Race, Class, and the Educational Marginalization of African Americans: A Historical Perspective
Mougo Nyaggah and Wacira Gethaiga
In the American community, education has always been a critical issue in the struggle to achieve full human rights. This struggle began in the colonial era early in the seventeenth century, when stereotypes of Africans as animals, perceptions of their inability to comprehend the written word, and denial of literacy for fear of awakening a desire and a demand for rights led to substandard, rural- based training after emancipation, segregation ( Plessy v. Ferguson), and resegregation (after Brown v. Board of Education). Thus it is clear that the history of education for African Americans has been informed by structural institutional racism designed to keep them at the bottom of the social system.
Contrary to myths and "traditional wisdom," African American education predates the American experience. Slaves in the New World left records that attest to their prior education in Africa before enslavement. One freed slave, Omar ibn Obeid, who gained his liberty after over twenty years, recounted how he had studied Arabic from his father and uncle in West Africa. 1 Before their arrival in the New World, many such slaves knew how to read, write, recite, and pray in Arabic--the language of Islam--which had been introduced in Western Africa from across the Sahara Desert starting in the tenth century. 2 Islam thus played a major role in the development of West African civilization in medieval and postmedieval times. It was adopted by the African political elite, notable among whom were Mansa Musa and Askia Muhammand, the rulers of the great empires of Mali and Songhay, respectively. These rulers went on to recruit Muslim scholars and start centers of learning at Timbuktu and Gao. 3 Literate people at the courts of the African rulers were employed as
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Publication information: Book title: Class, Culture, and Race in American Schools:A Handbook. Contributors: Stanley William Rothstein - Editor. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1995. Page number: 129.
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