Brown V. Board and the Transformation of American Culture: Education and the South in the Age of Desegregation

By Reinhard, Rachel | The Journal of Southern History, February 2017 | Go to article overview

Brown V. Board and the Transformation of American Culture: Education and the South in the Age of Desegregation


Reinhard, Rachel, The Journal of Southern History


Brown v. Board and the Transformation of American Culture: Education and the South in the Age of Desegregation. By Ben Keppel. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015. Pp. xiv, 225. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-8071-6132-6.)

Amid scholarly reassessments of the limitations of the civil rights period, Ben Keppel's Brown v. Board and the Transformation of American Culture: Education and the South in the Age of Desegregation centers the importance of establishing a new cultural context within which an integrated society could take seed. Using historical reenactment as an analytical frame, Keppel highlights the significance of three individuals who worked in distinct realms to create the architecture for a reimagined world--psychiatrist Robert Coles, comedian Bill Cosby, and television producer Joan Ganz Cooney. While these "cultural 'first responders'" are not always on the front lines of change movements, they create opportunities from which one can imagine and embody those changes (p. 2).

Not unlike the period following the Civil War, the era after the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision saw Americans faced with the task of developing "'new habits of citizenship'" that would allow them to be able to work together in this newly defined context (p. 6). Coles, through his study of black children in integrated educational settings; Cosby, through humanizing the black experience without explicitly engaging with race; and Cooney, through the advent of an educational space that at once provided early academic support and presented an idealized vision of a multiracial community, all reinforced the possibilities within the fullest implementation of Brown. During this Second Reconstruction, Keppel argues, schools emerged as the location where people could "come together in an effort to create a shared and integrated vision of one's relationship to a larger world" (pp. 62-63).

Robert Coles "assigned to himself the teaching task of helping a public ... to look inward" (p. …

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