Black History

Black History in Education

In the early to mid-1900s in the United States, black students learning, social and economic status were largely affected by school segregation and policing policies. An accomplished educator and author, Betty Jamerson Reed challenged herself to write three books that would shine a light on an unjust system and its effects on students and educators: The Brevard Rosenwald School, School Segregation in Western North Carolina, and Soldiers in Petticoats. These books look at black history in education in the Appalachian Mountains (specifically Western North Carolina).  Betty had the following to say about why she wrote the books:

The Brevard Rosenwald School: I was writing a dissertation about the professional abuse of educators as required by Western Carolina University’s doctoral program. Then I was asked to substitute at a GED class at the Pisgah Forest Ranger Station. Five men attended the class and suggested that since I was “only” a substitute it would be best not to do “real” work (just like teenagers). Objecting, I insisted we work on our oral skills and asked them to share their memories of their earlier school experiences. Before five minutes passed, I was jotting down notes. The tales those men shared fascinated me, but I became angry when the two black men told me their little children had to board a bus at 6:00 A.M. and ride 30 miles to attend school. That anger led to intense research on my part and I changed my thesis topic to a case study of the local Rosenwald school. In the late 1990s few people knew of such schools. An internet search yielded about 35 hits for Julius Rosenwald, but in 2002 the National Trust for Historic Preservation classified Rosenwald school buildings as endangered. That led to enormous publicity, and McFarland Publishing Company became interested in publishing my dissertation. A full account of my experience was published in Foster Dickson’s Nobody’s Home (August 2022)

School Segregation in Western North Carolina: While engaged in research for my dissertation, I learned about numerous schools in nearby and not-so-nearby communities. Amazed at the success of such schools dealing with unbelievable challenges, I launched an intensive research campaign that involved traveling thousands of miles, reading hundreds of primary resources, discovering insightful documents decades old, and meeting with many fine individuals willing to share their stories of overcoming the hurdles of a segregation education. What a privilege it has been to go on this journey.

Soldiers in Petticoats: Appalachian Educators: During my hours of research, I came across the contribution of two women who established learning opportunities for black children. One was Sophia Sawyer, a missionary teacher for the Cherokee Nation, who refused the demands of militiamen who ordered her to stop teaching black children to read or go to jail. Another was a physically challenged woman who established 15 schools in North and South Carolina for both white and black pupils. That woman was Emily Prudden, who struggled to hear and often used canes to walk. She was forced to deal with murder and racial hostility. The third established a school to provide an education and work opportunities for poor white mountain children and won the support of Henry Ford.

All three (books) dealt with sexism, prejudice, financial hardships, discrimination, challenging travel conditions, exclusion from the right to vote, and social complacency. How could I not share their stories with the public?