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A Victory of Sorts: Desegregation in a Southern Community

reviewed by Kimberly Lenease King - 2004

coverTitle: A Victory of Sorts: Desegregation in a Southern Community
Author(s): Winfred E. Pitts
Publisher: University Press of America, Lanham
ISBN: 0761825339, Pages: 219, Year: 2003
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The 50th year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education,

Topeka , KS is quickly approaching. It has given scholars/educators time to reflect on the educational experiences of African Americans in the post-Brown era. A Victory of Sorts: Desegregation in a Southern Community by Winfred E. Pitts assists in this process of reflection with a contribution to the “local history genre” (p. xiii). Embracing critical race theory, the author engages in what he calls ‘historical research methodology’ (p. xii). Pitts accomplishes this task primarily through archival research. However, to augment what he learns from archival documents like school board minutes, correspondence files with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights, microfilm copies of the local newspapers, school documents such as office records from city schools, yearbooks, and student newspapers, Pitts interviews individuals active at the school and community levels preceding, during, and following the Brown decision. This approach results in a vivid picture of the impact of Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, KS on a local community that attempted to protect ‘separate but equal’ at all costs.

Pitts’s book includes the history of education in the South and

Gainesville-Hall County , Georgia . This part of his discussion is accessible to students studying the history of education at the undergraduate and graduate levels and is also a good reminder for those with some knowledge of educational history. It covers educational opportunities for African and European Americans during the era of slavery and follows the development of education in the Southern region. He captures the tension between providing African Americans with education while maintaining the “Southern way of life” (p. 33). Of the early education of African Americans, Pitts writes, “[it] emphasized industrial training and sanitation . . . courses in hygiene, manual arts, domestic science, and agriculture . . . simple methods of teaching in reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography” (p. 34).

Moreover, the inferiority of African American education was maintained by the allocation of unequal resources. In Georgia, the average salary for white teachers exceeded that for African American teachers; colleges and universities serving the African American community received 2.2% of the state educational appropriations in 1921 despite the fact that they made up 40% of the population in the state; and during the 1939-1940 school year, Georgia spent an average $142 to educate each white student and only $35 per African American student (p. 35). In fact, every educational resource provided to African Americans in

Gainesville-Hall County was inferior to that received by white students. Consequently, the Brown decision left racially segregated school districts with one of three choices: 1) business as usual in hopes that local courts would not enforce the Brown decision; 2) equalize the educational opportunities for all students in hopes of avoiding racial integration; or 3) racially integrate the schools. The Gainesville School Board initially opted for the former strategy. Therein lays one of the strengths of the author’s research. Pitts continually ties the local decisions in Gainesville-Hall County to a state and national context enabling readers to develop an understanding of the extent to which citizens were willing to go to preserve racial segregation and white supremacy.

Pitts cites the litigation preceding and including Brown as responsible for widespread improvements in the educational resources allocated for African American education. While Pitts credits the Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown case with closing the gap between African and European American educational resources, he argues that White Southerners met the decision with “determined resistance” (p. 86). Leaving the enforcement of the Brown decision to Southern politicians enabled school districts to fend off change for more than a decade. In the case of the Gainesville school district, efforts to desegregate the schools were avoided until the 1969-1970 school year. The discussion surrounding the process of desegregation highlights the challenges of sending African American students into formerly all white schools predicated on notions of black inferiority and white supremacy. According to Pitts, upon integration the ‘black schools’ in Gainesville, Georgia were closed even when the physical facilities were superior to those of the ‘white schools’; African American students were placed in “‘average’ and ‘below average’ classes” (p. 173) even when they had taken above average classes in the year preceding racial integration; those African American students placed in advanced placement courses were asked by teachers “‘Are you sure you need to be in this class?’” or found that they couldn’t remain in these courses because they didn’t have a prerequisite course despite their performance; “Black students were not expected to perform [academically]” (p. 175); and, the number of African American teachers and administrators declined substantially. These experiences highlight the tension between the goal of the plaintiffs in the Brown decision–to provide African American children with a quality education–and the goals adopted by school boards–to racially integrate the schools.

In the beginning, Pitts says that his primary goal is to unveil universal lessons about the process of desegregation by studying the experiences of one community. Through this research, the author hoped to ‘discover both the gains and the costs of desegregation for the Gainesville-Hall County African American community” (p. xv). While a laudable goal, this proves to be difficult for the author given the circumstances surrounding African American education in the South and, more specifically, in Gainesville, Georgia. In fact, the challenges that African American students faced when integrated into Gainesville High School are similar to the challenges that African American students experience if and when they attend racially integrated schools today. And, contemporary shortages of African American teachers and administrators are a direct result of this period of desegregation. Furthermore, contemporary disparities in per-pupil expenditures appear to be the result of differences between the wealthy and the poor while masking the degree to which they disproportionately burden African Americans who are disproportionately poor. These ‘costs’ make it difficult to see the ‘gains’ resulting from the Brown decision.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 5, 2004, p. 982-984
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11236, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 5:38:12 AM

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About the Author
  • Kimberly King
    Auburn University
    E-mail Author
    KIMBERLY LENEASE KING is currently an associate professor in Educational Foundations, Leadership & Technology, at Auburn University. She received her Ph.D. in History, Philosophy and Policy Studies in 1998 and an M.S. in Higher Education Adminstration in 1993 from Indiana University-Bloomington. She is also an alum of Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa. She teaches courses in the areas of history and sociology of education, education in global contexts, diversity, and qualitative research. Her research interest include examinations of the relationship between educational equity and race, class and gender in K-12 and higher education settings. She is co-editor of Aparthied No More: Case Studies of Southern African Universities in the Process of Transformation, co-author of a forthcoming book by Greenwood Press tentatively titled Moving Beyond the Numbers: Implementing a Strategic Plan for Comprehensive Racial Inclusion, and author of a number of articles and book chapters.
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