Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Greater Than Equal: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina, 1919-1965

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Greater Than Equal: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina, 1919-1965

Article excerpt

Greater Than Equal: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina, 1919-1965. By Sarah Caroline Thuesen. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Pp. [xviii], 366. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-8078-3930-0.)

In Greater Than Equal: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina, 1919-1965, Sarah Caroline Thuesen asks, "Can racially separate schools ever be truly equal? How can equality be measured?" (p. 2). In probing those questions, she provides a carefully calibrated discussion of African Americans in North Carolina and the ongoing struggle to fulfill their claim to equal educational resources in the state. She traces how battles over "curricula, higher education, teacher salaries, and school facilities" were advanced by blacks and countered by whites and how these battles, in being "routinely yoked ... to assertions of citizenship," were important factors in the buildup to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) (p. 2).

Historiographically, Thuesen is sensitive to reconciling two competing interpretations. The first considers how the national NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund dispensed with the "failed strategy" of lobbying for equalizing schools in a separate but equal framework and shifted instead to an all-out push for a wholesale dismantling of school segregation (p. 3). The second treats the well-documented ambivalence of African Americans about sacrificing all-black institutions in hopes of fully integrated school systems. Thuesen is alert to how these two impulses coexisted within black communities in North Carolina consistently throughout the twentieth century; even as African Americans fought for the full realization of citizenship rights as embodied in school resources, they differed sharply over tactics to achieve these rights.

Her argument proceeds chronologically, opening in the post-World War I era and the largely white-controlled Division of Negro Education. She maps how black Tar Heels pushed for expanded access and achieved some concessions from the state. …

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