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A new book tells the story of a Laramie-born woman’s young love in the heart of the civil rights movement

"Through A Blue-Eyed Lens" book cover.
Shelly Moore and Domenico Convertini
Edited by Jordan Uplinger/Wyoming Public Media
"Through A Blue-Eyed Lens" book cover.

Wyoming author Shelley Moore grew up in Memphis in the 1960’s. Her memoir, “Through a Blue-Eyed Lens,” describes the experience of a middle school White girl, the Black student who sent her a love note, and a city going through one of the most pivotal moments in American history. Wyoming Public Radio’s Jordan Uplinger sat down with Moore.

Editor’s Note: This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

Shelly Moore: Well I have to give a tiny bit of background. I was seven when we moved to Memphis. Born in Laramie, ended up in Memphis when I was seven. And at that point, I, along with my siblings, was a very sheltered, protected privileged, White girl. I didn't know any other world. When I was in fifth grade, early 1960s, that's when Memphis City Schools started to become desegregated. I always use the word desegregated when I talk about that time because it was a legal format. Our schools were desegregated. They were not socially integrated.

Elementary School, junior high school, and the high school we attended were all-White schools until the early 1960s. And so, the desegregation process rocked a lot of boats and upset a lot of people. Because there were generations of people who had attended those white schools that were not interested in the change.

Jordan Uplinger: The book is listed as a memoir, but the bulk of it is this young love story that's impossible to understand fully without describing its intrinsic connection to the civil rights movement, or the [connection] that was kind of forced upon [the relationship]. Can you talk about how you both experienced this transition from middle school crushes to the very thing that a lot of people did not want to see at that time?

SM: It's kind of hard to put all of this into context for listeners. But basically, what happened in my world was that I was asked by a fellow student, a Black student, to be his girlfriend, in 1967, when we were in eighth grade. And that probably doesn't sound like a big deal to people listening now, because everywhere you go, there are mixed couples of every ethnicity and race and people having children. It was absolutely unheard of at that time. As far as we know, to this day, we were the only interracial couple in the Memphis City School System. And I give all credit to my friend who asked me to be his girlfriend, for his courage, his audacity, and his charm. I mean, I don't know where it came from. I don't know how he got to that place. Because as we all know, it was very dangerous for Black boys and men to express any interest in White women and girls. That just wasn't done, even at that time in 1967. And I have to say that, honestly, it changed my life and informed the person that I am today.

JU: And can you talk about how you both ended up involving yourselves in a lot of these social movements that were taking place at the time?

SM: His father was a civil rights leader and a minister. So we were very involved in school walkouts, and marches in the streets and attending meetings, and just generally, you know, kind of on the front line as young people of the civil rights movement at that time. So that's what was going on. In the midst of our daily lives, we were trying to figure out how to learn together in a desegregated environment for the first time.

JU:  One of my favorite parts of the book is the description of the coffeehouse, this place where people who were deemed not the mainstream, let's say, could feel safe. And there was almost a thought in me to compare it to online safe spaces where a lot of people from around the world will flock to find comfort and support and often use it for activism as well like you mentioned in the book. But I imagine it is pretty dramatically different. Can you talk about just how different the coffee house is from safe spaces now, and just how unique it was in Memphis in the ‘60s?

SM: Well, I'm old enough and old school enough that I don't think any type of technology replaces the personal touch or the personal look or the personal communication. That's just my take on the thing. It's hard to equate the two or to even sort of relate the two to each other, the two timeframes. I'm trying hard to think back on whether there was any place else where we could hang out in mixed groups, and I'm talking sexual orientation or racial couples or friends. I don't believe there was anything happening in Memphis at that time [like the coffee house]. And so the coffeehouse, it was absolutely a safe place. It was where we went to talk, went to hear music, or we went to hear poetry readings. But mostly, it was just a place where we could feel comfortable being together.

I'll give you this example. My mom joined an interracial group with other parents to talk about what their children were dealing with on a daily basis. They met one time in a church basement, on the same street as my junior high and high school. And the parishioners of the church found out that they had met there as an integrated group. And after that first night, they were no longer allowed to meet there. That's how incredibly segregated Memphis still was. This was in 1970.

JU: You mentioned in your book that you see parallels between then and now, implying that things might be better in some ways, but there's still an ongoing struggle. Do you think even with, as loud and as angry as discourse and movements can be today, that a lot of this is part of a healing process? Or do you find that the rhetoric and activism of today are bringing the country in an opposite direction, to a more divided place?

SM: I think we are where we are as a country because we have never dealt with the fact that this country enslaved Black people for centuries. We have never dealt with that. We have never come to terms with it. We have never admitted, acknowledged, or taken responsibility for it. And that's where the voices come through, the loudness comes through. And it's to me, to my thinking, from my experience, it's legitimate and necessary. And I think that White folks who want to join in that chorus should join in that chorus. But I don't think it's a kumbaya moment for America.

Jordan Uplinger was born in NJ but has traveled since 2013 for academic study and work in Oklahoma, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. He gained experience in a multitude of areas, including general aviation, video editing, and political science. In 2021, Jordan's travels brought him to find work with the Wyoming Conservation Corps as a member of Americorps. After a season with WCC, Jordan continued his Americorps service with the local non-profit, Feeding Laramie Valley. His deep interest in the national discourse on class, identity, American politics and the state of material conditions globally has led him to his current internship with Wyoming Public Radio and NPR.

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