History of Afro-American Struggle for Education
The literature review is going to attempt a summary and critical appraisal of the work done in the field of the study of the process of desegregation of the races in the educational institution in America. In order to fully comprehend the issue, we have placed it in its political and historical context.
Slavery was one of the most abominable acts that one community committed against the other. By virtue of this practice human beings or the whole nation lost not only their political and civil rights but also ceased to be free individuals. They became the property of an individual and their well-being depended on the wishes and whims of their masters. Slavery began in America in 1619 with the arrival of the first slaves in Virginia. It continued in the south as the plantation owners needed people whereas in the north it was abolished after the American Revolution. These tobacco and cotton plantations were labor-intensive hence 90% of the slave population resided in the south. The civil war can be identified as the period in which the antislavery movement started gaining momentum. Consequently, the thirteenth fourteenth and fifteenth amendment abolished slavery and made Negroes the legal citizen of America, and gave voting rights to the blacks.
Education was always seen as a means that enlightens and makes people aware of their rights therefore laws like the South Carolina act of 1740 made the dissemination of education in blacks illegal. Education was held as the reason for the slave rebellions like the Stono rebellion of South Carolina. The whole objective of such kind of oppression was the belief in the supremacy of the white race.
We have to first analyze how education which had been the pejorative of the white came to be considered something which needs to be imparted to the racially discriminated black community. It has been considered a very important tool in the upward mobility of an individual in society. The northern aid association along with the efforts made by the Afro-Americans who after gaining freedom made efforts to provide their community with the most vital skill i.e. education. They had the vision that it was necessary to secure the future of their children.
The book Faithful, Firm, and True: by Titus Brown fill in the lacunae in the study of the efforts to bring education to the Afro-American populace in the South. It breaks the white euphemism that it was the white man who was responsible for bringing knowledge and refinement into the lives of the uneducated and coarse black community. These schools were not open to generating any kind of hopes and expectations in those receiving education. (Brown, 2002)They were in fact aimed at quelling any kind of ill feelings that the children might have as they had been oppressed by their white masters. These institutions were run by The Western Freedman’s Aid Commission and the various denominational churches provided the other inputs like the building. These institutions were not up to the mark as can be expected as the resources were few and the teachers were lowly paid. The American Missionary Association took over the control of these schools. Mr. Cravath had taken a house from the afro- American church to house teachers and the house was cleaned and prepared by the Afro women even before his arrival in Nashville. The enrollment in the schools kept increasing despite the epidemic of smallpox. The schools grew in number and strength. The association of missionaries sympathized with the problems of the racially oppressed people. Their misery was due to the exploitation by the plantation owners. They turned out the plantation workers in the winter months. The teachers in these missionary schools also provided relief by asking for a donation of clothes and food for the poor black and exploited community. The white teachers from the north didn’t possess the apathy that the white southerners had towards the oppressed blacks. In fact, the white southern community was very skeptical about what they called the pseudo-philanthropist from the north were trying to achieve.
It is very interesting that these endeavors have been seen in a very different light by the blacks themselves. This educational establishment by northern philanthropic associations and has been criticized for providing education that could enable the colored minority to serve in the industries only. They are accused of subverting the genuine efforts of the ex-slaves to provide education that could help the future generation to help climb the social ladder. The educational institutions were in the hands of the white oppressor community and it is they who decided what was going to be taught to the racial minority. It has been seen as a deliberate attempt to undermine the institution set up by the black ex-slaves towards the objective of providing acquisition of knowledge to their young ones. In recent times the focus of the research has shifted from studying the injustices of the segregated school system to studying the kind of education that was being offered in these institutions (Walker,2000)
These segregated schools were being run by the missionary schools of the north with a religious zeal. Bible was an integral part of the curriculum that was being taught in these schools. (Hoffman,2003; Jones,1992).
During the 1830 and 1860s, a dichotomy existed in American society. On one hand, laws were being promulgated banning anyone from providing education to the black slave communities in the southern states of the united states, and on the other hand, there were campaigns to provide free popular education to free education. These free Americans were the white majority community that enslaved and unleashed a reign of violence and discrimination against the poor black community.
