Effective Black Schools Were Closed
The superior education that many Black schools provided before integration is a source of fierce pride for alumni of those schools, in addition to the subject of a growing body of scholarship, according to journalist Jonathan Tilove. Remarkably, Black communities, under the thumb and under the radar of oppression, created schools that imbued Black children with a sense of confidence and possibility in the very midst of a system determined to limit them.
Effective Black Teachers Were Fired
In Black communities, desegregation lost support when thousands of teachers and principals lost jobs when their schools were closed. Jerome Morris of the University of Georgia spoke to Tilove about the impact these teachers had on their students at a huge number of these Black schools. Morris said one of the teachers was a godmother to certain students; other teachers lived in the Black community and knew the “parents and grandparents on a personal basis,” thus making them “comfortable calling or visiting the families” if a student acted up at school.
A Consistent Record of Black Achievement
As early as the 1970s, economist Thomas Sowell, now a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, was writing about “patterns of black excellence” at segregated schools like Atlanta’s Booker T. Washington, which produced Martin Luther King Jr.; Frederick Douglass in Baltimore, which produced Thurgood Marshall; McDonough 35 in New Orleans, which produced the first Black state superintendent of schools (California’s Wilson Riles); and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. Dunbar, the first Black high school in America, produced the first Black Cabinet member (Robert C. Weaver); the first Black general (Benjamin O. Davis); the discoverer of blood plasma (Charles R. Drew); the first Black senator since Reconstruction (Edward W. Brooke, R-Mass.); Charles Hamilton Houston, the first special counsel to the NAACP and chief architect of the assault on Jim Crow that led to Brown; and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia delegate to Congress. In 1899, students at Dunbar – then called the M Street School – scored higher on citywide tests than white students in Washington.
Answers to the Black-White Achievement Gap
Brown’s most profound irony may be that answers to closing the achievement gap lie buried in the history of the schools that Brown’s implementation destroyed. What are the answers? Dedicated teachers. Strong principals. Order. Discipline. High expectations. Community and parental support. It is astonishing how many Black children attended schools during segregation that delivered on these objectives, and how few do so now.
No Such Thing as “Acting White”
As Black children were put into an environment perceived as controlled by whites, the phenomenon of young Black kids equating academic excellence with “acting white” arose. In the Black schools, Black students largely cheered their classmates for achievements. But after desegregation created a clear division of white and Black, the association shifted and Black students began to tease one another by pushing their smart peers into the ‘white’ category. Ever since then, we have seen that Black kids tended to perform more poorly when mixed with whites.