown University Law Center
ORAL HISTORY OF PATRICIA KING
Tape 3 of 5
May 22, 2007
(Revised April 2010)
Naomi Mezey: This is the third interview with Pat King for the ABA
Trailblazers in the Law Project. The date is May 22, 2007. We’re at
Georgetown University Law Center and I am Naomi Mezey, the interviewer
and I am here with Pat King. So Pat, as I mentioned, I wanted to just sort of
pick up a little bit, we talked a lot about Wheaton obviously and your time
there and what that experience was like for you. I thought about it a long
time afterwards. And I wanted to talk a little bit just about feminism, more
generally and the changes in feminism during the late sixties and early
seventies, sort of as you were leaving college and I was reading the
commencement speech you gave at Wheaton later and where you were
talking about the kinds of jobs women took and someone’s wife calling you
half man half woman, sometimes having a sense that being a woman and
being black felt incompatible to you and I remember in that speech you said
something like there was little in women’s lib with much relevance to your
life which I think a lot of women, like there is a real parallel now to women
saying there is not a lot of feminism that is very relevant to my life and I sort
of wanted to know what you meant by that. I guess I wanted you to sort of
think out loud with me about sort of the changes in feminism and how you
thought about that experience later and processed it later.
PK: Well you know I guess I never thought about the female side of
myself while I was at Wheaton. It was natural to think about the race issues
sine I attended an all girls’ school. I got my first real dose of reality in the
world of work. I went to work for the Department of State in a management
intern program right after college. I believe there were 12 of us. Of the 12,
three were African Americans and four were women, two white and two
African Americans and that was really astonishing for the time. The State
Department at least in the professional ranks was overwhelmingly a white
male organization. While at the Department of State I realized that I
couldn’t tell whether negative reactions were due to race or gender or both.
It was during y time at State that I began reading about women. I read for
example Betty Friedan’s, Feminine Mystique, and Helen Gurley Brown’s
Sex and the Single Girl and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. This
was the mid-960s. This was the era of the pill and open conversations about
sexuality among young women. It made an enormous difference in how one
lived if you didn’t have to worry about pregnancy. My reading helped me to
provide a context for what had been early thoughts and concerns. I started
thinking of myself as a person who did not want to be an appendage to
someone else. I modified my views about the need to get married right
away. I still wanted to marry but reading did help re-frame the issues for
me. But early on I understood that my life was different than most of my
friends who were also budding feminists. Betty Friedan, for example, talked
about women in suburbs in the 1950s and even though I started college in
1959, what she described did not reflect my experiences or the experiences
of women I knew. She talked about women who had not worked and who
were frustrated. My models were different. The women I knew including my
mother always worked even if they were not pleased with their lot. They
worked because their income was needed. And some of them reaped the
benefits as my mother did because she had economic security and
independence in her old age. So during my time at the State Department my
work experiences opened me up to the reality of sexism. I wanted to know
more about women generally and what kind of woman I would be as well.
I went to Harvard Law School in the fall of 1966. Harvard did not
have many blacks or women. Harvard was a very white male elitist place.
Harvard was not atypical. Harvard was one of the last elite law schools to
admit women. When I entered in fall 1966 we had the largest number of
women admitted in Harvard history. We started with a class of a little under
40 women out of I guess then a class of 500 plus students. There were about
25 African Americans, three of whom were women. In the first year there
were four sections I recall. That would be 8-10 women per section. The
women were always objects of curiosity. Male students noticed what we
wore, how we sat and made comments about our physical characteristics.
Women could not be members of Lincoln’s Inn, an eating society. And my
moot court advisor (as second year student) said the moot court clubs didn’t
like to admit women because they cried!!
NM: What form did that take?
PK: You know there is a history of comments on female form. I
remember one really nasty crack about a woman’s thighs, for example.
Many sexual cracks. And of course there was Ladies Day, a day when only
women were called on in property class to discuss dower rights. It was a
particularly difficult period of my life for me because there were few males
to date. This was 1966 so inter-racial dating was not widespread although I
did certainly go out with people who were not African Americans. There
weren’t that many African American males. Moreover I was older than
most first year students. In those days men did not generally go out with
older women. Finally, women’s equality was just beginning to take hold as
an issue. Men wanted to date women who did not compete with them.
There were exceptions. Two close friends both of whom were African
American attended law school together and then married. Perhaps, the most
difficult hurdle for women was finding employment. I was very lucky
because I worked in the State Department Legal Advisor’s Office for all the
summers that I was in law school. I earned more than I would have working
in a law firm because my salary was calculated on what I earned before
going to law school. When we got ready to graduate finding jobs was not
easy. There were some firms that would not hire women at all. I actually
had an easier time than many women in my class because I was African
American. Firms were interested in hiring African Americans, though they
weren’t particularly interested in hiring women. Being an African American
woman sometimes gave me an edge. But I remember the woman who had
the highest ranking in my class (and they ranked in those days). She was a
widow and had children. After her husband’s death she decided to go to law
school. She moved to Cambridge. She bought a house and put her kids in
school. She had a terrible time trying to get a job because she had children.
And wherever she interviewed they didn’t care that her class ranking was
high, it was the fact that she was a woman with responsibilities. How could
she perform well in a firm? Many of the women in my class were the first
women in their firms. It was a period when women were just getting into law
school and into firms. It was not easy. I was increasingly aware during my
Harvard years of my gender and that it posed substantial obstacles and
sometimes benefits for me in terms of profession and private life. At the
same time I was aware of the differences between white women and black
women. I joined a black woman’s consciousness-raising group. We weren’t
all law students. We were women who happened to be in the Cambridge
area in a variety of positions. Some of us were students; one person was in
broadcasting, some in graduate school. There weren’t many of us and I can’t
even remember how we all found each other, but the experience was
extraordinarily helpful. Even though we didn’t talk about law, we were able
to talk about what it meant to want to be a professional. We especially
talked about hair as most black women do at certain points in their lives.
Hair is a big thing in the culture.
NM: It’s also a kind of commentary, a very well worn commentary
on the women’s movement that you were in an African American women’s
consciousness group because part of that critique is that there wasn’t really
feminism or at least that early feminist movement didn’t so much know how
to accommodate issues of race and gender.
PK: Well that’s right. I have always been involved with
organizations devoted to advancing women’s interest but my involvement
was always a source of tension for me and I’ll explain. To a great extent, the
feminist movement was composed of upperclass and professional women.
The movement didn’t really in my view really appreciate the issues of
middle or low income women of any race. Nonetheless, I did appreciate that
there were issues that were important to women of color and women of color
should be involved. After law school I worked at the EEOC (the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission). I was Special Assistant to the
Chair for two years before going to HEW (Department of Health, Education
and Welfare). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited
discrimination in employment on the basis of sex and race in addition to
other characteristics. In the context of thinking about sex discrimination, the
agency needed to focus on working women, women of all races and
ethnicities and income levels. This was a real eye-opening experience for
me. Race, gender and the complexities of their interactions were matters to
explore in terms of public policy and in my personal life as well. The
Commission’s guidelines on sex discrimination were viewed by some as
detracting from the focus on race. As a black woman I knew how important
they were. EEOC’s work was very important but the gap among women on
the basis of race and class remained wide. You could see the gap in the
Clarence Thomas Senate hearings. Another example is when President
Clinton nominated Zoe Baird to be the first women Attorney General. It was
quickly revealed that the nominee had not paid Social Security taxes for the
person she employed to take care of her children as required by law. I
actually wrote an op-ed about this controversy that was published in the
Washington Post. I argued that she was disqualified from serving as the
nation’s top law enforcement officer. I argued that the law she broke was in
my view important. Payment of Social Security taxes is essential for people
with meager income to ward off destitution in old age. Many individual
women and women’s advocacy organizations did not want these issues
raised in part because it was important to have a female AG. Other women
(and I was among them) disagreed. There were millions of women with
children who struggled every day with the balance between work, home and
child care. They (and I) didn’t understand why a married woman with
substantial family income did not pay Social Security. The Baird nomination
was eventually withdrawn but the controversy called attention to the class
divides among women. It had just taken some time for these differences to
emerge. Moreover, this controversy made crystal clear that American
feminism was not just a problem for African American women. Women
differed in terms of race, ethnicity and class. While everyone could fit under
the gender umbrella, they do so with mistrust and even dislike of the other.
Nonetheless, what the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s
accomplished was very important. This wave of feminists were well
educated and had means. Once they were able to organize and advocate for
our issues they had many successes. The EEOC issued sex guidelines,
DHEW worked for affirmative action in higher education. Title IX of the
Education Amendments of 1972 was passed. The 1970s ushered in the
beginning of efforts to achieve equality under the Constitution. In personal
terms, this period helped open doors that would have been closed a decade
before. I clearly benefitted from this wave of feminism but I was only too
aware of unaddressed divides. Despite all, however, I still refer to myself as
a feminist. I have enjoyed watching later generations of women of all colors
address these divides in professional, intellectual and personal terms.
To return to your original set of questions—what did it mean to be a
black woman who considered herself a feminist? Well, this definitely didn’t
go over very well in the black community in those days. And so as
uncomfortable as I might have been among white feminists on occasion, my
feminist views were certainly not something that I spent a great deal of time
talking about among my African American friends. I first publicly raised
this question for myself at the Wheaton College Commencement in 1972.
Wheaton asked me to be the commencement speaker. I was thirty years old.
The speech was about traveling from a terrified young girl to where I was
then, about breaking free of society’s gender roles. It was a safe place in
which I could raise the impact of feminism on me. I described how
nonplussed I was when my boss’ wife asked, “How do you do it? Don’t you
feel half man and half woman?” In preparing the talk, however, I wanted to
say something to the few black women who were graduating about the
complexity of being a black woman. So I quoted Angela Davis who had
written eloquently in a way that made things clear for me. Her point—
addressed to the black community—black women’s liberation in the
revolution cannot be separated from the liberation of the black male. Angela
Davis made several things clear to me. It was important to seek racial
justice but not at the price of becoming submissive to men. Both racial
justice and gender justice were required if I were to fully realize myself as a
human being. It was not an either/or proposition. I received a standing
ovation at the Wheaton commencement. Yet, I had an interesting view from
the stage. All the students were standing but most of the parents remained in
their seats. The president of the college was not happy. He just could not
say to me that it was a terrific speech. But I still go back to Wheaton
regularly and whenever I encounter women from the class of 1972 they still
talk to me about that speech. So I guess that I had a real impact on their lives
even though I was very clearly trying to work my way through some of the
complexities of my own life at that particular time.
NM: That’s so interesting that the speech, it was a lovely speech, but
it’s hard for someone who wasn’t a grown up at that time to appreciate what
it sounded like then. I guess I’m surprised that it would have been radical at
Wheaton because I tend to think of all women’s colleges as being more
feminist. Can you just explain a little bit more about why?
PK: Well I haven’t read the speech in a long time. I do remember
that Roe v. Wade was headed to the Supreme Court. It was decided about
six months later. I talked about reproductive freedom. I talked about
equality for women. I talked about what I learning about myself.
NM: Yeah it mentioned a few of those things about what kind of work
was available for women and how hard it was the kinds of obstacles you
encounter actually going out and working in the world and the way both men
and women would treat you.
