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SCOTT BAKER Wake Forest University
Background/Context: Although the dominant narrative of the civil rights movement marginalizes the role of black educators, revisionist scholars have shown that a significant number of black teachers encouraged student protest and activism. There has, however, been little analysis of the work of black teachers inside segregated schools in the South. Purpose/Objective: This study examines the courses that Southern African American teachers taught, the pedagogies they practiced, and the extracurricular programs they organized. Using Charleston’s Burke Industrial School as a lens to illuminate pedagogies of protest that were practiced by activist educators in the South, this study explores how leading black educators created spaces within segregated schools where they bred dissatisfaction with white supremacy. Research Design: This historical analysis draws upon archival sources, school board minutes, school newspapers and yearbooks, oral testimony, and autobiographies. Conclusions/Recommendations: In Charleston, as elsewhere in the South, activist African American teachers made crucial contributions to the civil rights movement. Fusing an activist version of the African American uplift philosophy with John Dewey’s democratic conception of progressive education, exemplary teachers created academic and extracurricular programs that encouraged student protest. Beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 1960s, students acted on lessons taught in classes and extracurricular clubs, organizing and leading strikes, boycotts, and demonstrations. The pedagogies that leading African American educators practiced, the aspirations they nurtured, and the student activism they encouraged helped make the civil rights movement possible.
During the middle decades of the twentieth century, African American academics, attorneys, and activists painted an enduring portrait of black
Teachers College Record Volume 113, Number 12, December 2011, pp. 2777–2803 Copyright © by Teachers College, Columbia University 0161-4681
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teachers as pathetic figures. Fisk University sociologist Charles S. Johnson argued that most black teachers were “weary” practitioners (1941, 104). Walter White, the executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), complained that educators were “weaker-kneed brethren” who were inclined to “chiseling and pussyfooting” (Janken 2003, 264). After Brown, attorney Constance Baker Motley contends, the NAACP did not get any grassroots support for litigation because black educators were “major foe[s] of school desegregation” (1998, 111). By the 1960s, black teachers had become objects of scorn. Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) activist Stokley Carmichael condemned black educators as traitors who sold out the race for “security and status” (Carmichael and Hamilton 1967, 14). This portrait has shaped a narrative of the civil rights movement that marginalizes the contributions of activist African American educators and prevents them from effectively speaking to the educational challenges of our time. African American educators are absent from popular and prize-winning accounts as well as some school textbooks (Garrow 1986; Lawson 1997; Sitkoff 2008; Epstein 1994). There were certainly many “Nervous Nellies” and “Uncle Toms” among the 75,000 African Americans who taught in the segregated schools by 1954, but a growing body of revisionist scholarship shows that a significant number of black teachers encouraged student protest and activism. At the heart of this historiography is African American agency, the story of the ways blacks contested white supremacy and transformed institutions that were designed to constrain into avenues of collective advancement. In this portrait, teachers are not so much victims as tenacious institution builders who rallied African American communities behind the improvement of schools that became an institutional base for the movement. In Georgia, activist teachers, not attorneys, “initiated challenges that led to the Civil Rights Movement” (Chirhart 2005, 5). Unlike the leaders of national protest organizations, local activists in Alabama and Mississippi remember that exemplary teachers were advocates who taught students to “analyze things,” instilling in young people the belief that change “was up to us” (Manis 1999, 29–30; Henry 2000, 44). Insisting that students achieve, racially and politically conscious educators in the Carolinas proffered a vision of equality that inspired student protest (Chafe 1981; Cecelski 1994; R. S. Baker 2006; Williams 1995; Drago 1990). Beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 1960s, activist teachers across the South were “crucial to the cause” through the encouragement and support they provided to students who boycotted schools, registered voters, and organized direct action demonstrations (Ramsey
were practiced by activist educators in African American schools in the South. that resulted in civil rights activism. openings where they heightened racial and political consciousness and nurtured leadership and organizational skills. I hope to stimulate more research on the specific historical and educational contexts that encouraged as well as discouraged African American educational activism. or Martin Luther King is representative of all black ministers. and in documenting these contributions. Revisionist scholars have shown that exemplary black teachers played significant roles in the long history of the civil rights movement. . Fairclough 2001. any more than Thurgood Marshall is representative of all African American attorneys. and secondary sources to show that these pedagogies of protest. I examine how activist educators found. Luper 1979.” Butchart (2002) argues. but surprisingly little attention has been devoted to what African American teachers “actually did” inside schools (Chirhart 2005. Not all African American educators taught equality. I define pedagogy broadly to refer not simply to formal courses or methods. I argue that progressive African American educators were at the heart of the long struggle for . I examine the pedagogies of protest that leading educators practiced in the kind of overcrowded and inadequately funded secondary school that most Southern black students attended during the middle decades of the twentieth century. . . school board minutes. but also to the “hidden curriculum”—the extracurricular activities that African American educators crafted in unmonitored spaces within segregated schools. While the dominant narrative of the civil rights movement consigns black teachers to passive roles in the movement. I do not claim that the teachers profiled here are representative.” Looking inside Charleston’s Burke Industrial School. school activities that contested and challenged white supremacy. What I do contend is that we cannot fully understand how the civil rights movement began. African American teachers remain understudied. A.African American Teachers 2779 2008. I present evidence from autobiographies. 93. Foster 1997. [and] the forms of pedagogies . that appear to have been most likely to nurture the forms of thinking and acting . Ritterhouse 2006). 3). and accomplished what it did without coming to terms with the ways in which leading educators promoted student activism. D. Using archival sources. . in the interstices of this segregated institution. Turner 2001. school newspapers and yearbooks. Drawing on the theoretical insights of Scott (1990) and Kelley (1996). gathered strength. the kinds of curricular emphases. “What is needed. As I focus on Burke. oral histories. Morris 1984. is “research that identifies the sorts of schools. and oral testimony. This study examines how a generation of activist educators made these challenges possible.
