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We Are an African PeopleIndependent Education, Black Power, and the Radical Imagination$

Russell Rickford

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780199861477

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199861477.001.0001

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Community Control and the Struggle for Black Education in the 1960s

Community Control and the Struggle for Black Education in the 1960s

(p.23) 1 Community Control and the Struggle for Black Education in the 1960s
We Are an African People

Russell Rickford

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes the philosophical transition from desegregation to “community control” as the driving force behind African-American urban struggles for educational opportunity and dignity in the late 1960s. Focusing on New York City, it outlines grassroots educational battles against substandard, segregated schools in Harlem and the Ocean Hill–Brownsville section of Brooklyn. It argues that political adaptation, as well as the shortcomings of the crusade for “quality integrated education,” reinvigorated black nationalist elements of African-American educational philosophy. It demonstrates how parents and activists mobilized theories of “black education” as part of their efforts to resist inferior public education and to imagine redemptive social alternatives.

Keywords:   community control, Ocean Hill–Brownsville, black education, Harlem, internal colony, integration, desegregation, busing, black survival

The most damaging thing a people in a colonial situation can do is to allow their children to attend any educational facility organized by the dominant enemy culture.

George Jackson, Soledad Brother, 19701

On January 6, 1965, an elementary school student at Harlem’s Public School (PS) 80 wrote the following composition for class, a piece cryptically titled “Sen Feel Sad”:

  • 1. Why a baby Rabbit’s eyes are clos
  • It was a letter baby and her
  • eyes Hurt him
  • 2. what baby Rabbit’s like to eat
  • baby Rabbit’s eat caBBage
  • 3. a mother Rabbit’s and six new
  • babies, is all children
  • 4. Bunny and Her Babies
  • are a little children
  • 5. why the Rabbit make a nest
  • they makes they nest with
  • grass

In a way, the essay was poignant. Almost poetic. It was also depressingly typical—another testament, it seemed, to the effects of the community’s public schools. Circulating copies of the prose as further vindication of their cause, members of a local campaign for educational justice acknowledged what many (p.24) Harlemites already knew: that such inaptitude in the language arts placed a disgraceful share of local children among the legions of “the doomed.” What lay ahead for the essay’s author if not the indignity of menial employment, and perhaps even the frontlines of the Vietnam War or the narcotics trade?

Harlem children performed two to four years behind national and citywide academic norms. The longer they remained in school, the further behind they fell. A 1964 study reported that “less than half of Central Harlem’s youth seem destined to complete high school, and of those that do, most will join the ranks of those with no vocational skills, no developed talents, and, consequently, little or no future.” Chronic miseducation had already relegated countless local youngsters to lives of drudgery in a land of abundance. Over the course of the 1960s, as they mounted a minor revolution to reclaim the neighborhood’s schools, Harlem’s black and Puerto Rican parents rediscovered an appropriately unsettling term for such degradation: “educational genocide.”2

In the mid- to late 1960s, the militant cry for “quality integrated education” in Harlem and other mobilized African-American communities gave way to demands for African-American control of schools in black neighborhoods. The patent shortcomings of desegregation campaigns helped spur the transition. Working-class African-American urbanites had long seen desegregation as a pragmatic way to gain access for their children to the educational resources overwhelmingly reserved—in the North and the South—for white students. Most members of the black rank and file had no particular affinity for white middle-class institutions or norms. They willingly embraced a quest for African-American educational autonomy when changing demographic and political realities suggested that such a tactical adjustment was necessary.

However, the community control movement and the theories of “black education” that it helped spawn transcended purely academic concerns. Grassroots opposition to the underdevelopment of African-American schools and communities signaled a broader crusade to liberate both the black urban “colony” and African-American consciousness itself. Black parents, children, and activists sought educational dignity and the right to define themselves within and beyond the classroom. In time, these rudimentary desires would produce a new generation of independent schools.

“The Road Upward”: Intermediate School 201 and the Transition from Integrationism

Local schools had long been cruel symbols of the oppression of Harlem, a place described by one of its resident journalists as “a six square mile festering black scar on the alabaster underbelly of the white man’s indifference.” Though Harlem (p.25) remained the cultural capital of black America, its schools epitomized the official neglect so evident in the community’s streets and tenements. If a local junior high proved notoriously unsanitary, with overflowing latrines and roach-infested cafeteria food, its deterioration reflected broader afflictions, including “rent gouging landlords, graft grabbing cops, and usurious loan sharks.”3 It was the intersection of such indignities—compounded by the violence of a malignant police presence—that ignited the Harlem uprising of 1964, an omen of coming summers of unrest.

