50 Years of Black Education

By Jones, Lisa C. | Ebony, September 1995 | Go to article overview

50 Years of Black Education


Jones, Lisa C., Ebony


In the face of insurmountable odds, at a time when America boldly flaunted its Jim Crow roots, a generation of students, parents and masterful instructors - evidenced by such pioneers as Mary McLeod Bethune, Benjamin E Mays and Carter G. Woodson - widened the boundaries of the American educational system for all Americans.

Whether confronting the bitterly segregated schools of the early '40s, forging the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (Topeka, Kan.) decision in 1954 or participating in the sit-ins, marches and protests of the '60s, Black scholars, activists, litigators and parents consistently - and courageously - put their lives on the front lines and fought battles in the courtroom for equal entry into the nation's classrooms.

In 1945, the year Ebony was born and World War II ended, the world of education was sorely divided along racial lines. Almost all grade school Black children attended segregated schools. The problems of racism and segregation were especially bad in the South, where the majority of Black grade schoolers were forced to learn the fundamentals in raggedy school-houses with outdated, worn-out books.

Almost all Black college students attended Black colleges, which in 1945, were the educational cornerstones of the community. A major development of this period was the founding of the United Negro College Fund, which was established in 1944 by Tuskegee Institute President Dr. Frederick D. Patterson.

Virtually all Black professors at that time taught at Black institutions. Among the exceptions were Dr. Allison Davis, who in 1941 was appointed to a full-time position at the University of Chicago. Four years later, Dr. Abram L. Harris also joined the university's teaching staff.

But a band of brilliant and courageous attorneys and students changed the social and educational climate. Led by NAACP counsel Thurgood Marshall, this vanguard carried four school segregation suits to the Supreme Court which ruled in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The suit started in 1950 when Oliver Brown, a lay minister and welder, filed suit against the Topeka, Kan., school board after his petition to get his daughter Linda into a nearby school was denied. The Brown case represented a milestone in the Civil Rights Movement.

Immediately following the Brown case, Whites organized a campaign of massive opposition, which led to a number of bombings and attacks against Black students throughout the South. One of the worst demonstrations of this racial hatred took place in in 1957 when Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called out the National Guard to block court-ordered integration at Little Rock's, Central High School. His efforts were thwarted, however, when President Eisenhower sent federal troops to enforce the court's order. At the center of the upheaval were Daisy Bates, a young newspaper editor and head of the Arkansas NAACP, and nine Black students, known as the Little Rock Nine, who made their historic debut at the previously all-White high school.

During this period, trouble also erupted on several college campuses. In Mississippi, James H. Meredith attempted to register at the University of Mississippi in 1962. But on the school's opening day, angry Whites attacked federal marshals and overturned cars and buses. Before the melee ended, two persons were killed. After the troops restored order, Meredith became the first Black to attend a White public university, in Mississippi. There were similar problems in Alabama. In 1963, Gov. George Wallace, stood in a doorway at the University of Alabama in an unsuccessful attempt to block two Black students from enrolling.

While Southern Blacks dealt with legal segregation, Northern Blacks mobilized against de facto segregation. One of the first legal challenges occurred in New Rochelle, N.Y., when a federal district judge ruled that the local school board had willfully, created Lincoln School as a racially segregated school. …

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