FEBRUARY 7, 1948
Black school teacher Gladys Noel Bates sued for equal pay because she earned only half of what her white counterparts earned in Mississippi.
Encouraged by her father, Andrew J. Noel, who was active in the NAACP and Progressive Voters’ League, she joined the NAACP Youth Council. After teaching at Smith Robertson Junior High School, she asked the Jackson School Board to quit discriminating against Black teachers.
The board denied discrimination, and she responded by filing a lawsuit, aided in part by the NAACP’s Constance Baker Motley. “I may sound immodest,” she recalled later, “but it was time for someone to do something.”
In the wake of her lawsuit, people fired shots into their home, tried to torch the home and left burning crosses. She and her husband also lost their jobs, and R. Jess Brown, an automotive science and technology teacher at Lanier High School, took her place in the lawsuit. In the end, the court dismissed the lawsuit, but the judge noted that racial discrimination was indeed responsible for the inequity of the salaries for black and white teachers. After being barred from teaching elsewhere in the state, Tougaloo College, a private college that served as a stronghold for civil rights activities, welcomed her.
The couple eventually moved to Denver, where both were hired as teachers. Although the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case four years later, the fight proved worthwhile. Mississippi began paying Black teachers more. In 1996, the city of Denver held a day in Bates’ honor. She died in 2010, and a Jackson school is now named after her.