. D. I argue. but Charleston school superintendent A. and the activism they encouraged helped make the movement possible. B. leading educators made black schools avenues of collective advancement. The school’s curriculum. and public accommodations. African Americans pressed officials to upgrade the curriculum. GROUNDWORK: INSTITUTION BUILDING IN AFRICAN AMERICAN SCHOOLS. In Charleston. as in the 1940s. The pedagogies they practiced. acted upon lessons woven through courses and clubs and staged a series of school boycotts that revived the NAACP’s legal campaign. activist African American educators prepared students who organized and led “one of the greatest uprisings of oppressed people in the twentieth century” (Woodward 1966. Burke was designed to school African Americans in subordination. Kansas. African American high school students in the Carolinas. Louisiana. the civil rights movement would not have accomplished what it did. In 1925. Missouri.2780 Teachers College Record civil rights. secondary grades were added. public facilities. providing significant support for direct action demonstrations that combined with pressure from the NAACP. over time. Without them. student activism pushed the movement forward. Virginia. Built on a dumping ground in 1910. a generation of college-educated teachers at Burke and other black schools created academic and extracurricular programs that encouraged student protest. which stalled during World War II. activist African American teachers made indispensible contributions to these struggles. As massive resistance paralyzed the NAACP in the years after 1954. and Washington. Texas. During the early 1960s. and the Justice Department to eliminate Jim Crow and end the exclusion of African Americans from educational institutions. The history of these institutions illustrates how Southern officials sought to use education to reproduce white supremacy and how. like courses of study in other African American high schools established in the early twentieth century. the courts. 1940–1945 Burke Industrial School was the kind of inadequately funded and overcrowded African American secondary school that most Southern black students attended during the middle decades of the twentieth century. 170). the aspirations they nurtured.C. as elsewhere in the South. Drawing on the democratic ideals embedded in Dewey’s progressive educational philosophy. was based on the Hampton Tuskegee model of industrial education and emphasized practical training through courses in cooking and laundry for girls. In the years after 1945. After black teachers were appointed to Burke’s faculty in 1920. and painting and bricklaying for boys.
For much of the twentieth century.African American Teachers 2781 Rhett believed that “the education the Negro needed most was industrial” (City board minutes. March 4. In the years after 1945. who attended Burke in the 1940s. 78. December 7. Educational authorities in Charleston controlled the outer reality of schooling at Burke. Burke remained underfunded and overcrowded. July 15.” Hoping to deter enrollment. Drawing students from the city and the rural South Carolina low country. Enslaved African Americans transmitted hidden “educational practices” . hundreds of students were accommodated in portable classrooms that blacks derided as “doghouses” (City board minutes. In 1938. The initiatives of these educators are part of a long tradition of African American autonomy in situations that were ostensibly controlled by whites. became increasingly overcrowded as enrollment more than doubled in the decade after 1935 (Du Bois 1970. Rhett believed that blacks should be prepared for “Negro jobs” (Anderson 1988). officials created a facility that one observer called a “pitiful apology for its supposed purpose” (Charleston News and Courier.” recalls Lonnie Hamilton. but increasing enrollment at Burke led the school board to hire a new generation of college-educated teachers who created opportunities for advancement in a school that was designed to limit. Simms 1995). 1925). Caliver 1950. “The intent of whites. highlighting the limitations of inadequately funded and overcrowded school facilities. and October 5. “was to keep you from getting knowledge and power” (interview with author. and delivery boys” (City board minutes. per-pupil spending on white students in the city’s three high schools was well above per-pupil spending at Burke. 1990). a generation of revisionist scholarship has shown. Rhett secured federal funds to establish new vocational courses at Burke “to supply cooks. 114 ). This intention. July 12. 1949. 1945). During his long tenure as superintendent between 1911 and 1946. Student-teacher ratios were consistently higher. and Burke became increasingly overcrowded. like other African American high schools. maids. but they worried that permanent improvements to Burke’s physical plant would produce what one trustee called “unlimited Negro enrollment. Rhett remained a staunch opponent of the academic training of African Americans. 1947. and overcrowding remained a serious problem (Public Schools of Charleston 1949). officials systematically underfunded the school. Officials in Charleston wanted Burke to train healthy and productive workers. Burke. 1938). The collapse of youth labor markets and New Deal education programs fueled unprecedented increases in African American high school enrollment. was never fully realized. September 3. Cobbling portable classrooms and temporary structures together. Like his colleagues in other Southern cities. but they were never able to define its inner spirit.
Convinced that inadequate funding and overcrowding would limit what educators could accomplish. Edwards. During the middle decades of the twentieth century. and teachers recall. and Simon 2000. and case studies show that black teachers had considerable autonomy. and Florida. 33). “I was rather a free agent and did about what I wanted to do” (1987. V. creative African American educators found spaces where they contested white supremacy. 882. interview with author. Virginia. September 4. also J. In claiming these spaces. and as Rogers’s study of North Carolina shows. After completing field work in Virginia. Florida. “the most striking thing revealed by the men who were formerly principals of all-black high schools was the degree of autonomy they were allowed” (1975. Davis 1938). left teaching “in the hands of Colored men and women” (W. Oral testimony. African Americans during the age of segregation found ways to “Jump Jim Crow” and create space within institutions (Dailey. 38). blacks “sought more than autonomy. 89). “They sought a means of empowerment” (1991. The white superintendent and the white school board ordinarily care little about what goes on in the Negro school” (880. Myrdal (1944) wrote that as “as far as their teaching is concerned. 51). writes. Georgia. 1990). In Jacksonville. 1935–1957. In many communities. Grayson recruited a generation of college-educated teachers who claimed parts of Burke as black space and strengthened the curriculum. and Bates 1979. Just as slaves carved out human space in a system that sought to deny their humanity. Kelley 1996).” Lewis argues. Dunbar High School in Washington “thrived in almost total isolation from white officials” who “took little interest in what was going on at the school” (Sowell 1974.” black teachers are “more independent than appears. Grayson completed coursework at Columbia’s Teachers College before being appointed principal of Burke . white authorities left the supervision of black schools to African American principals. authorities in Halifax County.2782 Teachers College Record across generations (Gundaker 2007). As enrollment at Burke rose from 377 in 1935 to 1500 a decade later. 23). Duvall. Madge Scott recalls that “the superintendent only came around every five or six months” (Foster 1997. Dorothy Robinson. Burke principal William H. who taught in East Texas. that superintendent Rhett rarely visited Burke (City board minutes. African American educators seized upon this lack of monitoring to lay the groundwork for a generation of institutional development in black schools. Gilmore. autobiographies. A graduate of Fisk University. 15–16). The minutes of the Charleston School Board show. African American educators were able to carve out these spaces because officials exercised little direct supervision over what occurred inside Burke and other black schools. At Burke and other black schools. Royster. the Carolinas.