While bitter resentment propelled some Harlemites toward street action, others found more sustained paths of resistance. By the early 1960s, the community’s schools had become decisive theaters in the black quest for freedom. The local fight escalated in the late 1950s as the outcry over inferior public schools spawned acts of civil disobedience. Emboldened by Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court ruling against public school segregation, an incipient parent movement pressed New York City’s Board of Education to fulfill its promises to eradicate the district’s “racial imbalance,” a counterpart to the southern system of formal apartheid recently struck down by the Court. Nine Harlem mothers resolved to boycott their children’s schools, incensed by the duplicity by which distant bureaucrats preserved a racially stratified system. The striking mothers declared that they would “go to jail and rot” before permitting neighborhood schools to further debase their children.4

The intransigence of district officials and other municipal authorities deepened in the 1960s as white residents continued to flee both the inner city and public education, and the concentration of African Americans and Puerto Ricans in substandard “ghetto schools” increased. An era of militancy emerged as the southern freedom struggle invigorated a northern battle for rights that also had flourished in the postwar years. In 1964, alliances of New York parents, antipoverty workers, civic leaders, and other activists mounted boycotts against the inferior schools that served the majority of the district’s black and Latino pupils. “The Harlems of the north and west are joining the new democratic revolution which was born of the southern Negroes’ desegregation battles,” Freedomways magazine proclaimed.5

Like the southern-based movement, the New York campaign portrayed segregation as the chief obstacle to educational equity, condemning any scheme of racial separation, whether forged by law and custom or by ostensibly “natural” residential patterns, as undemocratic and immoral. New York parents and activists rejected spurious distinctions between de facto and de jure segregation, seeing “dual systems” of both northern and southern provenance as evils rooted in systemic practices of exclusion and subordination. Despite the opposition’s resolve (“How would it look to have the children of the madams attending the same school as the children of the maids?” one Brooklyn principal asked), the (p.26) desegregation crusade displayed great faith that agitation would sweep aside the anachronistic structures of white supremacy and initiate a new age of opportunity.

That optimism soon vanished. New York’s Board of Education continued to make “miserly concessions to parental despair,” commissioning studies and offering the palliatives of open enrollment and voluntary transfers while resisting meaningful desegregation of declining inner-city schools. Authorities relied on the growing exodus of white pupils from the district to explain the persistence of what activists dubbed the “status crow” (a play on “Jim Crow,” the southern edifice of white supremacy). When feeble gestures toward integration were made, like one that involved shuttling black Brooklynites to white schools in Queens, the efforts siphoned off handfuls of children without restructuring the system. As the mid-1960s unfolded, segregation in the city’s black and Puerto Rican schools intensified and a new mood of confrontation engulfed the movement.6

The hunger for decent education, the accumulated bitterness over years of bureaucratic obstruction, and the rising spirit of defiance among local desegregation forces converged in the struggle over Harlem’s Intermediate School 201 (IS 201). Pressure on the Board of Education to relieve overcrowding in two local junior highs yielded plans for the new school, which authorities vowed would be built in a “fringe” area to attract both white and minority students. Evidence soon materialized that the facility, touted as a modern showcase, would constitute yet another insult. Residents initially objected to the proposed name—Arthur A. Schomburg—believing that it honored a white man. (Schomburg, a past luminary of the neighborhood, was actually a distinguished Afro-Puerto Rican bibliophile.) Parents also complained that by locating the planned school near elevated railroad tracks in a gritty section of East Harlem, the city had precluded white enrollment, which many black residents regarded as the only reliable guarantor of adequate funding, innovative curricula, and experienced teachers.

Harlemites grew more irate when they discovered that the penal-style building under construction would lack windows, a feature designed to mute the rumble of passing trains. In truth, quipped a political cartoonist for the local Amsterdam News, the windowless design “was to keep parents from looking in and seeing it wasn’t integrated and the kids from looking out to see it was in Harlem.” The edifice itself—a “cheesebox on stilts” according to one critic—was not the ultimate affront. That blow came in early 1966 when the Board of Education revealed the sort of “integration” that would prevail at the new school—50-50 black and Puerto Rican. Outraged parents from both groups condemned the maneuver and prepared to boycott, determined to resist the opening of IS 201 as a “segregated ghetto school.”7