Literacy Pre and Post Slavery
Slavery was by far having its real hold in the south in the United States. It was the plantation owners who were benefitted most out of the slave labor. It became a recognized fact that the 19thcenturyAmerican economy was propelled by slave labor which depended mainly on agriculture. The United States had industrially well-developed north and south subsisted on agriculture. Slavery was abolished after the civil war. Slavery has long been established with the low level of education among the impoverished blacks.
James Anderson in his book The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 has tried to give a complete picture of the state of education in the southern part of America. The struggle for educating the members of the black community began in the context of oppression and discrimination of the racial minority. They were living in abject poverty and they were even the basic political rights like citizenship rights. They couldn’t vote and consequently couldn’t raise their voice against exploitation. They were forced to donate their labor to the rich agricultural landowners who were like a leech sucking their blood. Despite the fact, the blacks were economically backward and politically deprived struggled to form educational institutions that could cater to their needs. According to the author, their plan was subverted by the racist agenda of the school boards and the social organization of the north which dominated the kind of education being offered to the blacks. The growth and the spread of education have been attributed by most historians to the intense desire of the blacks to get themselves and their children educated. An underlying thought process of controlling their institutions was present in the strong desire to acquire knowledge. In in1865, Alvord who was superintendent of schools for each southern state noted that there were many “self-teaching” and “native schools” existing in the south prior to the entry of the missionaries The first school was established in the south with the objective of educating the black was Fortress Monroe, Virginia, in September 1864 but there is evidence that there very efforts in this direction earlier than this. “In 1865 the Freedmen’s Bureau took control of this school system, which then included 126 schools, 19,000 pupils, and 100 teachers.” According to James Anderson (Anderson, 1988, p. 9), The entire book was written with a point of view of negating the notion it was benevolent missionaries of the north who took up the cause of educating the illiterate racial minority of the south were solely responsible for the educating the Afro-American community. The general tax that was used by the freedman bureau to run the expenses of providing education was scraped on military orders. The freedmen replaced the federal schools with free local schools. Despite this measure there independent private schools being run by the blacks which were by far more successful as more students enrolled in their institution? The book also categorically negates the concept that the institutions established by the colored people lacked organization and thus were haphazard. Afro-Americans cherished literacy because to them it was tantamount to liberty. Free blacks who knew how to read and write arranged secret literacy camps. IT must be remembered that anything which is suppressed finds very powerful utterance. Planters saw literacy as means which will destroy their hegemony. Schools were seen both by the black leadership and laity as a ticket to freedom and liberty. The concept of universal education which was engrained in the constitution of the south as the fundamental right was mainly due to the efforts of the leaders of the black community.
The census data of the literate people in the South have been based on the grade completed. This methodology has some problems because the early school didn’t have a system of grades (Margo, 1986). Illiteracy was rampant in the Afro-American community after the civil war. It stood at 81% between the ages of 10 and older in the year 1870. There was a decline in the literacy rates after this year because the offspring of these ex-slaves started getting educated and moving to adulthood. The plantation owners and the masters of the slaves didn’t want the slaves to be educated because they will become aware of their rights and can foment rebellion. Therefore laws were promulgated to prevent the slaves from getting educated. This suppression couldn’t stop the slaves from becoming literate as there were economic benefits as well as religious benefits as they could read Bible. There was a steep decline in the illiteracy rates during the 1930s and 1940s and it had a positive outcome in the shape of the ex-slaves becoming more economically well established. They had better occupation and wealth. This mammoth decline can be attributed to the banning of slavery (Smith 1984; Collins and Margo 2001).
