Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Educating for Success: The Legacy of an All-Black School in Southeast Kansas

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Educating for Success: The Legacy of an All-Black School in Southeast Kansas

Article excerpt

The authors present findings from an oral history of the all-Black Douglass School, which existed in Parsons, Kansas from 1908-1958. The oral history of the school is significant for several reasons: (a) it adds to our understanding of segregated schools outside the South and northern urban centers, (b) the school was razed in 1962, and very little is left that attests to its existence, and (c) the cultural and educational practices of the school produced a large number of African Americans who through higher education were able to attain prestigious positions. Douglass School's success in educating African American children in the small city of Parsons, Kansas is relevant in today's educational context where many African American children continue to struggle academically.

Alumni names have been replaced with pseudonyms to comply with university Institutional Review Board assurances to protect the confidentiality of research participants.

The 1954 landmark case Brown v. Topeka Board of Education brought about the end of de jure racial segregation of public schools (Brown, 1954). Black communities throughout the U.S. were optimistic about the gains they would make through integration of schools (Kusimo, 1999). However, their hopes were soon tempered, since at the time schools were desegregating, most White teachers and administrators did not embrace Black students, believing they were inferior to their White counterparts (Beauboeuf-Lafontant, 1999; Wells, Holme, Revilla, & Atanda, 2004). Consequently, a disproportionate number of African American students was identified as needing special education services (Smith & Kozaleski, 2005). Many desegregation plans called for the closure of Black schools, which typically meant that teachers and principals, long considered leaders of the community, lost their jobs (Fairclough, 2004; Hudson & Holmes, 1994; Karpinski, 2006; Tillman, 2004). Moreover, Black communities were devastated by the loss of their schools. Students were bussed or had to travel outside their neighborhoods, and Black businesses lost customers and many were forced to close (Dempsey & Noblit, 1995; McCullough-Garrett, 1993; Shircliffe, 2001).

As African American students have continued to struggle academically in the 50 years since Brown, the educational significance of Black schools has come to light (McCullough-Garrett, 1993; Noblit & Dempsey, 1996; Randolph, 2004; Shircliffe, 2001; Siddle- Walker, 2000). However, historical and contemporary research on all-Black schools has tended to focus eitiier on the southern states (Cecelski, 1994; McCullough-Garrett, 1993; Noblit & Dempsey, 1996; Shircliffe, 2001; Siddle- Walker, 1993, 2000) or large urban centers in the North (Morris, 1999; Randolph, 2004). Little has been documented or published about the significance of Black schools that existed in smaller communities outside the Soutii. The oral history of Douglass School in Parsons, Kansas contributes to the understanding of the role Black schools played in educating African Americans during legal segregation.

As schools throughout the country were complying with Brown, the nation's attention was riveted on often-violent southern resistance to school desegregation efforts. In contrast, uneasy with being at the center of the Brown ruling, Kansas leaders forged ahead with desegregation, primarily motivated by a desire to disassociate themselves from southern states' defiance (Dudziak, 1987). Consequently, smaller communities in states like Kansas quietly closed thenBlack schools without much fanfare. In the city of Parsons, Kansas, the school board's decision to close the all-Black Douglass School was not published in the local paper until well after it had been accomplished (Shujaa, 1996).

Although Douglass School was closed in 1958, the African American community of Parsons has continued to feel its loss (Patterson, Niles, Carlson, & Kelley, 2006; Shujaa, 1996), a loss which was deepened when the school was razed in 1962 without regard to saving any of its photographs, trophies, records, or other artifacts. …

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