Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

From Black Nadir to Brown V. Board: Education and Empowerment in Black Georgian Communities - 1865 to 1954

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

From Black Nadir to Brown V. Board: Education and Empowerment in Black Georgian Communities - 1865 to 1954

Article excerpt


As slavery ended, Black Georgians developed unique solutions to the many problems they faced in attaining literacy and other educational goals. In terms of some of their earlier efforts, we describe a pattern in which local Black communities in Georgia sought to create and fund their own schools at primary, secondary, and post-secondary levels. In certain cases, Black Georgians even managed to maintain autonomy from Northern and Southern Whites as they developed schools and trained Black teachers. Further, we contend that the end of Reconstruction derailed many of these efforts to create independent, Black-controlled spaces in the sphere of education. Indeed, despite the successes of these earlier efforts, the model of community-controlled and autonomous schools has been eclipsed in favor of efforts to integrate and include Blacks into mainstream American society. Finally, we conclude that the educational model and praxis developed by Black Georgians during Reconstruction described here has implications for possible solutions to present day problems.


With beginnings in Reconstruction-era legislation to the implementation of the first public schools for Blacks in 1871 (Du Bois, 1992 [1935]; Tyack & Lowe, 1986), Blacks in the state of Georgia have long struggled with a wide range of problems in their various efforts to develop primary, secondary, and post-secondary educational opportunities. In the midst of what historian Rayford Logan (1954) termed the "Nadir" (the suffocating combination of Jim Crow legislation, political disfranchisement, sharecropping, and racial violence), Black Georgians fought a series of battles to create educational institutions and to define the purposes of these schools. In the era between 1877 and 1901, Southern legislators, lynch mobs, the Ku Klux Klan, and even the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back years of progressive change which Black Southerners enjoyed during Reconstruction. With the election of Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency in 1876, the Nadir-a "low" point in Black history-began and, in the eyes of some observers, was a decided move back towards slavery and Southern White supremacy. In the ensuing chaos, the definition and goals of education became an important set of battlegrounds-among many others-for Black communities in Georgia and throughout the American South (Dittmer, 1980; Du Bois, 1992 [1935]; Foner, 1988; Litwack, 1998; Logan, 1954; Painter, 1987).

In the post-Reconstruction era, educators including Booker T Washington emerged to stress vocational and industrial training to, in the words of W. E. B. Du Bois, "make men into carpenters" (Aptheker, 1973, pp. 63-64). This would ultimately be viewed as a call for the acquiescence of Black labor to the dictates of paternalistic and racist Whites as a panacea for all of the ills facing Black Southerners. In this problematic view, if Black Southerners demonstrated their industriousness and work ethic, Whites would accept them into the mainstream, eventually granting Black Americans economic opportunities, social equality, and political rights (Watkins, Lewis, & Chou, 2001). As Rayford Logan (1954) noted, "Washington unmistakably accepted a subordinate position for Southern Negroes" (p. 280). In the end, putting aside constitutionally guaranteed civil and political rights in the hopes that Whites would learn to appreciate the presence of Blacks in the South was a recipe for disaster.

Washington's vision of the role of education for Black Southerners was fully fleshed out in his "Atlanta Compromise" speech in 1895. Placing the full weight and burden of improving race relations squarely on the shoulders of Black Americans in the South, he called on them to cast down their buckets "in agriculture, in mechanics, in commerce, [and] in domestic service" (as cited in Hill, Bell, Harris, Harris, Miller, O'Neale, & Porter, 1998, p. 682). In his view, there was great virtue in starting a new life of freedom at the bottom instead of at the top of society and, according to Washington, there was much more need for carpenters than politicians or doctors. …

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