PK: Well I think in 1972 students were more aware than older people
that change was coming with respect to women’s roles. Students probably
didn’t know many single working mothers or women professionals but they
were thinking about themselves in new ways. They were being exposed to
the latest ideas. I had been a house mother at Wellesley from 1968-69. I
thought that feminist ideas were really just taking form there as well. There
are always exceptions of course. In 1972 many women were still on a
traditional path even if times were changing. Although women’s colleges
offered women opportunities not typically available in coed schools, this
was a time when men’s schools started to go coed. Many women welcomed
the opportunity to compete directly with men and a different set of
PK: That’s exactly right. In 1972 there still were few women in law
school or medical school or even thinking about them. The big changes for
women came in the 1980s and 1990s. I believe the students in contrast with
their parents were ready to hear about the changed prospects with respect to
their adult lives. They were ready to hear not only about opportunities but
also the prospect of evolving as sexual beings. So I think that is why there
was great receptivity to what I had to say. I gave a second commencement
speech at Wheaton some years later with Roger, they had us together. And
then I talked about family because by that time the big questions involved
women, work and family.
NM: No, it’s a lovely speech and maybe we’ll talk about the one you
and Roger gave a little later. I wanted to pick up on one you were talking
about which is sort of what all women’s colleges were like then and
Wheaton in particular I guess not exactly a hotbed of feminism maybe more
of a finishing school still but I wonder if you could talk about so one thing
that you had said I think this was in the Wheaton magazine that you were
disappointed when Wheaton went co-ed and I wonder if you would just
elaborate on that and then we’ll move into law school.
PK: I wasn’t the only one disappointed. I think in fact people reacted
to all the schools going co-ed like Vassar and some alumnae walked away
and never came back they were so mad about what happened. I was
disappointed because a woman’s college provided young women with
opportunities that they were not likely to have in a coed environment. A
woman could be president of college government or senior class president.
In other words you could spread your wings without having to compete with
men. At the time stereotypes about female roles made it less likely that a
woman could lead an organization in a coed school. A woman’s college
provided a real chance to grow and expand in the context of a very
supportive environment without confronting constantly sexism and
stereotypes. You know if I had gone to any college other than Wheaton I
never would have been interested in college government. Wheaton admitted
men in the late 1980s and I joined the Wheaton Board shortly thereafter.
Trustees and college leadership worried about the early trends. All of a
sudden men were leaders of organizations that had been led by women.
Female students seemed to be deferring to men. It took a while to achieve a
balance so that people who ran for college government and people who
voted for them didn’t focus on gender and made gender-based decisions.
The value of single sex education was that it made you think that you could
do anything a man could do. When Wheaton went coed women could still
compete but we also learned that if we were to preserve the Wheaton culture
it was important to understand some differences. Professor Catherine
Krupnick studied classroom learning experiences. She found for example
that male students spoke longer and that male students raised their hands
first. Teachers needed to be aware that learning styles and classroom
participation might be connected with gender. Wheaton also re-examined its
curriculum from the perspective of gender and worked to infuse women’s
perspectives into what was taught.
NM: One of the things you said in that commencement address at
Wheaton was something that jumped out of the page at me because it’s still
so true, which was I think you said women’s liberation also means men’s
liberation and that women in some ways have come farther in freeing
themselves of gender stereotypes and it was interesting to see you say that in
1972 and how true it is 35 years later.
PK: Well you know I made that observation in the context of being a
black woman during both the civil rights and the women’s movement but of
course it has broader application. Those who have been oppressed embrace
change, freedom and opportunity. They see themselves gaining. Many men
have difficulty freeing themselves of gender stereotypes because they
understand change as losing. I think they are wrong but certainly some men
don’t see what’s in it for them.
NM: And my generation is really sort of the first generation of men
who were raised by feminist women and it’s very irregular but there are a lot
of men out there, my husband among them, who are I don’t know whether
they call themselves feminists or not but they are profoundly changed by
feminism in wanting to raise their kids. And recognizing what they get from
that, I mean I think that’s the realization that is sometimes missing.
PK: And also what they get from their spouses.
NM: You’re right it’s not just the kids. It’s wanting to have a spouse
that is your equal. So I want to ask you about Harvard. Harvard you talked
some about entering Harvard as a woman and there were about 40 women in
that class of 500 and I don’t want to segregate the race and the gender too
much but I want you to sort of, can we go back to starting Harvard and
maybe think about how many African Americans were there in that class,
what that transition was like for you and maybe a little bit about affirmative
action. I know when I read your testimony in the Thomas hearings which
we’ll talk more substantively about in another interview, you had talked
about the benefits of affirmative action and about specifically about getting
into Harvard and I guess I would love your sort of your personal experience
PK: Well there were I think 25 African Americans in my class and
three of us were women. Bear in mind that my experience was impacted by
the fact that I had been working for three years. Today this would not seem
unusual but it wasn’t common in those years. Moreover, I had gone to a
mostly white institution before affirmative action, before entering law
school. Wheaton like most New England schools was willing to have one,
two, three or perhaps more students who were Jewish, Catholic or African
American. My time at Wheaton was also a time when schools were moving
away from quotas. This was a period of admitting but not reaching out to
find students. The terms used in those years were “exception” and “a credit
to your race.” If you were African American and you went to school in New
England in 1959 you were generally regarded as being intelligent and that
you merited admission. This doesn’t mean that there was no racism. It’s just
to show contrast with what came next. I graduated from Wheaton in 1963
and entered Harvard in 1966. It was immediately clear to me that schools
were making greater efforts to recruit African American students and
women. Many schools, including Harvard, were initiating programs to help
prepare students for law school in the fall and there was recruiting from
predominately black colleges. You didn’t hear the term “affirmative action”
that came later in the 1970s. In the case of African Americans you more
often heard reference to the need to train professionals to serve the black
communities. And everybody was struggling with what they were doing.
There were efforts to be more diverse, but this didn’t mean that schools
knew how to treat African American students once they arrived. In my first
week at Harvard I received a letter that I later learned had been sent to all
first year African American students. The letter asked that you see the Vice
Dean of the law school. When I went to see the Vice Dean I was offered a
tutorial assistance. I was one of the first to have a meeting with the Vice
Dean and I guess I was always a little belligerent and offended. I knew right
away that Harvard thought I was different. I was also offended because all
black students were called in even if they had gone to Harvard College.
There was no effort to distinguish among us. Implementation of programs
aimed at black students was sure to receive pushback from white students,
especially in a highly competitive environment where all help was bound to
be perceived as giving someone else an edge. [END OF SIDE ONE OF
TAPE] .. .
NM: This is the second side of the tape of the third interview with Pat
King on May 22, 2007. Pat, you were talking about the letter sent by the
vice dean to the African American students.
PK: So I asked whether Harvard had looked at the files of the white
students that they had admitted to make a determination of who might
benefit from this offer of services. And so he said he hadn’t. I didn’t use the
term legacy but it wasn’t hard for me to figure out that all of the white
students didn’t have stellar records. There is no shame in getting help. That
was not my point. Harvard was not treating us as individuals. It was group
labeling. The entering students also met with established African American
lawyers who had attended Harvard who explained that we were welcome at
Harvard. It was important to prepare African Americans to serve the legal
needs of their community. So my introduction to Harvard was a little bit
difficult and I was resentful. Those and other experiences helped me to
understand the views of critics of affirmative action when it became
widespread. The experience can be a negative one. Others believe you don’t
merit admission and that you are not their equal. That your role is to return
to your own community, that you can’t effectively compete in the white
world. On the other hand if I don’t focus on my personal experience, the up
side of targeted admissions is that it clearly created opportunities for many,
including me, who otherwise might not have sought or been offered
admission. Those admitted in 1960s and 1970s, etc. have made a difference
in the world. The goal—admissions for qualified students of color—was
sound. The problems developed because implementation of the goal wasn’t
always sound. Moreover, affirmatively assisting students of color created
resentments among white students. While I was dismayed by the offer of
tutorial assistance, some white students wanted the same treatment or they
felt we were being unduly advantaged. In any event, I wouldn’t be where I
am today were it not for Harvard’s efforts to recruit more black students. It’s
taken a long time for doors to open and I believe the real impact of
affirmative action programs will be felt on generations to come. When I
think about the fact that my daughter went to Yale College and she had
perfect scores on her SAT tests, I also appreciate that doors that have been
opened for children. I want to clarify something I said earlier. There is
nothing wrong with being told that black lawyers should serve their
communities. We should be encouraged to remember that we all stand on the
shoulders of those who went before us. We have some responsibility to help
members of our community. On the other hand, our aspirations should not
always be totally constrained by our responsibilities. There are many ways
to serve our communities that are consistent with practicing law in major
law firms for example.
NM: So putting aside sort of the policies and the I guess you can’t
really put this aside, I guess what did it feel like to start at Harvard Law
School and I know you had said your transition to Wheaton was very rough,
we talked about that, did the transition to Harvard feel easier?
PK: It was easier. I was older. I had been in the workplace. I wasn’t
overwhelmed about being around white people in the same way I had been
at Wheaton. Harvard was tough especially if you were a black woman.
Harvard was very different from Wheaton. Professional schools are less
caring places. They tend to be highly competitive places. Sink or swim
places. I didn’t particularly enjoy being there. I survived and as a
consequence when I graduated I figured that I could do just about anything.
Harvard required that I find sources of strength that I didn’t know that I had.
I received offers when I graduated from two major law firms, one here in
Washington and one in San Francisco that I didn’t accept. These
opportunities would not have been available five years earlier. So I look
back on my time at Harvard as a period in my life where I just struggled to
find out who I was in a different way than I did at Wheaton. I certainly
could not imagine, however, that one day I would be a Fellow of the
Harvard Corporation—Harvard’s main governing board.
NM: Were there any professors there who were mentors or if not
mentors even inspirations for you?
PK: No, not really. There were no professors who were women or
people of color. There also weren’t many young professors. The young
professors that were there were an interesting bunch–Frank Michaelman,
Charles Nesson and Alan Dershovitz. There wasn’t anybody that I thought
of as a mentor though I did have social interactions with a few professors.
For a while I dated a guy who was a very close friend of Paul Bator who
taught administrative law. I used to go to parties at the Bator’s home. I’m
one of the first three women to be admitted to a Harvard secret society. It
was mainly an eating society composed of students and faculty members
who had been members as students. We went to dinner once a month and
there was an invited speaker. The common bond among some faculty and
students was the Vietnam War. I remember classes being conducted by
faculty and students on the war and on the draft for example. These were
interesting times in the nation and the world. At Harvard, unlike my time at
Wheaton, I paid closer attention to what was going on. In addition to the
Vietnam War, the six-day war between Israel and its neighbors (1967) and
Martin Luther King’s and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations in 1968
happened while I was in law school. I attended meeting and events like
Deacons for Defense, a Louisiana black group and who advocated selfdefense because there was so much violence in the south, and Students for a
Democratic Society. I participated to some extent in what was happening in
the 1960s. I was opposed to the war. My State Department experience
made that easy. But my reactions to what I was seeing were quite
complicated. The country was changing but I resented the fact that when
Martin Luther King criticized the war in a speech in 1967 the reaction of
some was that he should stick to civil rights. Another example, I was in law
school when the graduate deferment ended. This action increased the
pressure to get rid of the draft. I had a different view from most of my peers.
