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Greater than Equal

Greater than Equal: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina, 1919-1965

Sarah Caroline Thuesen
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  • Book Info
    Greater than Equal
    Book Description:

    During the half century preceding widespread school integration, black North Carolinians engaged in a dramatic struggle for equal educational opportunity as segregated schooling flourished. Drawing on archival records and oral histories, Sarah Thuesen gives voice to students, parents, teachers, school officials, and civic leaders to reconstruct this high-stakes drama. She explores how African Americans pressed for equality in curricula, higher education, teacher salaries, and school facilities; how white officials co-opted equalization as a means of forestalling integration; and, finally, how black activism for equality evolved into a fight for something "greater than equal--integrated schools that served as models of civic inclusion.These battles persisted into theBrownera, mobilized black communities, narrowed material disparities, fostered black school pride, and profoundly shaped the eventual movement for desegregation. Thuesen emphasizes that the remarkable achievements of this activism should not obscure the inherent limitations of a fight for equality in a segregated society. In fact, these unresolved struggles are emblematic of fault lines that developed across the South, and serve as an urgent reminder of the inextricable connections between educational equality, racial diversity, and the achievement of first-class citizenship.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1274-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Education, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvii)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. xviii-xviii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Like many children of the post-1960s South, I was first struck as a student of history by the profound difference that one generation can make. My mother began public school in South Carolina in 1943, at the height of racial segregation. When she began her senior year of high school in North Carolina in 1954, the Supreme Court had just ruled “separate but equal” schooling unconstitutional, yet another two decades would pass before the region’s schools desegregated on a meaningful level. By contrast, I began my public school career in North Carolina as levels of school integration were approaching their...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Price of Equality Black Loyalty, Self-Help, and the “Right Kind of Citizenship”
    (pp. 13-48)

    “Ho’ Stop! Look! Listen!” In the summer of 1919, flyers bearing that headline circulated around the small town of Ahoskie in North Carolina’s northeastern corner. The black community’s Educational League was advertising its “Two in One” celebration, an event billed as both a “Homecoming of our boys, and an Educational Rally.” Returning veterans of World War I and the “elder soldiers” of the Civil War were to gather at the Colored Masonic Hall and march down Main Street, followed by a brass band and a procession of schoolchildren waving American flags. After reaching the First Baptist Church, the crowd would...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Lessons in Citizenship Confronting the Limits of Curricular Equalization in the Jim Crow South
    (pp. 49-88)

    In fighting for curricular equality, African Americans first had to challenge popularly held white assumptions of black intellectual inferiority, assumptions that endured even at the state’s center of white progressivism. Historian Guion Griffis Johnson recalled that when she was acquiring her doctorate during the 1920s at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, esteemed southern historian J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton argued, “As a child, the Negro is very bright and seems to give promise of development, but his mind freezes at the age of twelve. And he never develops beyond the age of twelve.”¹ While many whites would...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The High Cost of It All James E. Shepard and Higher Education Equalization
    (pp. 89-128)

    If state officials had an Achilles heel in their efforts to uphold segregation, it was higher education. Many white elementary and secondary schools in the state dated back to only the late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries. Thus, in the mid-twentieth century, creating a parallel system of black elementary and secondary schools entailed matching a public investment of several decades. To be sure, this was an enormous task, and the state never fully embraced it and certainly never accomplished it. Yet arguably even more Herculean was the task of replicating in a short span of time the University of North...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR A “Most Spectacular” Victory? Teacher Salary Equalization and the Dilemma of Local Leadership
    (pp. 129-158)

    When poet Langston Hughes visited North Carolina in the early 1930s, he discovered what he perceived as an intolerable degree of complacency among black educators. After receiving from a local black leader a letter of introduction to Nathan Newbold, Hughes paid a visit to the Raleigh headquarters of the Division of Negro Education (dne). There he observed the office’s seeming conformity with the racial etiquette of the Jim Crow South. Upon Hughes’s arrival, Newbold’s white secretary gave him “a casual glance and went on with what she was doing.” As Hughes later recounted inThe Crisis, the secretary afforded white...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE How Can I Learn When Iʹm Cold? A New Generation’s Fight for School Facilities Equalization
    (pp. 159-200)

    “I wish every Southern state had done as well as North Carolina with Negro education,” remarkedRichmond Times-Dispatcheditor Virginius Dabney. “We would be much farther along the path to something like reasonable equality of opportunity, if the whole South had followed North Carolina’s example.”Lifemagazine similarly suggested in 1944 that in North Carolina it was possible to glimpse the beginnings of “‘parallel civilizations’—complete equality of opportunity for Negro and white, but complete segregation, too.” If Jim Crow could work anywhere, so the argument went, it would work in North Carolina. It was true that in the first...

  11. CHAPTER SIX From Equalization to Integration Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in the Age of Brown
    (pp. 201-246)

    In October 1954, the North Carolina Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) held its eleventh annual convention in Lumberton, the site of the 1946 protest that had ignited a wave of school equalization activity. Held in the wake of Hurricane Hazel, one of the worst storms to hit North Carolina in the twentieth century, this conference confronted another storm brewing on the horizon. Five months earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court had declared segregated schooling unconstitutional in its historicBrown v. Board of Educationdecision. None of the five component cases came from North Carolina,...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 247-260)

    DespiteBrown’s promise, many black students during the early days of school desegregation felt less like first-class citizens than ever before. In 1969, when the Hickory Human Relations Council asked black pupils at recently integrated Claremont Central High to offer anonymous feedback on their experiences, one wrote that she had made a white friend but that he was being teased as a “nigger lover.” Another simply said, “My school year at Hickory High has been one of Pure-D-Hell.” In the spring of 1970, although blacks comprised 15 percent of the student body, the student council and varsity cheerleading team included...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 261-318)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 319-344)
  15. Index
    (pp. 345-366)