Fighting school segregation didn’t take place just in the South

Fighting school segregation didn’t take place just in the South

School boycott picketers march across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Board of Education in 1964.
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Whether it’s black-and-white photos of Arkansas’ Little Rock Nine or Norman Rockwell’s famous painting of New Orleans schoolgirl Ruby Bridges, images of school desegregation often make it seem as though it was an issue for Black children primarily in the South.

It is true that Bridges, the Little Rock Nine and other brave students in Southern states, including North Carolina and Tennessee, changed the face of American education when they tested the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that mandated the desegregation of public education. But the struggle to desegregate America’s schools in the 1950s and ‘60s did not take place solely in the South. Black students and their parents also boldly challenged segregated schooling in the North.

A group of African American students read books together in a small room.
The Little Rock Nine form a study group together after being prevented from entering Central High School in 1957.
Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

Mae Mallory, a Harlem activist and mother, serves as an example. Her name may not be the first one that comes to mind when it comes to 1950s school desegregation battles. Yet Mallory made history – and changed the face of public education – when she filed the first post-Brown suit against the New York City Board of Education in 1957.

Prompted by her children

Mallory got involved in education activism after her children – Patricia and Keefer Jr. – told her about the deplorable conditions of their segregated school, P.S. 10 in Harlem. Mallory joined the Parents Committee for a Better Education and became a vocal advocate of Black children’s right to a safe learning environment.

The turning point came when she indicted the racist school system in her January 1957 testimony before the New York School Board’s Commission on Integration. Mallory embarrassed the board by remarking that P.S. 10 was “just as ‘Jim Crow’” as the Hazel Street School she had attended in Macon, Georgia, in the 1930s. Her testimony was an integral part of the parental complaints that forced the board to construct a new building and hire new teachers.

A larger battle

Encouraged by this victory, Mallory began a fight to end the New York City Board of Education’s segregation practices. Existing zoning maps required her daughter, Patricia, to attend a junior high school in Harlem. Mallory argued that this school was inferior to others in the area and would not adequately prepare her daughter for high school. Instead, she enrolled Patricia in a school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The board blocked Patricia’s enrollment. Mallory took action. With the help of a young Black lawyer, Paul Zuber, she sued, claiming existing zoning policies relegated her daughter – and other Black children – to segregated, inferior schools. Filed three years after Brown, Mallory’s suit forced the Board of Education to face the fact that segregation was a persistent problem in New York City public schools. Eight other mothers joined Mallory’s fight. The press dubbed them the “Harlem 9.”

Making headlines

Once filed, Mallory’s suit became front-page news in The New York Times. A year later, however, the case stalled. In an effort to spur the suit along, the Harlem 9 instituted a boycott of three Harlem junior high schools. Zuber knew that the mothers would face charges of violating compulsory school attendance laws. This, in turn, would force a judge to rule on their suit.

In December 1958, Judge Justine Polier sided with the Harlem 9, declaring: “These parents have the constitutionally guaranteed right to elect no education for their children rather than to subject them to discriminatory, inferior education.” The Harlem 9 gained the first legal victory proving that de facto segregation existed in Northern schools. The decision galvanized local Black parents, causing hundreds to request transfers for their children to better schools.

A compromise

The parties reached a settlement in February 1959. The Harlem 9’s children would not enroll in the schools for which they were zoned. Nor would they be able to engage in “open choice” – the parents’ request to send their children to a school of their choosing.

Instead, they would attend a Harlem junior high school that offered more resources, including college prep courses, although it was still largely segregated. The Harlem 9 would be allowed to continue with their ultimately unsuccessful civil suit against the board. The mothers had also filed a million-dollar lawsuit seeking damages for the psychological and emotional toll their children endured in segregated schools. This was a compromise on all fronts. However, Mallory and the other mothers gained a substantial victory in forcing the court and the Board of Education to confront the segregation that existed in New York City public schools. Their boycott also became a unifying strategy for subsequent struggles, most notably for the 1964 New York City school boycott. During this boycott, hundreds of thousands of parents, students and activists engaged in a daylong protest of segregation and inequality in public city schools.

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The Harlem 9’s fight serves as an important reminder that school desegregation protests were popular and successful in the North as well as in the South. It also provides insight into the prominent role Black women had in these struggles and the diverse range of strategies they deployed – from championing “open choice” to school boycotts – to help their children have access to equal education.