I thought that ending the draft would be bad for the country because as long
as the fighting was left to lower income people and minorities there would
be few incentives for more advantaged groups to oppose future wars and
conflicts. I remember hearing a black student argue that the country should
get rid of the draft. He argued England lost most of its men and future
leaders in World War II. Those who should have governed became cannon
fodder and England declined. Give me a break! I did learn to appreciate
that feminists, liberals, progressives, and Marxists were similar in one
respect—they didn’t understand race and ethnicity and the connections to
poverty. I should also note that there were a few class settings in which
questions of race could be discussed explicitly. For example, Alan
Dershovitz had a seminar in which we read William Styron’s The
Confessions of Nat Turner. This novel was based upon a Virginia slave
revolt led by Nat Turner. The book was very controversial. Many,
including myself, thought he employed racial stereotyping. The passage in
which Turner fantasizes about raping a white woman was especially
controversial. We also read William Styron’s Nat Turner: Ten Black
Writers Respond, edited by John Henrik Clarke. While such discussions
were beginning, at times they could be difficult. After one seminar class, I
was asked by a fellow participant if I really meant all the things I said about
white people, since I had white friends. There was clearly a long road ahead.
On the other hand, I was included in discussions about matters relevant to
me and my experiences.
NM Were there other classes like the Dershovitz seminar that
exposed you to race and gender matters?
PK: I didn’t take Con Law from Paul Freund but I audited Freund’s
class when he started to teach the Equal Protection Clause. Freund’s class
was known among women students because of the way he taught the Equal
NM: Can you explain.
PK: Whether the Equal Protection Clause could be extended to
women. While I was I law school the National Organization for Women
was founded. The Equal Pay Act had been passed in 1963 and Title VII in
1964. This was the beginnings of the modern women’s movement push for
equality with men. One major question was whether women needed to
amend the Constitution—the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) or whether
the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution could be extended to cover
women. Freund had the reputation of disfavoring a more liberal reading of
the Equal Protection Clause. Some thought that he favored the view that
women benefitted from their treatment under the Constitution as it was
construed at that time. One of the women who helped found NOW was
enrolled in the course. It was a combative and interesting class. It added to
my education. I also enjoyed Bill Andrews’ tax class. His class opened my
eyes about economic power in the country.
NM: Were there peers that stood out for you from law school,
classmates, people you met there who you stayed close to or whose own
ideas you sort of held onto in some way?
PK: There were a few. The person who left the strongest impression
on me was another African American student who was also in my class. Her
name was Rosemary Gaines then. She later married another law student,
Hank Saunders. Rosemary was from Alabama. She had attended Johnson C.
Smith, a predominantly black school. She was blown away by Harvard Law
School. Her Harvard was like my Wheaton. She was so talented. Among
other things she wrote music and played the guitar. We got to know each
other because we both lived in the women’s dorm our first year. In those
years, exams were given at the end of the academic year because courses
were year-long. I was aware that Rose had not been doing much studying
during the year. She panicked as we got close to the end. She thought about
leaving. I told her that we could do this—pass our exams. We did need to
cut ourselves off from other people because they’ll scare us to death because
they’ll tell us all the work they’ve done. So we slept during the days and
studied all night and we passed all our exams. We bonded as a consequence
of that experience. Rose is an incredible woman, so grounded and so smart.
She has gone on to do great things. She is a very effective advocate for
children. She is a civil rights attorney, education activist songwriter and
mother. I learned a lot from her. Though our experiences were similar
because we were from the south, I had left Norfolk when the civil rights
movement emerged. She lived through it. Peggy Davis and Gordon Davis
are good friends. Peggy Davis is a professor at New York University, NYU
Law School. Her husband is a partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf. He used to be
the NYC Park Commissioner and at one time ran Lincoln Center. I was
Peggy’s maid of honor. They were my salvation when I was in law school.
What social life I had at Harvard is largely due to their efforts. The other
people I remember are the people who were really caring and loving in the
sense that they understood that things were not really so easy for me. Kimba
Wood, now a district court judge in the Southern District of New York, was
my roommate after we graduated. She introduced me to international travel.
Marty Minsker was a very good friend. He lives in the D.C. area. Marty is a
mensch. He’s just brilliant. He was on the law review. He and Brock
Hornby, now a federal district judge in Maine, helped me get through
difficulties. I was having a really hard time with commercial law. They
invited me to join their study group and I asked if Rose Gaines could come
too. I learned so much just talking through issues with them. They were two
NM: Pat I’m going to let you stop talking.
PK: How long have I been talking?
NM: Almost two hours. Thank you, as always, thank you.
PK: Naomi, you are just wonderful to do this.
NM: Oh my gosh it’s a pleasure.
PK: You’re helping me to pull my life together and that is actually
been very good for me. [END RECORDING]
ABA Senior Lawyers Division
Women Trailblazers in the Law
Interviewer: Naomi Mezey
Dates of Interviews:
December 5, 2005
March 9, 2007
May 22, 2007
August 8, 2007
August 28, 2007
Georgetown University Law Center
ORAL HISTORY OF PATRICIA KING
Tape 4 of 5
August 8, 2007
(Revised April 2010)
Naomi Mezey: Okay, this is the ABA Women’s Trailblazers in the Law Oral
History Project for Pat King. This is interview number four. It is August 8, 2007
and we are in Pat King’ office and I am still Naomi Mezey. So Pat, as I just
mentioned to you I wanted to sort of start with your having graduated from law
school and I think the first job you had was EEOC is that right.
PK: That’s correct.
NM: I just want to sort of start with your start with the EEOC and then your
work in the Office of Civil Rights and your professional life sort of before you
PK: Okay. I’m going to start with my last year of law school. During my
last year of law school I was also a house mother at Wellesley College, trying to
make decisions about what I was going to do in the future. I initially thought I
would like to go to a law firm and indeed got offers from San Francisco and
Washington. I accepted the offer from Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering but later changed
my mind. I had received an offer from the chair of the Equal Employment
Opportunity Commission (EEOC), William Brown, to be his special assistant. It
was an important decision. The decision put me on the track to doing teaching,
public policy and government rather than private practice. It was a difficult
decision because the Republicans were in power, Bill Brown was an African
American but he was a Republican. I did believe however his views about what
could be accomplished with the Commission were consistent with my own views.
I spent 1969 to 1971 at EEOC. It was a very exciting time because the
Commission was fairly new. It had been created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
During my time at EEOC the first Title VII sex discrimination case, Phillips v.
Martin Marietta Corp., reached the Supreme Court. The defendant had a policy
that mothers with pre-school aged children could not be hired. The Supreme Coi,Lrt
found discrimination but remanded for trial to determine if the employer could
justify its policy as a bona fide occupational qualification. I was so excited
because I got to attend the argument. The EEOC also sponsored hearings in New
York—at the time EEOC did industry hearings—that I attended. My memory is
vague but I do recall black women testifying about discrimination on grounds of
race and sex in telephone companies. It was powerful testimony and reinforced
my view that a black woman needed to be interested in feminism as well as race.
My time at EEOC also coincided with now Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s efforts
to have women recognized as a suspect class, like race, under the U.S.
Constitution. The EEOC before I left started drafting the sex discrimination
guidelines. I was a special assistant, not a practicing attorney, so I saw these events
unfold at a policy level. In 1971 I was recruited to go to the then Department of
Health, Education and Welfare (DHEW) by Stan Pottinger who was the director of
the Office of Civil Rights. He offered me the position of deputy director of the
Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Deciding to leave EEOC was difficult but the
position offered would put me in a line as distinct from staff position. On the other
hand, the major issue in the Office of Civil Rights at that time was the
desegregation of southern schools. The office had other responsibilities but the
clear focus was on desegregation of school districts in the south. Since this was
Richard Nixon’s administration, and since school desegregation was that era’s
major civil rights issue, I was in a very ticklish situation. I couldn’t see myself
working every day defending Nixon’s position on school desegregation.
NM: Could you explain that.
PK: My views about what should happen to bring about integration were at
odds with the administration’s views. I favored desegregation of schools and
busing if necessary to achieve that result. Giving speeches defending the
government’s view was out of the question. From my perspective I had to
consider, for example, whether the administration would ask me to give speeches
defending the administration’s views. Stan Pottinger was a very liberal Republican
and easy to work with. Our deal was to divide the issues we would work on. He
directed and monitored all school desegregation matters. I focused on affirmative
action in higher education, Title VI and health facilities and the Rehabilitation Act.
Affirmative action requirements were initially imposed in the Department of Labor
in the construction trades in the late 1960s. OCR was beginning to use the same
model on behalf of women and minorities in higher education. Our authority was
based on Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. When I was at HEW our efforts
were mostly primarily directed at gender. The University of California, Berkeley
controversy about gender hiring in higher education was an early initiative. My
life changed again when Richard Nixon won election in November 1972. The
Watergate controversy had started in June 1972 with the foiled effort of Nixon
supporters to break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee
located in the Watergate Office Complex. However, the mounting scandal and
controversy did not keep Nixon from being re-elected. A major shakeup in
government followed. Stan Pottinger went to the Department of Justice as the
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. As an aside, Stan Pottinger was really
a terrific guy. While I worked for him, he never did anything to make me
uncomfortable as a female. Years later when he was no longer my boss, he asked
me out. I was surprised but pleased and we dated briefly. Secretary Elliott
Richardson moved first to become Secretary of Defense and then later to become
the Attorney General. The new Secretary of HEW was Casper Weinberger. His
deputy was Frank Carlucci. His special assistant was Will Taft who had been a
classmate of mine at Harvard. Secretary Weinberger offered me the position of
director of OCR. I declined for the same reason that I had trouble with the initial
offer. I was not a Republican, and I would have been in charge of the school
desegregation cases. I was frank with Secretary Weinberger and Deputy Secretary
Carlucci. We all understood that it was likely that a new Director would want to
pick his/her own deputy. So I started making plans to exit once a director was
appointed. As fate would have it I had received a call from Paul Rothstein, a
Professor at Georgetown Law, when I first arrived at OCR. Paul and I met each
other when I interviewed with law firms in my third year of law school and he was
in private practice. He called to ask if I would be interested in law teaching, which
I had actually never thought about before. He involved Roy Schotland who was
then the Associate Dean and we agreed that I would teach a course in the evening
division while I was still at HEW. I enjoyed the experience and in 1973 when I
wanted to exit OCR I became a visiting professor of law. Secretary Weinberger
was enormously generous. I asked for and received an intergovernmental
personnel act assignment Georgetown Law. This meant that DHEW paid my
salary for that academic year. This was my opportunity to figure out what to do
NM: How did you know Paul?
PK: He had interviewed me when he was at Surrey Morse—I believe that is the
name of the firm. I guess I must have impressed him because I never saw him
after that. My visiting year was not an easy year. William Greenhalgh was then
the Associate Dean and his reputation was that he didn’t enjoy having women on
the faculty. He assigned me to teach Advanced Civil Procedure, Corporations and
Constitutional Law, II. This was an invitation to disaster. It was a heavy teaching
load and there was no connection between the courses. I had taught Advanced
Civil Procedure before, as an adjunct. During the course of my visiting year there
was controversy about whether I should be offered a tenure track appointment. I
don’t know details. I gather it was quite something. All I know is there was only
one slot or line as they are now called and I got it. I owe Jeff Bauman a great deal.
Jeff taught Corporations as well and he is really a good teacher. He helped me
with my teaching. Another person Professor Ed Bradley was also very helpful.
Fortunately the Corporations course was small. To my amazement I got very good
NM: Let me return to your decision to even put your name in the ring for
Georgetown. After Nixon resigned was it still clear to you that you didn’t want to
stay in government?
