Black professor Eunice Faber files a discrimination complaint against Western Washington College in Bellingham on September 20, 1967.

  • By Jennifer Deshaies
  • Posted 7/13/2021
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 21255

On September 20, 1967, Professor Eunice Faber files a discrimination complaint against Western Washington State College in Bellingham. Her complaint to the Washington State Board Against Discrimination introduces evidence that, while the college had fired her because she lacked a doctorate degree, there were at least three men in her department who were tenured without doctorates. Faber, who is Black, is married to a white man some 20 years her junior. "I feel that all of this has come about because of my marriage to a Caucasian in 1960," she says. Following an investigation by the Washington State Board Against Discrimination, Faber will be rehired in May 1968 by a 4-1 vote of the college's board of regents, but school officials will continue to deny any discriminatory acts or other wrongdoing.

A Multicultual Life

Foreign languages shaped Eunice Faber's life from an early age. Born Eunice Lee on December 15, 1913, she grew to adulthood in a racially diverse, middle-class Washington, D.C., neighborhood. Situated in the intersection of the Spanish, French, Italian, Dominican, Mexican, and Belgian embassies, her childhood home was immersed in embassy employees' conversations in foreign languages, and her days were engaged in play with multinational playmates. Even as a child, she recognized the opportunities afforded multilingual speakers, and she would barter with her peers, offering piano lessons for foreign language lessons. Her upbringing could keep the degradation of segregation at bay only temporarily, however. In a 1975 interview she recalled being a teenager when her white peers were no longer permitted to associate with her. She recalled the humiliation of trying to find a "colored women" lavatory in department stores or restaurants. Of this time, she noted, "almost every day you'd get angry, but I learned very early to fight back" ("Black Woman"). Fighting against racial injustice came to define much of her adult life.

Lee graduated from Dunbar High School in Washington and studied foreign languages in college. She purported that the study of languages held a strong attraction for Black people at the time because they were, "a way for blacks to step out of second-class citizenship into something different. It has never been proven and I have no way of proving it, except for a lifetime of experience" ("Black Woman"). Lee began her teaching career in her hometown at Howard University, a predominantly African American institution, but left after 15 years, citing discrimination in promotional practices, deciding to relocate to Seattle. Despite ongoing discrimination in employment and housing, the economic outlook in Seattle in the early 1950s was so encouraging that the Chicago Defender, the nation's largest African American newspaper, urged Blacks in 1951 to leave the Midwest and East for Seattle.

Attracted to Seattle's Central Area and the neighborhood's multiracial composition, she was drawn to employment at Meany Junior High School, where the "students and teachers were a conglomeration of races" ("Black Woman"). Seattle Public School employment records indicate that Eunice Lee taught General Studies at Meany for the 1958-1959 school year. Meanwhile, Seattle Blacks increasingly came to recognize that the racism they encountered in the Pacific Northwest differed only in intensity. Racism impacted the community in many ways. Much of the poverty in the Central Area where she worked rested on a foundation of job discrimination, which she would experience in her work as a professor.

In 1956, Lee completed her dissertation, "Some Techniques for the Creation of Mood in the Short Stories of Horacio Quiroga," at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She had worked toward a doctorate in Romance Languages with a major in Spanish and minors in French and Latin American History. On May 20, 1959, she was appointed as an associate professor of foreign languages at Western Washington College of Education in Bellingham, to begin in the fall of 1959.

Educational facilities were given high importance in the Bellingham area from its conception. In 1854, two years after Captain Henry Roader and Russell V. Peabody settled in the area to establish their stake in the burgeoning logging industry, the Whatcom County commissioners' inaugural meeting levied a school tax. The Northwest's first high school was built in 1890 in Sehome, followed in 1895 by the New Whatcom Normal School, designed to train teachers in the art of instructing and governing public schools. By 1947, the normal school had been transformed into Western Washington College of Education, which offered bachelor's degrees in chemistry, English, and education. The school continued to propagate and was renamed in 1961 as Western Washington State College (WWSC), and again in 1977 as Western Washington University (WWU).

