The Quest for Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935

By Kim Cary Warren | Go to book overview

Introduction

In 1944, G. B. Buster, a longtime African American teacher, gave a college commencement speech imploring churches, community organizations, and government leaders to sound a “clarion call” that would finally solve the largest social problem in the United States—racial tension between whites and people of color. If members of the larger society were to continue fostering “race prejudice, discrimination, arrogance, insult, and exploitation of minority groups,” the entire country would feel the harm. Therefore, he charged his audience, comprised mostly of African Americans, to work together with whites in pressing for the enforcement of equal civil rights for all Americans.1 A few years earlier in 1941, Henry Roe Cloud (Winnebago), a well-known Native American activist and educator, addressed a group of superintendents of Indian agencies and reservations. He criticized the federal government for its past record of destroying Indian cultures and praised the more recent efforts toward preserving cultural practices, studying traditions before they completely disappeared, and encouraging self-government among Native American tribes. He hoped for a day when Indians could embrace the kind of political organizations, industries, and economics modeled by the dominant society without having to give up their own arts, religions, and aesthetics—two sets of values that many whites had often thought of as incompatible.2

In each address, Buster and Roe Cloud, respectively, represented longheld desires of twentieth-century African Americans and Native Americans with regard to American citizenship. Black parents, leaders, and teachers like Buster had been working for decades for social integration and equal rights in their schools and in other public places. When they spoke of citizenship, they expressed their longing for complete inclusion with all of the accompanying rights and privileges. At the same time, Native American students, teachers, and activists like Roe Cloud had pushed back against decades of assault on their own cultures, beliefs, and traditions and instead said that they could claim identities as American citizens by embracing

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