Rhetoric, Realism, and Response: Brown, White Opposition, and Black Youth Activism, 1954-1972 Open Access

Willis, Vincent DeWayne (2013)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/w3763716h?locale=en


A prevailing narrative of America's educational history is that public education for black youth has constantly improved since the mid-twentieth century. The most notable case used to substantiate this claim is Brown v. Board of Education. Academicians constantly debate the successes and failures of Brown but few have examined the cyclical relationship between the rhetoric of Brown, the educational realities of black youth, and the ways the youth responded juxtaposed with the activities of those who wanted the status quo to remain in place. To fill this gap, this study examines how Brown, white opposition, and black youth activism created a farrago of progress, regress, hopes and doubts that greatly influenced public education in Georgia from 1954-1972. Framed within the context of Brown and informed by multiple archival sources and oral history interviews, this study is guided by four research questions:

1) What ways did the rhetoric of Brown compare and contrast with the educational realities of black youth after the Supreme Court's ruling?

2) What effect did white opposition have on the educational realities of black students?

3) How did black youth respond to the educational inequities and white opposition they faced during the post-Brown era?

4) What was the relationship between Civil Rights and Black Power organizations and the activism of black youth?

I use newspapers, archival collections, and interviews to provide an overview of the national and local context of youth activism and three case studies from towns in Georgia to illustrate local people's responses. Results indicate that the youth were focused more on improving how they were being treated and improving the conditions of their schools than they were in the desegregation debate. Essentially, black students believed they were entitled to basic educational facilities--a building large enough to house the student population, a library, an auditorium, a gymnasium--and that they should be educated in school climates where their intellect could be appreciated and cultivated. The results also show that black students depended heavily on national organizations and that national organizations depended on black youth. These findings provide a stark contrast to the historical debates that center more on the implementation of Brown than on the roles these youth played in seeking a more equitable public school system.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Dawn of a New Era:

Federal Rulings, Social Movements, and Youth Activism...1
Significance and Early Examination...4
Contextualizing Terms, Movements, and Events...8
Review of the Literature...18

Chapter 2: "Don't Be Fooled…The Fight Has Just Begun:"

White Opposition and Black Youth Activism (The National Context)...61

Chapter 3: No National Spotlight, but Determined to Leave a Legacy:

Black Youth in Tifton, Georgia...99

Chapter 4: "We Were Trying to Just Be:"

Black Youth Participation in the Americus Movement...135

Chapter 5: Moving Beyond the Boundaries of Business as Usual:

Black Youth Fight for Educational Improvements in Moultrie, Georgia...174

Chapter 6: When Desegregation was not Enough...217
Appendix A: Sample of Interview Questions...226
Appendix B: Research Questions and Sources for the Dissertation...227
Appendix C: Document Summary Form...228
Appendix D: Biographies of Participants...229

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