July 12, 2021

Black Teachers & The Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina


On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court decided unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas that that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. Although the process was slow and contentious, the SCOTUS decisions in Brown and Brown II required that desegregation must occur "with all deliberate speed" to provide Black students with the equal protection under the law required by the 14th Amendment. 

Black teachers had no protections or guarantees under the Brown ruling. As Southern states tried to destroy the NAACP using legislatures and courts, they targeted teachers with the belief that, as Candace Cunningham writes, “to dispense with Black teachers was to weaken the NAACP.  To dispose of Black teachers was to destabilize the civil rights movement.” In March 1956, the South Carolina general assembly passed a series of anti-NAACP statutes, including the anti-NAACP oath, which made it illegal for local, county, or state government employees to be NAACP members.

In May 1956, in Elloree, South Carolina, 21 Black teachers refused to distance themselves from the NAACP, and the white school officials did not rehire them for the following year. The Elloree teachers, with NAACP lawyers, took their case to court in Bryan v. Austin in September 1956. 

In this episode, Kelly tells the story of what happened with Black teachers in Elloree, South Carolina, in aftermath of Brown v. Board, and interviews Assistant Professor of History at Florida Atlantic University, Candace Cunningham.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Episode image: Civil rights march on Washington, D.C. Warren K. Leffler. 1963. https://www.loc.gov/item/2003654393/

Transcript available at: https://www.unsunghistorypodcast.com/transcripts/transcript-episode-6.

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Transcript

Kelly:

This is Unsung History, the podcast where we tell the stories of people and events in American history haven't gotten much notice. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then interview someone who knows a lot more than I do. Today's story is about Black teachers in Elloree, South Carolina, in the immediate aftermath of the Brown v Board decision. From 1951 to 1954, five cases from Delaware, Kansas, Washington, DC, South Carolina, and Virginia, all dealing with school segregation or inequality, were appealed to the United States Supreme Court, when none of the cases was successful in the lower courts. The Supreme Court combined these cases into a single case, which became Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Thurgood Marshall, the head of the Legal Defense and Education Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP), served as chief attorney for the plaintiffs. LDF became totally independent from the NAACP a few years later, in 1957. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court decided unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education, that the racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. The decision authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, "We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought, are by reason of the segregation complained of deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th amendment." What the decision did not say was what the solution to this deprivation should be. Instead, the Court asked the parties to reappear before the court the following term to hold arguments. The follow up decision known as Brown II, issued in 1955, didn't give much in the way of specifics, saying only that, "school authorities have the primary responsibility for elucidating assessing and solving these problems," and that it was up to the local courts to determine that the desegregation was happening with all deliberate speed. The vagueness of the decision allowed white supremacists in the south to drag out the implementation of desegregation and to create legal obstacles. In some cases, these legal battles lasted decades. Even when desegregation happened within a few years of the ruling, the first Black students attending newly integrated schools often faced harassment by other students and townspeople, and in some cases had to be protected by the National Guard, as in the case of the Little Rock Nine in 1957, or federal marshals, as in the case of Ruby Bridges in New Orleans in 1960. Unlike students, Black teachers had no protections or guarantees under the Brown ruling. As southern states tried to destroy the NAACP using legislatures and courts. They started to target teachers with the belief that, as Candace Cunningham writes, "at the heart of all of these new efforts was a belief that black teachers and the NAACP were indivisible. Segregationists understood that to dispense with black teachers was to weaken the NAACP, to dispose of black teachers was to destabilize the civil rights movement." In March of 1956, the South Carolina General Assembly passed a series of anti NAACP statutes, including the anti NAACP oath, which made it illegal for local county or state governments employees to be NAACP members. In May of 1956, in the town of Elloree, South Carolina, the school superintendent asked Elloree Training School principal Charles Davis to distribute a questionnaire to teachers who were applying for the 1956-1957 school year. The questionnaire for the first time asked questions like: Do you belong to the NAACP? Do you feel that you would be happy in an integrated school system knowing that parents and students do not favor the system? Do you feel that an integrated school system would better fit the colored race for their life's work? Do you think that you are qualified to teach an integrated class in a satisfactory manner? Do you feel that parents of your school know that no public schools will be operated if they're integrated? Do you believe in the aims of the NAACP? When 21 black teachers at ETS refuse to distance themselves from the NAACP, the white school officials would not rehire them the following year. Elloree stood out for the nature of the questions that were asked, but Black teachers all over the state lost their jobs for supporting desegregation, and refusing to renounce the NAACP. It wasn't just South Carolina; all over the South white school officials dismissed demoted or forced the resignation of black teachers who had previously taught at Black-only schools. The Elloree teachers, with NAACP lawyers, took their case to court in Bryan v. Austin in September 1956. The judges in the US District Court issued a non ruling stating that the teacher should first exhaust administrative options. Instead, in February 1957, the NAACP filed an appeal with the Supreme Court. Rather than wait to lose the case, the South Carolina legislature repealed the anti-NAACP oath statute. It was an important case for civil rights, but South Carolina followed up with legislation requiring teachers to disclose all of their organizational affiliations, which in the midst of the Red Scare seemed legally defensible. To help learn more about what happened with these black teachers, I'm joined now by Candace Cunningham, Assistant Professor of History at Florida Atlantic University, and the author of the article, "Hell is popping here in South Carolina: Orangeburg County Black teachers and their Community in the Imediate Post Brown Era, from the February 2021 issue of History of Education Quarterly, which is the source of much of the information in this introduction. Hi, Candace, thanks for joining me today.

