A Woman to Know: Shirley B. Stamps

The transition was calm and peaceful. — Shirley B. Stamps

The transition was calm and peaceful. — Shirley B. Stamps

(image via Smithsonian Museum of American History)

When Shirley Bulah was a little girl growing up in 1950s Delaware, she watched the bus come by her house, then skip her stop. Meanwhile, Shirley’s mom had to drive her daughter to school, all the way to the one-room schoolhouse designated for black students, even as the bus drove right by their house.

Her mom wanted a bus to stop at their house, but the Delaware Board of Education refused to allow a black girl — Shirley was then 6 years old — to ride with white children. Her neighbors — both white and black — told her to give up. Even her pastor told her he disapproved of her pushing for desegregation.

Shirley’s mom visited a lawyer at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, asking for help in getting her daughter the education she deserved. She later recalled:

[The attorney] said he wouldn't help me get a Jim Crow bus to take my girl to any Jim Crow school, but if I was interested in sending her to an integrated school, why, then maybe he’d help. Well, I thanked God right then and there.

In 1951, Shirley’s mother filed suit. Bulah v. Gebhart was later consolidated with another case to become Belton v. Gebhart, one of a handful of cases ultimately heard by the Supreme Court when it heard the landmark Brown v. Board of Education. The case ultimately won Shirley the right to attend school with her white neighbors — and to ride the bus to get there.

Add to your library list:

​​Read more:

Send your own recommendations for women to know! Reply to this newsletter with your lady and she could be featured in an upcoming edition.