A. 199). only 12 of the school’s 31 teachers had bachelor’s degrees. resources provided by the National Youth Administration (NYA). L. but by 1941. The prevailing attitude was that black students had no need for intellectual development” (Charleston News and Courier. the G. Especially in urban high schools. “He had to be a skillful administrator. Davis 1996. Howard. Grayson hired college-educated faculty members. February 8. Burke yearbook 1941). During World War II. In 1937. Chicago. Walker 2000). Columbia University (High School Application 1948–1949). the percentage of black teachers in ten southern states who held bachelor’s degrees rose from 12 percent to 72 percent (Pierce 1955. a cadre of college-educated teachers at Burke. Frederick Cook. By 1948. During the 1940s. Eugene Hunt. G. Grayson skillfully used labor shortages to increase the number of teachers who taught academic rather than vocational subjects. and Henry Hutchinson strengthened the curriculum and oriented the school toward the liberal arts and college preparation. Bill. Fisk. and the NAACP’s salary equalization campaign helped growing numbers of black teachers finance a college education. Viola Duvall. Marjorie Howard.” recalls Eugene Hunt. the University of Pennsylvania. there were many well-educated and highly competent African American teachers who were important role models for students (Sowell 1974. who earned her master’s degree at Howard University. Burke’s faculty had grown to 60 and included graduates of Atlanta. As sharp increases in enrollment forced school boards to hire more and more teachers. The rising educational attainment of Burke’s faculty illustrates broader regional trends.” Hunt notes. L. Countering the school . When the board was unable to fill painting and carpentry positions in the school’s vocational department in 1943 and 1944. who taught English at Burke between 1941 and 1972. September 4. Lanier 2009. 1989). “We wanted to make sure that our young people could meet them” (interview with author. 1990). During the 1940s.” recalls Duvall. 199–201). the faculty had grown to 41. African American educators in the South “exploited the opportunities for professional training to a greater degree than whites” (Pierce 1955. Turner 2001. Between 1930 and 1950. “because there wasn’t much sympathy or support for the idea of giving black students the opportunity to get a full education. and one had a master’s degree and 37 had bachelor’s degrees (Burke Spotlight 1937. Julliard. Edwards 1998. Academic training gave teachers a sense of the kind of preparation students needed.African American Teachers 2783 in 1939. Grayson “believed in educating the entire child. and teachers modeled their courses at Burke after ones they had taken in college. and Teachers College. Jones 1981. Leroy Anderson. “We knew what the requirements for college were.I.
and “few students majored in the industrial curriculum” (Anderson 1988. and math (Walker 1996. 36. 35.” Southern educational authorities were unwilling to pay for expensive industrial buildings and equipment. but the lack of supervision left openings. trigonometry was not part of the official curriculum. At Norcom High School in Portsmouth. African American teachers remained tireless advocates of a richer and more rigorous academic curriculum. 85 percent of the teachers at Burke taught academic subjects—English. social studies. math. Dollard 1937.] has pushed into the senior high school area and is beginning to do excellent work” (Brownlee 1946. replacing the “industrial room” with a “community room” (Hoffschwelle 2006. Havighurst. . which was intended to prepare students for menial jobs. science. and electives.000 to construct Paul Lawrence Dunbar High School. Decades of scholarship demonstrate that Southern African American educators outmaneuvered the proponents of vocational education and institutionalized a primarily academic curriculum in scores of black high schools. In Little Rock. Arkansas. “which had rather inferior standards[. Some teachers. 115–16). Teachers at the Caswell County Training School in North Carolina refused “to let it become a vocational training school. Warner. music. 154). also Jones 1981). 211). and two years of math. and history. to alter its building plans. however. and Loeb 1944. just “slipped it in. and “Negro education has mostly remained academic” (899.” recalls John W. the lack of African American interest in vocational education led the architects of the Rosenwald Fund. science. history. Burke’s curriculum received an “A” rating from the Southern Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges. Two years later. also Schrieke 1936. Recent studies confirm these findings. teachers educated at one of the four African American colleges in the Little Rock area encouraged students to enroll in academic courses. one observer noted that Burke. By the 1930s. In 1944. Rhett continued to promote vocational courses. especially when they were not taught in white schools. 130). As teachers “spent their summers taking classes at northern universities and earned advanced degrees” Dunbar developed “a reputation as a top notch school” (Lanier 2009. 137). which partially funded the construction of Southern black schools.2784 Teachers College Record board’s persistent opposition to the teaching of liberal arts subjects. educational authorities refused to authorize more advanced classes. In Virginia and other Southern states. science. However. Myrdal (1944) argued that “in spite all the talk about it [industrial training].” and students were required to take courses in English. Virginia. Northern philanthropists and local officials appropriated over $400. By the middle of the 1940s. 37. but most students took three academic courses and one vocational course as they pursued a diploma that required four years of English.
DEMOCRACY. July 31. more than half a century of research demonstrates that the curriculum in scores of Southern African American high schools was primarily academic (Anderson 1988. V. January 27. interview with B. 1995. Royster. Sowell 1974). Cecelski 1994. 1957. At Burke and other African American schools. Tilford-Weathers 1982. Bond 1972. and Bates 1979. Recent critics assert that as progressive ideas were put into practice in schools.African American Teachers 2785 Brown. A. May 1945. G. these assertions are not accurate descriptions of what was actually taught in Southern black schools. 155–56. Walker 2000. Sowell 1974. Davis 1996. L. R. (These critiques do not provide a single piece of primary source evidence from Southern black schools. where a majority of African Americans were educated during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Because of the advocacy of African American educators and limited tracking in many Southern black schools before Brown. they blocked African American access to “cultural literacy” and “prepared [black] children to fit into society as it then was” (Ravitch 2000. Palmer 1991. Morris and C. G. revisionist scholars have shown how African American educators used Dewey’s democratic ideas to . leading educators earned degrees during a time when progressive educational ideas were especially influential.d. S. Caliver 1950. also Hirsch 1999. W. n. 40). 377.). Myrdal (1944) argued that “the long-range effect of the rising level of education in the Negro people goes in the direction of nourishing and strengthening the Negro protest” (881). Angus and Mirel 1999. Edwards. 3). List of approved accredited high schools. students studied the egalitarian ideas embedded in the liberal arts during a time when the number of African Americans who completed high school rose sharply (City board minutes. “I remember that distinctly because I liked math” (“Behind the Veil” 1995. DEWEY. Morris 2002. Baker 2006. Based on assumptions rather than evidence. Walker 1996. As much as Southern educators and Northern philanthropists sought to vocationalize African American education. L. Foster 1997. The 150 students who graduated from Burke in 1945 were part of a cohort of African American graduates that was twice as large as the one that preceded it (Parvenue. Edwards 1998. AND AFRICAN AMERICAN EDUCATORS IN THE SOUTH The African American activism that defines the long history of the civil rights movement was also a product of Dewey’s democratic vision of progressive education. Murphy. who attended the school. 116). L.) As much as Southern administrative progressives sought to limit African Americans.