Candace Cunningham:

Thanks for having me.

Kelly:

So I am so interested in this subject. I think I mentioned when I initially reached out to you that it wasn't until I was listening to Annette Gordon Reed's On Juneteenth that it occurred to me at all that I didn't know what had happened to Black teachers after desegregation. And so your journal article is just was so compelling to start thinking through these issues. So I wondered if you could start by just telling me a little bit about how you got into this topic started doing this kind of research?

Candace Cunningham:

Yeah, so I was going through the South Carolina NAACP papers (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). And I think I may have actually been doing research for a professor, but I was looking at South Carolina and NAACP. They, you know, have an annual conference. And they would have their pamphlet, every year for the conference. And in the intro, they would have their own history. And there were a couple of cases they kept mentioning about teachers. And so one thing that became really clear to me year after year after year, they mentioned these two cases. One was in Charleston, South Carolina. And it was a Black teacher hiring campaign during World War One. So Charleston, like other southern cities, did not hire Black teachers in their city schools. So that meant that schools were segregated. And then therefore, you had white teachers teaching Black children in segregated schools. And so this creates all sorts of problems, and became kind of the first large issue that the NAACP, South Carolina NAACP, took on. And then they had mentioned this other case about teacher salary equalization, and these cases were taking place across the US really, but of course, Black teachers were paid oftentimes less than half of what white teacher were paid. And so those salary equalization cases were really important in terms of actually lay the groundwork for Brown v Board because salary equalization was a way to think about equalization more broadly in terms of education, public education. So I kind of started with those cases. And then realized as I started digging, that there were a number of case studies, really across the whole 20th century and South Carolina involving Black school teachers. And so I ended up looking at this case in Elloree, South Carolina, which, you know, no one's ever heard of, that big, you know, it's teeny tiny. And, you know, you can you can miss it, if you're driving South Carolina, two exits, and you've missed it, right. But when I started looking at this case, it was interesting, because I realized that actually, a lot of historians of education had talked about it, they talked about it in their work, but it was only a sentence or two. So when I started researching the case, I realized, Oh, this is something that actually made national headlines in the Black media. And so I kind of, you know, fell into a rabbit hole and ended up being able to kind of take a deep dive into this particular case study. And, of course, that led me to start thinking about well, what happened, as you said, what happened to Black teachers after Brown v Board?

Kelly:

I think what I've never really realized, you know, I think hearing stories about desegregation sort of understood there was a Supreme Court case. And, of course, I knew there was opposition in the South. And you know, it didn't all happen smoothly. But I hadn't realized this piece about the Black teachers being either let go or fired or demoted. Do you think that there is a reason that we don't hear about that side of things as much? I mean, it's, it's out there, of course, there, there are scholars who have talked about it and stuff, but it's not in movies that you watch about desegregation, that sort of thing. You know, why? Why is this piece not as, as front and center as some of the other things around civil rights?

