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Desegregation, White Resistance to Brown, and the Emergence of Schools Named for Confederates

Monument in Richmond, Virginia commemorating protests which helped bring about school desegregation

This essay is excerpted from Leslie T. Fenwick’s forthcoming book, Jim Crow’s Pink Slip: Public Policy and the Near-Decimation of Black School Leadership after Brown. The excerpt provides a brief history about how many public schools came to be named for confederates and racist politicians who fought against integration and illegally resisted the Brown decision.

In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education legal decision proclaimed that segregation had no place in America’s public schools. With this new law of the land and ensuing federal pressure to desegregate, school districts in 17 dual system states complied by closing black schools and firing, demoting and dismissing legions of exceptionally credentialed black principals and teachers. At the time, closing black schools was the primary method for ridding the system of black principals and teachers most of whom were better credentialed than their white peers. Directly after Brown there was little displacement of black principals and teachers, but as Title VI compliance mandates increased, the National Education Association (NEA) received reports from black teachers’ associations indicating that displacements were increasing.

In late 1969, C. J. Duckworth who served as executive secretary to the Mississippi Teachers Association clarified the link between black school closures and black principal firing and demotions in 17 Mississippi school districts. In his report to the NEA, he wrote:

Alcorn County – the black high school reduced to a junior high school and the black principal demoted to a federal projects coordinators; Clarke County – the black high school reduced to a junior high school and the principal made an elementary principal for remainder of the year, after which he was to be terminated; Clay County – the black high school reduced to a junior high school with a white principal; ….Franklin County – a black elementary principal replaced by a white principal; Hancock County – the black high school phased out and only two of 10 black teachers remain; Harrison County – a black junior-senior high school eliminated and the black principal made supervisor of a material center;….Itawamba County – all black schools and principals eliminated; ….Prentiss County – black high schools and principals phased out; ….Marion County – black high school principals replaced with whites…. (p. 5332)

Desegregated schools did not integrate their symbols of pride and accomplishment. To the contrary, white’s symbols were maintained while black symbols were discarded or denigrated. A 1970 report by the human and civil rights organization, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), found that “the prevailing attitude” about desegregation was that “whites are keeping what they have but blacks can use it.” Black children shouldered the assault on black identity that ensued from white resistance to Brown:

[Black students] are expected to happily identify with Wade Hampton, Jefferson Davis or Strom Thurmond Schools. One of our monitors told of a black high school girl ashamed to admit she was a student at Robert E. Lee School … In Edgefield, South Carolina, the desegregated school retained the old white school’s name, Strom Thurmond High, as well as its colors, the Confederate flag, the team name ‘Rebels’ and the school song ‘Dixie.’….And in Anderson County #4, South Carolina black students were suspended from the band when they refused to play ‘Dixie’ and march behind a Confederate flag.

The interests and identities of black students were also submerged by the push to maintain white control of schools during desegregation According to an NEA report:

Left behind to be stored, scattered or abandoned are trophies, pictures, plaques and every symbol of black identity, of black students’ achievements and of their school’s history.

AFSC investigators further concluded that with the wholesale closure of black schools and elimination of black educators, black students have “little chance of identifying with his or her desegregated school because black symbols of pride were destroyed and derogated.”

Learn more:

Data: The Schools Named After Confederate Figures

Attending a School Named After a Confederate General

Leslie T. Fenwick is AACTE Dean in Residence and Dean Emeritus of the Howard University School of Education.

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