The studies conducted on the kind of education that was being offered to the black students have divergent views some view the efforts done by the philanthropic northern missionaries as having positive outcomes others highlight that these associations had a racist agenda. There were certain peculiar aspects of schools in the south. They had legally operated segregated black schools. The other feature was that the teachers were lowly paid compared with the teachers in other parts of the United States. Therefore it can be safely assumed that the teachers who were lowly paid were also having low caliber. (Margo1984) More and more blacks were becoming educationally conscious and there were more children and adults were seeking education. The classes in schools were becoming oversized. If we put the two aspects together we will see that there was less amount of money being spent per pupil. It can be deduced that the black students were getting substandard education in segregated schools. There was an upward trend in the spending per pupil by the boards during the 1910 and the 1930s. The reasons are obvious there was an increase in the salaries of the teachers and a decrease in class size. The disparity between the black and the white children schools considerably declined in the south when the law banning segregated schools was issued by the courts. William J. Collins and Robert A. Margo in Historical Perspectives on Racial Differences in Schooling in the United States have done a thorough study of all the aspects of the state of Afro –American education. The topic studied is the punctuality of the students in school, the per capita educational spending by the district boards on each student and they also studied the age of the students in each grade.
The term desegregation was used for the first time in the context of passengers traveling in different railroad cars due to differences in their color. Charles Hamilton the African attorney challenged the notion of segregation but not inferiority in the context of an educational institution. The historic verdict of the court that the segregated school provides unequal educational opportunity to the underprivileged black minority and there should be desegregation of schools in the United States in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case was the beginning of the process of social change which took almost a decade to be completely implemented legally. Blacks continued to face prejudice long after this law was implemented. According to Robert Andrew Margo, the blacks showed less educational achievement in the separate school because these institutions were poorly funded and the individuals who attended these institutions came from an impoverished social background. (Margo,1986).The research on segregated education has dealt with the aspect of the phenomena which deals with the inequalities in the system.
In order to fully comprehend the social change which was brought about by the injunction of the court to bring about the desegregation of the schools, we need to study the background and the time of the said verdict. It is surprising that literacy rates are much higher in the South. There is a steady increase in the literacy rates after the city and world war1.
Du Bois a leading educational thinker fought against the prejudices faced by the Negro people. The book ‘Du Bois on Education ‘ by Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.Publisher is readable and it is a collection of essays that shed light on the making of the man called Du Bois who fired the passion for education in the black community. There are pieces that recount the difficulties and the hypocrisies of the white men in power who on the surface we’re trying to help the deprived black community to acquire liberal education but in fact, they were making hollow claims. He describes how the Slater fund board initially denied him the loan to fund his studies in Germany which was essential for the completion of his thesis on Suppression of slave trade in America. He coerced the board into issuing the loan by saying he would beg for money from his colleagues and acquaintance in Harvard to go abroad. The collection of the essays is more autobiographical in nature and reveals the biases faced by him. Racial discrimination was present even the prestigious institution like Harvard. Du Bois was denied membership of the famous Glee club despite having a sonorous voice.
Du Bois’s essay “Does the negro need a separate school” presents a very controversial point of view in the decade following the 1940s when there was a movement for desegregating educational institutions in America. He was a pragmatic thinker who was not carried away by the emotional appeal of the movement. He had studied in an all-white institution and had experienced discrimination. He was in favor of the segregated black schools because it was staffed by black teachers who were sympathetic to their cause because they had faced the same hardship. He believed that the empowerment of black education was a must and the issue of mixed and segregated schools was of lesser importance. He had denounced Jim crows by saying that Jim’s educational system was a major hurdle in the attainment of true democracy. But he was not in favor of completely dismantling the segregated schools which were built by the mutual hard work on part of the Negro community and the philanthropic organization.
Du Bois had traveled up the social ladder not by the practice of sycophancy but by sheer dint of hard labor. He took a firm stand against the white oppression of the blacks. He was very outspoken and supported the black cause with all his heart. The same practical approach is reflected in an essay that was reflected when he said he was not against industrial training of the black but it should not carry the racist agenda of limiting the blacks to always be in a subservient position of the vassal. He supported the student rebellion that broke out as a result of the impoverished condition of the segregated Hampton institute. He was very skeptical of the belief that the discrimination of the race was lessening.
