The Influence of Churches
Denton’s churches formed the nexus of community in the Civil Rights era and served as the catalyst for the Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship (DWIF). As Ann Barnett said in her 1988 interview, “it was definitely a group of persons from various churches…it involved Christians.” Initially, the DWIF recruited its members from the churches of Denton, including Trinity Presbyterian, St. James African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, Mt. Pilgrims Christian Methodist Episcopal (C.M.E.) Church, Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, and First Methodist. Mae Nell Shephard summarized the group's membership in her 1988 interview, saying the group "would have, like, about four or five out of one particular church and maybe one or two out of the others, and so [it] represented all of the different denominations." Denton’s churches functioned as the group’s hubs and communication network, even sometimes serving as meeting places for the group.
Perhaps most instrumental in the creation of the DWIF was Trinity Presbyterian Church. Trinity Presbyterian was founded in 1960 as an expansion of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. Charter members of Trinity included many future members of the Fellowship Dorothy Adkins, Euline Brock, Pat Cheek, Ann Barnett, and Jean Kooker. Paul Young, who served as the church’s first pastor from 1960 through 1966, instilled in his congregation the importance of community involvement and social justice. As Denton’s schools began the process of desegregation, Young and Reverend James Hawkins of Mt. Pilgrim C.M.E. together urged their congregations to work together for the benefit of the churches’ children. These efforts included an interracial youth group and tutoring services for the black students to prepare them for the transition into an integrated Denton High School. From the spirit of understanding encouraged by Young and Trinity Presbyterian, the Denton Women’s Interracial Fellowship formed. Dorothy Adkins and Euline Brock launched the group after finding inspiration in a devotional read at a regional meeting that they attended for women of the Presbyterian Church held in Wichita Falls, Texas. It focused on a spirit of reconciliation between the races, and spurred Adkins and Brock to create an interracial group of white and black women, with the intention that interaction and familiarity between the two groups would smooth the integration process for their children. As Euline Brock stated about the founding of the group in her 1987 interview, “those white women who were in that core group at the beginning were probably influenced by the current interests of our church. It did seem that the church was at the forefront of meaningful social change…so from that direction we were impressed that this sort of thing would be our Christian duty.”
The DWIF was originally called the Denton Christian Women's Interracial Fellowship. The inclusion of "Christian" nodded to the origins of the group within the sphere of the community's churches. Additionally, as Brock explained in 1987, "including that word helped to kind of give it a little respectability for black women that we were trying to attract because church organizations and church-related organizations were very much at the center of black community life.” Shephard and Brock summarized the Fellowship’s early relationship to the churches. According to Shephard, “these women—the Interracial group—were basically Christian women, and this organization kind of got started through church communication." Brock stated, “at the beginning, this was something that all of us had in common. We were all very active in the churches, and also we felt that what we were trying to do—our general aim and our specific aims—very much had Christian motivation." Eventually, as the group evolved, "Christian" was dropped from the title. Some of the members think that Christian was dropped from the group's name to encourage non-Christians to join. According to Jean Kooker, the DWIF “did want people to recognize that those who had started it had done it out of a Christian love, [but] did not necessarily want the group to be only open to Christian people.”Additionally, others have implied that perhaps the name was just too long with the word "Christian" in it or that the focus of the group changed over time. Although the origins of the DWIF are heavily related to Denton's churches, the group evolved and became more than a women's church group.