also National Negro Digest 1940). 262. In the years between the world wars. she required students in her Problems of Democracy class to apply for admission to the segregated College of Charleston as a homework assignment (Scipio to Registrar. and laboratory schools that were connected to missionary societies. Eugene Hunt. 1944). Dewey affirmed his support for democratic progressive education as an instrument of social and political reform. Baker 2006. S. and Lois Simms—first encountered progressive educational ideas as high school students at Charleston’s Avery Normal Institute. Avery was one of the dozens of Southern African American private. 65.2786 Teachers College Record liberate (Cremin 1988. Students at Avery. Baysinger. The education of Burke teachers illustrates how progressive democratic ideas influenced African American schooling in the South. 36. J. Palmer 1991). parochial. Drago 1990. As he distinguished his views from those progressives who sought to use schools to reproduce inequality. In 1944.” a generation of African American educators could “hardly avoid” coming into contact with the possibilities of Dewey’s democratic progressive philosophy (Cremin 1961. There were. Social studies teacher Julia Brogdon was an avowed Deweyite. Many of the teachers who taught at Burke in the years after the 1940s—Leroy Anderson. different kinds of progressive education. leading African American educators found in Dewey’s ideas tools and techniques that contributed to the reconstruction of Southern society. principals Frank A. and Sidorsky 2008. as progressive education achieved “its high water mark. Drago (1990) notes. 234. and clear differences between the administrative progressives who supported a differentiated curriculum and life adjustment. 349). Walker 2009). 189. Michael Graves. and radical democrats like Dewey (Westbrook 1991. arguing that “schools should strive to educate with social change in view by producing individuals equipped with desires and abilities to assist in transforming it” (Boydston. Fairclough 2001. R. “imbibed in the progressive attitudes of their teachers” (230). 324. and colleges (Brownlee 1946. Founded by the American Missionary Association in 1866. Irvine and Foster 1996. Adept at manipulating educational ideas to achieve their own ends. 502–7. of course. Brogdon earned her master’s degree from Atlanta University in . Cremin 1988). S. DeCosta and L. also Westbrook 1991. Ryan 1995. During the late 1930s and early 1940s. Dewey remained an important voice in debates about progressive education and a critic of progressives he deeply disagreed with (Cremin 1961. Fairclough 2001. churches. Influenced by coursework at Teachers College and Fisk. Westbrook 1991). Brown 1995. May 15. Howard Bennett established programs that were designed to produce “united group effort and fuller participation in the full stream of American life” (R. Baker 2006).
Dewey’s democratic vision was popular among leading black educators . a generation of African American educators learned how to put the radical possibilities of Dewey’s philosophy into practice. Hundreds of African Americans studied at Teachers College during the middle decades of the twentieth century. Bill benefits. Teachers College. Brogdon believed that schools could change society if students were “taught how to cope with economic. but in other institutions as well. political.African American Teachers 2787 1940. A. or Howard. Atlanta’s program required prospective teachers to complete courses on the methods and materials of progressive classroom procedure (Atlanta University catalogues and bulletins. 400). 84. social. and complete research in the Journal of Negro Education (Simms 1995. which was widely read. Especially in leading universities. B. including many Burke teachers. Du Bois and Horace Mann Bond. Higher salaries. more than a third of the teachers at Burke had completed coursework and earned degrees at Atlanta. Robinson 1936. Courses such as Mabel Carney’s The Education of Negroes in the United States. 26–27). November 13. urged teachers to use progressive educational methods to challenge white supremacy (Kluger 1977. These progressive ideas were widely taught during a time when growing numbers of African American teachers at Burke and other African American schools in the South completed bachelor’s. 1987). G. Drawing on the John Dewey Society Yearbook. “We must be intelligent enough to help our children to become socially wise” (W. Articles in the Journal. Graduate students were required to write a master’s thesis. “virtually all” college-trained black educators were familiar with Dewey’s ideas (Fairclough 2000. By 1949. L. and summer institutes on race relations provided students with opportunities to develop a progressive critique of white supremacy (Weiler 2005. “Teachers must be courageous enough to arouse social unrest. By the 1940s. E. Walker 2009. and educational problems intelligently” (interview with E. master’s. Lois Simms and Viola Duval were among the Burke teachers who earned master’s degrees at Howard. 484–85). Drago. Edwards 1998). Moseley 1966). and summer study programs at leading universities (Pierce 1955. 169). Teachers for Democracy (1940). and out-of-state scholarships that 12 Southern states funded in an attempt to preserve segregation in higher education provided resources that teachers used to finance more advanced study. I. where she studied with W. Myrtle Phillips urged African American teachers to create “a desirable democratic society” (Phillips 1940. A. Education professor Doxey Wilkerson (1937) argued that teachers should prepare students to “think critically” about “the problem of race conflict” and “[arm] them with the ‘equipment’ which conflict demands” (73–74). 23).” one educator wrote. 2620). Lanier 2009. 1934–1942.
