“Education is a right, not a privilege.”
This is a term echoed by many, in a fight that has been going on since Blacks have been in this country, starting back during slavery when laws were passed forbidding slaves or free Blacks in the South from learning how to read or write. The belief was that if they could read it would lead to discontent and rebellion. It was punishable by death or severe punishment. That alone should tell us how important education is to White America and should be to us. But how many of us have read our history.
When slavery ended the top two priorities of Black people were finding a job—any job to survive—and educating their children so they could do better than them. But all this didn’t really come to a head until the early 1950s when after begging and pleading for just a bus to carry their children to and from schools so they didn’t have to walk so far, a few Blacks took their fight to the NAACP headed by Thurgood Marshall, and the fight led to the U.S. Supreme Court and legal integration in Southern schools that also opened doors in the North.
Before this most Blacks got their education in church buildings where one teacher taught first through 12th grade. There was no preschool or kindergarten. In an attempt to derail integration, schools were built for Blacks throughout the South.
I remember well going from the one room small church building and one teacher, to a beautiful school, MTA, which went from first through the 9th, and another from the 10th through 12th. There was a classroom for each grade with a teacher for each class. Wow. Amazing how they were able to find money for this in order to keep their children from having to sit in a classroom with Blacks. But it was too little too late. Schools were integrated. And much like Black schools throughout the South, MTA was shut down and the kids bussed to White schools. Most of the Black teachers lost their jobs, or had to go to White schools where they were at the bottom of the pecking order.
But we had integration. We had what we thought was going to be an opportunity to get a better education, the same education White kids were receiving, which would open the doors to a better life through jobs, we were deemed not qualified for before. But by being in the same classrooms, having the same teachers, books, etc., we could dream, we could become policemen, firemen, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and all the nice paying professions we saw White folks in. Thus living up to what W.E.B. Dubois had always argued, we could become the talented tenth. Or maybe the talented 20 percent. Thus almost totally moving away from the Booker T. Washington argument of dropping your bucket into the well where you are, thus learning the trades.
There was a need for both but most of us didn’t see it, especially the leaders of our time, which has led to us getting neither.
In the fight for school desegregation, the attorney leading the fight for Separate but Equal at the Supreme Court, made a statement in a losing fight in the mid 1950s that stands today. He said that Whites would never send their kids to a Black school, or Black community no matter what the quality of the school. And regardless of the law Whites would do all in their power not to have to share a class with Blacks. How true that was then, and is still true today. We won the battle but not the war, and like most things in part, we became our own worst enemy.
Everything that affected the South affected the North. As the schools in the North become more and more segregated, with the Black percentages rising, the quality of education going down as Whites are pulling their kids out of the schools, as they move further away from the city. The big question is why in Pittsburgh Blacks make up 25 to 30 percent of the population but in the schools the percentages are close to or well over 50 to 60 percent. This is happening all over the country in urban communities. However, just because the percentage of Blacks is increasing in schools shouldn’t mean the quality of education should be going down.
It was a culture shock for me moving from the South to the North. At least in the South I had caring Black teachers, yet in the North junior high and high school, I didn’t have one single Black teacher. There were only two at my high school and one taught physical education. We only had one high school, Blacks made up around 15 percent of the population.
Over the past few years the New Pittsburgh Courier has made Education one of our major crusades. Feeding information to our readers in just about every edition on the state of education in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas as well as nationally, so that we can make better decisions on where to send our children, and what we must be fighting for and against when it comes to our children’s education. Education is the key, foundation, anchor to Black prosperity in this country. Without it there are no decent jobs, thus no roof over our heads, food on the table or clothes on our backs, which equals absolutely no power. Yet it appears that we as a people are going backward in education instead of forward. With all the doors that have been opened to us, many are being slammed shut again, and if something is not done, we will be right back where we started from, especially for Black males. If we are not being exposed to the many careers available in the job market, and not receiving the training for these jobs, why are we sending our kids to school?
During 2012 I will address this massive issue, EDUCATION, in columns of what I believe can be part of the solution. Because there are many other issues facing us locally and nationally, I will be addressing other issues as well but education is the key to our problems.
(Ulish Carter is managing editor of the New Pittsburgh Courier)