Racism in Bellingham

When Lee moved to Bellingham, she was shocked to find that only one other Black family lived there. She recalled receiving a telephone call from one of the two blacks in town when she arrived, noting, "everyone knew I was coming!" (Hugh, "Three Black Women"). Just a few years before Lee's arrival, black entertainers who performed in Bellingham returned by train to Seattle after their performances, as local hotels would not rent them rooms. Isolation and even racism have been common experiences for Black professors, and those who taught at WWSC found no exception. On a panel about discrimination in 1975, the few other women of color on Western's campus recalled the racism they endured upon arrival. Ethnic Studies Professor Pam Smith told of a racist encounter on High Street in Bellingham, and Saundra Taylor of WWSC's counseling center said, "life in Bellingham has been one of dealing with alarm and surprise. This community is so isolated that it's a culture shock to come here from the outside" (Hugh, "Three Black Women"). 

Bellingham's lack of racial diversity was due in part to systemic racist and discriminatory practices dating to the nineteenth century. The Ku Klux Klan has been present in Whatcom County since the early 1900s. On March 1, 1907, Frank Dixon traveled to Bellingham, promoting the book The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905), authored by his brother Thomas. Dixon presented a series of public lectures on the "negro problem" at the Normal School, which would later become WWSC. The following decade, Thomas Dixon's book was made into the pivotal movie Birth of a Nation, which played at the American Theater in Bellingham on June 4, 1916. The KKK achieved prominence in Bellingham in the 1920s, marked by a parade of 700 Klan members through Bellingham's streets on May 15, 1926, and the hosting of 300 delegates from 60 Washington State Klans for the 1929 KKK state convention. Influential leaders such as Bellingham City Attorney Charles Sarnpley and Mayor John A. Kellogg "enthusiastically welcomed the conventioneers." During this era, "the fiery cross on Sehome Hill was a nocturnal spectacle in Bellingham" ("The Ku Klux Klan in Bellingham"). 

While Klan activity in Whatcom County had subsided by Eunice Lee's arrival, discriminatory practices such as sundowning and exclusionary real estate deeds were common. In the 1950s, Bellingham police utilized the informal practice of "sundowning," in which officers would detain Blacks found on the city's streets after sunset, transporting them to the roadside outside of town. In an interview with the Bellingham Centennial Oral History Project, former municipal judge Tut Amundsen recalled asking a police officer the reason for the absence of African Americans in Bellingham. The officer responded, "if an odd colored man comes into town, I just take him in my car and drive him out to the outskirts of Bellingham. We don't have any use for colored people in Bellingham, and I'd give them the boot" ("1950's Sundowning"). This practice continued into the 1970s, until a Black military veteran dropped across the county line by Bellingham police was struck and killed by a vehicle.

The Bellingham real estate market in the 1950s was shaped by discriminatory practices such as redlining, racist lending practices, and deeds stipulating real estate "shall be owned and operated only by persons of the white race" (Rothstein, 78). 

An Interracial Marriage

Despite this underlying current of racism, Lee said that WWSC President W. W. Haggard made her feel welcome and offered her an associate professorship immediately with an annual salary of $7,000. She said Haggard indicated tenure would come automatically after a reasonable probationary period, but never informed her that she would need a Ph.D to keep her job. 

After her first year of professorship at WWSC, Lee took an extensive European tour in the summer of 1960. She returned to Bellingham in the fall with a new husband who was 19 years her junior, a Danish medical student named Bent Faber. Faber had moved from his hometown to Copenhagen to study medicine. He professed of his meeting Eunice, "it was an instant love and a beautiful courtship" ("Bent Faber ..."). They were married three weeks later. While waiting for Bent's U.S. immigration papers, Eunice went to Spain to complete her Ph.D. dissertation. When Bent's papers came through, they enjoyed a honeymoon in Paris before landing in New York City on September 14, 1960. Eunice took Bent's last name, and he studied at WWSC, earning a degree in Math and later becoming faculty in the WWSC Computer Department.

Despite the Fabers' commitment and support for one another, she was Black and he was white. The anti-miscegenation laws had been overturned in Washington in 1868, but at the time of the Fabers' marriage, there were still laws against interracial marriage in 22 states, until being overturned seven years later in the Supreme Court's Loving v. Virginia case. Faber believed it was her interracial marriage to Bent, who was not only white but nearly two decades younger than her, that led directly to her years spent battling discrimination at WWSC.  