One of the negative falls out of the desegregation of the schools was that many black teachers became unemployed. People’s habits and thinking don’t change overnight therefore when the black students and the teachers faced racial discrimination when they entered the all-white working environment. Foster, Michele’s Black Teachers on Teaching shows that how foresighted was Du Bois as the book relates the problems and anti-black feelings that the teachers and the students faced when they worked in desegregated schools. (Foster, Michele. 1997)
The other problem that cropped up, later on, was that the black students were made to work harder. The fear of retribution from the law enforcement agencies made the teachers soft on them. Lorraine Lawrence taught English and was appalled at the small numbers of Negroes in the honors classes participating in school activities, however, “the majority of black students… are generally left out”. The book is lacking in topography and spelling. It is not one of the best books available on the subject but does provide some insight into the problem that immediately faced desegregation.
V.P Franklin is a professor of history at California University. He specializes in Afro-American history and especially educational history.
Vanessa Siddle Walker describes the trials and tribulations faced by the educationist who opened institutions to cater to the needs of the underprivileged and deprived racial minorities of blacks. She describes that how the community and the social organizations work hand in hand to provide for the intellectual need of their community. Nobody can improve a lot of people unless they themselves try and build their destiny. She puts the debate in areal context by providing the specific example of the Caswell County Training School of North Carolina. The book has an insider’s view although Siddle vehemently denies that her relationship with the school will not cloud her opinion as she was very young. The story of the positive contribution of the black segregated schools looks out of sync when there are so many hues and cries about the substandard education being provided in the segregated school of the Negroes. She had the opportunity to observe the black students in the segregated school where the Afro- American students didn’t fare well academically in the all-white environment.
Siddle accepts the fact that the segregated school for black had far lesser resources like building laboratories etc. The buildings were in dilapidated condition. There was a large gap between per-pupil spending on the building on the white and the black student. It stood at $217 for white and $70 for blacks. (Walker, 1996)
Despite the lack of resources, these segregated schools were run by a dedicated teacher who took a keen interest in the well-being of the students. They exercised discipline and didn’t allow their students to be idle. There was only one option that was to study. The work of these institutions was recognized by the community itself which protested against the closure of many black schools like the Hyde County Afro-American populace which discontinued their children’s education for one whole academic session in protest against desegregation.
Recent times have seen that the formulation and adoption of those laws that have been considered to be hallmarks in the achievement of true democratic values like equality are nothing but a superficial cure to the disease that had plagued our society and nation. The deep-seated prejudices and discriminatory attitudes just don’t vanish with one stroke of litigation. Society has to take up multiple therapeutic measures to cure society of the social ills. The Afro –American thinkers academicians, leaders, and philanthropist have been voicing their fears that just constitutional measure is not going to solve this problem.
Silent Covenants takes a very extreme stand by describing that all these constitutional and the court decision which were taken either to protect or to deprive the blacks as not having the wellbeing of the Negro people as its prime motive. According to him, all the decisions of the court have the ulterior motive of serving the whites. Judgment of the motives of individuals or groups of the individual is next to impossible. The author suggests that the decision was taken at the time of the civil wars to present to the world a positive image of democratic America where all the citizens were equal in the eye of the law. All the decisions of the court are divided into two categories one that was anti Negro to quell the disputes among the white policymakers and others that seems to provide relief and rights to the Negro populace but this was done more to serve the whites than the blacks. The case of Plessey.v. Fergusson shows that the court’s decision upheld the denial of voting rights of the black because there were disputes among the white policymakers.
Bell has given the full-length court decision word by word. The court in its verdict initially tries to exonerate the court of the decisions that it issued against Negroes by explaining the limitations that the court has. It goes on to length to explain that how some wrong decisions are arrived at because of the fear of repercussion. The court also accepts that the idea of separate but not equal was a myth and that it perpetuates the belief of the supremacy of the white race. The court also acknowledged the hard work and the quality education being provided by some of the Negro schools. The court just didn’t say there will complete desegregation from immediate effect. It suggested a three-tier program. The first step would be to compare the resources and the academic standing of the southern schools with the schools in the other parts of the United States. The second step was to provide complete equality between the black and the white school. The third and the last step were to induct Negroes into the school boards so as to ensure that the desegregation programs are successfully implemented.
