Ann Arbor legend celebrated

by Frank Weir
Legal News

“I was one of the lucky girls,” is how Micki King described the breaks she got –– in spite of her gender – as she made her way to becoming an Olympic gold medalist in diving in 1972.

King was the keynote speaker as local attorney and Title IX legend Jean Ledwith King was honored March 26 in Ypsilanti.

Executive Director Kim Cumming announced that the Southeastern Michigan Women’s Center has been renamed The Jean Ledwith King Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan.

Micki King began her comments to the audience by noting that, “My dad worked on the assembly line and he was the coolest dad in the neighborhood. When the factory whistle sounded, he hustled out to play with us kids. He pitched to us, he pitched highball to us.

“And the us means us kids, not boys or girls. It was kids.

“It wasn’t until high school that I discovered that girls had different opportunities than the boys. I had learned how to dive at our local YMCA since it had a ‘girl’s day’ twice a week. At the age of 10, I was doing AAU diving outside the schools so imagine how I felt when the diving coach at my high school told me it was a boys sport, there was no place for me.

“Suddenly, I was no longer one of the kids. I was invisible.”

King related how she lucked into being able to practice her diving because the coach was willing to make her the manager, “to take care of the dirty towels and the kick boards.”

Once again at University of Michigan King ran into gender discrimation.  “...at that time, Michigan didn’t even have girl cheerleaders. And the band? Anyone here remember the ‘Marching Men from Michigan’? No girls in the band either.”

King went to U of M swim and dive coach Dick Kimble. He said he would coach her and she could practice in the men’s pool, but with conditions.
“He told me to come in through the back door so the athletic director wouldn’t see me. So I went in the back door.”

King said when she won her first (of 10) national championships, a reporter approached Kimble and asked him how it felt to coach a woman to a national championship.

“And Coach Kimble replied, ‘I don’t coach men and I don’t coach women. I coach people.’

“Talk about being ahead of your time,” King commented.

“All those times I was lucky,” she continued. “I had all those people helping me become who I was. And little did I know that Jean King was one of those people. Helping all those other people who weren’t as lucky as me.

“I just want you all to know that what happened back then wasn’t right.

“We are here to celebrate what Jean King has done for all of us, in the big picture.

“It’s easy now to take it for granted. Girls are on TV, getting big scholarships.

But what we are doing tonight is making sure we aren’t going to forget. Renaming the center after Jean will give us a visual memory of what she did from the ‘’70s forward to get us out of the shadows and make us visible again.

In addition to Micki King’s comments, two films, one narrated by Channel 4 news presenter Carmen Harlan, were shown. One recapped King’s life and career, the other showcased numerous well-wishers who were unable to attend the event.

One of those was former law partner Richard Bloch who drew a big laugh when he related an episode that occurred early in the partnership.

“I’ll never forget when Jean came into my office grinning from ear to ear. She said, ‘You’ll never guess who’s coming in to interview to be our secretary!’

“I asked who? She said, ‘A MAN!’ “

Sen. Carl Levin noted that “the list of us honoring you is long but not nearly as long as all the people Jean has helped. She has spent decades fighting for equality in American life and in 1972, she fought for an equitable role for women to the Democratic National Convention.

“The best description I have heard of Jean is that she is a ‘bomb thrower.’ But I also know her as a builder, building a world that is more just, equitable, and more open to everyone’s talents.Renaming the center is a great reflection of her lasting legacy and is a real tribute to her.”

MSU basketball star Deb Traxinger attended the event Saturday and also appeared in the film. “In our current world, we don’t seem to have heroes anymore,” she said, “but Jean is my hero... because she stood up and did the right thing.

“She spent a lot of time on our case and she wasn’t paid a cent.”

In thanking the audience, Jean King read the mission statement of the Women’s Center.

“No other organization in the country does this except the Women’s Center. And that means that we should make an effort to spread it through other states. You should congratulate yourself on supporting the center with your attendance and donations.

“I am absolutely thrilled at this. I really appreciate it.”

When asked how far she thought women have come, King replied, “As someone who came to a class at the University of Michigan Law School with 10 women in a class of 320, when you could walk for three weeks on campus and not see another woman, and now there are something like 51 percent women law students, I think that is a big change.”