As we all know, it was illegal for slaves to learn to read and write during slavery. Even free blacks living in the North before the Civil War were forced to walk long distances from their homes, often passing white schools along the way, to attend the one school designated to educate blacks.
These were the “humble” beginnings of what the Association for the Study of African American Life and History calls the “Crisis in Black Education” (pdf), and that crisis, along with the “centuries-old efforts” to resist it, will be topics of discussion at the organization’s 102nd annual meeting and conference from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 in Cincinnati.
Preventing a group of people from being educated is a good way to hold them down in a society dependent on their subordination and their miseducation. As ASALH notes, racially separated schools continued to be the norm in this country from the late 19th century well into our time, “whether by laws, policies or practices.”
In an interview with Diverse Issues in Higher Education, ASALH national President Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham said, “I hope that people come away from this conference knowing how important education is today and that we have to do everything we can to ensure that we educate the masses of our people.”
The organization notes in its executive summary:
The crisis in black education has grown significantly in urban neighborhoods where public schools lack resources, endure overcrowding, exhibit a racial achievement gap, and confront policies that fail to deliver substantive opportunities. The touted benefits of education remain elusive to many blacks of all ages. Tragically, some poorly performing schools serve as pipelines to prison for youths.
But black people in America have a rich history of resisting the efforts to keep them uneducated, including slaves learning in secret, the rise of black colleges and universities, court battles, the black history movement, Freedom Schools in the 1960s, and community-based academic and mentorship programs that help our youths succeed.
The summary reads, “Addressing the crisis in black education should be considered one of the most important goals in America’s past, present and future.”
ASALH’s meeting and conference will take place at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel and will feature guest speakers such as Jelani Cobb and Children’s Defense Fund founder and President Marian Wright Edelman.
“The most important thing that people should come away from this conference with is what should we be doing now to ensure, in this era of Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos, that African Americans are educated to become informed citizens?” Higginbotham told Diverse.
“You don’t get victories immediately,” she added. “You keep on. That’s what our history teaches us.”
I think it is wonderful that educators, historians and the like will gather to have these discussions, but it is equally important that we all as a group have these discussions.
So much is happening on the educational and civil rights fronts that will only serve to further subjugate black education. We need to empower ourselves and arm ourselves with knowledge so that we can pass that information along to those around us.
We know for damn sure they aren’t going to make sure we hear it or get it.
It’s why I do what I do.
It’s why The Root does what it does.
Each one teach one.
And all that.