Background/Context: Although the dominant narrative of the civil rights movement marginalizes the role of black educators, revisionist scholars have shown that a significant number of black teachers encouraged student protest and activism. There has, however, been little analysis of the work of black teachers inside segregated schools in the South.
Purpose/Objective: This study examines the courses that Southern African American teachers taught, the pedagogies they practiced, and the extracurricular programs they organized. Using Charleston’s Burke Industrial School as a lens to illuminate pedagogies of protest that were practiced by activist educators in the South, this study explores how leading black educators created spaces within segregated schools where they bred dissatisfaction with white supremacy.
Research Design: This historical analysis draws upon archival sources, school board minutes, school newspapers and yearbooks, oral testimony, and autobiographies.
Conclusions/Recommendations: In Charleston, as elsewhere in the South, activist African American teachers made crucial contributions to the civil rights movement. Fusing an activist version of the African American uplift philosophy with John Dewey’s democratic conception of progressive education, exemplary teachers created academic and extracurricular programs that encouraged student protest. Beginning in the 1940s and continuing through the 1960s, students acted on lessons taught in classes and extracurricular clubs, organizing and leading strikes, boycotts, and demonstrations. The pedagogies that leading African American educators practiced, the aspirations they nurtured, and the student activism they encouraged helped make the civil rights movement possible.