Education's “Talented Tenth” : An Asset-Based Reflection of Segregated Schooling

Education's “Talented Tenth” : An Asset-Based Reflection of Segregated Schooling

Patrice W. Glenn Jones
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1181-7.ch004
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Retired educators are a valuable resource, and their experiences contribute richly to the narrative of education. Retired educators whose own K-12 schooling experiences occurred during segregation offer a historic perspective of a time often viewed negatively. This chapter, however, diverges from traditional deficit narratives regarding the segregated South and amplifies positive lived experiences of retired Black American teachers who attended schools during segregation. Four themes and related concepts are identified, and narrative data extractions are included.
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It was difficult and yet a privilege to listen to Ms. Anne, a pseudonym, a 75-year-old retired Black American educator, as she recounted her childhood schooling years that occurred in Hardee County, Florida. She, like the others whose experiences are presented in this chapter, was educated in the segregated South. As Ms. Anne spoke, her eyes conveyed a poignant emotional connection to the events that befell more than sixty-five years prior, yet the desolation seemed fresh and palatable, and she narrated the details with a vivid recall of the events. I felt simultaneously uncomfortable and grateful. And as she lamented the child who held on to those memories, strength and sentiment broke through her words, and I listened with an earnest appreciation for the reality of her experiences and the very evident fact that she was indeed someone to whom I owed my opportunities and on whose shoulders I stood. She said:

They would deliver our books in those open back trucks; you know, the ones without a covering on the back. Those people traveled those books from their side of the town to ours--open to the weather. They would pull up in front of the school, dump those ragged books right there on the unpaved ground, and drive away. We [the students] had to go outside and retrieve those books. And we only received books once the White students had used them up, and they [the books] were in bad shape—torn pages, missing pages, and there was defacing, as if those White kids intentionally destroyed the books once it was time for them to come to us. We had to get those beaten books, as inadequate as they were, off the ground, whether wet, muddy, or dirty. But even with all that, even though we understood what was going on, we were grateful to get them.

Experience narratives that emerge out of and about the segregated southern United States often emphasize similar and more significant inequality and demoralization as Ms. Anne’s account, not to mention extreme brutality and loss of life that Blacks endured. If that were not enough, the unrelenting impediment from opportunity persisted despite the abolition of slavery.

The period after Reconstruction, which is sometimes called the Nadir of American race relations—was challenging for Black Americans, and probably more so than ever before, they began to rely more on themselves for support (Jackson, 2005). However, from ‘Black codes’ to Jim Crow laws, legal barriers were erected to assuage advancement among Black Americans, and racism overtly flourished. Many would argue that such forms of racism continue to thrive in the twenty-first century. Though incidents of racial tension, along with discrimination, do abound, the segregated South, even in 1950, fostered an unarguably more toxic culture and afforded Blacks little consistent legal recourse for the nefarious conditions they suffered. Unlike today, the marginalization of Black American experiences was then enforced by legal segregation and official exclusion from opportunities. Racial disparity was not only a social norm; discrimination was a law-legitimized privilege extended to Whites. With laws sanctioning discrimination, many Black American families still struggled to fulfill even their basic needs, though within-community support and encouragement existed.

The bleak aforementioned descriptions of the American history are regularly amplified and highlight the negative outcomes of racism in the segregated South. “Separate but equal” was the way of life; Blacks relied on their own institutions and organizations for cultural and social endeavors, and in response to a repressive system, Black Americans sought uplift from within their own communities (Jackson, 2005). However, with ‘weather beaten used books,’ inequitable access to other academic resources, and an insufficient number of Black American teachers in the South, among the outcomes of a Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) society, instructional, learning, and academic success differences between Black and White American schooling experiences are regularly cited. In other words, education among Black Americans was reportedly subpar as well. However, beneath these bleak reports and subjective data lies a strength of segregation that is far too often ignored.

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