The next several years outlined in her WWSC employment file depict the disputation between Faber and the college's administration. It was requested in 1961 that she complete her Ph.D. requirements, which she argued was a hardship due to the expense required to print 200 copies of her dissertation. Faber asserted that she had applied for funds to defray the cost. The university urged her "to use every means possible to bring this to a conclusion." In the following years, correspondence was exchanged between Faber, Catholic University, and WWSC administrators regarding her Ph.D. completion progress. In 1963, her department chair stated, "while she can do an excellent or even superior job of teaching, she has not always done so in the last two years" ("Summary of the Faber File"). In spite of this evaluation, the Tenure and Promotion Committee rated her as "excellent" and recommended her for tenure upon proof of completion of her doctorate.

In the years that followed, the relationship between Faber and the Foreign Languages department remained strained. Even though WWSC had received notice from Catholic University that Faber's Ph.D. was in process, she was denied tenure and demoted to lecturer for the 1964 and 1965 school years. In 1966, she was informed that she would be out of a job at the end of the year, despite being recently voted teacher of the year. Of this time, Faber noted, "to deal with segregation, you've got to have an inner force, and people at the college thought that I would go on my timid way ... especially someone in my age group" ("Black Woman"). This conclusion was likely because some Black male colleagues at WWSC had left after short stints at the college.

Faber chose to remain and fight. In a letter dated July 27, 1967, she addressed Dr. Robinson, the Foreign Languages department chairman, stating, "On May 31 last, I completed my final requirements for my doctorate," and indicated her interest in rejoining the Foreign Languages department. In August, Robinson informed Faber that there were no openings in Spanish, only in French, and it was unlikely a permanent position would be open until the following year. Robinson then asked if she would be interested in a temporary position, "pending a more appropriate opening." Faber pointed out that she was more than qualified to teach French and would take the question of a temporary position under advisement. In a letter to Robinson, she replied, "Thank you for your letter of August 25, relative to your inquiry as to my availability for a temporary position that 'might open up.' I am taking this matter under advisement and will communicate further with you at an early date" (Robinson letter to Faber, September 11, 1967).

An Official Complaint

Faber's next communication with the college came in the form of a discrimination complaint filed with the Washington State Board Against Discrimination (WSBAD) on September 20, 1967. In her complaint, Faber shared her correspondence with Robinson, indicating, "I showed that I was qualified in French ... I have since learned that the French position has been filled by a retired high school teacher from Anacortes. I do not feel this person is as qualified for the position as I am. I feel that all of this has come about because of my marriage to a Caucasian in 1960" (Faber, Complaint to WSBAD). Faber's complaint also asserted that three male professors in the Foreign Languages department were tenured without doctorates.

After an investigation, the Washington State Board Against Discrimination "reached an agreement with the college to rehire her on a temporary basis until college regents considered the case further" ("College Hires ..."). 

On May 16, 1968, the WWSC board of trustees met to consider Faber's status. Present were eight WWSC representatives, members of the school's Foreign Languages department, and five board members: David Sprague, Bernice Hall, Burton Kingsbury, Joseph Pemberton, and Harold Philbrick. 

Pemberton, a Bellingham attorney, read into the record a letter written two years previously by former trustee Marshall Forrest. In the letter, Forrest advocated for creating a scenario for Faber's dismissal that would protect trustee Sprague, a candidate for the state legislature, from the public embarrassment of removing a Black professor without just cause. The letter had been uncovered during WSBAD's investigation into Faber's dismissal. Pemberton now argued that Faber was rehired only because "we were blackmailed into it" ("College Hires ..."). He said he read the Forrest letter in order to "not have this thing hanging over our heads" ("Black Woman").

The trustees voted 4 to 1 to rehire Faber. Pemberton cast the dissenting vote. Despite the WSBAD investigation, the university never acknowledged wrongdoing in Faber's removal, officially denying any discriminatory acts.