Candace Cunningham:

Well, one of the things you'll notice, people in the time period, saying, you know, the challenge was quite a challenge was proving that this is happening, right, because, and one of the reasons that Elloree case was so different was because it was so explicitly unconstitutional. But typically speaking, teachers sign one year contracts. And so typically speaking, they technically weren't being fired. They simply weren't being rehired. So how do you prove this is happening moreso to Black teachers? How do you prove that they are being dismissed at the expense of, you know, Black students. And of course, one of the things that was also happening was that Black schools were closing during segregation. And students were being integrated into majority white schools. So they weren't being hired into these other school districts or these other schools. So it was really complicated problem, actually, it was challenging to prove; it was obvious to everyone. On the other hand, proving it was was a difficulty. So you know, think about how challenging it would be if you couldn't prove it, then now, in hindsight, and government look at these same sources and try to prove that this was happening. So I think that's that's a big part of it. But the other part is, we do like to have kind of that, teleological view of history and things consistently improving. And when we take a closer look at what happens to Black teachers, and Black administrators, and quite frankly, Black school children, we all of a sudden start realizing that that Brown v Board wasn't quite as the turning point that people had hoped that it would be. But one thing that is interesting, particularly about Black school teachers, is they forewarned this would happen, right? They said, at the beginning, school desegregation is going to lead to the loss of Black school teachers. So so they saw that happening. They had some examples, from a few cases, particularly the Northeast, and Midwest, and so that they knew that there was this tendency to let go of Black teachers. And you know, the other thing is, we'll talk about desegregation, earlier school equalization, earlier Black teachers salary equalization, and talk about continuing issues today. One of the biggest issues right is that, of course, schools weren't ever equalized. Of course, salaries weren't ever equalized, because public school education never been adequately funded. Right? So Black children and Black school teachers had always been kind of the easy way to, to underfund education, right, that that was the group that bear the brunt of problems. And then we see happening with after Brown v Board is that, then things start getting a little bit more complicated.

Kelly:

Yeah. So you mentioned some of the sources that you use, but what were some of the other kinds of sources that you were looking at you know, you just said it's hard to prove it, you know, and it's hard to show now so what what are those sources what what kinds of things were you looking at?

Candace Cunningham:

I mean, certainly my most valuable source was the NAACP papers, both the papers for the state and also for the national organization. And also the NAACP magazine, The Crisis was an invaluable source for me. Black newspapers, extremely important. Also Black academic journals. So things like the Journal of Negro Education, you know, a lot of educators and sociologists were writing then about these kind of contemporary issues. And from there, you know, just kind of a plethora of, of manuscripts, sources and oral histories, some I did myself, some not. And, you know, one of the things about this kind of history is, you know, compared to other members of Black community, teachers are comparatively more documented, right, they have their own organizations. So the Black teachers organization was a really important source material for me. And they were more likely to have written something to be published, you know, to sort of be part of the Black intellectual community. But still, when you're setting any kind of oppressed group, you're, you're gonna have a bit more of a challenge, right to find adequate source material. So there was a lot of footwork involved. You know, I mentioned earlier, my sources, you know, my sources were in South Carolina, Georgia, Washington, DC, Tennessee, right, I probably could have found more and more places if I continue to devote time and energy. So they're so the, you know, the source material is actually really quite broad.

Kelly:

So it let's talk about these 21 teachers in Elloree. So they are asked, and this is 1956. I think they're asked to fill out this a really long questionnaire, really intrusive questionnaire to be rehired for the next school year. And unlike in some other places, 21 of them just say, No, I'm not willing to do this to say this. And you know, it happens in a few different ways. What would that have meant for these teachers in as you mentioned, this very small town to do that to take that stand? What does it mean for them as individuals? What does it mean for the community that they're in?

