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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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Growing up in Los Angeles, Brian Ivie dreamed of becoming a famous filmmaker. While enrolled in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, he studied some of the most critically acclaimed Hollywood directors in pursuit of that goal. But a newspaper article about a pastor in one of the poorest districts in Seoul, South Korea, who built a Drop Box in his home for people to deposit unwanted babies with disabilities took him abroad to document that story. He came back to the U.S. realizing that he, like those babies, also needed to be saved.
Do you think your purpose as a filmmaker is to tell more nuanced stories of Christianity?
Well I think when I first became a Christian I figured you had to go to Africa and live in a tent and serve as a missionary, and then God called me back to Hollywood. I think that was something I really struggled with because I didn’t understand how that could be reconciled with my faith and what I wanted to do, which was to just tell people about God.
And, of course, as I know now, this is really the greatest way to do that because the houses of worship of our culture are really not churches, or temples or mosques, they’re YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. So my purpose, I would say changed way beyond movies, meaning that my heart now is to build God’s kingdom instead of building my own empire. That would be the truth even if I was a chef, or anything else, but I think when it comes to movies, it’s always something I knew wanted to do. I just didn’t know why. I didn’t know what stories I was going to tell. So now I think I’ve just committed to myself that whatever story I tell it’s going to be about Him. It’s going to be what he’s like. My heart is to make Christian films for non-Christians, basically, films that preach beyond the choir and invite people in.
The canon of faith-based films generally features storylines where there are fewer blurred lines about the impact of faith in someone’s life. It also hasn’t included documentary. Do you think you’re breaking into any new ground in how you chose to tell this story?
My films have these themes and these ideas because of who I am, less because its something I’m trying to engineer. The more I spend time with God, the more the films have those kinds of ideas and the themes are present. I think that’s true of any filmmaker no matter what. Filmmaking is a very spiritual endeavor, no matter what you believe. I don’t know if I’m breaking new ground, but I think what I am trying to do within the context of faith-based films is try to make films that speak to the reality of God to an audience that may or may not believe and that is disinterested and disillusioned. I think most faith-based films are just part of the “holy huddle,” and they’re just preaching to the choir and don’t really make sense to anybody outside of church culture.
I didn’t grow up in the culture of Christianity. I grew up watching Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee and Paul Thomas Anderson. So I hope that I can reach kind of a different audience, definitely a younger one, but also one that is much more cynical and skeptical and hopefully reaches them where they are. Usually, they’re not watching “God’s Not Dead.” They’re watching “Stranger Things” or “The People vs. O.J. [Simpson],” so, that’s kind of what I’m hoping to live.
The documentary form was really just chosen because of a lack of resources, because it’s cheaper, initially, but I also think it lends itself well to talking about faith because that’s what people expect from documentaries—is to be educated or to be confronted with something. Whereas usually, it can feel like a bait and switch, in a documentary you’re able to have a real conversation with someone, that’s why I like that form.
What have you observed from audiences who have screened EMANUEL?
I think what I’m really thankful for is that audiences have, no matter what they come into that room with, they’ve come out, I think, more free. There are a lot of people who have a lot of anger. I think that anger is very justified and very righteous in many respects—especially in the African American community.
African Americans come out of the film really honored. I think that was really cool for me to see because as a White American my fear was that I would, in some way, even unintentionally, just whitewash the movie. But thankfully in every screening, I’ve had an African American come up to me and say, ‘thank you for not doing that’ and “thank you for honoring my people, thank you for giving us a voice.’ Honestly, I just see my role as handing the microphone to people who really have something to say. So, that’s been amazing.
For White Americans that come in to see the film, I’ve seen them be very humbled and quiet. That’s been really cool to see, too, because it shows that we’re now listening a little bit more to the wounded people of our country and in our community that really need healing. That’s not just going to be through conversation. It’s going to be hard work, but it’s a start. Then, I’ve also seen people come out of the film who are feeling like maybe God is real, even if they didn’t walk in with that belief, and that is my greatest goal. So that’s been really encouraging.
Speaking of race were there any challenges that you felt that you had to overcome to show the family members they could trust you with their story?
At first, I was very scared that this would be disrespectful or weird or at the very least it this would be something like you say, a huge obstacle because there’s certainly something I can never understand about being Black.
