Respect in “Miss”

Isabella Barraza

In 1963, Mary Hamilton arrived at court because of her involvement and arrest in a nonviolent protest. She refused to speak unless the judge addressed her as Miss Hamilton. The word  “Miss” was seen as showing respect for the person. In the 60’s black people were refused the option of being called by Miss, Mr, or Mrs.. Hamilton fought for her rights of being addressed as Miss and for civil rights as well.

Hamilton worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and participated in many nonviolent protests. She was fighting for black civil rights and was very passionate about fighting back the injustices she and others believed were occurring to black people. In the 90’s Hamilton made tapes of her talking to her roommate Sheila Michaels. The two talked about the mayor and their experiences protesting. Hamilton talked about her time in and out of jail and about the disrespect she received while in the cell where she was taught to always be in a fetal position to avoid getting hit in the face and to avoid major injuries. Later on, she joined the Freedom Riders and traveled all over the south joining protests; some where she was even arrested.

Hamilton always wanted to get respect from other people. She wanted to be referred to as Miss. Once in a jail cell in Tennessee, the mayor walked into the cell addressing all the women in there by their first names. Hamilton told the mayor to call her Miss Hamilton.  She said to him that “if you don’t know how to speak to a lady, then get out of my cell.”

It was in Alabama where Mary arrived at court and the attorney asked her what she was there for. Mary refused to respond unless the attorney called her “Miss Hamilton”. The judge made hurtful remarks to Mary and demanded that she apologize for refusing to answer the prosecutor, which she refused to. Her refusal sent her to jail and she received a $50 fine. Her lawyers said that Mary being sent to jail and the $50 fine was unlawful. They also said that the prosecutor had been violating her constitutional rights by not treating her like everyone else (the white witnesses) as he wouldn’t call her Miss. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and resulted in Mary winning.

The impact that this story left was remarkable but short lived. The story made headlines at the time but today it’s not heard of as much as other cases and events that happened during that time period. Nevertheless, Mary left an important legacy.