Bell gives a very astounding solution to the problems faced by Negroes in the acquisition of education and job-related skills by saying that courts should have upheld Plessy v. Ferguson. The law-making body should have made sure that the segregated schools get their rightful share of the school board fund. He had a strong belief that “courts generally do not make the connection between unequal funding and race”. (Bell, 2004) He makes a very pertinent point by saying that the problems faced by negroes have still not been resolved. He lends a forceful voice to the hurdles in the path of negroes educational and social attainment but doesn’t provide solutions based on reality. It is a very powerful exposition of the educational needs of the Negroes which has been relegated to the background after the desegregation of the schools.
The Quest for Desegregation
The desire to be treated equally is innate in human nature. Therefore there were many blacks who were fighting for getting equal financial support for their institution or filed litigation against those institutions which denied admission to them like Reverend Oliver Brown. Similarly, Harry Briggs in Clarendon County, South Carolina, took the school board to the court over the issue of insufficient buses for the segregated black schools.
Discrimination was being practiced at all levels by whites. The school boards comprised of the dominant white population. They saw to it that the funds were unequally divided between the back and the white schools. The segregated Negro schools were being run in dilapidated buildings the classes were oversized the teachers were underpaid. They received half the salary of the white teacher.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) came into being in 1909. It was an organization whose purpose was to take up the cause of the colored people and give them their due through legal and political means. Segregation was being practiced in all walks of American life like housing transportation education etc because the whites had a sense of superiority. Human nature rebels against any kind of exploitation and discrimination and so did the robust and vital community of Negro people. The NAACP founded legal defense with tax exemption donations to help it meet the monetary requirements to fight the legal battle against the nation of predominantly whites.
Tushnet was a legal realist who propagated the doctrine that like any other domain of human society was vulnerable to manipulation. This meant that it was not a fixed set of rules that are bound to produce the same results irrespective of the milieu in which it is operating.
Tushnet in his book “The NAACP and legal segregation,” tries to describe the limitation that was operational on the NAACP as a strategy to fight the lawsuit of Brown v. Board of Education as result of the needs of the organization He presents the concept of litigation as an asocial process. The economist and the sociologist understand that the end results of a social movement are sometimes not determined by the proponents of those movements. A keen observer of the social movement will keep an on the role of chance sudden events and idiosyncrasies of the men participating in that movement. Litigation is a social process and it is more so for public interest litigation. The 1954 court ruling of the brown case is not the end of social movement but rather a beginning of movement whose end is unpredictable and can prove that the very decision was wrong. The real aspect is how those rulings are implemented.
NAACP was staffed by a number of lawyers who had a lot of political skills. The author points that not all the course of action was determined by the need of the hour. He doest denounce the major players in the desegregation litigation. In fact, he says that Walter White, Charles Hamilton Houston, and especially Thurgood Marshall rose up to the occasion.
He described how the resources of the NAACP like the American Fund for Public Service, founded by Charles Garland were utilized by a staunch leftwing anti-war Baldwin who was the chief administrator. He describes how NAACP began its movement against desegregation by first publishing a detailed statistical report on the disparities between the black and the white per capita spending in the schools. The report on South Carolina was a bit manipulated and didn’t present a positive decrease in the disparities. Baldwin thought that the blacks were basically working class which was being exploited by the capitalist white. He recommended that NAACP stop fighting the isolated cases and organize consolidated 45 litigations (Tushnet, 1987). He wanted to prepare the masses psychologically for a union. Du Bois questioned the litigation and the author makes clear that there was a difference of opinion over the efficacy of the lawsuit. Tushnet like other foresighted black suggests that pushing for desegregation was less practical as the racist white would have found the equal distribution of resources more palatable than scraping the old system. The historic court verdict on the brown case served more as propaganda. NAACP should have first strived for a more practical solution of equalizing the resources. He also suggests that parents irked by inequalities had come to the NAACP lawyers who redirected their grievances into demand for segregation.
Derrick Bell has similarly criticized the NAACP for becoming an organ of serving the cause of the majority of the white populace because in the interest of the whites to accede to the desegregation call and practically not improving a lot of Negro people.
The Contemporary Situation: Desegregation or Segregation: which is better for the black community?