The story of Faber's discrimination complaint made news regionally. A headline in The Seattle Times on April 19, 1968 read, "Board Says WWSC is Set to Rehire Negro Instructor," while on May 17 the Times reported, "Dismissed Negro Professor Rehired." A story in Portland's The Oregonian was headed, "College Hires Negro Back." 

Faber's contentious working environment extended beyond the college's administration to the relationships with her colleagues. In a May 27, 1968 circulation of WWSC's Faculty News, an open letter, entitled "Majority of Foreign Language Department Decries Lack of Democratic Procedure," was signed by 14 members of the Foreign Languages department who were opposed to the rehiring of Faber. They denied accusations of discrimination against her, stated they had voted unanimously in a secret ballot against her return, had spoken out at recent department meetings with the dean, and 15 of the department's 18 members had filed a grievance with the Faculty Council regarding her reinstatement. An anonymous letter in the same WWSC Faculty News publication bemoaned the administration's "hasty willingness to rehire Dr. Faber," juxtaposing her rehire to the decision not to rehire another well-loved professor in a different department. The Faculty News writer recommends this second professor should just "admit that he is a Negro who has been 'passing' all this time and take his case to the State Board Against Discrimination," implying that Faber was rehired because of her race.

Continued Litigation

Faber's battles with the college in 1967 and 1968 were not her last. In 1973, she filed a complaint with the State Human Rights Commission about the college's hiring, salary, and promotional practices. In a March 8, 1974 article for the college paper, The Western Front, Craig Cole of the State Human Rights Commission said there was reasonable cause to believe that the college had practiced race-sex discrimination against Faber. The commission concluded there was an overall underrepresentation of women and minorities at Western, especially at the higher levels, and that this underrepresentation was acute in the Black and female demographics. 

Faber's was one of seven complaints filed by women against Western in the summer of 1973. Her case was ruled upon first because it was found to be the strongest. The State Human Rights Commission found that despite the recommendation of a salary raise of $400 per year by her department chairman, her raise was denied by the college's Board of Trustees. Faber had noted, "it took me 12 years to reach the salary level, which was reached by two males in my department in 8 and 3 years" ("State Charges College with Discrimination").

On May 29, 1975, Faber filed a lawsuit against WWSC for "failure to promote on the grounds of race and-or sex and-or age and-or retaliation" ("EWSC Criteria Upheld ..."). Faber and her colleague, Dr. Helen Goldsmith, were given back pay for discrimination and moved to proper rank on the faculty pay scale. While WWSC never admitted to discrimination, the college did agree "to take an honest look at problems which can be resolved in a spirit of cooperation" ("Settlements OK'd ..."). 

Lasting Impact

Eunice Faber died on on June 3, 1995, at the age of 81. She was still married to Bent and resided in Bellingham at 315 S Forest Street, less than a mile from the university where she taught in the Foreign Languages department for 25 years. Her hard-won battles against the school for equality have been relegated to the university archives. However, a Western Washington University scholarship has been established in Faber's memory for WWU students majoring in Spanish "that show promise in scholarly excellence." In a 1975 interview for an article entitled "Black Woman in a White Man's World," Faber reminisced on her contentious employment with the university, noting, "if all good people give up fighting, you give up all you've gained" ("Black Woman"). 

In conclusion to an article she wrote for the Modern Language Association in 1977, Faber wrote, "let me stress the importance of cooperative effort and freedom from bias to create a new climate of learning: to change attitudes and bring about understanding and goodwill; to provide cultural enrichment and broader insights into the human experience ... we can -- and we must -- find in our diverse treasures of literature and history expressions of our beauty, our sameness, our dreams, and our suffering" (Faber, "Overcoming Obstacles to Curriculum"). 

Today [2021], Western Washington University proactively addresses racism issues on campus through a council designed to identify structural barriers to equity, inclusion, and social justice at the college. By examining campus climate issues, it makes policy and practice recommendations to enable a more diverse and inclusive community. New practice recommendations include the proposed addition of a General University Requirement focused on African American studies and structural anti-Black racism, as well as a recommendation for mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training. In 2020, Provost Sabah Randhawa noted, "the most significant way we can acknowledge and correct the past and ongoing injustices is by accelerating the rate and scope of our own systemic change" ("Diversity, Equity & Inclusion"). 


Sources:

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