PK: It was clear to me that I didn’t want to remain at OCR. The Director of
OCR is the equivalent of an Assistant Secretary position. In those days there was
only one woman Assistant Secretary in the department. It was a very visible
position. At the time I wasn’t totally opposed to future government service. My
decision to leave DHEW had nothing to do with the people who were my superiors
or my dislike of government service. I just didn’t want to defend policies that I
disagreed with. So I came to Georgetown though I had never thought about being
a professor before. There were few women law professors in the country. You
could count on one hand the number of African American professors in the nation.
As I mentioned before, I visited Georgetown during the 1973-74 academic year. I
chose to accept the tenure track position even though I had the option of returning
to DHEW. I wanted to stay at Georgetown. Since I was not returning, Secretary
Weinberger asked me if I would be interested in serving on the National
Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral
Research (the National Commission).
NM: Weinberger did.
PK: He did. And I accepted. So there were two big events for me in 1974.
I was hired at Georgetown and I was asked to become a member of the National
Commission that took my professional life in a totally new but very rewarding
direction. The National Commission turned out to be a big deal. It was the first
bioethics commission in the country. It lasted from 1974-78. We worked very
hard. It made my reputation in this emerging interdisciplinary field.
NM: Was this your first experience with that field?
PK: My first direct experience. The idea for the National Commission had
been batted around in Congress for some time. Ethical issues such as the
implantable artificial heart and research on fetuses were being debated. It was the
Tuskegee syphilis experiment first revealed in 1972 that served as trigger to get it
and other issues on the front burner. The Tuskegee revelation resulted in the
establishment of an ad hoc advisory panel to review the study. The ad hoc panel
found that the study was unethical. In 1974 Congress created the National
Commission. I had followed these issues, especially the Tuskegee study in
newspapers and magazines. I was really interested when I had my talk with
NM: Do you want to give a few sentences about Tuskegee?
PK: The Tuskegee syphilis study was funded by the Public Health Service
in DREW beginning in 1932 in Tuskegee, Alabama. The study’s goal was to
follow the natural development of syphilis in black men. This was an observation
study not a study to determine if medical interventions were effective. The study is
especially infamous because the men, even when scientists developed a treatment
for syphilis, were not offered penicillin. In fact the participants were affirmatively
in some cases prevented from getting access to penicillin. It was finally revealed
in a newspaper article in 1972. The study has had a very negative impact on
African Americans. There is significant distrust of medicine, research and doctors
in the African American community as a consequence. The study’s unveiling
focused attention on vulnerable research subjects generally, not just African
Americans, but also studies that utilized children, fetuses, prisoners and the
mentally ill and disabled and the way they were involved in research studies as
well. The study focused science and medicine on the serious ethical issues in the
conduct of research. The National Commission was charged with making
recommendations which were to form the basis of regulation governing research
with human subjects. The recommendations that received the most attention
would become regulations for conducting research on fetuses, children, the
mentally infirm, retarded and infirm and prisoners. You will notice that minorities
were not included along with these vulnerable groups. By far the most
controversial issue was whether research could be conducted on fetuses. During
our debates I started to develop the idea for my first law review article which was
about fetuses. The work of the National Commission is still the basic regulatory
structure for research on human subjects in the United States. There have been
changes of course but we had our recommendations crossed a major barrier. They
permitted research on subjects where their ability to give informed consent was
impaired. We believed that in order to improve children’s health at some stage
research on children was required. Not only did the Commission’s work lead to an
article about fetal status but also to the publication of a text book, Law, Science
and Medicine, with colleagues here at Georgetown. And after the National
Commission, I was appointed by President Carter to his Commission for the
Ethical Problems in Medicine in 1980 but I didn’t stay long because I went to the
Department of Justice. I could not do both. Basically in the 1970s I learned that I
liked law teaching and that I wanted to focus on bioethics and the law.
NM: I want to ask you to sort of step back from the research element of it
for a minute and go back to coming to Georgetown and ask about your relationship
to the institution partly because you know you were trailblazing here too and I
wonder what that experience was like for you. There were clearly some very you
had comrades here it sounds like but I can also imagine that the institution was not
also the most comfortable place in the world. So I guess I would just love to hear
your thoughts about that.
PK: When I was hired the Dean was Adrian “Butch” Fisher, everybody
called him Butch. Georgetown was trying to extend its reach and reputation as a
law school. Fisher was an interesting man and I had a good relationship with him.
He was a Harvard Law graduate. He had clerked for both Justices Frankfurter and
Brandeis. Fisher had a long history of government services including service as
legal advisor for the Department of State. He loved talking with me about the
State Department. While I was in law school, I worked every summer in the Legal
Advisor’s Office in the State Department. Fisher was terrific during my salary
negotiations. I wanted to start with my government salary. Although women were
often underpaid in those years, he was very fair with me. When I arrived at
Georgetown, there were four women. Judy Areen, who became Dean, arrived in
1972. I got to know her during my visiting year. Helen Steinbinder was on the
faculty. She joined the full-time faculty in 1957. She was one of the earliest
women law professors in the nation. Monica Gallagher and Anita Martin joined
the faculty with Judy in 1972, but both left within two years. I’m not the first
African American woman at Georgetown. The first African American woman
hired was Anita Martin. She was a graduate of Yale Law School and a member of
the Yale Law Review. Interestingly, her father was Louis Martin who was
responsible for getting my foot in the door at the State Department. I am the first
African American tenured at Georgetown Law and I believe the first African
American woman tenured in the University and among the earliest to receive
tenure in the nation. By the fall of 1975 there were only three women remaining
Judy, Helen and myself. The next woman to join the faculty was Wendy Williams
in 1976. Judy, Wendy and I were very close. We all respected Helen but there
was a big age gap. We were all single. We all grappled with this very male
atmosphere. We were not Catholics or graduates of Georgetown. We’re still very
close though we rarely see each other any more, but when we do it’s wonderful.
As you might expect, the place was very male. For example, everybody ate in the
faculty lounge and the conversations were usually about sports and sometimes
politics. I don’t remember much else. That’s probably because I stopped eating
lunch in the lounge. The conversations were not really might cup of tea. There
were of course people on the faculty who still thought that women should not be
here but I don’t think they were the vast majority of the people. This was just a
place where male norms predominated. For example, when the three of us gave
birth maternity leave was not available to us. Maternity leave policies came later.
We tried very hard to time our deliveries so we could return to teaching. My
situation was also complicated by my race. An African American male, Curtis
Smothers, was hired about the same time I was. He had been a deputy Assistant
Secretary of Defense. We knew each other from our days in government. He had
served in the military as a JAG officer. He was nationally known because he was
at the forefront of civil rights struggles that were at the time a major object of
concern for the Defense Department. During our involvement in Vietnam there
were racial outbreaks in Vietnam and elsewhere. As an aside, Curtis had been
responsible for my appointment to a DOD Task Force on the Administration of
Justice in the Armed Forces in 1972. For a year I traveled the country and the
world looking at the impact of the military justice system on African Americans.
We considered whether some of the rules disproportionally impacted blacks. We
examined issues such as hair length and shaving requirements. We investigated
military prison conditions. It was quite an experience, and I got to go where
American women were rarely admitted. Among the places that I visited was a
military bases in northern Thailand that been under attack just before we arrived.
For me it made war very real. There were other interesting experiences. I was the
only woman on this Task Force. When we were on bases we were entertained
socially as a group. A delicate point was whether I should stay with the wives or
join the men after dinner for discussion. My answer was to start with the ladies
and then excuse myself and join the men. I am sure everyone was upset but my
view at the time was that we should spread the frustration around. Curtis left
Georgetown after a few years. Jerome Shuman was the first African American
hired at Georgetown—perhaps in the late 60s. He had taken leave to work
elsewhere. He returned to Georgetown after my arrival. He did not receive tenure.
This was a period in Georgetown’s history when standards for tenure became more
rigorous than they had been. Shuman was caught in the shift. Shuman’s fate
caused great consternation for me and others. Would I get tenure? How much of
the tenure process was merit? How much of the process involved less tangibles
NM: And when you talk about the shift in standards that was going on then
are you talking about greater shift toward emphasis on scholarship?
PK: From my perspective it was a shift in what qualified as scholarship—
think about movement from treatises to law review articles or from doctrine to
theory. Or to think of another way, it was movement from descriptive mode to
analytical mode. Professors wrote but it became the way you wrote. There were of
course people who didn’t essentially write at all. Georgetown emphasized teaching
consistent with the Jesuit tradition. The younger people were writing in a different
way. It was noted by all if you published out of Georgetown. This worked in my
favor because my major tenure piece was accepted by the Michigan Law Review.
It ultimately was printed in other books. In addition, I was widely known in my
field of study. I also was good at interpersonal relationships. I had an opportunity
to extend my tenure clock, but I decided it was time to fish or cut bait. There are
other people like me who were caught in this changed scholarship standards
situation where the faculty did want more than one piece of writing but the school
didn’t know quite how to do it. Ultimately they allowed a longer tenure clock.
Dean Dave McCarthy actually talked to me about not coming up at the time I
should have come up but instead to take extra time. I responded after a great deal
of agony that it was fish or cut bait time. My approach as an African American is
to think carefully about the benefits and costs of differential treatment. Yes I
wanted to be on the faculty but either I was going to get it done or. I wasn’t. You
reach these crossroads in life and to tell you the truth you must decide. I barely
completed my article on time. It was accepted by Michigan in draft and I
subsequently made revisions.
NM: So it had already been accepted at Michigan.
PK: Yes. Everything was riding on this piece. I also had very good
recommendations. I have seen my tenure file. I think the faculty thought I had
promise. This was not an easy period but I was clear about one thing. I enjoyed
being at Georgetown. Before receiving tenure I was offered the opportunity to
become Assistant Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs.
Carla Hills was the Secretary. But I declined. It was all a part of my fish or cut bait
attitude. I really had a good feeling about Georgetown, as good as one can feel
without tenure (you know you never let yourself formally commit until you’re
tenured). Soon after I got tenure I was offered a position at Justice. I went mainly
because I needed to get away. Getting tenure is an exhaustive process. I went in
July 1980 and of course Carter was not re-elected in November 1980. I was on
leave for a year but anyway I worked that out and returned to Georgetown in July
1981. So maybe that answers your question.
NM: It answers very well but tell me a little bit about the Justice job.
PK: It was actually kind of interesting. I was the Deputy Assistant Attorney
General for the Civil Division. There were three deputies and one deputy was
responsible for all suits against the United States and that was me. I served
basically as an administrator and policy person with respect to tort litigation
against the United States. Some interesting things were going on at the time.
However I liked the fact that the cases I supervised were for the most part not front
page news. This period included the rapid increase of asbestos litigation and swine
flu litigation. I dealt with constitutionals tort litigation involving issues stemming
from the Watergate scandal. But you know the deputy assistant AG position is a
management job with substantive components. I enjoyed the settlements. The
deputy decided when the government would settle. I also enjoyed the professional
ethics issues. Suits against government officials were typically defended by
government lawyers except when there were conflicts of interest between the
government employee and the government. If there were a conflict, outside
counsel was retained and paid for by the government. The question of whether a
conflict existed was usually very contentious. So it was actually fun. It just didn’t
last long enough because Ronald Reagan was elected President in November 1980.
Government transitions are very slow and my position was not filled right away. I
left Justice at the end of June in 1981.
