A Class of Their Own

A Class of Their Own: Black Teachers in the Segregated South

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    A Class of Their Own
    Book Description:

    In this major undertaking, civil rights historian Adam Fairclough chronicles the odyssey of black teachers in the South from emancipation in 1865 to integration one hundred years later. A Class of Their Own is indispensable for understanding how blacks and whites interacted after the abolition of slavery, and how black communities coped with the challenges of freedom and oppression.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-03666-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PROLOGUE The Odyssey of Black Teachers
    (pp. 1-24)

    In 1933 a white anthropologist watched in amazement as Lillian P. Rogers, a black teacher whom she knew to be “a strong, self-respecting person,” entered the office of the schools superintendent of Sunflower County, Mississippi. In the presence of this white official, Rogers’s “vibrant personality” disappeared. “She was the essence of meekness: eyes downcast, accepting with a smile being called ‘Annie’ by white people … [and] waiting patiently to speak to Mr. Smith, who saw all whites first regardless of the time of their arrival, and who remained seated when, standing, she finally talked with him.” Afterward, with a cynical...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Freedom’s First Generation
    (pp. 25-58)

    The first generation of southern black teachers was forged in the furnaces of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. During this violent, disordered period of America’s history, black teachers faced difficulties of staggering magnitude. Although some black teachers had taught before, either in public schools in the North or in “secret schools” in the South, most black teachers lacked any experience of the classroom. Many were barely literate. As a consequence, black teachers suffered the condescension of white schoolteachers and missionaries from the North who deemed them ignorant and incompetent. Worse, they had to contend against the opposition—often expressed...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Black Teachers for Black Children
    (pp. 59-96)

    Bishop James Walker Hood believed that black children should be taught by black teachers. “It is impossible for white teachers, educated as they necessarily are in this country, to enter into the feelings of colored pupils as the colored teacher does,” he told North Carolina’s constitutional convention in 1869. “I do not think that it is good for our children to eat and drink daily the sentiment that they are naturally inferior to the whites, which they do in three-fourths of all the schools where they have white teachers.” A native of Pennsylvania, Hood was instrumental in planting the AME...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Missionaries to the Dark South
    (pp. 97-132)

    The black teachers who set out from the normal schools and universities of the South brimmed with the enthusiasm of the Yankee schoolmarms of Reconstruction legend. Education was no mere profession. Being a teacher meant observing a way of life that pervaded every waking hour. It was a vocation that required moral strength and mental discipline. The ideal teacher should be a sincere Christian who worshipped modestly and lived soberly. That person should be a moral exemplar, molding the character of a people who, it was commonly believed, had been degraded by immorality and deceived by superstition. The teacher should...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR White Supremacy and Black Teachers
    (pp. 133-174)

    Benjamin Ryan Tillman, a one-eyed politician from South Carolina, personified the white supremacy movement and its deep antipathy to black education. Governor of his state in the 1890s and then a U.S. senator until his death in 1918, Tillman was the South’s bestknown Negrophobe. He defended and even applauded lynching. He saw to it that blacks in South Carolina were stripped of the right to vote. And he argued that the “little smattering of education” blacks received had destroyed their “original virtues” as a race. “When you educate a negro,” he explained, “you educate a candidate for the penitentiary or...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Founders
    (pp. 175-220)

    The work was hard and dirty,” recalled Booker T. Washington. He and his fellow teachers, along with their students, stood in an Alabama field up to their knees in mud, trying to make bricks. After laboriously molding twenty-five thousand bricks of clay, they saw their handiwork perish when their homemade kiln misfired. A second kiln also failed. A third kiln caved in. Without a dollar to his name, and with his colleagues urging him to abandon the brick-making effort, Washington pawned his watch for fifteen dollars and “rallied our … demoralized and discouraged forces.” The fourth kiln worked. Now Washington...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Faith of Women
    (pp. 221-264)

    In 1926 Sarah Webb, a nervous teenager, stood before “fifteen pupils, all different grades, in one room.” The schoolhouse was a Baptist church on a low hill outside Eufala, Alabama. Like many girls who chose teaching, Sarah was guided by her mother, Lizzie, who had completed nine grades at a good school in Columbus, Georgia, with the encouragement of her employers, a white doctor and his wife. After marrying an AME minister, Lizzie Webb took in washing, helped run the family farm, and taught school. Lizzie gave up teaching when her husband’s death gave her enough insurance money to buy...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The City and the Country
    (pp. 265-306)

    On a January morning in 1888, Arthur Harold Parker found himself standing before a class of second-graders in the newly built Slater School in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a moment of profound satisfaction. “Right at the very first I became fascinated with the work of teaching,” he recalled years later, “and as much so with the prestige that such a position carried among my people.” Attired in a brand new Prince Albert coat, a plug hat atop his head as he traveled to and from school, the eighteen-year-old looked and felt like a member of the new black middle class,...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Teachers Organize
    (pp. 307-354)

    In October 1938 Aline Black, an African American high school teacher, sued her employer, the school board of Norfolk, Virginia, in a state court. Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s top attorney, filed her petition, which asked for a salary increase that would bring her wages into line with what similarly qualified white teachers earned. A state judge denied Black’s petition, and before she could appeal, the school board fired her. The Norfolk NAACP organized a mass meeting and demonstration to protest Black’s dismissal. Schoolchildren paraded through the streets bearing placards that read, “We Want Our Teachers to Be Equally Prepared and...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Black Teachers and the Civil Rights Movement
    (pp. 355-390)

    In October 1954, six months after the Supreme Court ruled that segregated public education was unconstitutional, the South’s leading black educators gathered in Hot Springs, Arkansas. After deliberating for two days, they issued a ringing endorsement of theBrowndecision. “It was the right and moral thing to do,” the group stated. “We urge that immediate steps be taken to implement the decision.” For good measure, the statement urged black teachers to shun “any plan designed to nullify the Court’s decision.” It was an impressive display of unity. This group could claim to represent the vast majority of black teachers...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Integration: Loss and Profit
    (pp. 391-420)

    School integration turned the lives of black teachers, and white teachers, upside down. For the first time in their lives, they found themselves working alongside colleagues of a different race. For the first time in their lives, they taught children of another race. Teachers had to adapt to this novel situation at a time of continuing turmoil. Desegregated schools never had time to stabilize. Continuing white opposition, and rapidly changing residential patterns, ensured that school populations were in constant flux. Many schools that were once all-white enjoyed only a few years—sometimes only a few months—of “racial balance” before...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 423-500)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 501-504)
  17. Index
    (pp. 505-533)