From the 1880s to the 1960s, African Americans entered a new form of segregation known as Jim Crow segregation. This form of divide between whites and Blacks was most prominent in the South and not necessarily slavery, however it still dictated how African Americans could lead their lives, and specifically affected how Black children attained an education. The images above show how noticeable the division between white and Black schools actually was during the early 1900’s and can be used to sum up the lives of African Americans during Jim Crow time period. Not only did African American’s education systems receive little to no funds for school supplies, but they were also denied rights to clean buildings, better standards of teaching, and were prohibited from entering white schools. This way of learning made Black children feel inferior due to the unequal treatment between the two races and robbed them of something that should be universally attainable: an equal education. For my cultural artifact, I will be discussing the circumstance that surrounded Black segregated schooling systems as depicted in the above pictures and how Jim Crow segregation not only affected children but how segregation affected the African American community in general.
There were several Supreme Court decisions that led to the creation of school segregation, the most famous case being Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of states being able to impose “separate but equal” laws not only in schooling systems but in public places such as restaurants, restrooms, shops, and so forth [Pittman, 2015]. The Court ruled that even under the Fourteenth Amendment, which asks for complete equality for all races, states and cities could continue to lawfully discriminate due to the fact that this amendment only pertains to political and civil laws such as voting but not social laws (for example using the same bathroom as a Black person) [Alex McBride, “The Supreme Court. The First Hundred Years”]. This publically stated—and basically okayed—lawmakers and the public’s behavior in putting down the African American race and is what made them continue to treat Blacks with subservient attention for the next few decades. In this case, the only reason Plessy did not win his case was due to the idea that there was no harm in separating the two races if both systems are equal. As you can see by the images above, equality was certainly not included in reality.
Compared to white institutions, Black schools were dirty, disorganized, and overall unhealthy places of learning (i.e. according to Russell Brooker, unhealthy environments included: “leaking roofs, sagging floors, and windows without glass”) [Russell Brooker, “The Education of Black Children in the Jim Crow South”]. As the pictures depict above, Black schoolrooms had more students and less benches to sit on in their classrooms and did not have desks like white students had. Due to this overcrowding of students in African American schools, there was typically a higher student to teacher ratio; so multiple grade levels were forced into single classrooms to be taught by a single teacher. Because of this lack of space and teachers, some students would even have to sit on the ground due to the shortage of chairs available. With so many children and not enough instruction, students were not receiving the full attention they needed to reach a full capacity of learning unlike white students, who received classrooms with less children and thus more one-on-one direction from the teacher. This out numbering of Black students to Black teachers was partly due to the fact that Black teachers were not paid as much as white teachers were, so it was hard to find qualified teachers for African American schools [Russell Brooker, “The Education of Black Children in the Jim Crow South”]. In addition to this, Black instructors did not obtain nearly as much training as white instructors; therefore it was harder for them to teach due to their inadequate understanding of how to teach. Black children obtained less classroom space, less time with the teacher, and less of a learning experience because the teachers did not have a full experience in teaching as well. This was due to the “separate but equal clause,” and is just a few reasons as to why Black children felt subordinate to white children.
Another reason as to why African American children were made to feel inferior to whites through the education system was through the Jim Crow laws. As I mentioned above, Jim Crow segregation was a set of laws that allowed separated and unfair treatment to the two races in the South, specifically letting whites impose legal punishments for a numerous amount of obscene reasons [“Jim Crow Laws”]. Under Jim Crow laws, Blacks and whites could not get married, white business owners could not allow Blacks into their businesses, Blacks could not use the same movie theatre entrance, and so forth. This form of segregation affected schooling systems especially, because many Black families were sharecroppers who worked for white families and according to Jim Crow, whites could dictate when they needed help from their Black sharecroppers and how many were needed. This led to many Black children dropping out of school at an early age to work on farms because their families either needed to obtain enough crops to sell or their white employers needed help in the domestic field. Because Black children were needed away from school so often, this led there to be higher truancy rates for the race as a whole [Pittman, 2015]. There were also times where employers would stop Black children from attending school simply because they did not believe African Americans deserved an education [Russell Brooker, abhmuseum.org]. This lack of concern for Black education was not only preached by locals in the South, but also by the leaders of our nation. For example, Carter G. Woodson did not allow Southern institutions to include the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution, because he did not want Black students learning about freedom or equality [Russell Brooker, “The Education of Black Children in the Jim Crow South”]. It is incredible to me that Black children even obtained educations during this time, due to the lack of funding, supplies, and support received during this time.
