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Resistance to Brown school desegregation decision ‘purged’ Black male educators: Experts

Written by on May 15, 2024

(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Supreme Court’s celebrated ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, ending racial segregation in America’s public schools, turns 70 this week, and the anniversary is being marked as a major advance for civil rights.

But less well-known is that the landmark case had a crippling impact on Black male teachers.

A direct response to the decision ripped them from the profession, especially the Black men who were educators in the pre-Brown era, according to education experts who spoke with ABC News.

“In [white] massive resistance to the Brown decision, we see the roots of the Black male educator shortage, not just teacher shortage — but educator shortage,” Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick, author of “Jim Crow’s Pink Slip: The Untold Story of Black Principal and Teacher Leadership” ​​told ABC News. “We see the purge of Black male principals and teachers and we are still living with that purge.”

A southern strategy by white segregationist politicians to define Brown aided the Black male teacher crisis, according to Fenwick. The professor of education policy said white leaders feared the decision to integrate Black educators — superintendents, principals, teachers — coupled with integrating students would loosen their control over education policy and funding. Fenwick told ABC News that today’s education system is still affected by the atomic bomb-like response.

“The radioactive bomb was [white] massive resistance,” she said, adding that “it nearly decimated the Black educator pipeline.”

“History is not dead. We’re living with the aftermath of that atomic bomb. And, we’re trying to come up with a solution to the bomb’s aftermath without acknowledging and talking about the bomb,” Fenwick told ABC News.

For the most part, a solution hasn’t been found. Decades later, Black male educators haven’t been rehired.

Just 1.3% of public school teachers identified as Black men in the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Teacher and Principal Survey in 2020, the last year of available data. They makeup around 3% of the nation’s principals.

The dearth of the Black male experience in education is a topic ABC News has reported on extensively. In interviews with administrators, heads of schools, instructional coaches, principals and teachers, the Black male educator has signaled feeling outstretched, overworked and undervalued, particularly during a shortage exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education advocate Curtis Valentine of the Progressive Policy Institute is helping recruit Black male teachers through Real Men Teach, established during the pandemic as a national campaign reimagining what it means to be a teacher. It also raises funds to help keep male educators in the classroom.

“The work that [Real Men Teach does] to re-imagine the teaching profession, through our own eyes, through our own voice is one that gives us the power to reclaim what it means to be a Black male teacher, to reclaim our own identity in these spaces,” Valentine said.

Valentine also said organizations like Real Men Teach, the Center for Black Educator Development and Black Male Educators Talk, just to name a few, are doing what they can to redress the shortage. However, the greatest pipeline of Black teachers already exists: Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Valentine said.

“Because HBCUs have punched above their weight in so many ways to support Black achievement, you have over 50% of all [Black] teachers in this country that are HBCU graduates,” Valentine said.

“I don’t think we have to really recreate the wheel when it comes to this stuff. It’s really just investing in what’s already working,” he added.

But HBCUs have been underfunded since their inception, according to Howard University’s Dr. Ivory Toldson. And, like after Brown, Toldson said white racism has always disrupted inclusive public education efforts.

“I don’t think there’s any system where there’s been more active resistance from the white community — in general — than education,” Toldson said.

Therefore, Fenwick said she believes, a federal grant should be given to HBCU education departments to help aid the Black male educator crisis. She said it would prepare even more Black men for education positions, asserting that since HBCUs have a strong track record of preparing Black people for all fields — including teaching — the schools are deserving of greater investment. Additional grant funding should target student scholarships and expanding faculties in schools and colleges of education, according to Fenwick.

Recently the White House’s Augustus F. Hawkins Program has been issuing grants for teacher training programs for HBCUs and minority-serving institutions after several years without funding.

Seventy years after the Brown decision, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona touted the Hawkins program and told ABC News that there needs to be continued “intentionality” around increasing teacher diversity.

Americans should be reminded of “the value that Black teachers bring not only to Black students, but to all students,” according to Cardona.

Still, according to experts, there’s no need to alter the desegregation decision in order for Black male educators to return to schools. In fact, Fenwick said there is no “fault of Brown.” The architects of the legal argument included Black men, such as Thurgood Marshall, Charles Hamilton Houston and James Nabrit, Jr.

“[The problem] was not the genius of the Black men who crafted the groundbreaking strategy to move our nation toward being more American — meaning fulfilling the ideals of the Constitution,” Fenwick said.

Massive organized resistance to the new law of the land “crippled” the decision, Fenwick added.

“Everything that failed — in terms of the intention of Brown — was a result of massive resistance, which continued until the late 1970s,” she said.

Even after decades of lost teachers, Black men have risen to prominence in teaching. Many have won or been finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award.

Texas educator Eric Hale was his state’s first Black male teacher of the year, an honor given by the Council of Chief State School Officers, yet Hale told ABC News that it’s still a difficult job. He said it isn’t fair Black students rarely see themselves in schools’ leadership.

“They need to see more people that look like them in leadership positions and there’s no greater leadership position than being an educator,” Hale said.

There should be no “wait time” for a young student to experience Black male teachers, according to Hale.

“Instead of maybe being the first Black man that they’ve had any encounter with, I might be the third or the fourth or the fifth or the 10th that they’ve had a positive relationship with,” he said. “[A Black man] that they know that they can acquire knowledge from that’s going to help them for the future.”

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