Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Spirit of '42

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Spirit of '42

Article excerpt

THIS month's Kappan brings the first of a projected nine installments of a series we're calling Centennial Reflections. I alluded to these "short articles on the history of PDK and of the 20th century" last month in introducing Donovan Walling's KAPPAN Special Report, "Phi Delta Kappa at the Threshold." And our first offering comes from Oscar Rogers, Jr., of Jackson, Mississippi.

His topic is the repeal of the so-called white clause in PDK's constitution, the clause that excluded African Americans from membership. But his report is more than just institutional history. It's personal history as well, for Oscar Rogers is an African American who was initiated into PDK during his graduate studies at Harvard in 1953, just 11 years after the demise of the "white clause."

Of course, whatever our current thinking, most organizations in the U.S. that have been around for a century will have at one time restricted their membership to whites. PDK, founded just 10 years after Plessy v. Ferguson made "separate but equal" the law of the land, could hardly have been expected to behave differently.

Attentive readers will have noted already that this reflection on the repeal of the white clause appears in the February issue and that February is Black History Month (chosen originally because both Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln were born in February). The decision to kick off the Centennial Reflections series in this month is not an accident. In a way, PDK's experience with the color barrier parallels--and anticipates--that of the nation. While the restrictive white clause disappeared from PDK's constitution in 1942, the armed forces were not ordered to desegregate until 1948, and, of course, the Brown decision didn't come along until 1954.

Brown was certainly a pivotal legal decision in the history of 20th-century education in the U.S., and I'm betting that most of us can quote some of its more famous lines, such as "In the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. …

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