Editors Introduction: Learning from the Past, Critiquing the Present, and Preparing for the Future

By Price, Paula Groves | The Western Journal of Black Studies, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Editors Introduction: Learning from the Past, Critiquing the Present, and Preparing for the Future


Price, Paula Groves, The Western Journal of Black Studies


2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision. There have been significant changes in American society over these past fifty years for which we can be proud. African Americans in the post-Civil Rights era have enjoyed access to public spaces, facilities, education, and politics that our ancestors could only dream about. My beautiful seven year old daughter takes it for granted that she can go to school and play volleyball with children from many different racial and cultural backgrounds; that she can go to the movies, eat at restaurants, and swim in the same pools with her white friends. It is normal for her that the First Family is an African American family--it is the only presidential family that she has ever known. Her ability to exercise what should have always been the rights of her ancestors is a result of the labor of Freedom Fighters in the Civil Rights Movement.

While the Civil Rights Movement has greatly impacted the Black experience in America, it has not ended African American struggles for equity and social justice. Across the nation, the right to vote remains under siege, as 15 states have passed or introduced measures that make it harder for African Americans, the elderly, college students, and people with disabilities to vote. Meanwhile, legislation such as "stand your ground" laws and "stop and risk" policies continue to target African American youth, often leading to unjustifiable arrests, and too often, death. It seems as if almost daily, there are new videos on social media and reports of trigger happy police officers shooting down, injuring, and murdering young black males on the street, in their cars, and even while shopping in Walmart. The unrest in Furguson, MO; the school to prison pipeline; the underreported violence in Chicago that daily takes the lives of African-American youth; and the legalized murders of Trayvon Martin and countless African Americans across the nation signify that there is still much work to do to ensure equal rights and treatment for African Americans.

On October 1, 2014, the Office for Civil Rights from the US Department of Education issued a "Dear Colleague" letter to call attention to the disparities that persist in access to education and educational resources, particularly as it plays out according to race and social class. This 25 page letter offers a plea to educators and researchers to direct attention to ensuring that students of all races and national origin backgrounds have equal access to effective teaching, adequate facilities, and quality instructional program supports. The letter draws attention to the stark realities that despite the fact that we are celebrating the 60th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, disparities persist in access to educational resources, particularly for African American and Latino students. The quality of education that many students of color experience in schools is still not equal to their white counterparts.

This special issue of the Western Journal of Black Studies offers an opportunity for us to reflect on the Civil Rights Movement, particularly as it pertains to Freedom Summer and education. The articles and essays in this issue offer glimpses into the past, present, and future of African American education and activism. In the article "I've got to do something for my people: Black women teachers of the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Schools," Kristal Moore Clemons examines the life stories of two remarkable women and their journeys teaching in the 1964 Freedom Schools. The narratives reveal the sacrifices and danger activists endured in their mission to educate children during Freedom Summer in Mississippi, and lessons that educators should heed as we look to improve education for African American children today. Tambra Jackson and Tyrone Howard look at current day Children's Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools as sites of resistance to the negative mainstream discourse surrounding African American education. …

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