The ensuing clashes between local desegregation forces and the Board of Education came to symbolize the powerlessness of inner-city residents to wrest concessions from remote bureaucracies. The campaign also demonstrated the (p.27) limitations of the desegregation crusade. In the New York movement, as in other urban school struggles, militant integrationists had provided the most uncompromising impetus for social change, a reality that reflected the dominant character of the mass movement that had emerged in the 1950s. Though some black Harlemites embraced the creed of interracialism, many more local parents viewed desegregation in strictly pragmatic terms, believing that the presence of white bodies ensured the sort of educational provisions that their children had been denied in aging schools abandoned by European immigrants. “The public schools of our nation have been the road upward for all groups who have come to our shores and prospered,” the integrationist Harlem Parents Committee (HPC) asserted in 1965. “The Negro, the Puerto Rican and all other minorities must now have the opportunity to travel that road.”8

Hardly content to lobby for integration alone, local parents kept pushing for assurances that IS 201 would feature “a curriculum commensurate with the demands of the space age.” However, the viability and relevance of the integrationist agenda began to unravel amid the realities of urban life and the changing priorities of black protest. The vanguard of the New York struggle had long affirmed interracial living as a vital part of a child’s education, seeing reforms that failed to intermingle white, black, and Puerto Rican students as accommodations to the status quo and betrayals of the cause of full equality. This approach had produced little substantive change over the past dozen years, as black parents had grown desperate for an academic program that could prepare their children for college and specialized jobs in a technocratic age that threatened to cast aside the unskilled.

The token desegregation envisioned by many white moderates and the overt hostility others displayed toward integration experiments suggested that insistence upon fair and equitable school integration would continue to meet with failure. Growing emphasis on black pride diminished acceptance of many of the theories of social psychology upon which Brown rested, especially the dubious premise that “racial concentration” in black schools damaged the culture and psyches of African-American children. HPC continued to hail desegregation as inevitable; New York’s white bigots could escape public school integration only in “a Gemini space capsule to the moon,” the organization proclaimed in the spring of 1966. This was mostly bluster. All parties involved recognized the obsolescence of “quality integrated education” as the mantra of the campaign.

The Harlem movement was changing rapidly by summer 1966. While its cultural touchstone had been the southern struggle, with allusions to that battlefront scattered throughout its literature, the campaign now adopted the rhetoric of the internal colony, an idiom that seemed more relevant to circumstances in the urban North. (In a typical expression of the colonial metaphor, one imperious, white principal was described in an HPC circular as ruling “with pith helmet and riding crop”). Demands increased for “heritage classes” featuring (p.28) black history. Critiques of the classroom hegemony of “dominant group culture” began to replace concerns about the link between segregation and black “cultural deprivation.” The movement’s churchly tone of moral indignation gave way to naked scorn for the white establishment. Parents spoke of “breaking the back” of the Board of Education, and white angst over the new slogan of black radicalism provoked bitter condemnation. “If white power reads a connotation of violence in the manifesto of Black Power,” one local activist asserted, “it is because white power intends to use violence to maintain the status quo.”9

The struggle was growing increasingly militant and complex. IS 201 demonstrations now drew the visible participation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and Harlem’s fledgling Black Panther formation, groups that conveyed unapologetic visions of black autonomy. These forces allied with the local parent and civic organizations at the movement’s core, some of which continued to espouse elements of the integrationist worldview. All parties agreed, however, on the call for an African-American principal for IS 201—a figure that might present to Harlem children “the right kind of image.” (Given the contemporary equation of group progress with the reclamation of masculine prerogatives, the presence of a black man was seen as especially capable of bolstering self-esteem.)10

Hope for desegregation, if not precisely dead, was mostly moribund. “We must no longer pursue the myth that integrated education is equated with quality education,” one local antipoverty worker declared in 1966. Parents continued to weigh other strategies, striving to meet the critical need for black self-determination and educational excellence. By that fall, they had shifted their hopes to one particular approach: local self-government. “If you won’t integrate I.S. 201,” Harlem residents told the Board of Education, “give us control of the school. We know you can’t run a segregated school that teaches our children. We never ran a school before, but we couldn’t do worse.”11

With this bit of pragmatism, a new phase of struggle was born. It was now clear that IS 201’s student body would remain as solidly black and Latino as any other Harlem school, and that “quality education, segregated style” had become the seemingly novel rallying cry of a growing portion of the community. It was not long before a more affirming formulation emerged, one that heralded the positive cultural and political characteristics of “black education.”