Even more importantly, perhaps, their fight demonstrates the importance of appreciating the different ways in which Black women compelled schools to make good on the Brown decision – a fight that, nearly 70 years later, is still being fought. The Supreme Court’s mandate in the Brown decision that public schools desegregate with “all deliberate speed” is unfinished. Nationwide, Black children remain in schools that are segregated, underfunded and overcrowded – much as they were when Mallory began her fight.The Conversation

Ashley Farmer, Assistant Professor of History & African and African Diaspora Studies, The University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We need school leaders who reflect the students they serve

We need school leaders who reflect the students they serve

Gerald Boyd, principal of IDEA Hardy, with some of his students. Courtesy of IDEA Public Schools

This article originally appeared on Chalkbeat

Most educators can pinpoint a moment in their lives when they realize what impact they want to make on their students’ lives. Many take inspiration from Nelson Mandela, who once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Those words continue to echo loudly, especially as we take a moment to reflect on Black History Month and celebrate the contributions and achievements made by those in our community and across the country.

Gerald Boyd  Courtesy of IDEA Public Schools

As the executive principal at IDEA Hardy, a high-performing Houston public charter school, I share the same sentiment as so many of my fellow educators: to help students achieve success and change the world. However, what is severely lacking in our education system is leaders in our schools who reflect the population of the students they serve.

Let me tell you why this is so important.

I am from Houston and was the first in my family to graduate high school and attend college. When I got to the University of Texas at Austin, alongside 10 of my high school classmates, I saw first-hand the inequities in access and quality of education. During my first semester, eight of us were put on academic probation, and four years later, only two of us — myself included — graduated. This showed me that we didn’t have the tools and resources to succeed, and without support, most of us had lost faith that we could be successful.

In my second year at UT Austin, I joined the elite Black Greek lettered organization, Kappa Alpha Psi. For the first time, I witnessed young, Black men achieve. One of our brothers graduated from Harvard Law School and another graduated from Nebraska Law. When I saw them succeed, I believed I could, too. This inspired me to join Teach For America after finishing college to teach in my hometown of Houston.

Fast forward a few years, I am proud to have been one of the first principals in IDEA Public Schools to achieve an “A” school rating from the Texas Education Agency, in San Antonio, Texas, at IDEA Mays.

I made the decision to run two schools 15-minutes away from where I grew up. Since this is where I was raised, I understand what many of the students in my community are up against because I’ve experienced much of it myself. Many students in second grade were reading at a kindergarten level, but I knew that with the right support and intervention, they’d be able to succeed. Part of that means being able to show my kids what success looks like, and that it is within reach for them, too.

However, few schools across the country have diverse teaching workforces that represent the student bodies they serve. For instance, recent federal data shows that 79% of public school teachers were white, and less than 7% were Black. Public charter schools in Texas, however, employ significantly more teachers of color than traditional district schools. For instance, about 1 in 4 charter teachers are Black compared to 1 in 25 teachers at district schools.

Students of color need to know that success is possible for them, which cannot happen if we are sidelining educators of color. It should be a top priority to support educators of color determined to pay it forward. That is how we can help the next generation of leaders of color thrive.

We need to make sure that educators of color have mentors who can uplift them and that our leadership teams are diverse. This past year, I was proud to train school leaders on what it means to lead a school and a community. Mentorship like this ensures more leaders of color can succeed and uplift others. Our educators should feel empowered to bring their identities and their stories to their jobs to show up for themselves and our kids. This means that our teachers can talk openly about difficult topics in their classrooms, and our students know that they can turn to their teachers and school leaders for guidance.

Additionally, flexibility around teacher certification — a long, expensive process that research shows doesn’t lead to higher student achievement — would also help more educators of color enter the profession. This would remove the barriers that make it more difficult for people of color to become teachers. Take a look at Texas. Public charter schools here, along with traditional school districts that apply to be Districts of Innovation, are able to hire non-certified teachers in certain subjects and provide them with high-quality training throughout their careers.

As this year’s Black History Month comes to an end and we think about ways to better foster equity in all parts of society, we cannot forget about the classroom. When our children walk into the school building, they should see themselves reflected in their teachers, their principals, and their school staff. But it is going to take more than individual educators to make systems change. We must all be committed to ensuring that every student has the necessary tools and opportunities to flourish.

The turning point in my college career was when I witnessed other Black students and leaders around me achieving things that I had not imagined possible for myself. We must prioritize our students of color by empowering educators who have walked in their shoes and whom they can look to for inspiration and guidance.

The future generation is counting on us.

Gerald Boyd is the executive principal, IDEA Hardy in Houston.