As we discussed in class, the brighter light at the end of this tunnel, however came in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 when segregation in public schools was finally put to rest. Although it took years for this desegregation to be completely carried out through Southern schools, it brought the unconstitutionality of the “separate but equal” law into lawmaker’s eyes and made the public realize how segregation was truly affecting children [Pittman, 2015]. One of the studies brought up in this case was psychologist Kenneth Bancroft Clark’s doll study, which was designed to attribute the psychological affects of segregation in Black students [“Brown v. Board at Fifty: “With an Even Hand”]. He and a group of fellow psychologists showed four “dolls, identical except for color,” to a group of Black children ranging in ages from three to seven. When scientists asked the children to describe the white dolls, they described them with positive qualities and even preferred them to Black dolls. When asked about the Black dolls, the children described them as dirty, inferior, and so on. Clark came to the conclusion that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” made Black children believe they were inferior to whites and even caused them to develop a form of self-hatred [“Brown v. Board at Fifty: “With an Even Hand”]. As we can see, segregation and Jim Crow laws not only affected adults, but also caused children to feel like they were not worth as much to the world as white children were.
One of the reasons I became interested in researching Black schools during the 1900’s was during a lecture when Professor Pittman discussed how a colleague of hers reported that vulgarities were written in the old white textbooks that were passed down to Black students. White children—knowing that their textbooks would eventually reach Black children—would write horrible obscenities and insults to the African American students in their books [Professor LaShawnDa Pittman, personal communication, 2015]. Each morning, Black teachers and their students would have to erase these awful insults before beginning their lessons. We have learned about truly horrendous things that have happened to African Americans, from times of slavery to more modern eras, but the fact that white children began abusing Blacks as well at such an early age is incredibly appalling to me. White children were not only creating a hostile learning environment for Black students but were also making them feel subordinate and most likely contributed to Clark’s theory of Black children hating themselves for not being fitting into the society’s white stigma.
I think it is incredible that people—especially children—could treat each other in such a horrific way and were treated in such a way that made young kids feel subservient all due to something as trivial as the color of one’s skin. Segregation did not only affect Southern schooling systems obviously, but allowing a universal education is a huge part of what America is today and to think about a time where school was a second job—and was even sometimes denied—to children during the Jim Crow segregation is appalling. On the website, “America’s Black Holocaust Museum,” where I found the pictures above and where I attained a lot of information for this post from, there is a plethora of information dedicated to relaying the African American experience to the public. It also touches on crucial topics we have discussed in class like Brown v. Board of Education and the Jim Crow laws that allowed segregation to continue long after slavery ended. Although African American education during the 1930’s may not seem like something of great importance today, events like Clark’s Doll Study and Supreme Court decisions have impacted the way we view segregation today. Without the study, psychologists would not have discovered that due to segregation, Black children saw themselves as subservient to white children; without the Court’s decision to repeal the “separate but equal” law, Black children would have continued to be deprived of a higher education. Overall, learning about African American’s lives through Jim Crow era and Black children’s experiences through segregated schooling systems have made me appreciate the education I have received through my years even more.
by Sofie Bercaw
Brooker, Russell. “America’s Black Holocaust Museum.” Americas Black Holocaust Museum The Education of Black Children in the Jim Crow South Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.
“Brown v. Board at Fifty: “With an Even Hand”.” Library of Congress. N.p., n.d. Web.
Pittman, L. (2015). The Great Migration Pt. 2 [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/986700/modules
Pittman, L. (2015). The Second Reconstruction [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/986700/modules
“The Supreme Court. The First Hundred Years.” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.
United States. National Park Service. “Jim Crow Laws.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 03 Dec. 2015. Web. 07 Dec. 2015.