New Politics of Exclusion after the Civil Rights Movement: Perspectives from the Desegregated Schools

AHA Session 78
Saturday, January 3, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Petit Trianon (New York Hilton, Third Floor)
Ansley Erickson, Teachers College, Columbia University
Joseph Crespino, Emory University

Session Abstract

After the Supreme Court’s 1969 Alexander v. Holmes decision ended fifteen years of “all deliberate speed,” southern whites denigrated the immediate integration of their schools as a “crisis,” “disaster,” and “bedlam.” While scholars have begun to study this later period of school desegregation, relatively little is known about the myriad ways in which interracial groups of students, teachers, and curriculum actually came together in mixed-race educational institutions. By offering three case studies of this era, this session uncovers the negotiations and discourses that perpetuated white supremacy despite school desegregation. The first paper examines a Louisiana parish and the competing activist groups that emerged as schools desegregated. The second paper explores the debates surrounding the merger of once segregated teacher organizations in three southern states. The final paper studies the competing ideas about history education surrounding Mississippi’s refusal to adopt a controversial textbook.

These papers examine the perspectives of teachers, students, and policymakers when negotiating the challenges endured during the transition from dual to unitary schools. They also illustrate how key stakeholders used the field of education to negotiate a new politics of exclusion that fostered an abandonment of the public education model after the Civil Rights Movement. The authors draw upon a wide range of interdisciplinary resource material by mining policymakers’ papers, teacher association ephemera, and legal records. Sociologists, legal historians, and education theorists can learn more about the difficult desegregation process as it played out in school halls, teachers’ lounges, and state departments of education. This session also challenges historians to pay greater attention to the role public education played in shaping the nation’s history following the acute phase of activism during the Civil Rights Movement.

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