Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Teaching Equality: Black Schools in the Age of Jim Crow

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Teaching Equality: Black Schools in the Age of Jim Crow

Article excerpt

Teaching Equality: Black Schools in the Age of Jim Crow. By Adam Fairclough. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001. Pp. viii, 110. Foreword, preface, notes, bibliography, index. $24.95.)

This brief study embodies the Lamar Memorial Lectures presented at Mercer University in the spring of 2000 by Adam Fairclough, professor of American History at the University of East Anglia in Great Britain. Its title reflects the author's sympathetic view of the dilemmas that faced several generations of black educators in the segregated South between the end of Reconstruction and the triumph of the Civil Rights movement.

Beginning with a consideration of black education as representing "Liberation or Collaboration," Fairclough points out that during Reconstruction blacks teachers personified the fervent belief among freedmen that education meant liberation. After disfranchisement and Jim Crow legislation robbed these community leaders of political power, they still retained considerable influence. Was that influence put to positive or negative use? In seeking an answer, the best available example was Booker T. Washington of Tuskegee Institute, who long represented the respectable public face of "colored people" for most Americans. During the Civil Rights era many historians, including his biographer, Louis Harlan, sided with Washington's implacable antagonist, W. E. B. Du Bois, who saw Washington's appeasement of whites and public devotion to "industrial" education as a fatally flawed strategy which further denigrated the victims of racism and segregation. Fairclough sets out to challenge not just this view of Washington but the idea that southern black educators, in both private and public institutions, were frequently, if not inevitably, "Uncle Toms," supporting a separate, unequal, and demoralizing system for the sake of the prestige, power, and financial security that system afforded them. In his efforts to refute what he considers this unjust and even calumnious generalization, Fairclough takes up Glenda Gilmore's depiction (in Gender and Jim Crow [1996]) of southern black educators as "double agents" following a strategy of "deep camouflage," (p. 52), i.e., bowing and scraping before the white segregationist officials who held their schools in thrall in order to acquire the means to teach their students the skills that would permit them to live with dignity while striving for equality. Fairclough asserts that every example of apparently craven or selfserving obsequiousness should be subjected to a profit-loss accounting to determine the ultimate loyalty of the black educator involved. Their words, Fairclough says, often differed dramatically from their actions and must be placed in the context of a Jim Crow South where the mere existence of black public schools dangled on the whims of white men like the Birmingham school superintendent who believed that the Negro brain ceased to develop at puberty. …

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