There’s a wound that’s just too deep. A lot of times I don’t say anything at all and I just listen and let them share. Which is why I think a lot of the interviews are so like you said, uncut because I tried to stay out of the way as much as possible. But I will say that I didn’t conduct the interviews with the families. That was a choice that I made so that they could look at somebody who understood them and understood their experience at a deeper level. So my producing partner Dimas conducted those interviews and also really pastored them and cared for them through that process because he is a Reverend.
But I think honestly the families really embraced me. That was a super surprising thing, but I think it was less because, even just White/Black and all that, it was because beneath all of that or before all of that my identity to Christ. I shared that with them. As I said to them at the first meeting I wanted the world to know where God was in all of this. They had never heard a media person, whether Black or White, say that before. So I think that’s why they came to trust me.
How did the project come together?
I tried to stay away from the story for a year because I didn’t want to be an opportunist but then ended up meeting my producing partner Dimas Salaberrios on a totally separate project. He asked me what was really on my heart and I told him the story in Charleston. He ended up having been there and marched over the bridge and prayed over the families and had relationships and so we really just started to work together and joined hands to see if we could tell God’s story through this.
So we met with the families. Viola was a friend. Stephen was not. But they both ended up seeing the film. I think of Viola as an activist and Stephen as a Christian — both of them really as Christians. Stephen was a man of faith who was trying to build a new company that stood for Christ in Hollywood. They both felt like this was a story that they didn’t want the world to forget. Mariska, in a similar way, was really moved by the story and in her own life had had a lot of loss and trauma and felt that this film presented a way of healing and the rest is history.
What are you working on next?
Right now I am working on the Kirk Franklin movie. My first interaction with faith was in a gospel party in college and so it’s really exciting to see the confluence of all that Kirk has made and also my own experience in this project. We’re hoping to get that done at the end of the year.
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24
Like me, you’ve probably quoted these verses many times. But have you ever practiced them? The prayer of examen is a pattern of prayer that invites us to actually do what these verses say.
Crafted by St. Ignatius of Loyola, this form of prayer has been used for centuries by those who want to become more aware of God’s presence in their everyday lives and notice ways in which they can better align their lives to God’s Word. In as little as ten minutes, you can pray this prayer, or you can spend any amount of time you’d like with it. Allow yourself some flexibility with its structure. For example, some days, you might spend more time with one section of the prayer or skip a section entirely. That’s okay. Give yourself permission to enjoy this way of being with God while trying, on most days, to spend time with each section of the prayer.
An important practice that often accompanies the prayer of examen is writing in a journal. As you keep a written record of your actions, thoughts, attitudes, and feelings, you might notice some patterns in your life that you weren’t aware of. These patterns might become the content for additional prayer, invitations to change, or causes for celebration. Talking with a pastor, spiritual director, or wise friend can help you discern what, if any, actions you should take based on this prayer.
Over the years, the prayer of examen has undergone many adaptions and variations. Here’s a pattern that has been helpful to me.
Reviewyour knowledge of God. Sometimes before we pray, we need to remind ourselves about the Person to whom we pray. Is the God we pray to all-powerful? All knowing? Loving? Merciful? What do you know to be true about God? Do you know God as a healer, deliverer, comforter, teacher, creator, protector, friend, way-maker? Open your prayer by inviting God into this time of holy and loving guidance. Honor God by naming some of the attributes of God that you experienced today. Write them in your journal.
Recognizewhere God has been present to you. Our days can be so busy that we often miss noticing the many ways that God is walking with us. What were the gifts of your day? Some days it’s as simple as the smile of a child, coffee with a friend, or work you enjoy. On other days, it’s as significant as the birth of a child. Where did you see God’s goodness today? Take nothing for granted. Rejoice and be thankful. Jot down a couple of examples of God’s loving presence and guidance to you today.
Reflect on any feelings that emerge. During the past 24 hours, what feelings surfaced? Frustration? Shame? Joy? Excitement? Fear? Confidence? Disappointment? Love? Anger? Peace? Choose one positive and one negative emotion and talk to God about your feelings. Pay attention to instances where you cooperated with God’s action in your life. Notice where you resisted God. Reflect honestly and patiently on these feelings. Don’t condemn yourself, and don’t be complacent either. This is intended to be a gentle way of reviewing your emotions under an umbrella of God’s love and grace. Capture your thoughts in your journal.