African American professional and educational networks facilitated the dissemination of ideas about “ensuring full democratic participation” and “overturning a system of oppression” (12–13). African American educators made schooling and democracy inseparable. Virginia. and nurtured leadership skills. developed political awareness. UNMONITORED SPACES: EXTRACURRICULAR PROGRAMS These ideals and goals supported extracurricular programs that heightened racial consciousness.” Grayson wrote in unmistakably progressive terms in 1942. By the 1940s. We take this position not only because we are Americans. 64). to make our children proud of the contributions to America and the world by their race. and voter registration . integration describes teaching procedures which relate varieties of subject matter to problem solving situations” (Browne 1944. as teachers in a minority group. “We are guiding our students in critical thinking. 542). Capitalizing on the ascendency of liberal reform politics and the popularity of progressive education. black teachers echoed Dewey’s contention that the fundamental goal of schooling was “to prepare students for democratic living” (Fairclough 2000. teachers at Huntington High School proclaimed their “unshakeable belief in democracy. 84). debate and drama clubs. “we believe that education in America should be education for the democratic way of life. A. student councils. In carefully crafted mission statements. school newspapers. wrote. who earned a master’s degree from Teachers College and served as principal of Booker T. J. the pedagogies that activist teachers practiced became increasingly oppositional as educators created. and at the same time conscious of themselves as Americans” (Burke yearbook 1942). As Walker (2009) argues.2788 Teachers College Record because it supported a more activist interpretation of the African American uplift philosophy. the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for Negroes sponsored a project in 16 Southern African American high schools “to promote experiments in progressive education” and make schools “agencies for producing young citizens capable of leadership and community action” (W. South Carolina. During World War II. Negro history programs. that pedagogically. but particularly because we are Negroes. 62–63). Washington High School in Columbia. “We are trying. In Newport News. these sentiments were widely shared by African American educators who completed college and graduate courses during the heyday of the progressive movement. This democratic ideal will hasten the day when all the people of the nation will enjoy the full blessings of democracy” (Browne 1944. Robinson 1944. During the 1940s. Andrew Simmons. 533. in unmonitored school spaces.
” The program ended with students reciting the freedom pledge: “in order to have freedom. remembers that “you never graduated from black history until . 36–37). music. By the middle of the 1940s. In Little Rock. 102–3). “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (Parvenue. the Parvenue. “nappy hair and dark complexion. “potent parts of life at Burke. May 1941). As one student wrote. dwell in white and black just the same” (Parvenue. “are the most popular” (May 1946). These texts brought students into contact with egalitarian ideas and led one student. but perfection and ambition. a graduate of Columbia University’s School of Library Science. May 1946). Exposing students to events and ideas that were not contained in state-approved textbooks.African American Teachers 2789 projects. Leon Cash. Created by African American historian Carter Woodson in 1926. The Negro is still struggling. programs organized by Burke history teacher Frederic Cook explored “the Negro’s journey up from slavery to freedom. one of the many new programs established during the 1940s (Parvenue 1942). and ended with the singing of the Negro national anthem. Programs in Negro history celebrated African American achievement in ways that bred discontent with white supremacy.” This activity included student presentations on African Americans in history. we have to fight for it” (Parvenue. clubs were a vital “part of school life” that involved 80 percent of the students (Walker 1996. “these documents show that all races have fought and struggled for the precious prize of liberty and equality. but educators at Burke found ways around this policy. but he is nearer his goal. Negro History Week replaced racist notions of African American inferiority with lessons on African American achievement. At Caswell County Training School. Grayson recruited H. and Jenkins organized and expanded the school library. African American educators nurtured the pride and aspirations that were at the heart of the civil rights movement. In schools throughout the region. these lessons were taught not just during Negro History Week but throughout the school year. Jenkins.” a student wrote in the school newspaper. January 1948). E. sports. doesn’t alter nature’s claim. to write. 100 student leaders were selected to read and discuss the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. In an indication of how officials continued to control the outer reality of schooling.” the Parvenue reported. and religion. “Books by and about Negroes. the Charleston School Board refused to authorize an official course in Negro history. 94 percent of the students who graduated from Dunbar High school in 1944 reported participating in extracurricular programs (Jones 1981. In 1939. These programs were extremely popular in black schools in the South. who attended Fargo Agricultural School in Arkansas during the 1940s. In another Negro History program. art. Geraldine Davidson.
who attended school in Birmingham. so do his demands” (321). working with teachers. prepared oral reports on Richard Wright’s Native Son and talked “inside and outside the classroom about the struggle for human dignity” (Henry 2000. and accustom them to [registration] procedures” (Parvenue 1952). At Dudley High School in Greensboro. Waites Waring struck down South Carolina’s white primary in Elmore v. worked with students on door-to-door campaigns to make “elders mindful of using the ballot” (Parvenue. Powdermaker (1939) argued that “knowledge of Negro achievement increases the student’s self respect. In 1940. Ortiz. Henry Hutchinson..” math teacher Marjorie Howard recalls (interview with author. they created programs that explicitly taught students to vote. provided “a whole new pool of knowledge about Negroes” and the NAACP’s efforts to “gain basic rights” (Moody 1968. June 1953). history teacher Arlestus Attmore completed research and collected materials that informed lessons on Frederick Douglass. which in turn elected a president and vice president. Stewart. used it to “familiarize students with voting.” interview with P. almost twice as many as in 1948.d. 91). More than this. Student council leaders brought a voting machine to the school and. Lessons on the structure of government and the courts were designed to induct schoolchildren into American political culture. how it is done. also see Burke yearbook 1941). Sojourner Truth. English teacher Nell Coley used literature and poetry to engage students in discussions of “the inalienable rights of all human beings” (interview with W. 1974). Rice. Mississippi.2790 Teachers College Record you left the school” (“Behind the Veil. “We were training students for citizenship in the United States. Students in Thelma Shelby’s English class in Coahoma County. Anne Moody’s homeroom teacher. Anderson’s colleague. January 15. In New Bern. Alabama (1988. it enhances his own expectations. By 1952. 1991. North Carolina. Citizenship education was a vital part of the curriculum in many . Grayson and math teacher Marjorie Howard established a student council. December 1948).” recalls Angela Davis. Chafe. 41–42). October 15. As his expectations enlarge. 7500 African Americans were registered to vote in Charleston. “Black identity was thrust upon us. United Burke. As teachers heightened racial consciousness. 127–28). Wright to Waring. Rice. social science teacher Leroy Anderson had students study the Elmore decision and write the judge as a homework assignment (E. Harriet Tubman. After federal judge J. n. 1995). and other black leaders (“Behind the Veil. 20). Each homeroom represented a state and elected a representative to a student council or congress.” interview with C. John Stokes recalls that his teachers at Moton High School in Virginia found ways of weaving the achievement of African Americans into every course (Turner 2001). Mrs.
