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Their Highest Potential

Their Highest Potential: An African American School Community in the Segregated South

Vanessa Siddel Walker
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Their Highest Potential
    Book Description:

    African American schools in the segregated South faced enormous obstacles in educating their students. But some of these schools succeeded in providing nurturing educational environments in spite of the injustices of segregation. Vanessa Siddle Walker tells the story of one such school in rural North Carolina, the Caswell County Training School, which operated from 1934 to 1969. She focuses especially on the importance of dedicated teachers and the principal, who believed their jobs extended well beyond the classroom, and on the community's parents, who worked hard to support the school. According to Walker, the relationship between school and community was mutually dependent. Parents sacrificed financially to meet the school's needs, and teachers and administrators put in extra time for professional development, specialized student assistance, and home visits. The result was a school that placed the needs of African American students at the center of its mission, which was in turn shared by the community. Walker concludes that the experience of CCTS captures a segment of the history of African Americans in segregated schools that has been overlooked and that provides important context for the ongoing debate about how best to educate African American children. African American History/Education/North Carolina

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1976-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Education, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction Remembering the Good
    (pp. 1-12)

    The history of the public schooling of African Americans during legalized segregation has focused almost exclusively on the inferior education that African American children received.¹ Indeed, the meager materials, the inadequate facilities, the unequal funding of schools and teachers, the lack of bus transportation, and the failure of schools and teachers, the lack of bus transportation, and the failure of school boards to respond to black parents’ requests are so commonly named in most descriptions of segregated education that they have created a national memory that dominates most thinking about the segregated schooling of African American children. In this national...

  5. Chapter One A Couple of Three Years Ago
    (pp. 13-40)

    They called him “Chicken” Stephens instead of his real name, John. He’d moved to Yanceyville from neighboring Rockingham County in 1866. The story of his problems was not long in following. The newcomer, it was said, was responsible for killing two of his neighbors’ chickens when they strayed onto his property in Rockingham, and he was reported to have attacked the neighbor and shot two bystanders the next morning out of anger about having been jailed overnight. They said he sold his mother’s home and tried to abandon her when he moved. When she later followed him to Yanceyville and...

  6. Chapter Two The Plot Thickens
    (pp. 41-64)

    It would be a long time before they would get a new high school. Meanwhile, enrollment would continue to grow and facilities would become more and more limited. R. A. Benjamin was one of the first elementary teachers to arrive at CCTS. She describes hardships that teachers experienced just in trying to get to school during the early years. The Yanceyville street on which the school was located was unpaved, and the school was situated on a small hill. These two factors created problems for those who needed to walk to school during rainy weather, as Benjamin recalls: “We [teachers]...

  7. Chapter Three Working Together
    (pp. 65-92)

    The parental advocates who had positioned themselves between the needs of the school and the lack of response from the school board played key roles in getting a high school started and in facilitating the building of a new school. The involvement of these more influential parents was not, however, the only source of parental involvement with the school. Other participating supporters included parents from the larger, less vocal community of Negroes spread across the county, which was 98 percent rural. Comprising approximately half the total population of the county, this Negro community in 1953 would be described occupationally as...

  8. Chapter Four Meeting Needs
    (pp. 93-118)

    CCTS teachers were meeting in the school at night—again. Some of them had hired babysitters for their young children.

    Those who lived outside of Yanceyville drove back. After going home to have supper with his family, Dillard too walked back down the street to the school building, as he had done many times before.

    He and the teachers were preparing for the upcoming visit from the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, scheduled, ironically, for March 1954—just two months before the Supreme Court would rule that segregated schools were inherently unequal. The school had already been visited by...

  9. Chapter Five We Are Family
    (pp. 119-140)

    Another point in the Southern Association’s report about CCTS is noticeable only on close examination. Of the nineteen teachers employed by the high school during the time of the accreditation visit, thirteen received specific commendations, in their individual reports, on the relationship they maintained with students. “Pupil-teacher relationships are good,” the Southern Association officials noted of Virginia Dix, a mathematics and science teacher who had been at the school for six years. They made similar statements for many others, including biology teacher Isaac Hunt, who was “congratulated on the excellent rapport that seems to exist between him and the members...

  10. Chapter Six Their Highest Potential
    (pp. 141-170)

    In old pictures, they look well-dressed. The men wore ties with slacks or a suit; women wore stylish dresses, stockings, and pumps. Their attire and their expressions of posed and frozen professionalism provide some indication of their external presentation of self but tell us little about the practices behind the appearances. Who were the principal and teachers who created the institutional structure at CCTS? How did they define the task of teaching, and how did they interact with each other professionally? These questions, raised by community members’ references to their “wonderful” teachers and principal, are foundation points for explaining the...

  11. Chapter Seven Standing on Moving Ground
    (pp. 171-198)

    When the school doors at CCTS opened in August 1968, they were opening for its last year of operation as a segregated school. By now, its name had been changed to Caswell County High School (CCHS). Students had lobbied for the new name in the early 1960s because they didn’t like the perception of the term “training school.” The elementary department was gone too, having moved out the previous year into a new building on the other side of town.

    The curriculum had changed some over the years. Like the area white school, CCTS attempted to meet the continuing demand...

  12. Afterword No Poverty of Spirit
    (pp. 199-220)

    With the exception of a few teachers and small business owners, almost all of the Caswell County parents were farmers. They were generally poor. Most were uneducated. But these rural parents, together with their well-educated teachers and principal, are major players in the CCTS story, which both confirms and expands what has historically been accepted as the truth about the segregated schooling of African American students. Confirming the inequality inherent in the system of legal segregation, the history vividly documents the school board’s poor response to the educational needs of the African American children, compared to its response to the...

  13. Appendix Notes on Methodology
    (pp. 221-226)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 227-246)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 247-254)
  16. Index
    (pp. 255-262)