Theses Master's

Brown Vs. Brownsville Why Today’s Black Activists Are Challenging The School Desegregation Paradigm

Moreno Coplon, Jacob

The U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and early 1960s is synonymous with the struggle for desegregation in every aspect of society, perhaps most famously within the nation’s public schools. As embodied in the Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, racially integrated schools were deemed to be an essential component of equal opportunity in education. By the mid-to-late-1960s, however, the consensus around school desegregation had splintered. While the mainstream civil rights organizations stood by their integrationist creed, a rising Black Power movement challenged the old-line leadership and insisted that community control and selfdetermination were the only path for the liberation of black people. These separatists rejected integrated public schools as instruments of white supremacy. Their proposed alternative was to have schools run by black communities specifically for the benefit of black students. In 1968, this was the animating principle behind the push for community control in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which triggered a notorious, citywide teachers’ strike. More than six decades after Brown, U.S. public schools in general have resegregated to the point where there is less integration than in the late 1960s. A new generation of black-led activist organizations, affiliated with the Movement for Black Lives, has all but abandoned the hope or desire for school desegregation. In a reprise of the calls to Black Power, these groups believe that the path to educational equality lies in autonomous public schools controlled by local black communities and run by black administrators and a predominantly black teaching staff. In a rebuke to Brown, they assert that only separate can possibly become equal. The text explains this attitudinal shift through interviews with leaders of the Movement for Black Lives, along with an archival examination of the historical positions on toward school desegregation by both the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power advocates. It addresses its central question through the lens of Critical Race Theory, which reveals the contradiction within liberal approaches to the enduring issue of racial inequality in U.S. schools, and also a fundamental disagreement over the goals of public education.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Nettelfield, Lara J.
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
June 26, 2018