NM: And were you during this time still thinking or working in the areas of
PK: I had to resign from the President’s Commission because of a provision
in the Executive Order creating the Commission in order to take the Justice
position. While at Justice I could not engage in such activities. Dean McCarthy
had a crisis because of the death of a professor. He asked if I could teach Torts in
the evening in the spring of 1981. Justice allowed it. So in effect I had two jobs.
There wasn’t much time for anything else. I married on February 21, 1981. This
was a very busy year for me.
NM: Let’s go back to the sort of the field that became your field and that
you helped sort of create. You were talking about your work on that first
commission on human subjects and scientific research there were like all of these
issues but race wasn’t one of the ones [END OF SIDE ONE OF TAPE] . . . I was
asking about your scholarship that was so informed by your work on the
Commission and to what extent race came in and I realize now that really comes
later and I guess if you I would love to hear sort of how you think about the
trajectory of your thinking in this area because it really was that you were helping
create this field and
PK: In the 1970s and 1980s bioethics evolved as a field of study. The
debate continues to this day about whether bioethics is a discipline. There is
agreement that it is an interdisciplinary field. As a theoretical area bioethics
absorbed prevailing understandings of a liberal democratic society. The field
focused on autonomy, individualism and to a lesser extent beneficence and justice.
In the 1980s I worked on bioethical controversies involving abortion, reproductive
technologies and fetal status. My article for tenure involved the status of the fetus.
In 1978 while I was still a member of the National Commission, the first baby
created by in vitro fertilization was born. Abortion and reproductive technologies
were obviously feminist issues. However what I wrote about and helped create
policies about also related to my personal life. My daughter was born in 1983. So
I was working on fetal matters and reproduction, and I was also living what I was
concerned about and thinking about. I wrote about maternal-fetal issues in the
context of medical care for women, drug use and later HIV. I was appointed to the
Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research panel in 1988. This panel
deliberated about the ethical issues raised by transplanting fetal tissue procured
from the remains of abortion into people suffering from certain diseases such as
Parkinson’s in the hopes that the fetal tissue would develop into adult tissue and
take on some of the functions that patients were losing. This research, despite its
potential to help, was controversial because it seemed to some to make the decision
to abort easier for some women. Doing good by helping to further research, in
other words, might result in less guilt or remorse. A contrary view was that a
woman could decide what should be done with fetal remains in the same way that
decisions about disposal of corpses were decided. I haven’t exhausted the
perspectives about this issue but I am sure you are getting the picture. In addition
to the question of whether abortion was being encouraged, there was the issue of
the male’s role in making the decision about fetal remains. I was a strong
proponent for allowing the woman to decide. I also argued that the woman was in
the best position to know if the birth of a child was the best outcome in the specific
context of her family circumstances. At the time this was a tough argument to
make in a public forum. I subsequently participated in other forums and panels on
this issue. I was becoming a very public feminist on these matters. I learned later
that many women in the National Institutes of Health were rooting for me. After
that I was frequently asked to participate in matters before NIH that involved
women’s health. I supported women’s autonomy in the fetal tissue research
context and with respect to the abortion decision but I confess that I found
maternal-fetal more complex because a woman’s autonomy seemed to be only an
aspect of what was at stake.
NM: The autonomy of the woman?
PK: Right. I was a mother, and I was a pro-choice feminist. I wasn’t ready
to say, however, that a pregnant woman could do anything with her body.
Maternal-fetal conflicts and the questions they raised for the first time my
discomfort with bioethics’ concentration on autonomy and individualism. From
that time forward I have always concerned myself with the limits of a framework
of analysis based in notions of autonomy and individualism. I thought the ethical
framework for maternal-fetal matters should be an analysis of duty and obligation.
Who had obligations to the wanted child and the child-to-be and what did these
responsibilities consist of. Inevitably, it seems to me, the next set of issues to be
raised was what, if any, obligations did the state have in helping women meet their
responsibilities. From an ethical perspective, the broader society or community had
an important role to play as well. To illustrate, in March 1991 the Supreme Court
held in Automobile Workers v. Johnson Controls that Johnson Controls’ fetal
protection policy (from harm due to exposures in workplaces where pregnant
women worked) was invalid. It was a victory but where did the decision leave
women? They could not work in such places but where would they find work
elsewhere? The decision did not require companies to reduce the risks to pregnant
women or women generally. To summarize, I was beginning to focus on obligation
and duty for women and men but it wasn’t long before I was carrying this point to
NM: Which moved you towards race?
PK: That’s exactly right.
NM: Coming into yourself as a woman and mother. That’s so interesting.
One of the things I was just thinking about in terms of how you laid that out was it
still seems to me we depend so much in justifying a right to choice autonomy
issues so it creates a much harder argument for you to make that all of those duties
and obligations and responsibilities not just on the part of the woman or the part of
society only flow after this autonomous decision to keep or reject the child.
PK: That’s right.
NM: And that makes that argument much harder because if in fact there is a
societal responsibility from that point forward why wouldn’t there be . . . making
that first choice
PK: But do women have real choices in the abortion context? I was asked
to join a project led by Frances Kissling, then president of Catholics for a Free
Choice, in which many people decided to see if there could be areas of consensus
for pro choice and pro life persons. It was a wonderful discussion. The question
of choice was a starting point. We could disagree about whether a pregnant woman
should have one but we didn’t stop there. We talked about and reached some
consensus about how to treat women who found themselves in circumstances
where they wished to have an abortion. Do women have real choice, is the way I
framed the autonomy issue for myself. We could agree that many women who
have abortions are ambivalent in the sense that they’ve taken a look at their
situation and they decide that there is nothing else for them to do. In the
circumstances this is a practical and realistic approach to making life decisions.
Many of these women do not have realistic options. They don’t have any help and
support in going through pregnancy. They may lack many of the basic necessities
of life. Women decide I cannot have more children because I can’t take care of the
children I already have. I was interested in how to create options to assist women
during pregnancy and after. Participating in this project crystallized my thinking
about the role of choice in the abortion context but also more generally. It was
critical to have a frame of analysis broader than autonomy and the rights of
individuals. I would also note that my concerns about having “choice” carry so
much weight seem to resonate more today than they did at that time. As you can
see, I was a feminist but sometimes for many reasons an uncomfortable feminist.
Although in the academy we appreciate that others may disagree with us or spend
time on the strengths and weaknesses of our work, it’s tough to take in
circumstances where the subject matter of your paper is so closely connected with
your personal life. You lose a little of your objectivity. But you just have to do
what you have to do!
NM: Well I mean you are very modest and bordering on the insecure about
your scholarly contribution but I do think one of the ways in which you are again
just to use the cliche of this project, a trailblazer, is in making scholarship personal,
political, policy-oriented, I mean that is moving scholarship in that direction was a
big and important thing to do. And it’s really clearly reflected in your work and
the things you write about and how you write about and how you think about them.
PK: You are reminding me of something I need to remind myself about
constantly. When you are going against the grain in the way you think about an
issue you need creativity and time for prolonged reflection. Moreover, there are
probably many others who are also thinking along the same liens but they aren’t
likely to constitute a large segment of your audience at any given time.
NM: It’s especially hard I guess to think through it, I mean in the way that
you like to which seems to me has a lot of integrity when the thing you are
thinking about is such a hot bottom issue. We haven’t progressed very far.
PK: No. We haven’t. In terms of caretaking, for example, society still
expects women to take responsibility but as a society we are reluctant to help them.
NM: So I’m going to ask you a personal question based on this discussion
about the policy and politics, which is did your thinking or having been thinking a
lot about reproductive rights and technology and the politics of motherhood
actually inform your own decision to have a child?
PK: I confess that I had some ambivalence about having a child. I surely
did not make a conscious decision and then try to bring it about. I think deep down
I always wanted to have a child but when you marry at 38 you sort of say well is
having a child realistic (remember this was 1981) and so by this time I had
convinced myself that I wasn’t going to have any children anyway and so I didn’t
worry a lot about contraception or anything like that. I found myself pregnant and
ambivalent because I knew it would change my life. I had an easy pregnancy but
for nine months I was very anxious, because I knew my life was going to change. I
wasn’t expecting my husband to be interested in having a relationship of equals in
connection with home and children. He is older and while he respects women, he
wasn’t going to do housework either. I wanted to be a law professor and a good
parent. I wasn’t sure I could manage both.
NM: What was it like becoming a stepmother before you had even become
PK: Tough. It would have probably been easier if I had had children before
or had spent time around children. They were also older and lived with their
mother. Blended families are not easy. They can work but they are not easy.
NM: Would you tell us a little bit about meeting Roger?
PK: I didn’t tell you that before?
NM: I don’t think on the tape.
PK: We met in December 1980. I was at the Department of Justice. I
attended a luncheon given by the president of a savings and loan founded by
African Americans. Someone said Roger Wilkins was returning to DC. I had been
introduced to Roger while having lunch with a friend in 1971-72. He was at the
Washington Post and had written Washington Post editorials on Watergate for
which he and three others had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972. I asked the person I
was having lunch with to tell me about Roger. I was interested right away. He
was not wearing a wedding band. I will never forget this. The person I was having
lunch with said, no point you getting interested in him he only goes out with white
women and I was given lots of gossip about his personal life. To be fair, I also
learned a lot about his accomplishments working in the Lyndon Johnson
administration. He had led a very interesting and somewhat controversial life.
After that whenever I saw his name I always read what he wrote. Roger and I had
overlapping networks. I knew he left the Washington Post and went to the New
York Times. It was much easier to follow him when he was at the Times because he
had a byline or he had a column or he had pieces in the magazine section. I just
loved the way he wrote. He was not a journalist in the sense of covering the news.
He wrote opinion pieces. He was a good columnist or editorial writer with a point
of view. In my judgment he was a fabulous writer and his passions always came
through. He was a black man who frequently wrote about what I cared about too.
So when I was at this luncheon and I heard Roger was coming back to
Washington, the first thing I said was do you know him, to the man next to me.
He said yes. I said I would really like to meet him, do you think you could arrange
that. He was not somebody I knew very well. After that I just told everybody that I
really wanted to meet him. I learned later that before leaving New York a college
classmate, Esther Newberg, told Roger about me and said you must meet her. He
remembered my name, and heard it many times after he arrived in D.C. On
December 10, 1980, I left the office early. I did not feel well and went home to
rest. I was sitting in the bed in my robe reading and the phone rang. It was Roger
and he said well you know I understand you want to meet me so I thought that I
would call and see if you might be interested in having some Chinese food. This
was about 9:00 o’clock at night. I said well you know I’m really not feeling well
and I don’t want to go out again but if you don’t mind seeing a woman in her robe
come by for a drink, I think we should get this meeting over with. He did. Though
I was not at my best in any sense I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity go by. So he
came and we sat in the living room and we talked and we talked all night. I was
later told by a woman who was my secretary then that I walked into the office the
following morning and said I’ve met the man I’m going to marry. My sister tells
me I called her and told her the same thing. Roger proposed five weeks later and I
was married five weeks after that so we got married on February 21. The reason
we picked that date was because it was the faculty retreat and I could get away for
a few days for a honeymoon.
NM: So you must have like you kept asking people to meet him so you had
like an intellectual crush on him or
PK: Yes, I was really into his writing. I thought he just had to be a
fascinating person. In retrospect, I think I was intrigued because he was a black
male being “a first” like I was. We would likely understand each other’s issues.
Roger called because he ran into the person I was having lunch with in 1971-72
when I first saw Roger. My lunch companion asked Roger if he had called me.