There were campaign speeches and elections. She urged students to “carry the message home to their parents” and followed up by meeting with parents in their homes (Dennis 2004. When people think about black teachers. 1935. African American students acted on these progressive pedagogies of protest and staged a series of school strikes and boycotts across the South that pushed the movement forward.African American Teachers 2791 African American schools and contributed to significant increases in African American voter registration. Burke students staged . In December 1945. In Topeka. 9–14. physics teacher Vance Chavis encouraged “students to get their parents to vote. with a constitution. At Greensboro’s Dudley High School. TEACHING MADE IT INEVITABLE: STUDENT STRIKES AND BOYCOTTS. teachers were the “backbone” of the Virginia Voter’s League. 88). but these challenges also grew out of aspirations that were nurtured by activist educators. Vann went beyond lessons in the civics text. By the end of World War II. In Virginia. Chafe. sites of significant struggles between whites who sought to maintain their supremacy and blacks who challenged it. 338). severe overcrowding. a Teachers College graduate. May 20. the Black American Teachers Association “urgently recommend[ed] the teaching of the value of the ballot in all schools for Negroes” (The Bulletin 1934. During the 1930s. and then repeat an oath: “I promise God and my teacher that when I am twenty-one I will register to vote” (W. who taught in Florida. organized “the whole school like a state. 38). “teachers did quite a few things not sanctioned by the school board. Kansas. 58). Mamie Williams. recalls. by-laws. Acting on this recommendation. one African American principal in Georgia required students to say the Pledge of Allegiance. A. Activist African American teachers in Nashville “thought it was their responsibility to educate boys and girls politically as well as academically” (Ramsey 2008. Sharp increases in African American high school enrollment. 81). officers. rousing inauguration ceremonies. which rose from 3 percent in 1940 to 20 percent by 1952 (Lawson 1997. 1945–1954 In the decade after 1945. but these teachers were” (Foster 1997. and a legislative council. 1973). We wrote letters and I got students to address them right there in my classroom” (interview with W. and glaring disparities between white and black facilities sparked these strikes. Robinson 1936. and regular legislative reports posted on the bulletin board in every classroom” (Kluger 1977. 378). Leola R. 89). At Hayden High School. they don’t see them as subversive. rising African American aspirations collided with caste constraints as a wave of student activism made black high schools battlegrounds. Madge Scott.
Reverend L. Virginia. In four of the five cases consolidated under Brown. recalls that “Jones’ teaching made it all seem inevitable” (Smith 1965.d. the Moton junior who organized the boycott. Moton principal Boyd Jones was a Hampton College graduate who earned his M.” the dilapidated portable classrooms that officials constructed to alleviate severe overcrowding (City board minutes. and forced educational authorities to dramatically increase funding for black schools (McCauley and Ball 1959. boycotted classes at the “shameful” African American high school (report. as were other strike leaders. These strikes and boycotts are significant because they revived the NAACP’s legal campaigns against state-sanctioned segregation that had stalled. 60). from Cornell. Johns was deeply involved in Moton’s academic and extracurricular programs. Moton High School in Farmville.). Influenced by Dewey’s contention that schools could democratize society. Tushnet 1994). 1945). Jones’s school was the most democratic thing that ever happened around here. n. who was engaged to Principal Jones. She excelled in her classes and participated in the chorus. Virginia (Smith 1965. Jones and his colleagues created a vibrant and progressive educational environment that included Negro history programs. October 21. Turner 2001). encouraged Barbara Johns to organize a student strike. and Washington. Barbara Johns. R. He taught [students] to think for themselves and criticize. student activism preceded litigation. Branch 1988. A year later. African American high school students organized at least 17 boycotts and strikes in the Carolinas. 1951). Lumberton Negro school strike. plays. remembers that Jones had “the idea that the high school had to serve as a training ground for democracy. and a voter registration project. The president of the local NAACP. Louisiana. There is little documentary evidence about the walkout at Burke or the school boycotts that were staged throughout the South in the years after 1945. December 12. and the student council. In . D. stayed out of class for a month after officials forced teachers to conduct classes in “prison camp” conditions (Student Walkout. hundreds of African American students staged a dramatic march through downtown St. September 7. In 1951. students in Hearne. North Carolina. English and music teacher Inez Davenport. Kansas.2792 Teachers College Record a walkout to protest the “dog houses. The best evidence we have about the role of teachers in this wave of Southern student activism comes from several studies of the strike at R. the drama group.C. 32). Missouri. students in Lumberton. Kluger 1977. Louis Argus. 1946).A. Francis Griffin. During the fall of 1947. Between 1945 and 1954. Texas. Louis (St. This evidence shows that the pedagogies practiced by activist teachers at Moton encouraged student protest. and ask questions” (Smith 1965. Texas. a student council.
Legal and extralegal attacks on .” Marshall’s colleague Herbert Hill recalls that “when the younger group came along [the student activists at Moton]. “keep up the good work. 44–45). May 14. students returned to school. Johns told students “not to accept” conditions at Moton and led more than 450 students out of the school (Pittsburgh Courier. organized. 63. 40. Hearne. and carried out the boycott. Kluger. Farmville. Student government leaders planned. Lumberton. Continue on” (Smith 1965. this all changed” (S. a month after the boycott began. but I must not publicly acknowledge this. When attorneys met with the students and warned them that they were violating the state’s compulsory school attendance laws.” Johns “decided to use the student council” (interview with R. As students picketed the school with placards that stated “We’re Tired of Tar Paper Shacks. 1971). and Principal Jones told Barbara Johns. The wave of student activism that swept through the South in the years after 1954 pushed the NAACP to directly challenge state-sanctioned segregation. 20). and combined with litigation to force Southern authorities to fund a multi-million-dollar construction campaign that improved educational facilities in Charleston. In May of 1951.”1954-1963 Brown emboldened African American activists and unleashed a vicious wave of white repression and retaliation. After Davenport suggested that students “do something about it. May 5. 1951). January 20. Robinson to Marshall. At an assembly in the spring of 1951. the Supreme Court struck down the constitutionality of state-imposed racial segregation. R. Thurgood Marshall praised the student strike in Lumberton.” strike leaders used the Moton High School office phone to call NAACP lawyers Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson (Smith 1965. and other Southern cities and towns (McCauley and Ball 1959. 196). “we always ended up talking about the school” (Turner 2001. While some members of the legal staff worried that the association might not “get many parents willing to make a test of the segregation laws of their community.African American Teachers 2793 Davenport’s music class. calling it “one of the finest things ever pulled” (Marshall to Current. In 1954. Johns recalls. 1947). We Want a New School. August 19. 150. also Powell to Kluger 1971). S. 43). the young people shouted that there were “too many of them to fit in the jails” (Branch 1988. 1947). I am behind you 100 percent. Student activism helped convince the NAACP that courageous “little Joes” in the South were ready to challenge state-sanctioned segregation (Perry to Nance. 1950. Smith 1965. “WE ENCOURAGED [STUDENTS] TO DO THE KIND OF THING THEY DID. October 1. Baker 2006).