Candace Cunningham:

Yeah, I one thing I think's interesting is, is it I think, emblematic of what I learned about the civil rights movement, which is that there are all these moments that people don't anticipate, you know, no one went to work that day, say, I'm going to be a civil rights activist that has a case that makes it all the way to the US Supreme Court. You know, that was that what they anticipated. And instead, it was really, I think, for many of them very simple. This was a violation of their constitutional rights. No one had the right to ask them about organizations they associated with, right, freedom of association. No one had the right to ask them if they were members of NAACP, and most of the teachers actually weren't. That's one of the things that's interesting. Most of them were not members of NAACP, but but they felt that this was a violation of their rights. And so you know, I don't know that in the moment everyone fully anticipated how meaningful this was going to be, that it was going to turn into this kind of drawn out civil rights case. They did have individual discussions with their school principal, a man named Charles Davis, and Davis actually was very much an activist and continued to be activist after he was dismissed from the Elloree training school. And he kind of, you know, had this individual conversations with them saying, you know, are you sure this is what you want to do? And it's something you've decided that they didn't want to write, there were a few who kind of filled out the application and answered the questions to the satisfaction of the school administrators. Or, I should say, school district administrators, and kept their jobs. When these 21 teachers, the majority of the faculty at Elloree training school, did not. And so I think it was probably actually the fact that they kind of realized, oh, wow, this is really is actually really a big deal.

Kelly:

Yeah, yeah. To to have an effect on their careers. Like they obviously weren't rehired there, you know, do we know anything about what some of them went on to do or not do after taking the stand?

Candace Cunningham:

Yeah, um, so for, for for most of them not signing this meant being blacklisted in South Carolina in terms of teaching. And so one is ability to leave, have a direct connection to their ability to find similar work. So we know that that the NAACP, as long as well as some other organizations, like, think the Civil Liberties Union helped some of these teachers go to graduate school, help some of them get their teaching license, actually in New York. I mentioned earlier, Charles Davis, he ended up in North Carolina, another teacher that I interviewed, she was married and her husband was in the, I believe he was in the Air Force maybe. So she left. So she was able to continue teaching, she actually came back to South Carolina later and taught there, again, kind of after things that sort of blown over. So some people never fully recovered, you know, never fight naturally, or are sort of career wise, fully recover from this, this, this was a detrimental blow, and really negatively impacted their life trajectory. Another teacher I interviewed, she's actually the namesake for the case, Ola Bryan, she was married, she and her husband ended up opening a store. And so she kind of ended up, you know, going into business in that way. So, so people ended up in different things, but for for some teachers, it was clear that they were not able to recover from this in terms of your career, or your financial situation, of course, teachers were not necessarily paid well, anyway. You know, so you're, you're talking about someone who's really only a few steps above poverty line, and now being deprived of their livelihood. And they didn't have as many options, especially as the majority were African American women, college educated Black woman, of course, went into teaching and nursing, those, and that's those were mostly their only options. So not being able to teach anymore, was a huge blow.

Kelly:

So I want to talk about South Carolina, as a site in Civil Rights history. And you talk in your piece about the importance of South Carolina. And you know, one of the things that struck me right reading it was the importance of the, I believe it was the Palmetto Education Association, the PEA, which is an organization for Black teachers, which is, you know, clearly hugely instrumental in helping them and is their connection to the NAACP. And then one of the perhaps unintended consequences of Brown v Board, unintended by the Supreme Court, although clearly not unintended by South Carolina, is that the PEA has to merge with the South Carolina Education Association, which is all white. And that, then Black teachers just lose their voice in the state. So can you talk some about South Carolina and the tensions that are going on there and the way that they were really preparing to deal with Brown v Board and not truly desegregate?

