Theses Doctoral

Between Protest, Compromise, and Education for Radical Change: Black Power Schools in Harlem in the Late 1960s

Huang, Viola Hsiang-Dsin

In response to stalled struggles for equal and integrated education by African American students, parents, teachers, and activists, Harlem in the late 1960s saw a number of independent schools emerge that drew inspiration and rhetoric from Black Power ideas. This dissertation investigated the reasons for these schools’ emergence in Harlem; what goals these institutions pursued; how they translated their goals, purposes, and ideas into pedagogical practices and curricula; and how these were adapted to the specific challenges faced by the schools by closely examining three such initiatives: West Harlem Liberation School; the storefront academies run by the New York Urban League; and West Side Street Academy, later renamed Academy for Black and Latin Education (ABLE). All of these schools incorporated values and ideas that were central to the philosophy of Black Power, such as an emphasis on self-determination, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, Black history, and cultural pride. However, the ways in which these core ideas of Black Power were interpreted and put into practice varied significantly between different initiatives, especially as they had to navigate daily necessities such as applying for funding or making compromises with corporate donors, foundations, or the New York City Board of Education. Thus, while some of these educational institutions explicitly pursued activist agendas—by positioning themselves as a means to pressure the public school system into fundamental change or by conceptualizing education explicitly as a tool for collectively dismantling systems of oppression—others came to favor approaches designed to uplift individual students rather than pursue more radical social change.
While scholars have extensively studied the fights for desegregation and community control of public schools in Harlem and New York City, the establishment of these Black alternative educational initiatives outside of the public school system as an extension of the movement for quality and equitable education—and as a part of social justice movements, including the Black Power Movement, more broadly—has rarely been considered. These schools and their approaches also provide a unique lens through which to study and re-evaluate Black Power ideas: They reflect the diversity and contradictions of the movement, the different goals and avenues for change that activists within that movement envisioned, and how the theories and ideas of Black Power were translated into practice on the local level in specific issues.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
History and Education
Thesis Advisors
Waite, Cally Lyn
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2019