364). Building on the groundwork laid by Grayson and his colleagues in the early 1940s. a Teachers College graduate who was appointed principal of Burke in 1955. and a selective buying campaign in the town of Orangeburg that targeted businesses owned by white supremacists. December 1956. Clinton Young. American history teacher Clara Luper worked with more than a dozen of her students at Dunjee High School in Oklahoma City on a carefully planned project (NAACP 1960). write articles. two Florida A&M students initiated a bus boycott in 1956 and received significant encouragement from Dean Moses Miles and professors Edward Irons and James H.2794 Teachers College Record the NAACP forced the association to defend its right to exist and create what A. demonstrations on campus. Pyatt recalls that the skills he developed in extracurricular activities at Burke and State College—how to organize meetings. In Tallahassee. They distributed the leaflets “at schools where both students and staff members helped distribute them further and spread the word” (J. . H. After Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. South Carolina State College student government leaders Fred Moore and Rudolph Pyatt. directed by music teacher H. Hine. G. 32. Hudson (Rabby 1999. 39–40). D. educators at Burke and other African American schools prepared student leaders who organized and led sit-ins and direct action demonstrations in the early 1960s. A. Alabama. Florida. “we are constantly emphasizing the quality of leadership. 34). The activism helped sustain the movement during a time when repression paralyzed the NAACP. publish a newspaper. 99 percent of the State College faculty signed a resolution declaring their support for the student activists. 1994). Robinson 1987. Morris calls an “organizational and protest vacuum” (1984. organized and led a boycott of classes. worked with two of her students and printed leaflets announcing a bus boycott. Students sang in the school choir. 9. As massive resistance delayed desegregation. In the spring of 1956. and stage events—provided him and Moore with the “capability and logistics to do what we needed to do” (interview with W. 46). wrote. African American students filled this vacuum and played significant roles in “the surge of nonviolent direct action” that swept through the South in the late 1950s (Meier and Rudwick 1976. teachers and administrators at Burke made the training of student leaders a central goal of the school. using skills they had developed as students at Burke. Encouraged by teachers. In 1957. an English teacher at Alabama State College. Jo Ann Robinson. also Burke Bulldog 1958). Luper (1979) “supervised” sit-ins that desegregated lunch counters and variety stores in Oklahoma City. In April 1956. August 25. We are constantly searching out in our student body those who have the possibilities of leadership” (Parvenue.
that regularly performed at NAACP meetings. remembers that her teachers at Dunbar High School opened “the door to a broader world” (Lanier 2009. student journalists used the Parvenue to educate students about their rights as citizens.African American Teachers 2795 Fleming. G. At Rougemont High in Durham. But if the school newspaper was to “print the truth. these programs were “a hallmark of many [African American] schools” (268). high schools were “the focal point of the black community. and Mamie Lou White. who were being prepared “to carry the torch of leadership and serve the school and community” (Burke Bulldog 1958). an activist educator who taught at Archer Elementary School in Charleston and was fired for publicly supporting desegregation. Carlotta Walls. 78). writes that her teachers supplied “a sense of pride in who we were and where we came from and where we . 36). Extracurricular programs in African American schools prepared students to lead African American communities and deal with national audiences. By the 1950s. Reinforcing lessons taught in academic classes. argues that “this work in dramatics proved to be good training in later activities not even related to the stage but rather dealing with audiences of one sort or another” (1962. April 1955). school activities provided students with an understanding of “what we need to do” (Noblit and Dempsey 1996. North Carolina.” these activities were linked to a network of African American religious. Working with faculty advisor and math teacher Marjorie Howard. Arkansas. In North Carolina. In Nashville. that could “light the way to freedom by printing the truth” (Parvenue. Cornelius Fludd. and voluntary organizations (Chirhart 2005. who attended Turner High School in Atlanta and desegregated the University of Georgia in 1961. As activist teachers’ work “stretched from the classroom into the community. Teachers and administrators culled from classes and clubs a cadre of student leaders. James Blake. V. L. 2).” students had to be bolder and more assertive and not “be afraid of expressing [them]selves” (Parvenue. Tennessee. Extracurricular programs in North Carolina. and student government. April 1952). Walker (2000) has shown. 129). where students learned how to organize activities and work as part of a team (L. plays and skits provided opportunities for students to demonstrate leadership. oratorical contests. Morris 2002). Davis 1996. 90). G. Septima Clark. community. [They] served as the rallying point and meeting place for political and social community affairs” (Rogers 1975. one of the nine students who desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School. Charlene Hunter-Gault. The “free press” is a “mighty weapon in the hands of the American people. Harvey Gantt. teachers used plays to prepare students to overcome “limitations and barriers” (Ramsey 2008. Georgia.” one student wrote. Morris and C. 46). and elsewhere developed leadership skills through assemblies. plays.