Candace Cunningham:

Yeah, I've often referred to South Carolina segregationists as intellectuals. You know, there are certainly these moments of racial violence. There are certainly these moments where things kind of come to a head, you know, and and it's really clear that yes, this is the South. On the other hand, you know, there aren't as many moments other than I would say, the desegregation of Clemson University. There are not these kinds of media frenzy moments that we see happening in places like Mississippi and Alabama, right? There's no one standing on the steps and saying "segregation today, segregation now, segregation forever." That doesn't really happen in South Carolina. South Carolina segregationists accomplish the same thing. And they do it in a different manner. And they are consistently more. I mean, I would say, early 20th century all the way into the 1970s, are consistently more engaged with preventing disintegration than they are with reacting to it, right. So they're not as reactionary, as as some leaders and some other states. So in terms of school segregation, South Carolina sort of segregationists had a bit of an advantage because the chronological first of those cases, was a case in Clarendon county called Briggs v Elliott. Briggs v Elliott actually started out as Pearson, the school districts Yeah. And in the Pearson case was actually about getting Black students a school bus, and that case was unsuccessful, so they ended up being turned into a school equalization case, which was Briggs v Elliott and that case went to the federal district court. And actually the judge there said, Judge J. Waties Waring, who by the way, got run out of the state for kind of being a proponent of desegregation. Judge Waring kind of says, you know, what, what are you actually arguing here? Are you arguing for equalization or desegregation, and by this point, Thurgood Marshall is leading the NAACP legal branch. And so they dropped the case and they come back as a derogation case. And so all of the majority of those arguments that we hear made and Brown v Board were actually first made in Charleston, South Carolina, in the federal district court. They're stemming from this case in a rural area of South Carolina, Clarendon County. So what all that means is that South Carolina segregationists who were paying attention, and they were knew what was coming down the pike. By this point, it was clear that this case made it to the Supreme Court, there were only two possible options. One was the Supreme Court saying you must abide by equalization. Or the second in this by this case, the more likely scenario was you must desegregate schools. So knowing that that was going to happen, South Carolina's segregationist as led by L. Marion Gressette, he was a state senator started equalizing schools. Now the degree to which these schools were being equalized is certainly up for question. African Americans did say at the time that that a number of their schools were clearly improved. So there were actual changes. And in fact, the Elloree Training School, and it would those, those 21 teachers were effectively dismissed from their jobs. That was an equalization school, that was one of the schools that was created in order to, for South Carolina's segregationists to be able to say, "Hey, we're abiding by separate but equal, see, our schools are equal. So they started on this equalization campaign, the school equalization campaign, and they were pretty much you know, they were going down this path by the time Brown v Board is handed down, and they and they use this as a way to continue to deflect, right, to continue to avoid mandating school desegregation in South Carolina. So one of the reasons that I think South Carolina is so important in terms of our understanding the National Civil Rights Movement, is it's kind of a reminder that things play out differently in different areas. But at the same time, will we still see sort of the same end result, right, which was that segregation was maintained for a significantly longer time, then then when Brown v Board was handed down.

Kelly:

So I noted that when Brown v Board came down, that South Carolina initially said, it doesn't apply to us. Is that is that why? Because they were saying, well, we're equal.

Candace Cunningham:

Yeah, we're equalizing schools, we're abiding by Plessy v. Ferguson, finally, seemed to be the irony that they they avoided. And if they, in fact, they kind of when, Thurgood Marshall was making this case, Briggs v Elliott in the in the federal district court, they kind of took the wind out of his sails because he and the NAACP had prepared all this evidence that schools were not equal. And South Carolina's attorney, I think was S. Emory Rogers. They come in and they say, Yes, we acknowledge that schools are unequal, but we have a plan. We're gonna start equalizing schools. And so you know, a lot of his case was sort of just immediately taken away from him. Yeah.

Kelly:

So this is one journal article, but it's part of a larger project that you're working on, right, about teachers in the Civil Rights movement. Can you talk some about what that larger project looks like?

Candace Cunningham:

Yeah, so I'm looking at a number of case studies in South Carolina, that are specifically concerned with how teachers are engaging in the Civil Rights movement through lawsuits. And so it's through the NAACP, but as you mentioned earlier, there's also this really clear relationship with the Palmetto Education Association. So the PEA was created earlier, of course, then that the NAACP arrived in South Carolina, and I see a rise in South Carolina in World War One era, and create these chapters in Charleston and in Columbia, and they kind of moved further into different parts of the state after that. So I looked at a number of case studies involving Black teachers Civil Rights activism. And so I began in Charleston, South Carolina, with that case, I'd mentioned earlier the Black teacher pay rate campaign. And then I moved to a teacher salary equalization cases. Then I moved to Briggs v. Elliott, that first chronologically first school desegregation case. And from there, I moved to the Elloree case. And my last case study involves a woman named Gloria Rackley, who was dismissed from her job in 1963, after a series of civil rights engagements that she she'd been involved in. And, and one thing consistent with all of these cases is everyone who participates in these lawsuits get fired from our jobs, I don't have any exceptions to the rule. I had one person who was able to still find a job in the state in another area, and that's Septima Clark. But pretty much everyone gets fired from the jobs and are not able to continue working in South Carolina as school teachers or principals. So, you know, I'm interested, and I'm challenging several notions, you know, one is kind of an older, but at this point, I think, mostly dismantled idea that teachers were not activists, you know, still trying to talk about them as not only being engaged in the Civil Rights movement, but really being at the forefront of it, and being an important part of its success. And the other thing is, you know, what do teachers who needs to organize, do when they're not able to organize a labor union, you know, it's very difficult to organize labor unions in South Carolina. So what they do is they really work through their Teachers Association, right, the Palmetto Education Association, and they create this really clear partnership with the NAACP. And that mostly happens with those 1940s teacher salary equalization campaigns. And out of that, we get this clear partnership between those two organizations. And we get this new group of Civil Rights leaders who are going to get the forefront of the 1950s movement, which of course, is really what enables the movement in the 1960s. So that's kind of my larger case study. And then I end with talking about what happens to Black teachers after desegregation. I think this is something that more than more scholars are thinking about. And what I really focus on is what happens to the Black Teachers Association, they are forced to merge with the South Carolina Education Association, which had been the majority white or the all white Teachers Association. And what we see happening with that merger is also what happens with school desegregation, which is that the leaders of PEA lose their leadership positions when this merger happens. And they no longer have an organization that really understands their grievances. For instance, the PEA always had a legal fund, much of that legal funding would go to the NAACP. But there was this really clear understanding, right with a Black Teachers Association that these teachers were facing issues specifically connected to their race. And that was lost when they joined the all white teachers' Association. And the work of merging these two organizations largely fall on the PEA. They're the ones who came up with the plan, and kind of figured out the timetable and how it was going to happen. And so, you know, it's sort of interesting the ways and so it's sort of replicates what we saw happening more broadly.

Kelly:

So, it's impossible to look at this and not think of the current moment with this rise in legislation against teaching Critical Race Theory, which, of course, we all know, isn't really being taught in elementary schools in the first place. But you know, what do you do you see some through lines here. So the this case in Elloree is taking place, you know, around the time of the Red Scare, and so they moved from asking about, specifically about NAACP membership to more, you know, all of the organizations that you're involved in, which, you know, seems legit, during the, this time when everyone's asking about organizations, you know, and now this current moment, is obviously there's a new rise of white supremacy and, you know, sort of a backlash to everything that happened in summer of 2020, after the George Floyd murder. So you know, are there connections that you see here in the the kinds of ways that teachers are being challenged and the kinds of things that they're being taught the kinds of teachers who can be teaching in a way, what does that look like for you?

Candace Cunningham:

I think if we think about it in terms of race and teaching, the connections become much more fluid and clear. Because one of the questions I sort of asked myself, as I was embarking on his research was, you know, why are these legislators and these leaders targeting Black teachers? I mean, they're targeting them from the beginning. I mean, they're targeting it from Reconstruction, onward. It's clear, they're passing laws directly connected to Black teachers. And so what is it about Black teachers that pose such a threat? So, you know, a couple of things that became really clear is that the act of teaching Black children, right, the same way we act in proving that this group of people who had always been regarded as inferior, right is intellectually inferior, the act of teaching them was political. Right? It was disproving the very foundation on which Southern racial wars were established. And so teachers, Black teachers were really seen as a threat, right. And they also embodied the the the evidence against all of those those notions, right? They were college educated. It was think about early 20th century, we're talking about college educated African Americans at a time when most white Southerners were not. We're talking about people who embodied a middle class status, who oftentimes embody these notions of respectability, you know, we all kind of know about respectability politics now. So they were embodying all of these things that were at direct evidence against the idea of white superiority. And so I think if we think about it, from there, we kind of see this connection to today. And this idea of Critical Race Theory, right? So this is less about who was teaching than I think, than what is being taught or what is allegedly being taught. And so this, this idea that someone might be teaching about race, and the classroom, I think, is seen as threatening, and a challenge to even modern day ideas about, about what is acceptable. And in the classroom, or for that matter, outside of the classroom. Right. So So I think we still seeing the continuation is that we still see teaching consistently being politicized, which, of course, is so fascinating, since no one really goes into teaching, thinking, Oh, my God, I can't wait for my work to be politicized. No one thinks of themselves as a politician going into the classroom. But that's what we see happening. I think what it's a reminder of, ironically, of how important public school education is, you know. For me, I am a daughter, granddaughter, niece and grandniece of public school teachers and principals. And so, you know, I have this very firm belief in the power of public education. And I think what this is all kind of reminder of is, everyone knew then, and everyone knows now that actually, yes, education can be transformative. Right? Why was it so threatening? Why were these Black teachers seem so threatening to the social order? Because they were part of creating a new social order, right, of actually creating this new group of African Americans who are going to be able to be middle class or elites. And so I think what we see is that education is going to consistently be politicized. Because it is something that has the power to be transformative. And for some people that may not be seen as a good thing.

Kelly:

Yeah. And you know, in your piece, you make this connection that by politicizing teaching, they make the teachers into activists, you know, is that I think it's inevitable that that happens again, now, even teachers who don't want to think of themselves as political activists have to become that to defend the teaching education that they want to do.

Candace Cunningham:

Yeah, I mean, even if I think about, you know, the earlier Red for Ed movement, and these were teachers who were saying, I mean, I can't do my job, I don't have resources I need to do my job. And if they've been given their resources, they would not have felt that they needed to go on strike or they need to march or that they needed to, you know, kind of get their communities active activated. And so yeah, I think it's very likely that we'll see the same thing, especially if teachers really start feeling that their freedom of speech is being violated, right. That's something that people really value. And so I think it's sort of inevitable. And it's kind of ironic, right? Ironic that there's a sphere, oh, my god, these people are, are going to be our social activists, and they're, and they're not necessarily. But yeah, we just want to push people into a corner. And quite frankly, if you put people in a situation where they might feel like they don't have anything to lose, right, that's a, that's a very history tells us that a very likely possibility is that they will become activists. You know, one of the things I think even will look more broadly at the Civil Rights movement is the very actions that are often intended to undermine activism, right that these laws that were passed, particularly the 1950s, to undermine the NAACP actually increased in NAACP membership. So the exact opposite happened, because people felt they were under attack. And so you know, it does have the power to kind of activate and politicize people in a way that they didn't necessarily anticipate, or even want.

Kelly:

Thank you so much for talking with me. This is just absolutely fascinating topic. And I will link in the show notes to your article. It's extremely readable people should it should take a look at it. I learned so much and I'm so grateful.

Candace Cunningham:

And it's open access.

Kelly:

Excellent. Well, thank you, Candace.

Candace Cunningham:

Thank you. Have a good day.

Kelly:

You too.

Teddy:

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Candace Cunningham

Dr. Candace Cunningham was previously a visiting assistant professor at Stetson University where she taught public history courses and worked with local organizations to create digital humanities projects using undergraduate research. Before that she taught in the University of South Carolina’s (USC) Opportunity Scholars Program. USC is also where she earned her M.A. and Ph.D., won the Robert H. Wienefeld Essay Prize, and was a Fellow in the Grace Jordan McFadden Professors Program. She is passionate about community collaborations and has worked on several public history projects including Columbia SC 63, the USC Center for Civil Rights History and Research, and Historic Columbia. Her research is on the 20th century African American experience with a special emphasis on civil rights, education, gender, and the South. She has presented her research at numerous conferences, including the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the History of Education Society, and Southern Labor Studies. She is currently working on a manuscript about African American teachers who were in the long civil rights movement.