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Joan Mulholland: The Dean of Women Made Me Call Mom

Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was a freshman at Duke in the spring of 1960, and was actively involved in the local sit-in movement, something that she hadn’t shared with her parents until the university’s Dean of Women got involved.

In Durham in 1960, we picketed pretty regularly, almost daily, and I was arrested twice at sit-ins. If we sat-in, we were arrested boom-boom. I didn’t tell my parents until the the Dean of Women summonsed me and my roommate, who had also been arrested, to her office and locked the door, and told us we were going to call our parents.

We called them with the Dean sitting there. We weren’t going to get out until we did [laughs]. I think I got my mother, who just was an unrepentant segregationist, which was the way she grew up in Georgia. She wasn’t vicious about it, just run-of-the-mill.

She would always express to me her upset and worry about my safety, that type of thing. But this time she said, “How would I explain this to my friends?” Of course, I just kept going.

Mulholland was arrested on June 8 at the train station in Jackson.

More posts by and about Joan Trumpauer Mulholland:


I am a history student at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC. I am writing my honors thesis on white, southern citizens who supported the Civil Rights Movement. I was born in Alabama in 1971. I have long been drawn to this area of our history, beginning with slavery and continuing with the great divide that still exist in our country. Thanks to Ms. Mulholland, and others like her, I now know that while it is likely I would have been a racist, or at the very least indifferent to the topic of racism, it is possible that I would have rejected what society offered me. I want to say thank you! For so long I have felt guilty and couldn’t understand exactly why. Maybe I don’t have to.

Posted by Rachel Duke on 26 October 2008 @ 8pm

Thanks for this website and your comments, Rachel! I also was in the Sit Ins through Duke. I was at Duke from 1962 – 1966. Thanks to campus leaders such as Charlotte Bunch and Sarah Evans, I was encouraged to join in these important actions. I feel privileged to have been there, and to have had the opportunity to learn the extent and results of the segregation system.

As a result of my activism, I have continued to work with anti racist efforts throughout my life. I became an adult literacy specialist, and worked many years in Atlanta GA before moving to Providence RI. I currently work with underprepared students, including many students of color, at Bristol Community College. I have focused my anti racism work through education.

Last week I visited Geensboro for an educational conference. A colleague and I visited NC A&T, and walked the route to the Woolworths. We also visited the excellent exhibit at the Greensboro Historical Society.

I would love to read your thesis, Rachel – it is exciting that young scholars are continuing to keep the history alive.

Posted by Sally Gabb on 3 March 2009 @ 10pm

[…] Ta-Nehisi Coates, a police mugshot of civil rights worker Joan Trumpauer Mulholland and a link to the fascinating website for the book Breach of Peace is making the blogospheric […]

Posted by OpinionEditorial — Blog — On Civil Rights, Courage & Cowardice: What A Difference A Generation Makes on 28 May 2010 @ 9am