Roger asked why are you trying to get me to call her, why is everybody trying to
get me to call her. Roger pointed at my friend and said you’re single why don’t
you call her and take her out. And he said that my friend looked at him with such
sadness in his face and replied I would if she would have me. And my friend pulled
out 15 cents or 20 cents out of his pocket and he said to Roger, you take this, there
is a pay phone over there, go call her. And Roger said he did. He said he was just
intrigued about why this person was so interested in my well being. So he picked
up the phone and called. Our friend was invited to our wedding and Roger gave
him the telephone money back.
NM: That’s a great story.
PK: So it’s a little bit crazy.
NM: It actually makes me wonder. I know we had this conversation, I just
didn’t think it was on tape. I hope it’s not a repeat but I wanted to make sure that
we I’ll check back at the very worst we have two great stories. I wanted to just ask
you, we should wrap up soon because I know this is tiring, what your, you testified
before Congress not real long after you started teaching in 1977, that was the
PK: It had something to do with technology. I remember testifying before
Al Gore. I have to look back and figure out what I was testifying about.
NM: I think that might have been human subjects.
PK: Yes, somewhere it is listed.
NM: So it was ethical issues in science research and then again in ’82 social
policy issues in genetic engineering. And then again in ’89 and I was curious what
those experience were like for you and those were very sort of high profile.
PK: If the truth be told I got asked to do it a lot more often than I did and
you can imagine what my biggest dilemma was. When you get asked to testify
before Congress you have to submit your written testimony before and then you go
and they have that as a matter of record and then they just ask you a lot of
questions. I was totally comfortable with the question and answer period. It was
writing the testimony ahead of time you know it takes me so long to do that.
Testifying before Congress is very similar to a really good discussion in a
classroom, I mean it’s a lot like that and as insecure as I am about writing, I’m
pretty secure about that kind of interaction in a subject area that I know. In those
years Congress had the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) which was an
arm of Congress that did studies for Congress similar to GAO studies but about
science and technology matters. I did a lot of work for OTA by serving on
committees and also writing background papers. The OTA work and service on
other public policy bodies related to bioethics generated interest in having me
NM: What prompted the, was there something in particular going on that
prompted the hearings?
PK: Well I know the subject of my first hearing. I can’t find the
submission. I believe it was about recombinant DNA and the controversy about
whether the research should go forward. Other hearings involved genetics and the
Human Genome Project.
NM: I was wondering, I was curious I guess what your article is and
especially I think given the labor you put into them what article of yours or even
just sort of pieces of writing you are most proud of.
PK: Race, Justice and Research in Beyond Consent: Seeking Justice in
Research (Jeffrey Kahn, Anna Mastroianni and Jeremy Sugarman, eds.), Oxford
Press 1998. I worked with the three editors when I served on the President’s
Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments in 1994. They were putting
together a book research on human subjects where the focus was on justice not
consent. So they asked me to write about the issues raised by the inclusion of
African Americans as a group in clinical research. Congress had passed a statute
in 1994 requiring inclusion of women and minorities in government sponsored
clinical research. The implications of categorizing subjects by race and ethnicity
even if useful for the improvement of health are significant and controversial.
Thinking about this subject required that I had to review all my thinking about
bioethics up to that point and understand what I thought about bioethics in relation
to race. A philosopher, also a Georgetown colleague, sent me an e-mail after the
manuscript was finished praising me for my courage in writing the piece. The
editors of the book said to me that when the book was submitted to Oxford
University Press, the editor they worked with said that the only really interesting
piece in the book that broke new ground was mine. Well, it was the first time I had
been praised in this way for putting pen to paper. An earlier piece, The Past as
Prologue in Using Ethics and Law as Guides, 1992, was in an Oxford University
Press book that was widely read and cited, but the chapter in Beyond Consent was
a very personal accomplishment for me. The implications of the 1994 law are
difficult. The National Commission’s work resulted in African Americans being
generally excluded from clinical research because of protection concerns—in order
to avoid possible abuse — a reaction to the Tuskegee syphilis study. The tide turned
in the 1980s when it became clear that participation might benefit some individuals
and perhaps the group. This resulted in efforts to expand inclusion in clinical
research. The initial push came on behalf of women and some of the reasoning
applied to minorities. Women are similar to men in many ways but are also
different from men and obviously so in their reproductive functions. The 1994
required NIH to include. However, mandatory inclusion of women in clinical
research is not the same as mandatory inclusion of minorities. The requirement
opened a can of worms and few people thought about the complexities that the
mandate generated. IF you are going to categorize people by their race and
ethnicity then what is race? What is ethnicity? Why couldn’t research results from
studies in which only whites participated be extrapolated to minorities? Were
blacks and whites biologically different in ways other than skin color? Then there
is another piece of the issue. Why were we only discussing inclusion in terms of
subject participation? Didn’t inclusion also encompass focusing research on the
diseases predominant in minority communities? So those were just a few of the
implications of the 1994 statute.
NM: So apart from this big theoretical question and I guess empirical
question too about the biological similarities and differences between races what
are the open policy questions still in this area
PK: .Well one of the policy questions is the extent to which the minority
community should be involved in setting research agendas. Another is how to
address racial disparities in health. When is race a useful category in research?
Health issues don’t just implicate the genome. There are other factors such as
nutrition, access to care, shelter, etc. which impact health. It might be appropriate
to use race when studying these factors.
NM: This was great. It’s really interesting and I think maybe we should
leave it there and we’ll pick up next time with some of the 90’s Thank you. [END
ABA Senior Lawyers Division
Women Trailblazers in the Law
Interviewer: Naomi Mezey
Dates of Interviews:
December 5, 2005
March 9, 2007
May 22, 2007
August 8, 2007
August 28, 2007
Georgetown University Law Center
ORAL HISTORY OF PATRICIA KING
Tape 5 of 5
August 28, 2007
(Revised April 2010)
Naomi Mezey: This is August 28, 2007. Our fifth interview with
Patricia King for the ABA Women Trailblazers in the Law project. We are
in Pat’s office at Georgetown University Law Center. As I mentioned, Pat,
as I was thinking about what you said in the last interview about your
scholarship, and I read a few more things myself, I guess I was curious sort
of about that transition you made from writing about women and fetuses to
writing about race and bio-ethics and on the one hand I was thinking it all
revolves around issues of consent in some way. And the other thing I was
thinking was it also charts a little bit your own personal journey that you
have talked about in other contexts from beginning to think about yourself as
a woman and moving in feminism and sort of coming back to race again.
And I guess I just wanted to sort of step back and ask you to think about or
explore how that I’m sure it felt very natural at the time to work on one
piece and another but I guess I was sort of wondering is that story I’m telling
myself about that move right, is that how it felt to you.
PK: I don’t remember a lot of our last conversation but if I recall
correctly, the 80s seemed to have been preoccupied with reproductive
technologies and fetuses, etc. I can’t remember the date of the Thomas
hearing, can you?
NM: I have it. I can find it.
PK: I suspect that it coincides with my shift in focus.
NM: Early 90s right. Wasn’t it 1992.
PK: ’92. That would be about right.
NM: September 17, 1991.
PK: I think that I have been interested in both questions of gender and
race all along, as they were highlighted in specific bioethical controversies.
I don’t think that one dominates over the other in my thinking. I do think
that the Clarence Thomas hearing represents a transition in my thinking to a
more targeted approach to thinking about race and ethnicity in bioethics.
My op-ed about the nomination of Zoe Baird (discussed earlier) also marks
the transition as well. The issue was not so much race but class and poverty.
I was opposed to Thomas’ nomination. I had at one time worked at EEOC
and I had some idea of what occurred there under his leadership. I did not
think he was a worthy heir to Thurgood Marshall. But what really upset me
about Thomas was how he treated his sister—at least the newspaper
accounts of their relationship upset me. The stories reminded me about the
gender interactions within the black community. Thomas had talked in a
derogatory way about his sister as being a person who was always waiting
for her welfare check. A fuller account of their relationship slowly appeared
in the media. His sister had been on welfare for a while. She was a
caretaker for an extended family member and was unable to work.
Otherwise she worked and supported her family. I was sort of amazed at
how enraged I was about this. I’m not passionate about many things but I
was really sort of outraged, especially so since in his family he had been
given all the opportunities. While it was true that he was born disadvantaged
in some broad sense, where he grew up he had many advantages in
comparison to his black peers. He was raised by his grandfather, who was
self-employed, and was sent to a Catholic school in a southern state where
education for African Americans in segregated public schools was not
terrific. SoI did sort of get outraged. I’m not especially politically oriented,
but apparently one of the administration’s strategies was to emphasize the
Thomas rags to riches rise, probably to shift the focus away from his lack of
experience and meager record on the Court of Appeals. Some have referred
to this as the Pin Point, Georgia strategy. I viewed him as a person who had
overcome the obstacles in his life and ended up in elite schools who was
now using this background of overcoming adversity to say this is the reason
I should be appointed. I didn’t understand why escaping poverty and
deprivation qualified anyone to take on particular kinds of employment. I do
think that in the course of such a journey one can acquire wisdom and other
virtues. Life is great teacher. Such an experience can be important and
significant but it doesn’t by itself qualify you for anything in particular. So
when I was asked would I be interested in testifying by Judy Lichtman at the
National Partnership (it was then the Women’s Legal Defense Fund), I
believe, I said yes I was interested and they wanted me to talk about what I
was angry about.
NM: Did they know what you were angry about?
PK: I honestly don’t know. You would have to ask Judy. I’ve never
asked Judy why she came to me. I was on her board. I’m sure she knew a
little bit about me and my history. It was quite unusual to be asked. I was not
a person who had written on constitutional law and I was not a person who
was an advocate. I think the actual hearing was a little unusual because
there I was at the hearings saying he isn’t qualified, Thomas doesn’t care
about women, he doesn’t really even care about his sister. I agreed and
actually Roger and staff at the Women’s Legal Defense Fund helped me
prepare the testimony. That’s how it all got done. And then there were
problems with getting me to the table. The first panel to testify in opposition
to Thomas was composed of three male African Americans–Chuck
Lawrence, Drew Days and I believe Chris Edley. The next panel was
composed of people who were in favor of the nomination. The third panel
were women who were opposed to the nomination. I still don’t know what
happened behind the scenes so that I could testify. So I was on a panel with
Judy Lichtman and Marcia Greenberger, who heads the National Women’s
Law Center. I testified first. The Senators reacted to my testimony. I guess I
got their attention perhaps some of them understood that it was going after
the Pin Point Georgia strategy. Senator Simpson from Wyoming said he
couldn’t understand why I was opposed to the nomination in part because of
his treatment of women and disregard for family. He told me that his sister
came to the hearing and sat behind him. I responded that I thought his sister
was a saint. I wouldn’t have come. I got a lot of questions. I got questions
about African American women. And I’ve been told later that Senator Heflin
was clearly moved by the testimony and was really in quite a quandary
because he was torn between his African American constituents in Alabama
who were very pro-Thomas and his own doubts, which I guess I helped
fortify. But it was an important event for me though as a consequence I
missed the opportunity to participate in the Anita Hill controversy that
erupted within days of my testifying. To return to the significance of this for
me personally—the race and gender issue really became clearer for me. I
had concerns that white women who claimed Anita Hill as their champion
did not appreciate her personal costs. To some extent she was an unwilling
participant. She did not volunteer her testimony her comments to Senate
staffers were leaked. I identified with her to some extent. She was put in the
position of taking on an African American man which was a big cultural
issue. As a professional African American woman, she did so in a way that
other African America women, particularly those who were not
professionals would not appreciate. She did it beautifully however and
preserved her dignity but I am sure there were costs. I have never asked h
about what her thoughts were then so I am speculating of course. So that was
the turning point. I wanted to spend less time on gender issues and more
time on race or race and gender matters in bioethics. Shifting my focus also
caused me to reflect on justice questions that I had not paid sufficient
attention to personally. I started to move beyond autonomy and
individualism in my thinking.
