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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)

Litigating Education

Sixty-six years have passed since Brown v. Board of Education. The Brown decision came down in 1954; however, in the 16 dual system states, white resistance stalled school desegregation until the late1960s and early1970s. Since Brown, state and federal courts have steadily engaged litigation about education access, school funding, education equity, and opportunity to learn. In recent years, litigation has challenged school reform schemes such as vouchers, charters, the definition of highly qualified teachers, and the practice of disproportionately placing uncertified teachers-in-training as teachers-of-record in schools and classrooms serving urban poor students of color. These schemes—which are often viewed as new and innovative—have old roots in resistance to Brown[1].

Nearly 70 years of litigation about education access, school funding, education equity, and opportunity to learn has yielded two findings: Money matters. And judicial involvement is critical for ensuring that school funding is equitable. In fact, research has shown that court ordered school finance reform tends to increase state spending in lower-income school districts and decrease expenditure gaps between low and high income districts. A National Bureau of Economic Research study (2015)[2] found:

For children from low income families, increasing per-pupil spending yields large improvements in educational attainment, wages, family income, and reductions in the annual incidence of adult poverty. All of these effects are statistically significant … (p.39).

Upending Stereotypes About Black Students

This article first appeared in Education Week on October 9, 2013 and is reprinted with permission from the author, AACTE Dean in Residence Leslie T. Fenwick.

 There’s a troubling undercurrent to the national conversation about the black-white gap in student achievement. The (mostly) unspoken belief about black students is tied to broader perceptions about black people. So, let’s just say it: Some believe the gap is a function of weak family and community structures, male joblessness, drug use, and permissive cultural values—which they assert predominate in the black community.

Others believe that blacks constitute a community that is largely beyond intervention and that no amount of funding or special programs can fix what ails the perpetually troubled. An attendant assertion is that blacks who do achieve have outsmarted stereotype vulnerability and are outliers. Some say these blacks are exceptions and are successful because they embrace and actualize a white cultural-value system.

Do Americans Understand Immigration? Here’s a Pop Quiz to Test Your Knowledge

“The Problem We All Live With" (Painting by Norman Rockwell)This article, written by AACTE Dean of Residence Leslie T. Fenwick, originally appeared in the Washington Post Valerie Strauss column and is reprinted with permission.

“The Problem We All Live With” is the title of the famed Norman Rockwell painting inspired by the story of Ruby Bridges and school integration. In 1964, Rockwell created the painting for the 10th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education legal decision that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The subject of Rockwell’s painting was inspired by Ruby Bridges, who was just 6 years old (born four months after the May 1954 Brown decision) when she integrated the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans.

The rabid violence hurled at young Ruby (mainly that day by white women on the scene) is represented in Rockwell’s painting by a racial slur, the letters KKK and a splattered tomato — all appearing on the wall behind Ruby as she marches forward. Despite this terrorism, innocent Ruby walks close on the heels of the front two guards into an undeterrable future. The painting is triumphant. Ruby’s right to attend an American public school unshackled by segregation was ensured by the federal government and, that day, warranted the protection of U.S. federal marshals.

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