As the sit-in movement spread through North Carolina and into other Southern states. and ended African American exclusion. the pedagogies of protest that had long been practiced in African American high schools fueled student-led demonstrations that played a central role in the demise of Jim Crow. Roche 1998. 1974). teachers “supported the movement in a host of ways” (Ramsey 2008. graduated from the city’s Dudley High School. At Norcom High School in Portsmouth. what you should have. Morris 1984). Coley taught students that “the way you find things need not happen. 1960. In her English classes. “acting out the right and wrong ways to handle various demonstration situations” as they staged sit-ins at a local Rose Variety Store (North Carolina Commission on Human Rights 1960). Students at Washington Junior High and Pearl High School “absorbed their teacher’s promotion of equality and democracy” and put these ideas into practice in sit-ins in downtown Nashville (99). he pointed to the educators in the Greensboro public schools who taught him “what your rights were as citizens. where teachers Vance Chavis and Nell Coley nurtured the aspirations that produced activism. October 15. A. Chavis taught physics. Drawing on these lessons. Direct action demonstrations that began in 1960 and continued through 1963 expressed deepening African American resentment at continued segregation in a way that could not be ignored. Chafe. Acting on a vision of equality that animated classes and clubs in African American schools. she recalls that the sit-ins “did not seem to be that unusual at all because we had been teaching those kids those things” (interview with W. high school students played important roles in organizing and leading sit-ins (Bartley 1995. stirred the NAACP. Activist teachers made indispensible contributions to the Second Reconstruction of the South.” Looking back on her years at Dudley. and activist teachers played significant roles in this phase of the long civil rights movement. . but he constantly reminded his students not to accept segregation. Three of the four North Carolina Agricultural and Technical freshmen who initiated the sit-ins in Greensboro on February 1.2796 Teachers College Record were going” (1988. When Greensboro sit-in leader Joseph McNeil was asked why he acted. [and] what you don’t have” (Leloudis 1996. 93). During the early 1960s. students organized sit-ins in over 100 Southern cities and towns in the spring of 1960. Virginia. students “staged a sociodrama” at the school. While all African American educators did not encourage student protest. the seeds of this activism were planted in high schools. enough did. In Nashville. May 28. 1973. D. xv). 228). While much of the literature on the sit-ins focuses on colleges. student leaders staged the second act of a play that began with the strikes and boycotts of the 1940s and 1950s.
a Sojourner Truth.1 Stirred by the student activists’ discipline and determination. “the pace” of desegregation accelerated largely because of African American student activism (360). or a Cornwallis?” (Parvenue. who led the movement in Charleston (interview with author. “What should we do? What would you do? Would you stage a sit-in?” Graves remembers them asking. Graduating from Burke that spring. Searching for ways to express what they learned at Burke. Hunt and Graves urged students to act on lessons proffered in academic classes and extracurricular activities. Using the organizing and leadership skills developed in extracurricular programs. By 1960. 24 Burke students staged a sit-in at the local Kress. Mamie Lou White was valedictorian. black leaders organized a boycott to protest overcrowding in the schools. Teachers “taught us we were first-class citizens” recalls James Blake. Most of the Burkites who participated in the sit-ins were honor students. salutatorian and captain of the football team. Jackson. 1990). in Charleston and were arrested. he wrote that “throughout the history of America man has been asking for his inalienable rights to live and be respected as a human being. as elsewhere in the South. Michael Graves. Mississippi. The students who organized and led the sit-ins acted on the lessons of dignity and equality that had long been emphasized in academic courses and extracurricular programs. Are you going to be a Harriet Tubman. July 17. and alumni in a graduation ceremony that celebrated their activism (Burke High School commencement program. a variety store with lunch counters. the pedagogies of protest that Burke teachers practiced inside and outside the classroom provided crucial inspiration. March 1960). Many were deeply involved in extracurricular programs that faculty and administrators used to develop leadership and organizing skills. and other citadels of . As Klarman (2004) has shown. 1990). We encouraged them to do the kind of thing they did” (interview with author. skills nurtured in African American schools. Eugene Hunt and J. July 16. E. editor of the Parvenue. on April 1. during the early 1960s. James Blake. and Cornelius Fludd. and NAACP leaders renewed legal campaigns to desegregate schools in South Carolina and other states. student leaders turned to two of the school’s most respected teachers.” Drawing on lessons learned in history classes and clubs. “I told them that I would probably go and sit down. In March of 1960. Birmingham. In Charleston. Like Vance Chavis and Nell Coley. less than one percent of black students attended desegregated schools in the South. Parvenue editor James Blake urged his peers to “Stand Up and Be Counted. March 1960. sit-in leaders were showered with awards and scholarships by parents. May 1960). teachers. Hunt Papers). president of the student council (Parvenue. 1960. Harvey Gantt. 1960.African American Teachers 2797 At Burke.
After teachers boycotted stores in Jackson. these protests threatened the area’s $25-million. September 18. courts.” Thurgood Marshall recalls. hundreds of students from Brinkley. Savannah. a local newspaper editor acknowledged the power of student protests. . By the end of the summer. daily demonstrations in Charleston led to the arrest of 800. Day in. this phase of the movement was “led by young people” (interview with author. and Hill High Schools helped form “the driving force” behind marches and demonstrations that brought concessions in education and other areas (Slater 1987. three times as many as in 1962. Charleston. 269). Jackson. “[We regained] the initiative once the protests and demonstrations achieved their momentum. day out. Birmingham. 1963). Erwin.000 arrested in over 100 cities and towns (Bartley 1995. The events of the past summer demonstrate the practical necessity of the decision” (Charleston News and Courier. Demonstrations and the threat of continuing disorder also contributed to passage of landmark civil rights legislation. James Blake recalls. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorized the Justice Department to initiate litigation challenging exclusion and discrimination in education. and demonstrated in the streets. These demonstrations combined with pressure from the NAACP. In Birmingham. Moody 1968. student activism sustained demonstrations during the summer of 1963 that made continued exclusion incompatible with order. “The protests hit at the right time. February 15. I think it might have died on the vine” (interview with E. August 24. I think [the protests] saved it [the movement]. and the Justice Department to finally and irrevocably end African American exclusion from schools. hundreds of students from area high schools marched. By the time schools opened in the fall of 1963. and public accommodations. 1963). writing that the school board had decided to accept the ruling “in order to avoid chaos. 212). parks. students formed “the backbone of the movement. 86. These protests—and the pedagogies that inspired them—provided much of the momentum behind the long civil rights movement. and St. colleges. public accommodations. raising the costs of continued segregation. Disrupting traffic and commerce. who were among the 20. In Charleston. employment.a-year tourist trade. and other areas.2798 Teachers College Record Southern segregation. 1990). Yes.” fueling disruptive protests that forced officials to desegregate schools and public accommodations (Forman 1985. Lane. Augustine were among the more than 160 Southern districts that desegregated for the first time. 337). 238. picketed. and by far the largest number since the height of massive resistance in 1956 (Southern School News. libraries. When the court ordered officials in Charleston to desegregate the schools in August 1963. 1977). July 17.
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