Segregated Southern schools accomplished far more than history remembers, according to Vanessa Siddle Walker (Ed.M. ’85, Ed.D. ’88) president-elect of the American Educational Research Association.
In her recent book, “The Lost Education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the Hidden Heroes Who Fought for Justice in Schools,” Walker examines how pre-integration black schools formed a network that laid groundwork for social and cultural advancements. On Thursday, Walker spoke at Harvard Graduate School of Education’s (HGSE) Askwith Forum about “Black Educators and the Struggle for Justice in Schools,” and revealed that the history challenged her own preconceptions about black education before integration.
Her eyes were first opened, she said, when she returned to North Carolina after her Harvard doctorate. “I heard black people saying things like, ‘Too bad they’re getting rid of that building, it was such a great school,’” she said. “And here I was with my fancy doctorate, wondering what these people were talking about. It didn’t fit the intellectual box I had at the time: Segregated schools were bad and the teachers were bad, right?”
The key to her research, she said, was befriending Horace Tate, an educator from Greensboro, Ga. She described how Tate gave her information one small piece at a time, but the real mysteries were hidden in a file cabinet in his attic — something Walker never got to see in his lifetime. What she finally found there were documents that revealed a secret network of black educators during segregation, a network that stretched throughout the South. In this “organized pedagogy,” black teachers worked together to instill in their students high aspirations and inspiration they wouldn’t get from society at large.