Beyond Brown: Examining the Perplexing Plight of African American Principals

By McCray, Carlos R.; Wright, James V. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Beyond Brown: Examining the Perplexing Plight of African American Principals


McCray, Carlos R., Wright, James V., Beachum, Floyd D., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The purpose of this article was to determine to what extent does a principal candidate's race determines his or her placement. Critical Race Theory was used as a theoretical framework to illuminate possible bias and provide socio-historical context. The authors surveyed 302 secondary school principals in a designated southeastern state concerning their perceptions of multicultural education. The return rate for this particular study was 42%. Through data subsets, it was found that African American principals were seemingly being placed in schools where the majority of the student body was Black. It was also determined that White principals had a greater chance of being chosen to lead majority Black schools than African American principals had to lead majority White schools. This study brings to the forefront issues concerning whether or not the historically negative presumptions as it relates to the leadership capabilities of African American principals are still part of the thought patterns of decision makers regarding the placement of these administrators.

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In 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional in its landmark ruling, Brown v. Board of Education. Over the next twenty years, this ruling would slowly change the racial make-up of school facilities, especially in the "Deep South." This ruling would also, in a proverbial sense, require that all students, regardless of race, receive an adequate education (Blanchette, Mumford, & Beachum, 2005; Patterson, 2001). In the year 2007, fifty-three years after the Brown decision, many educators and scholars alike are feeling less than enthusiastic about the gains made over the years in the desegregation of schools (Bell, 2004). In fact, many scholars (Bell, 2004; Orfield, Frankenberg, & Lee, 2003; Patterson, 2001; Russo, 2004; Wells, Holme, Atanda, & Revilla, 2005) are of the mind that the progress in school desegregation made within the first twenty years of the Brown decision has now been wiped away through numerous court rulings, the entree of neighborhood schools, and the increase in enrollments of private academies as an alternative to traditional public schools.

Despite the propitious intentions of the Brown ruling, another area in which Brown has had a less than encouraging impact centers around the number of African Americans in leadership roles at predominately White schools (Brown, 2005; Jackson, 1988). When school integration finally took place in southern states, African American principals who were in charge of predominately Black schools were the ones who usually lost their jobs to White administrators (Alston, 2005; Brown, 2005; Ogletree, 2004). In one southern state during the post-Brown decision, the number of African American principals (elementary and secondary) dropped from 620 to 170 between the years 1963-1970, a devastating 73% decrease in the time span of seven years (Patterson, 2001). Between those years, there was also a 98% decrease in the number of African American principals who headed strictly secondary schools in this same southern state. Brown (2005), in his research, has also found similar numbers in relation to African American principals in the South losing their jobs after desegregation. According to Brown, "African American principals in segregated schools were the ones in greater jeopardy of losing their positions during integration. In the 3-year period from 1967-1970 the number of Black principals in North Carolina diminished by 75% from 670-170, in Alabama by 84% from 250 to 40, and in Louisiana from 1966 to 1971 the number of Black principals declined by 29% from 512 to 363."

The issue concerning the diminution of African-American leadership in education is not simply relegated to the years immediately following the decision of Brown; even today's aspiring African American principals find themselves facing almost insurmountable odds in trying to attain a principalship (Brown, 2005; Tillman, 2003; Valverde, 2003), especially in predominately White schools. …

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