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Organized Resistance and Black Educators Quest for School Eqality

Organized Resistance and Black Educators Quest for School Eqality

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Published by Chris Stewart
Paper by Dr. Vanessa Siddle-Walker regarding the lost history of pre-integration black educators.
Paper by Dr. Vanessa Siddle-Walker regarding the lost history of pre-integration black educators.

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Published by: Chris Stewart on Dec 30, 2013
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Organized Resistance and Black Educators’Quest for School Equality, 1878–1938
VANESSA SIDDLE WALKER 
 Emory University
 Historical accounts of advocacy for equality in educational facilities and resources for Blacks during de jure segregation in the South have generally minimized, or ignored,the role of Black educators. This article challenges the omission of Black educators inthe historical portrait by providing a historical analysis of four periods of teacher activism in Georgia prior to Brown. Results indicate that, through their organiza-tional structure, Black educators consistently advocated for improved facilities, bustransportation, longer school terms, high schools, and better salaries. Although the success of their activities was mediated by the Southern political context of the era inwhich they advocated, the Black teachers’ organization was the most organized agent for change throughout this period.
Historical accounts of advocacy for equality in educational facilities andresources for Blacks during
 de jure
 segregation in the South have generallyminimized, or ignored, the role of Black educators. Black educators arecharacterized as being dependent upon school boards, as being reticent to become involved in civil rights issues, and as being frightened of desegre-gation because of the likely loss of employment.
1
 Although these charac-terizations are accurate representations of the reality of the era, thedescriptions have been popularly and historically generalized to create thewidely held conclusion that Black educators were sidelined in efforts toachieve equality, and that their primary concern was to protect their ownself-centered individual interests. Richard Kluger’s citation of the editor of aBlack newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, captures the beliefs ema-nating from this perspective. Describing Black teachers as shiftless and un-grateful for the work that had been accomplished on their behalf, theeditorial concludes that ‘‘most [Black teachers] are as worthless to aidingfights for the race as the most worthless of citizens.’’
2
Instead of considering the role that may have been played by Blackeducators, achievement of equality in Black educational opportunity has been attributed most consistently to the National Association for the Ad-vancement of Colored People (NAACP). The resulting portrait is one of 
Teachers College Record
 Volume 107, Number 3, March 2005, pp. 355–388Copyright
r
 by Teachers College, Columbia University0161-4681
 
legal victories, and of courageous parents and ministers who participated toaccomplish these legal victories. Local NAACP chapters are described as being sufficiently strong that other organizations did not intrude on theirefforts to broker change; indeed, some portraits suggest that the NAACPwas the only organization pushing for change.
3
Except for some few ex-ceptional teachers and consultants in higher education, the dominant por-trait of NAACP activity generally omits references to Black educators ashaving any agency in seeking equality of opportunities for Black children.This characterization is widely found in general historical accounts of theera, NAACP histories, state histories, and histories of Blacks in America.
4
Even in research that purports to focus specifically on education, thestory has remained largely one of legal success. In Michael John Schultz’shistory of 
 The National Educational Association and the Black Teacher
, for ex-ample, the NAACP is described as beginning a ‘‘vigorous assault upon thesegregated practice of education,’’ with no reference to the role of Blackeducators.
5
Donohue, Heckman, and Todd review 17 states to explorevariables influencing Black educational uplift in the South. They concludethat private philanthropy and the NAACP explain most gains in the South.
6
In other analyses, some scant attention to Black educational efforts is cap-tured in reports of financial contributions of teacher organizations to thelegal effort and the hint that teachers may have been more than inactive bystanders.
7
Yet, none explores the ways in which financial contributionswere representative of an ongoing comprehensive strategy of resistance onthe part of Black educators.The role of Black educators as organized advocates is likewise not cap-tured in the recent revisionist accounts of Black segregated schools. Focus-ing on the resilience of Black school communities in the midst of oppressivecircumstances, this literature has demonstrated the interplay between Blackparents and educators, the professional roles and training of teachers andprincipals, and the interpersonal and institutional caring that characterizedthe environments of many of the schools.
8
However, despite its lens thatcaptures more intimately the environments of segregated schools, the re-search has failed to incorporate the paucity of sources that suggest thatmany of the reported activities, such as fighting for buses, may have beenpart of a larger rubric of Black educational activity. This omission has oc-curred despite earlier historical research by Linda Perkins on Black teach-ers that should have created the foundation for an expanded interpretationof some of the examples found in this research. Perkins describes theemergence of Black teacher organizations throughout the South by 1900,arguing that the Alabama State Teachers Association was interested in im-proving teacher salaries and having longer school terms as early as 1910.Her article also demonstrates that by the 1930s Black educators were cam-paigning vigorously for equality of educational opportunity in individual
356
 Teachers College Record
 
states and through their national organization, the American Teachers As-sociation (ATA).
9
Though not as well developed, some other historical ac-counts, such as the history of the ATA and Black teachers in the NEA, alongwith more recent research on Black teachers by Michael Fultz, also supportthese findings.
10
In large measure, however, the implication of these ref-erences for a broader research agenda on Black educational agency has been overlooked, and the most commonly accepted portrait has remainedone of Black educators who may have been caring facilitators in individualcommunities, but who were disinterested spectators in the broader strugglefor equality.This article challenges the dominant portrayal of Black educators andexplores specifically the organized advocacy of Black educators for decades before, and subsequently in cooperation with, the well-documented legalcampaigns. It does not lessen the importance of the NAACP activity, ororganizations and individuals who supported the court cases, includingBlack educators themselves (whose role during the era of litigation is dis-cussed in a forthcoming work). Indeed, equality of educational opportunityfor Blacks has consistently been determined by the degree to which federalcourt opinions upheld beliefs about U.S. constitutional claims of equality,and individuals sufficiently skilled and courageous challenged contradic-tions in constitutional intent and implementation. However, the currentanalysis does extend the one-dimensional portrait of progress that has beenconsistently accepted. By investigating the organized historical role played by Black educators in achieving equality and analyzing the systematic waysin which these educators resisted inequalities, a more textured, contextu-alized, and historically accurate pre-Brown portrait emerges. In its intent,this article is the first stage in a rejoinder to the question asked by a Blackeducator during a session of ATA with Thurgood Marshall in 1950. Theattendee wished to know whether the time had come for the ATA andNAACP to ‘‘give more publicity to the contributions being made annually bythe ATA to the cause of the judicial effort.’’
 11
 Although Marshall’s responseis unrecorded, as the record shows, the speaker’s goal of a more compre-hensive account has yet to be realized.This paper focuses upon the early decades of organized teacher resist-ance, before the period when many Black educational organizations formedmore formal collaborations with the NAACP. It extends the historical lit-erature on the influence and active stance of Black educators during
 de jure
segregation in the South by extraditing and illuminating the agency, voice,and advocacy evident in the organization of Black teachers between 1879and 1938. Using historical methodology to describe and put in context theiractivities as represented in newspaper accounts, teacher association records,state archival documents, NAACP records, interviews, primary source books, and secondary literature for the period covered, the paper explores
Organized Resistance and Black Educators Quest for School Equality
 357

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