Repent forthe moments you missed God’s invitations to serve, to love, to give, to hope. Did you miss an opportunity to be kind, helpful, encouraging, generous? Be attentive to the Holy Spirit who lives within you. Record in your journal some of these missed opportunities. Write down that one missed opportunity that you don’t really want to write down.
Recommitto walking in a greater knowledge of God and self. Acknowledge your continued desire to live according to God’s ways. Ask for God’s strength. Listen for God’s words of consolation, love, and affirmation. Write down any insights, thoughts, invitations from God, words of guidance, or possible next steps. Thank God for speaking to you through your own life experiences. Ask for God’s graceful guidance as you move into a new day.
An Invitation—for the next 30 days, take 10 to 20 minutes to practice the prayer of examen, including recording your prayers in a journal. At the end of 30 days, review your prayers. Do you notice any habits and patterns in your life? Do you hear whispers of love from God to you? Are there any invitations for change, movement, growth, transformation? There might be, or there might not. In either case, you are building a relationship with a God who fully knows and loves you. As you come to God in this or any prayer, you can become more aware of God’s desire for your continual growth in compassionate love and grace for yourself and others.
Maisie Sparks is a spiritual director and the author of Holy Shakespeare and other titles.
In a human interest story spotlighting Students Rising Above, an organization invested in improving the lives of low-income youth through education, CBS Oakland interviewed Elexis Webster, one of SRA’s brightest stars.
Elexis says she struggled with devastating circumstances as a young child. “I grew up on the streets with an abusive drug addict for a mother, along with an older brother who molested me countless times, plus constant sickness.
My name is Mona. I am a 36-year-old married woman. My husband and I attend a large church so we don’t see the same people every Sunday. He does appliance repair and one of the members of our women’s group is a client of his. I feel offended by her. Whenever she sees my husband, she waves wildly, makes a beeline to speak to him and pointedly ignores me. If he and I are together, she might nod in my direction. When she sees me and I am not with him, she appears to deliberately avoid speaking to me. From past experiences, I have found that behavior usually indicates the person wants a relationship with the male and resents his mate. I sincerely don’t think that my husband is interested in her that way, but I think she might have a crush on him and sees me as “the other woman.” When I mentioned it to my husband, he just laughed. I want to let her know that her behavior offends me and ask her why she does this. I don’t intend to confront her in a harsh manner, but I do want to confront her. Should I talk to her, Dr. Minnie?
Married and Confused
This is an awkward and apparently troubling situation for you. It is understandable that you interpret the woman’s behavior as a sign that she looks at you as someone standing between her and your husband. However, there could be other reasons for her behavior. I like the approach that you proposed: asking her why she avoids you rather than making an accusation.
Let’s examine why you want to confront her and the outcome you want. If you want to point out that her behavior offends you, Scripture certainly makes provision for that. Matthew 18:15 (KJV) says: “Moreover, if thy brother [or sister] shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
So here’s the caveat: That verse says that if the offender hears you, you have gained a brother or sister. I assume that this is your desired outcome; however what are the consequences if she will not hear you or respond responsibly to you? The opposite side of that coin is if she does not hear, you may have made an enemy and you might become more frustrated. Remember, you can only control your behavior, not hers.
When it comes to such matters, it is also a good idea to examine our hearts in the presence of the Holy Spirit. David, the author of Psalm 139:23-24, implores the Lord to search his heart in order to be sure that there were no wicked motives within him, and if so, to remove them. Your concern sounds legitimate and needs to be resolved. The wisdom of God is needed in order for that to happen successfully. If you have a trusted, mature Christian confidant, perhaps you can, without disclosing the woman’s name, ask her to join you in prayer for the will of God to be done in the situation. Often women will too quickly shake such things off as their own insecurities. Your feelings are valid and you should not ignore them.. If you pray, God will perfect everything that concerns you.
Although this situation happens only occasionally, it produces anxiety in you. The Word of God cautions us to “be anxious for nothing,” but pray about everything. (Philippians 4:6-8, KJV)
See if you can resolve the matter in sincere prayer to God. Expect Him to guide and direct you in this matter. He knows how to resolve it and give you perfect peace. If you choose to confront her, you might have to follow the guidance in Matthew 18:16-17.