Daisy Nelson Moore and Marietta Cooper Bryant fought in Arizona’s courts for the right of teachers to be evaluated on the basis of their credentials and tenure rather than their race. Before the important and historic 1954 Brown vs the Board of Education of Topeka decision, these two women started a legal battle in Arizona that personalized the battles over desegregation. These women, who had been respected for their teaching abilities, were now spurned because of their race and the race of their students. Their courageous pursuit of their civil rights in 1951 opened the door for educators of color to teach in our state’s newly integrated schools.
School segregation of students of “African ancestry” became lawful in Arizona in 1909 and remained in force until 1951 when the legislature passed and the Governor signed an anti-segregation bill. Although schools were required to have integrated classes by the fall of 1951, some of Arizona’s Black teachers were not given the opportunity to teach in these newly integrated classrooms. Daisy and Marietta were dismissed from their positions as tenured faculty. The two were trained, experienced teachers with academic degrees from Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University (today known as Langston University).
Daisy was born on December 7, 1908 in Barthszille, Oklahoma. In 1932 she and her husband, Irving G. Moore, moved to Miami, Arizona where they joined his brothers. Here they raised two children. By 1944, Daisy had earned an elementary teaching certificate and when a position came open that year at the “colored” Dunbar elementary school in Globe to teach grades one through eight, she applied and was hired. She continued her education during the summers by returning to Langston where she received her Bachelor of Science Education degree in 1946.
Daisy’s good friend at Langston was Marietta Cooper who was born June 28, 1911 at Iconia, Oklahoma. She received her Bachelor of Science in Home Economics in 1939, met her future husband, Dave Bryant, through Daisy and moved to Miami after the war. In 1946 she had earned an Arizona teaching certificate and began teaching at Miami’s “colored” Thomas Jefferson School. By 1951 Daisy and Marietta were full-time, tenured teachers with contracts. Under Arizona’s Tenure Law, they had “continuing” status and were protected from being dismissed from their positions unfairly. However, the tenure law also stipulated that school boards or superintendents could dismiss continuing, tenured teachers if there was a “good and just cause” to do so.
Three days before a March 15, 1951 desegregation law was signed by Arizona Governor Howard Pyle, Daisy and Marietta were notified by their respective school superintendents that their contracts would not be renewed. Both teachers requested a public hearing before the school board to discuss and reconsider their dismissals. Both school boards re-affirmed their decisions, stating that the teachers had been dismissed for “a good and just cause,” their rationale being that the negro schools were closing and they no longer needed the teachers.
Daisy and Marietta did not give up. They turned to the Arizona Education Association who hired an attorney to defend them in a suit they brought against the Globe and Miami school boards. Daisy and Marietta fought for the right of tenured, credentialed teachers, no matter what their race, to teach in integrated classrooms. Court testimony revealed they were dismissed because the school boards did not want black teachers teaching white students. Although the Gila County Superior Court ruled in favor of the two teachers, the school boards decided to appeal the decision, this time using the economy as the reason for their dismissal.
Once again, the court ruled in favor of Daisy and Marietta. They were reinstated in 1952 with a year’s back pay. That year Daisy taught the third grade at the Hill Street Elementary School in Globe while Marietta taught penmanship to grades 4-8 at the Bullion Plaza elementary school in Miami. Daisy taught in Globe elementary schools until she retired in 1975 and Marietta until she moved in 1961. Daisy Nelson Moore and Marietta Cooper Bryant did not want their race to be grounds for their dismissals or for their acceptance as teachers. They saw themselves as good and decent educators who should be allowed to continue in their profession because they were qualified. The courage of these two unsung women and their refusal to back down to blatant discrimination opened doors for other teachers of color.
Alice Westbrooks, Daisy Moore’s daughter, accepted the award on behalf of Daisy at the Induction Ceremony. Dr. Chris Marin, who nominated the two women, accepted on behalf of Marietta Bryant.