Background/Context: The history curriculum is often used to help reach the goal of racial tolerance and understanding by teaching about the nation’s diversity. Many educators believe that teaching about diverse peoples in schools will bring about greater equity in society. This historical study looks at the segregated American South from 1928 to 1943 and an effort by a mixed-race voluntary organization to teach Black history in White schools.
Focus of Study: This study examines the efforts of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC), beginning in 1928, to promote the teaching of Black history in southern segregated schools in an effort to bring about greater racial tolerance and awareness. The CIC circulated a booklet, which was a short history of African Americans titled “America’s Tenth Man,” and invited schools to submit essays on Black history for cash prizes. The contests ran from 1928 until 1943, when the CIC was renamed the Southern Regional Council, which reflected a change in the organization’s emphasis on regional planning.
Research Design: This is a historical examination of teaching Black history in segregated schools. The author relies on primary sources—including teachers’ reports, correspondence, and students’ projects—and secondary studies in the history of education and the curriculum.
Conclusions: By challenging historians’ views of the CIC—that the organization was largely ineffectual and that its Tenth Man contests did not result in any measureable improvement in race relations in the South—the author raises questions about the implementation of Black history curricula in order to influence students’ behavior and attitudes about race. Likewise, the author shows how White teachers were outspoken activists for Black history in schools. The study concludes that the teaching of Black history to White students was not uniform and was ideologically diverse.