NM: When I read your testimony, the Clarence Thomas testimony, it
was so eloquent and so I guess one of the things that was so eloquent about
it was the way that you capture the experience of being an African American
woman and not African American and not a woman but an African
American woman, and so I see very well, I didn’t locate it as a turning point
I think in your own scholarship and thinking but it was really beautifully
PK: Thank you.
NM: And it sort of makes sense that it was this sort of public
integration of a lot of things that you cared about. I guess I see the ways in
which you were important to the Clarence Thomas hearings and the
Clarence Thomas hearings were also important to you.
PK: Absolutely. Another marker in this transition relates to minority
women. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were widespread concerns that
children of women who used crack cocaine and other drugs during
pregnancy would suffer permanent adverse consequences. In the public
perception the women were all black or Hispanic. The public also viewed
the problem as a moral as well as health problem and crack cocaine use was
particularly stigmatized. Public condemnation had an impact on me. There
was no focus at all on the other factors a pregnant mom confronted—poverty,
stress, inadequate health care, etc.—that were also relevant to the child’s
health outcomes. I wrote a piece Helping Women, Helping Children for
Milbank Quarterly (1991) on this issue. I argued that punishing the pregnant
woman was not going to result in improvement of health outcomes for
children. Punishment wasn’t going to prevent harm to the fetus if it had
already occurred. It wasn’t going to do anything to rehabilitate the woman,
that the time you had to do something was either during the pregnancy or
before pregnancy occurred. While women had obligations to fetuses and
children that they wanted to have, it didn’t let society off the hook. At the
time there were very few drug treatment programs for women. The prospect
of finding treatment was especially difficult for women who had other
children. What would happen to those children while a mother was in
NM: What do you see as sort of the big issues now are coming up in
areas of that are sort of important to you?
PK: Well first in terms of focusing on gender it really means undoing
a lot of harm with respect to mothering and gender, a lot of the harm that has
come from the Bush years. So, for example, I don’t know how you can
improve the health of the fetus without assisting the mother. The Bush
administration seems not to have understood that fact. As far as what I think
about bioethics now, I think that bioethics must turn its attention beyond
medicine and technological breakthroughs, beyond the confines of doctorpatient relationship and beyond consent. Most persons but especially poor
and minority women do not see a doctor on any ongoing basis. It’s the
doctor in the emergency room. So if bioethics must talk in terms of
relationships it must take account of what’s happening on the ground.
Dorothy Roberts, a professor at Northwestern, wrote a terrific piece many
years ago Reconstructing the Patient Starting with Women of Color. She
argued that understanding the doctor-patient relationship from the
perspective of women of color helps to identify hierarchies of power useful
to bioethics. It’s also hard for bioethicists to shift from its relationship with
medicine to a focus on prevention and public health which requires an
understanding of the context of people’s lives. I have been thinking recently
about Hurricane Katrina and what has happened in New Orleans in
connection with bioethics. The Katrina disaster I think captures in a
dramatic way connections between race, health, health access and place or
geography. It highlights many of the problems of our current health care
system and our public health system. For example, I just finished reading a
piece about a doctor advising his patients that they should use swimming
pools to improve their health and help ameliorate diabetes, heart disease, etc.
The doctor notes that there aren’t free swimming pools any more. You must
pay fees. He’s giving patients good advice and they may want to follow it,
but they may not have money. Thinking about providing public pools opens
up all sorts of possibilities. People of color may have greater need but
swimming pools could serve needs of all, veterans, for example. The
growing inequalities in the nation need to be addressed. There is some
recognition of this with respect to education. I don’t think we yet
understand as a nation that the health system of our people is equally if not
more important. So I think writing about racial disparities in health and
justice is needed in bioethics.
NM: Katrina is actually a great example of this constellation of issues
because when you have governmental breakdowns at that level you see all
the things break and so it really does sort of it both it makes it so big that it
seems hard to get at but you’re quite right just pull the strands apart there is
a lot in there. That is why you have to keep writing, Pat.
PK: Well it’s very interesting. I found a book containing articles by
black law professors primarily about Katrina and its implications. There
wasn’t an article on health though there were pieces on housing and the
importance of geography. One of our colleagues Sheryl Cashin, has a piece
on housing. I am sure people with degrees related to medicine will also write
but I believe there is a role for lawyers. Sheryl’s work is terrific and she’s a
good role model.
NM: Well between you, Sheryl and James you could cover housing,
education and health, do a little symposium. Also the thing that seems right
about what you’re saying is the way in which it should focus on race and
racial inequality and the ways in which it should also be broader than that
and I think making it broader than that is both right but it’s also strategic,
right, it makes Katrina not a race issue, it’s something that people should
care about, simply a race issue, right. Anyway, I want to just follow-up you
were talking about the National Commission, which national commission
PK: Oh the National Commission the one that was established in
1974, which is the first public policy commission I was a member of. One
of the things that happened with the National Commission is that it issued
the Belmont Report which set the basic principles for bioethics. One of the
principles was justice. I was one of the commissioners who used to focus on
that principle, particularly with respect to research involving prisoners. In
the years after, I, along with others, talked a lot about autonomy and
beneficence. I started thinking about justice again with pregnant women and
drugs and pregnant women and HIV. The National Commission discussed
justice in terms of fair distribution but by the time I started thinking about
pregnant women I could see that there had to be more to justice. Iris Marion
Young’s book Justice and the Politics of Difference was very useful. At the
National Commission I was dealing with prisoner research. I thought of it in
terms–prisoners are the least cared for people in the population in terms of
medical care. Why would we involve them in research if they are not likely
to benefit as a group? I didn’t originally think about them as lacking power
for example. In thinking about pregnant women, I thought about extreme
disadvantage and failure of our society to offer needed support. In this
context of women of color I also thought about justice as compensation for
historical disadvantage of slavery and segregation. So my current interest is
justice and health or a different way to say it is social determinates of health
NM: I was just looking for the name of the commission, National
PK: For the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and
Behavioral Research, sorry.
NM: I just wanted to clarify. So I want to go back to the Thomas
hearings and just ask you a couple things. You were describing how hard it
must have been for Anita Hill to testify.
PK: It was hard for me too.
NM: I was thinking as you were talking about it how hard it must
have been for you too because you were in some similar sort of position and
I had read somewhere you were saying that you were conflicted about
testifying. And I was wondering if you would just explain the nature of your
PK: The dynamics of one’s community play a substantial role in your
life. This is particularly the case when you are African American in this
country. The tendency is to keep problems within the community. It’s like
family life. There is always the concern that if you air disagreements
publicly that your views can be used in ways you never intended. In sum,
bringing down or casting aspersions on “our own” helps to pile up negatives
against African Americans as a group. So the idea of a black woman
attacking a black man in public on such an important matter made me very
uncomfortable. Actually it was Roger who convinced me to go ahead. He
said you have to call it like you see it. If you believe that appointing Thomas
would negatively impact the black community then you should say it even if
a majority of that community might disagree with you. You must stand up
he said. And trust me in the beginning it was very unpopular. It didn’t turn
around until after the Anita Hill controversy. But it really didn’t penetrate
the African American community that Thomas was not a good appointment
until he starting issuing opinions. He had been on the Court only a few
months when he dissented in Hudson v. McMillan. He argued that the
beating of an inmate was not cruel and unusual punishment. Lots of people
heard about this dissent. Moreover, in testifying I was not discussing his
professional life. I was raising my personal life as well. I was really
nervous. Roger knew how afraid I was of testifying, how upset I was that I
had decided to do it. I’ll never forget that he left George Mason University,
where he taught, which is 25 miles outside of the city, to drive all the way in
to see me testify. He found out the approximate time I was scheduled to
testify and surprised me. After I finished, he turned around and drove all the
way back to George Mason. It was wonderful of him and a great expression
of love. Later he was able to tell me lots of things that I was too shaken to
be aware of.
NM: What did he tell you later?
PK: He was watching other Senators some of whom he knew. He
could tell me about the impact. I was very busy trying to get out what I had
say. The Senators, especially Joe Biden who was presiding, were rushing
me in the beginning. I was supposed to talk five minutes and then submit
written testimony and then wait for questions. You know how congressional
hearings are. Well, my testimony was structured in a way that it was hard to
condense. They finally just let me do my thing. Roger watched this play
out. After that they just tried to undermine the thrust of my testimony
because I had an impact.
NM: Was there anything else that you remember him telling you
about the Senators’ reactions?
PK: He told me that Senator Heflin paid very close attention. Roger
thought I had real impact and maybe he was going to vote against Thomas.
Heflin had been the Chief Judge of the Alabama Supreme Court and he was
known for listening carefully. In any event Heflin voted against Thomas in
committee and on the floor. I like to think maybe I helped a bit but this is
speculation on my part.
NM: How did you decide to speak about what you spoke?
PK: I remember having a meeting with Judy Lichtman in my office
talking about my views about Thomas. I asked them to give me a draft. They
did. Roger and I worked on the draft. We added to the personal material. I
was offended that he would use his upbringing as a reason for being
appointed. I especially disliked what he said about his sister.
NM: As a strategy
PK: In retrospect I didn’t think in strategy terms then. I had a similar
personal history and it always seemed to me that it was all about struggle.
You could talk about it, but only understanding that lots of people have
struggles (they are not all black either). Overcoming obstacles may be
indicative of one’s character. I still am not convinced that it says very much
about a person’s competence especially when we are discussing appointment
to the Supreme Court. It was an emotional reaction I’m sure about why he
should not be a Supreme Court justice. He hadn’t done what Marshall had
done. Marshall had demonstrated his empathy and his willingness to help
people have better lives. What has Thomas done? He didn’t even
appreciate what others had done for him. He didn’t understand about
standing on shoulders. He didn’t understand that he was able to attend Yale
because of the work of others.
NM: But it was a huge act of courage to take that passion and make
that a testimony it was very personal.
PK: I figured that was the only way I could do it. And only for
testimony which was going after his competence. It seemed to me that it had
to come from someone with a background lie Thomas. Otherwise what I
was saying would not have been believable. Why else would they have
listened? I was a woman that Senate staffers had never heard of and I didn’t
teach constitutional law. Also I was used to white people asking about my
life. How had I gotten to Wheaton, to Harvard? What made it possible?
This is the case today. We have come a long way in this country in terms of
civil rights but really only a few white people know a lot about people of
NM: Well I was thinking the courage is not just saying the struggle is
not a justification for being a Supreme Court justice it’s also to have a
private person talk very publicly about themselves and the other part of the
courage is being an African American woman talking against an African
American man, just the levels of courage strike me. You talked about the
Senators’ reaction. I also read somewhere that you got a lot of mail in
reaction to your testimony. What was it like?
PK: Most of them were very favorable. It is always the case that
some are negative of course. It was so affirming to know that many who
were African American liked what I had to say. I also received letters from
women white and black who talked about what he said about his sister
and/or that part of the testimony that dealt with reproductive choice.
