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" Civil Rights Baby has given me more heartache than I care to endure. When reading the passage about the hotel towels, I suddenly burst into tears ...
" This reminds me of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis in a figurative sense, but it literally resonates for me...as I have friends who are faced with the challenges that [Nita has] faced. "
– Angela Shaw
Former NAACP and FCC staff attorney
Civil Rights Baby: My Story of Race, Sports, and Breaking Barriers in American Journalism looks closely at how legislation designed to eliminate racial and sexual discrimination can succeed—and fail—in the life of one woman. The story reveals the audacious career dreams of a black girl born in the American South two months before passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an anti-discrimination measure. The dreams are audacious because 8-year-old Nita Wiggins conceives them at a time when she does not see any black woman in the country pursuing the career she wants.
Additionally, racially divided America is not ready for her pursuit.
These obstacles do not affect Nita’s vision. Her passion to become a sports reporter—and, ultimately, to cover pro football’s esteemed Dallas Cowboys—consumes her. Nita trains herself in the mold of journalists she sees on her family’s console television set. It is the same television on which she heard, in real time, the announcement of the assassination of her first media idol, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rather than frighten her into subservience, Dr. King’s death instills in Nita the desire to become, like King, an inspiring face of color in a television landscape virtually void of black people.
She succeeds. In several cities throughout the country, Nita Wiggins becomes the first African American woman working as a full-time television sportscaster. However, in most of her posts, she meets with resistance from men who are unwilling to give up the notion that only men should present sports news. Challenging their preconceptions even more is the fact that Nita is petite and bell-voiced.
However, Nita’s superiors and the athletes she grills for interviews cannot discount her capability. Her journalist’s quiver includes careful research, preparation, and organization of details and statistics, leading to a steady acquisition of exclusive interviews. Furthermore, whenever she meets with new obstacles in her climb, Nita strategizes by acquiring credentials, more knowledge, and top-notch legal advice.
She is dismayed, however, that she must engage in such workplace battles. Nita knows that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to “deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” [SEC. 703(a) (2)] She firmly believed her country when it minted this and other laws that promised equal opportunity for all Americans.
Therefore, when she enters the workplace, the only challenges Nita expects to face are those she puts upon herself, namely, the burden of meeting her high standards for professionalism and performance. When she notices a pattern of resistant actions directed against her—actions noted also by her coworkers—Nita realizes the painful truth: Not everyone subscribes to the belief that above-average qualifications and unwavering devotion to tasks are enough to hold on to a job and to secure advancement. Not everyone believes that all babies born under the protection of civil rights legislation have the right to dream, prepare, and self-actualize as contributors to the nation’s social fabric.
Wearied by the battles, Nita reaches an emotional crossroads one afternoon in Dallas, Texas. In a moment of mute frustration, she ponders a decision that could ruin every good choice and well-thought-out move she has ever made.