“A Case of National Proportions”: The “Jim Crow” Baby Contest of 1947 in Casper, Wyoming

Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:50 PM
Imperial Ballroom A (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Kevin A. Leonard, Western Washington University
In October 1947 Casper, Wyoming, residents Effie Mae Gray and Augustine Howard entered their sons in a baby contest sponsored by the local chapter of the Women of the Moose. The mother who sold the most 30-cent tickets would win a savings bond. A week later, contest officials contacted both Gray and Howard and informed them that they would have to withdraw because they were African Americans. Friends of the Gray and Howard families criticized the Women of the Moose. Gray’s husband was a veteran, and members of veterans’ organizations also denounced the Moose auxiliary. Effie Mae Gray was not content with the local protest. She wrote a letter to Molly Mayfield, an advice columnist for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. Mayfield’s columns and related articles about the case drew national attention to these acts of racial discrimination.

The words and actions of Effie Mae Gray and Augustine Howard indicate that African Americans in cities and towns with small black populations faced and challenged racial discrimination in the years following World War II. Responses to articles that appeared in newspapers across the nation suggest the extent of opposition to such acts of racial discrimination. This paper will analyze these newspaper articles and the statements of Casper residents about the baby contest. It will connect the actions of African Americans in Casper with the actions of African Americans who protested segregation in the South. Like the local people in Alabama and Mississippi who organized and took action in the 1940s and 1950s, Effie Mae Gray, Augustine Howard, and their friends and families organized, wrote letters, and spoke to reporters in order to draw attention to acts of discrimination in Casper and to put pressure on the perpetrators of acts of injustice.