Theses Doctoral

Liberation, Learning, and Love: The Story of Harlem Preparatory School, 1967-1974

Goldenberg, Barry M.

“For we've done so much, with so little, for so long, that now we can do anything, with nothing at all.” This popular phrase at the independent tuition-free school called Harlem Prep in many ways reflected Central Harlem itself in the late-1960s. On one hand, decades of racial discrimination and unfulfilled promises had defined schooling in the neighborhood. There were no public high schools in the area, and talented youth were being pushed out of formal education. Conversely, there was a resilience and continued, centuries-long desire for educational equity. As a result—and buoyed by the dynamic political environment—a handful of leaders in Harlem decided to create a school, similar to other efforts in U.S. cities. However, unlike other emerging Black alternative schools, it would be different than its peers: it would be a multicultural school, and it would be for students who had been pushed out of education and onto the streets.

“Liberation, Learning, and Love” explores the unknown history of this school, Harlem Prep. Although firmly rooted in this era’s civil rights activism, Harlem Prep’s educational philosophy—its radical multiculturalism—was also distinct and innovative compared to other ideologies. The school’s leaders, teachers, and students were able to re-imagine education on a community-wide, institutional, and classroom level. Through its “unity in diversity” approach, Harlem Prep not only graduated and sent to college over 750 students, most of them previously out of school, but galvanized the notable Black community of Harlem. This project introduces multicultural education to the lexicon of Black alternative schools in the 1960s and 1970s, and reshapes how historians conceptualize equity, emancipatory education, and beyond.
Harlem Prep imagined a more loving, pluralistic world for its young people. Perhaps its story can inspire those of us who strive to create a similar future for our youth today.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
History and Education
Thesis Advisors
Erickson, Ansley T.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 5, 2019