Monday, June 30, 2008

Education (In)Equality from the 1870’s to 1954 – A Brief History

In Pennsylvania, the 1870’s was a time of important legislative movement. In 1870, the Republicans in the state legislature of Pennsylvania introduced legislation to end discrimination of African Americans in schools and in 1874 an antidiscrimination bill passed the state senate.[1] By 1881, a county court ruled on a case brought by an African American father, Elias H. Allen, who wanted his children to attend a White public school in Meadville, Pennsylvania and determined that “the Pennsylvania segregation law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” and required that African American children be admitted to public schools that were closest to their homes.[2] Vincent Franklin reports that the Philadelphia school system in 1908 consisted of nine Black public schools yet a majority of African American children attended mixed schools. A complicating factor during this time period was that African American teachers were not allowed to teach White children in the Philadelphia public school system. Several research studies by individuals such as Byron Phillips and Howard Odum focused on intelligence and compared White and African American school aged children. The “results” showed that African American children were “retarded” more than White children were which further fueled the argument that African American and White children were to be schooled under different curriculums and that African American school children were to be segregated from White children.[3] Public education in the South was especially challenging for African Americans during this time period. The Southern education movement from 1901 to 1915 saw a resistance in educational reform for African Americans.[4] African Americans experienced both racist attitudes and laws in all aspects of their lives including their education. During this time period, Whites in South Carolina opposed public education for African Americans and Whites in North Carolina were strongly against taxation for African American schools while Georgia allowed school boards to exempt African American children from the compulsory school attendance law that was passed in 1916.[5]

A challenge for public school systems in Northern cities, including in Philadelphia, were the large numbers of African American families that migrated from the South primarily from 1915 to 1930. Vincent Franklin reports that by 1920, the number of African Americans in Philadelphia grew 58.9% to 134,000 people in ten years and by 1930 the number of African Americans had grown by 63.5% to over 200,000 people.
[6] Major cities in the Midwest also saw significant increases in the growth of the African American population during the first few decades of the twentieth century or what many called the “Migrant Crisis.” Between 1910 and 1920, the city of Chicago saw a sharp increase in its African American population by 148% or 124,000 people, Detroit’s African American population grew by 35,000 or 611% and the African American population in Cleveland grew 308% or 26,000 people.[7] The migration of large numbers of African Americans to northern cities also had an impact in Southern states and the public funding of schools for African Americans in the South. Many White landowners in the South were concerned with the loss of cash tenants, share-croppers, and laborers who were migrating north and returned public tax funds in order to build rural schools in the hope that many African Americans would consider staying in the South.[8] James Anderson reports that nearly half of the African American’s in Georgia left the state during the 1920’s.[9] To be sure, the considerable demographic shifts witnessed in the urban cities of the North and in the Southern states from the early 1900’s to the 1930’s had a significant impact on the schooling of African Americans during this time period.

The decade preceding the Brown v. Board decision continued to be a time of difficulty for African Americans in the United States. Civil rights abuses were part of the every day life of African Americans. This post-World War II time period for African Americans, despite all of the discriminatory practices they encountered, was also one of hope. In 1947, President Harry Truman was keen on passing civil rights legislation and he commissioned the Congressional Committee on Civil Rights to provide the United States with a public agenda for change.
[10] The Committee report outlined the discrimination that African Americans experienced all across the United States. The Committee reported that the legal school segregation found in seventeen states and the District of Columbia was inappropriate and unfair and stated “whatever test is used-expenditure per pupil, teachers’ salaries, the number of pupils per teacher, transportation of students, adequacy of school buildings and educational equipment, length of school term, extent of curriculum-Negro students are invariably at a disadvantage.”[11] Of the 48 states that made up the United States at the time of the Brown v. Board decision in 1954, seventeen states and the District of Columbia required school segregation, four states permitted school segregation to a certain degree, sixteen states prohibited school segregation and eleven states had no specific laws on school segregation.[12] The history of African American struggles for educational equality dating back to the Roberts v. The City of Boston case in 1849 to the various school segregation laws of the 48 states of the Union in 1954 laid the groundwork for Oliver Brown et al.[13] to have their case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States. The time period leading up to the Brown v. Board decision and the years immediately following the case were challenging times in American education. While desegregation efforts were important for African American school children and their families this effort was part of a much larger issue in American society, that being the Civil Rights Movement.

[1] Franklin, V.P. The Education of Black Philadelphia: The Social and Educational History of a Minority Community, 1900-1950. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979), 34.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, p. 41-48.
[4] Anderson, J.D. The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935. (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 101.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid, p. 60-61.
[7] Dougherty, J. More than One Struggle: The Evolution of Black School Reform in Milwaukee. (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 52.
[8] Anderson, 159.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ravitch, D. The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980. (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1983), 21.
[11] Cited in Ravitch, p. 22 from To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1947).
[12] Data obtained from analysis of a map showing the status of school segregation law prior to the Brown v. Board case that is presented in Dougherty, 37.
[13] Other legal case included with the Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case included: Briggs v. Elliott (South Carolina), Bolling v. Sharpe (Washington, D.C.), Belton v. Gebhart (Delaware), and Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Virginia).

No comments:

Post a Comment