It has been 50 years since the supreme court of the United States issued the ban on segregating educational institutions on a racial basis. Statics regarding the level of black education in segregated has been collected by voluntary organization Voluntary inter-district co-coordinating committee and civic progress of St.Louis has been very dismal. Gary Orefield has been saying that the graduation rates of blacks are low even in the case of integrated schools. This shows that there is another factor also involved in poor academic attainment by the Negro community. The element of class as a determinant factor in the poor educational competence of a group has to be understood. The problems faced by society have multiple reasons and we cannot cure the problem of black deprivation of education unless we realize the twin tension existing in the creation of the said problem (Banks, 2004)
Gloria Ladson-Billings has emphasized that as far legal research is concerned it has developed the critical race theory to develop an understanding of the relationship of the race with legal procedures. The same needs to be done in the field of education. The question that now arises is that we cannot reverse the historical process but we can try to improve the educational standard in the black community by devising some practical measures. In Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms give some practical advice to that teacher who is working in an environment where the negro students are there It is a real-life story of the eight teachers journey from teaching in a multicultural setting without training and then teaching when they have enriched themselves after attending aTeach for Diversity. (Billings, 2001)The reason that she cites for the unpreparedness of the teachers is that they don’t know to what social milieu deprived the students belong to. The intention of writing the book according to the author “is to tell a richly textured story of what it means to become a teacher in a program [TFD] devoted to preparing teachers for diverse classrooms” (Billings, 2001) This book fills in the much-needed gap of giving practical solutions to the problem of educational backwardness of the Negro community.
This book also fills in the gap that occurred over a period of time in which emphasis has been on the student’s reaction and educational accomplishment in desegregated schools but there has been very little work on the Afro-American teachers.
Many scholars are of the view that the historic verdict of the court upholding desegregation has in fact harmed the racial minority as the educational achievement gap has widened (Orfield 2001; Orfield & Eaton, 1997).
Harvard University report says that the black students are lagging behind in education and therefore it must be understood that lot needs to be done in providing fullest emancipation to the colored minority. Robert Browning has aptly said “woods are lovely dark and deep. I have miles to go before I sleep.”
Faithful, Firm, and True: African-American Education in the South by Titus Brown Publisher: Mercer University Press.
“Education Achievement in Segregated School Systems: The Effects of ‘Separate-But-Equal'” American Economic Review, Vol. 76, No. 4.
The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935 by James D. Anderson Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press.
Margo, Robert A. 1986b. “Race and Human Capital: Comment,” American Economic Review 76: 1221-24.
Collins, William J. and Robert A. Margo. 2001.”Race and Homeownership: A Century Long View,” Explorations in Economic History 38: 68-92.
Smith, James. 1984. “Race and Human Capital,” American Economic Review 74: 685-98.
Margo, Robert A. 1984b. “’Teacher Salaries in Black and White’: The South in 1910,” Explorations in Economic History 21: 306-326.
Du Bois on Education by Eugene F. Provenzo Jr.Publisher: AltaMira Press.
Foster, Michele. 1997. Black Teachers on Teaching. New York: The New Press.
The education of Black Philadelphia: the social and educational history of a minority community, 1900-1950 Vincent P. Franklin Publisher: Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979.
Hoffman, N. (2003). A noble work done earnestly: Missionary teachers in the Civil War South. In N. Hoffman (Ed.), Woman’s “true” profession: Voices from the history of teaching (pp. 119-140). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Jones, H. (1992). Soldiers of light and love: Northern teachers and Georgia Blacks, 1865.1873. Athens, GA: Georgia State University Press.
Bell, D. (2004). Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform. New York: Oxford University Press.
Tushnet, M. V. (1987). The NAACP’s Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms Gloria Ladson-Billings.
Banks, Taunya Lovell,Brown at 50: Reconstructing Brown’s Promise. U of Maryland Legal Studies Paper No. 2004-18.
Orfield, G., & Eaton, S. E. (1997). Dismantling desegregation: The quiet reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: Free Press.
Orfield, G. (2001). Schools more separate: Consequences of a decade of resegregation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Civil Rights Project.