IN THE MID 1960s, the civil rights revolution opened the door that led Joanne Doddy Fort from a Washington public school to Sidwell Friends. She went on to Byrn Mawr College and the well-respected University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Yet when it came time to practice law, she shunned the offers of the predominantly white law firms that were opening their doors to blacks, and chose instead to work for a black firm downtown. Even though many of its dealings are in the same legal community as the white firms, Fort felt it offered her greater career development opportunities plus a certain comfort reminiscent of Howard University, where her father taught. Joanne Doddy Fort had had enough of the white world that many in her parents' generation had fought so hard to penetrate.
Fort, 30, is a tangle of racial ironies, a bonafide member of the "crossover generation" of young blacks highlighted in last weeks. Washington Post-ABC News survey of racial attitudes in America. They are the ones who, as a result of the success of the civil rights movement, grew up closer to white America than their elders ever could have imagined but are more supicious of it than others in their race.
She attributes her success not to her readily apparent brilliance, but rather to the terrifying effect of the riots of the late '60s. She became an adult as America became a country of virtually unprecedented though limited racial harmony. Yet it is only on her most optimistic days that she envisions a radically more harmonious world for her 2-year-old son Bryce.
And although racial integration is laced through her background and she learned to excel in the white world, she would rather work at Hudson, Leftwich and Davenport, one of the city's up-and-coming predominantly black firms.
"I'm certainly apprehensive about dealing with white people because there has been enough experience to know even when there is an expectation of accommodating our needs and goals, there is a failure to follow through. And the closer you get to asking for and dealing with real power and money, the more the failure grows."
Fort's life offers the best answer to what many would view as her puzzling racial attitudes. Fort had different experiences than did her father, a Howard University professor. His were defined totally and completely by race. Her own world quickly opened beyond those limitations.
After finishing Jefferson Junior High School in Southwest Washington, she was one of a small group of blacks who was recruited in 1965 to attend the Sidwell Friends yschool. There she saw the trappings of power and money she had until then never dreamed existed. Her schoolmates included the children of Robert F. Kennedy, hardware, executive John W. Hechinger and Walt Rostow, who served as a national security adviser to President Johnson.
"Sidwell introduced me to a side of Washington which I had never seen before," Fort says. "Even down to going into houses in areas of town which you only just rode through or you never even rode through. A number of students had never had conversations or daily dealings with blacks."
She got better grades than many of her more affluent class mates had expected, she recalls. It was a good lesson in the myths of racial inferiority. She learned to compete in the white world on its own terms and still come out on top.
She went on to Bryn Mawr at a time when cities were burning across the country. Until that time, she had been prepared to live in a white world. Her attitude began to shift when the faculty at the elite women's college ignored the flames and pretended there were no racial problems in the United States.
At the University of Pennsylvania Law School, she took a course in racism and the law from U.S. District Court Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, later served as his law clerk and helped with research on his book, "In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process. The Colonial Period." Her racial consciousness matured. The Colonial Period." Her racial consciousness matured. The judge convinced her that some changes could be made through the legal process, and others through economics.
After graduation, she opted for a job with a black firm partly in the hope of creating the kind of economic base that would make it easier to change the law. Black institutions were not foreign to her, since for 20 years her family's livelihood had come from Howard University. She was comfortable at the the firm. "That kind of state frequently is interpreted as being racist but I think I had enough experience around whites to show that I could work around anyone.
"The assumption once was the more you get to know whites . . . train in the same places, learn at the same school, your credentials look like theirs, you would likely end up in the same places. We have learned you can look like a white person on paper [but] it will not get you to the same place. No matter how far you get, there is still a measure of racism around."