NM. Who were they from?
PK: Mostly from people that I did not know although many
congratulated me for testifying in the way I did. Most of the letters seemed
to come from C-SPAN viewers. That is when I first learned the impact of
NM: So you testified before Anita Hill.
PK: There was one hearing before the Judiciary Committee. I
testified before the leaks about Anita Hill. The view was that the hearings
were over when the leaks occurred but the vote had not been taken. After
the leaks, the Committee decided to call Anita Hill. While she was
testifying I was doing commentary for CBS News with Dan Rather. While I
was doing this Thomas raised his lynching point—I was stunned. I’m such a
novice I was so taken aback I kept saying no way . . . he can’t get away
metaphor. I was wrong of curse. The claim of high tech lynching resonated
with the all white male Senators and with African Americans. I must say
that I was a bit shaken by the reaction. How could so many people fail to
see the differences between Thomas’ situation and the fates of so many
people killed by lynching? They had no power.
NM: So in retrospect then your testimony seemed almost a little
prophetic, you were talking about the way he told the story of his upbringing
was a narrative that seemed to erase the sacrifices of African American
women and it show disrespect toward African American women and so in a
way it seems like you know you in light of what Anita Hill then testified
about it seemed as if you wanted to say something about him but you didn’t
know you hadn’t heard any rumors from these organizations about Anita
Hill or rumors of sexual harassment.
PK: No, but what she claimed certainly fit with disrespect of women.
I didn’t know Anita Hill. So I was completely taken off guard as were many
Americans black and white. The use of the lynching metaphor in a dispute
between a black man and a black woman was ridiculous. This seemed to me
to be a case of sexual harassment something that black women really do
know a lot about. He was her employer and had the power. His lynching
metaphor made it clear to black women—or at least to me—that appeal to
racial solidarity had its limits for black women.
NM: The reference to lynching was picked up by the press?
PK: And picked up by the press, she was portrayed as a scheming
woman who made false accusations in connection with sexual matters,
something that also happens in other context like rape, claims of child sexual
NM: Did it feel like race trumping gender?
PK: No, at least not to me. It seemed like men trumping women.
The African American community is like the rest of American society very
male dominated. Now the African American community differs from the rest
of society in important ways and as a result racial solidarity has typically
meant building and protecting the image of a black male. Interestingly
matters did change. African American women have come into their own. So
much so that in 2007 the public debate is about the need to focus on what
has happened to the black male. But that’s a relatively recent focus and I’m
not sure that it is so much a focus on the male as a focus on the family. The
Anita Hill testimony and the reactions that followed sort of reinforced my
negative views about whether I would ever be totally comfortable with the
African American community that I had grown up in because of the way I
felt about being a woman and an African American woman.
NM: So the Thomas hearings remain this sort of watershed political
event. I think a lot of people still think about them and people are still
thinking about what they meant and I was wondering if you spoke a little bit
about what they meant to you personally.
PK: I think it was a watershed event for me and perhaps for the
African American community as well. We all learned that it is not enough
to just look at the color of skin. It’s equally important to examine what a
person has done. As I mentioned before, Thomas’ opinions make it clear
that his views were different from many African Americans. I think you are
seeing a little bit of looking behind color of skin today in so many
newspaper articles about whether blacks will support Barack Obama and is
he black enough. I mean there is a lot more diversity of view and opinion
within the community I think than I felt before. So that for me was one of
the big impacts. I don’t know about the broader community Naomi.
NM: I don’t know either. As I was re-reading your testimony and
thinking about it I was thinking I remember it’s one of those things, they
were riveted and they watched it.
PK: It was like the Bork hearing.
NM: Right but I think much more than the Bork hearing. Bork was a
grumpy old right-wing man right. This was a drama, this was a real drama
and there was something it’s still not clear to me all the ways in which it was
compelling and meaningful.
PK: Well we had never seen anything like this before, I mean it
lacked decorum. There were lots of things that people found appalling but
they didn’t leave the TV seta Never before have we heard talk of sex like this
in the middle of a national congressional hearing. There was race and
gender and different political ideologies. It was also important, I think, that
you saw a black man and a black woman who were professionals, who had
attended elite schools. We had never seen anything like that before and for
some people they had never seen so many accomplished African Americans
who were also involved in this so I think there were a lot of reasons to be
caught up in it. And many radio stations carried the hearings gavel to gavel.
You could listen to the hearings everywhere. You could listen in your car,
you could see it on C-SPAN or you could sit there all day and watch the
networks showing it, so it really was a big deal.
NM: And it wasn’t just salacious sex and all of these sort of
professional brilliant African Americans testifying, it was also it was talking
about race in a way that we just don’t talk about race.
PK: That’s exactly right. I believe these hearings will resonate for a
NM: I don’t want to keep you too much longer and I feel like we’ve
covered so many highlights. I guess I wanted to ask a little bit more about
other professional roles that you had more recently either I think if you want
to talk about the Harvard Corporation if you want to talk about the Wheaton
College Board the ways in which I think both of those are great examples of
sort of going back to communities that were very significant to who you are
and who you became.
PK: I’m not sure, it’s a bit early for me to assess the impact of being
a member of the Harvard Corporation on my life so far. As an aside, those
who interviewed me for the position asked questions about my testimony in
the Thomas hearings. However, being a member of the Wheaton College
Board has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Incidentally, my experience on the board was also relevant to my
appointment to the Harvard Corporation. I joined the Wheaton board in
1989. I went on the board right after Wheaton went co-ed. If you know
anything about women’s colleges you’ll appreciate the turmoil this decision
provoked. I have learned a lot on this board. When I joined I asked to be on
the Education Committee and the Investment Committee, the latter because I
was interested in how the college dealt with the question of divestment in
South Africa—a lively national topic at the time. I had previously been on
the Russell Sage Foundation board so I know a little about the issue. I hadn’t
been on the board very long before I was asked to be on the search
committee for a new president. It was my first search committee experience.
The committee recommended Dale Rogers Marshall who was then serving
as the Provost of Wellesley College. While I enjoyed serving on the board, I
was concerned that we had made so little progress in terms of diversity. The
college’s faculty and student body were still overwhelmingly white. Dale
Marshall had ideas about change that I also embraced. Dale’s father had
been William Rogers, a moderate Republican who had been Attorney
General in the Eisenhower administration. Dale had gone to a Quaker
school, Sidwell Friends. She was one of the students involved in trying to
desegregate Sidwell Friends. Dale was an educator who appreciated the
challenges that small liberal arts colleges faced then and now but she also
understood that Wheaton needed diversity. She introduced important
changes. Wheaton is one of the earliest schools to have a Posse class. Posse
is a national organization that finds low income high school kids who might
be overlooked by typical college admissions. These kids are placed in
groups or posses of 10. They go to the same college and receive full
scholarships. [END OF SIDE ONE OF TAPE] . . .
NM: This is side two of the interview with Pat King on August 28,
talking about the Posse Foundation.
PK: It’s called the Posse Foundation and it’s very costly for the
participating schools. They have each other and they act as change agents
on the campuses where they go. As I mentioned, Wheaton was an early
Posse school. The college received negative comments in the press for
bringing all these minority kids to Wheaton. What was important for me was
that the board really supported this program and its presence was changing
Wheaton. Dale increased the number of black professors by hiring about five
black professors at one time. They could support each other. I remembered
my own faculty experience at Georgetown so I knew these professors
needed support the college could not give. I was on a foundation board at
the time that allowed its directors to direct grants up to a designated amount.
I used my grant to support the African American professors. From my own
experience I knew they needed more time off to do scholarly writing, needed
relief from all the advising functions that minority professors face, needed
relief from the committee work. There was also a need for summer stipends.
It wasn’t a huge sum but it made a difference. My donation was anonymous
because I believed that if this were publicly known there would undoubtedly
have been a backlash. So I learned a lot at Wheaton and it was also possible
for me to give a lot financially and otherwise. I served as chair of the board
from 2000-2005. During my tenure as chair we had to find a new president.
We selected Dr. Ron Crutcher, an African American who was a fine
educator as well as a renowned cellist. What I loved was that his race was
not controversial but his gender was.
NM: Was he the first male president of Wheaton?
PK: No. The standard history of women’s colleges is that the early
presidents were male. This was the tradition at Wheaton which is one of the
oldest women’s schools. When I was a student the presidents were still
male. Wheaton had its first female president in the 1970s. So for 25 or
more years the presidents were female. The alums in particular liked that. A
male president was something “new.” In my view the college had come a
long way and I am so pleased to have been a part of the change. I’m no
longer chair, but I have remained on the board. I am not sure how long I can
remain on the board because I have so many new commitments especially
the Harvard Corporation which takes a lot of my time. The Harvard
Corporation is a very different kind of board. I’m just getting my feet wet.
When I joined the Harvard Corporation we were in the midst of enormous
controversy about the then president of Harvard, Larry Summers. After his
resignation we had a search committee and I was part of that search
committee so I haven’t really had a “normal” year. The one thing that is
wonderful so far is that the search committee selected the first woman
president of Harvard. So in my lifetime I’m seeing lots of good changes. I
think I love being on the Wheaton board because it’s like being in a small
classroom, teaching a small class, you have a better idea of the impact and
you get feedback. Harvard is a much larger place, it’s a huge budget, a huge
endowment and actually the corporation has greater involvement in what
happens than most other college boards. But I have to say it’s really
interesting. I mean dealing with problems the size of the Harvard problems
is interesting all by itself. Harvard is going to build another campus in the
next 50 years and they are just getting started. Everything that comes to the
Corporation has enormous implications or they are often exceedingly
complex. A university is an entirely different world. The new president,
interestingly enough, is a woman from Virginia. She is five years younger
than I am. She grew up in Virginia and experienced a segregated society.
NM: You’re a power maker.
PK: No I’m not.
NM: This is a bit cliché as an ending question. I don’t want to send
you to your grave but I was curious how you want to be remembered. I was
thinking, I was reading that wonderful Harrison Salisbury chapter in the
book Heroes of our Time, and he said of both you and Roger you talk tough
common sense about the most pressing issues of our time and it’s rang really
true to me and I was thinking what a wonderful ability and what would Pat
value most about herself, what are the
PK: There is a story that a reporter asked Justice Thurgood Marshall
how he would like to be remembered. He responded. “He did the best he
could with what he had.” And that is the way I would like to be remembered
too, “She did the best she could with what she had.” I am surely not in
Justice Marshall’s league but his statement has always stuck with me. In my
life I have played many roles, daughter, wife, mother, professional. From my
perspective I was always juggling everything. I hope especially that my
daughter will say when she is my age now that my mom was just the best
guiding light in my life. It is so special to be able to touch the lives of young
NM: It also explains why you are a teacher, you give that to students.
PK: Well yes I try to give to my students. You know teaching
bioethics encourages reflection on one’s life and death and what’s important
and what’s not. My fondest memories are watching my husband at the back
gate every morning from the time our daughter started kindergarten, getting
first on the school bus and later heading off to the subway, saying “use this
day well.” His mother always stood at the door until he was out of sight and
she always repeated the same phrase. It’s the kind of thing that my daughter
still remembers. One can impact kids in ways that you can’t appreciate.
NM: Thank you.
PK: Thank you. You’ve spent a lot of time on this project, thank you
so much. Reading it and reading about all this is going to be very interesting
to me. I certainly have been frank.
NM: I admire that about you. [END RECORDING]
ABA Senior Lawyers Division