“Teaching was a brave choice for Forten and other young black women and men. Before the Civil War, antitax southern state legislatures actively resisted the spread of the common schools movement, preferring to leave the education of white children in the hands of families and churches. By 1870, black activists and Reconstructions politicians had driven every state to organize at least a rudimentary public education system, with separate schools serving white and black students. Yet even with the U.S. Army garrison of the South, expanding black education remained a political lightening rod and a target for white supremacist violence. “Schoohouses are burnt, teachers mobbed and murdered, schools broken up,”Frederick Douglass reported in 1871.”
-The Teacher Wars, p.52
Forten was a fourth generation free Black living a life of some privilege* in the North. She went to the Sea Islands to work as a teacher among recently freed slaves. This passage from the book makes me wonder how much change we’ve seen. The neo-confederates of the Republican Party have resisted public education generally, preferring White academies which morphed into charter schools (see Diane Ravitch for the connection between charter schools and the Southern resistance to school integration). They have preferred a church basis for education, thus the charter school movement. They routinely deny financial support to Black schools, which are easily targeted b/c racial segregation in public as well as private/charter schools remains prominent.
Yes, we have dedicated teachers across the board of ethnicities working in schools of all kinds to educate children, but to deny the stark reality of several million Black children relegated to inferior schools where teachers struggle daily against every kind of destructive process extending all the way from Forten’s days with recently freed slaves. So, as John Stewart would say, “Please go on.” Tell me about all the great progress. As Obama would say, “Please continue, Governor.” Tell us more about how we have a New South, about how White people have moved beyond racism into a color-blind society and it’s only Al Sharpton who acts as if there is still a race problem.
And tell me especially how I am supposed to respect people who tell me things have changed. Oh, yes, the violence. Hmmmm. Well, watch Eyes On the Prize and then tell me that violence is not a part of the national reaction to Black progress. Bear in mind, many of the people in those news reels are still alive and hating.
Then there is the Hispanic and Native American populations. Anyone want to tell us about American exceptionalism? Oh, now there’s a point. America is welcoming for everyone except….. There’s the American exceptionalism.