“Worse Than Segregation”: The Underdevelopment of Black Communities

The IS 201 affair, a prelude to the well-known educational rebellion of Brooklyn’s Ocean Hill–Brownsville section, and a campaign that helped force the 1969 (p.29) decentralization of New York’s school district, immediately struck observers as significant. One longtime activist called it Harlem’s Bastille. Another asserted that Black Power “took its first steps at the doorstep of Harlem’s Arthur A. Schomburg Intermediate School.” During that autumn of 1966, the embattled middle school became a symbol of the forces then transforming black educational struggles—and African-American politics—across the country. The metamorphosis of the IS 201 campaign heralded the shift from desegregation to “community control,” another signal of the rebirth of black nationalism in African-American thought. The era of striving for entry into the white American mainstream on the dominant culture’s terms had ended. Now the drive was toward self-determination and the refashioning of slums as more viable communities.

Harlem’s demand for a decisive voice in school governance marked a major transition. Since its inception in 1963, the HPC had embraced Frederick Douglass’s old command to “educate your colored and your white children together in your day and night school and they will learn to know each other better and be able to cooperate for the mutual benefit.” By late 1966, however, the post-Brown view of segregation as a fading relic that could be ushered into oblivion by grassroots pressure seemed naïve; racial apartheid in its northern and southern iterations stood exposed as a pillar of the social order. Still, parents and activists within and beyond New York bristled at the charges of “separatism” and “reverse racism” that the turn to community control produced. Many proponents of black control of African-American schools were longtime desegregation advocates who saw themselves as making a tactical adjustment rather than undergoing a wholesale change of course. “The goal of our community has always been one of quality education,” a New Boston Urban League officer explained in 1968. “But three to five years ago it seemed that the strategy which would achieve the goal had to be integration.”12

Rising optimism about community control as the defining thrust in the quest for educational equity was tempered by anxieties about appearing to have abandoned desegregation, a cause still widely seen as an essential route to black freedom. And though the question of neighborhood control of black schools produced broad African-American accord, elements of dissent remained. Within communities like Harlem, however, there was no denying the force with which the principle of black self-rule redefined indigenous struggles for racial justice through the schools.

Such campaigns had evolved during the early to mid-1960s as African Americans throughout the country re-evaluated the nature of racism in American life. Pragmatism and ideological growth engendered new strategies and outlooks. Most movement workers recognized political adaptation as essential to a diverse and dynamic struggle. However, many critics then and since have (p.30) depicted the pursuit of alternatives to desegregation in contemporary black educational battles as detours from a defining cause. In their accounts, the demand for community control of schools belongs to the larger “tragedy” of the late ’60s, a moment of crisis in which Black Power upset the moral balance of the civil rights movement. Separatism, “a sour goal of the disappointed, the disillusioned and the betrayed,” thus becomes the emblematic source of disorder, the gremlin intent on imperiling hard-fought reforms and squandering liberal goodwill.13

Versions of this narrative aggravated Harlem parents in 1966. They might have been astonished to read in the New York Times that their neighborhood’s departure from the ideal of quality integrated education had been orchestrated by “Negro nationalist and Black Muslim elements who are segregationist.” Local activists objected to their bid for educational control being reduced to a squabble over the color of a principal. Whatever their individual views of the black nationalist renaissance, they found dismaying the tendency of pundits to cast Black Power—whose practical manifestation was community control—as “the black analogue of white racism.” As Harlem leader Babette Edwards observed, “We are branded racist by the same people who have always called us apathetic.”14

Community control of education within and beyond New York City represented not a crude expression of extremism, but rather, a mass-based, grassroots campaign, one that helped stimulate the less visible but more enduring black independent school movement of the late 1960s and ’70s. To understand the quest for educational self-determination and the role of black nationalism in African-American philosophies of education, one must transcend the tropes of alienation and decline that continue to enshroud the memory of Black Power. The mid-1960s nationalist revival was a natural and vital development in the context of a postwar freedom movement that, as historian Robert Self notes, “nurtured multiple strategies and ideologies of resistance, accommodation, and liberation.”15 The heroic black push for integration never existed as uncontested orthodoxy. Throughout their efforts to reform public education in the urban North, African Americans waged complex struggles guided both by the troubled crusade for full citizenship and by the need to develop black communities from within.

Those quests for decent schooling form a record of black America’s systematic underdevelopment and consonant will to resist. Their contemporary beginnings lie in the Great Migration that swelled during and after World War I, when waves of African Americans began departing the rural South for urban destinations in the North and West. Minute black populations in cities outside the South had shared the mediocre school conditions experienced by the largely immigrant urban poor and working classes. With the influx of southern migrants, however, the familiar pattern of separate and inferior black education began to materialize in the North. Conditions remained better than those that prevailed throughout (p.31) the Jim Crow South. Yet a parallel caste system took shape as northern officials shunted black pupils into congested and underfunded schools.16

By the 1930s Harlem’s African-American children faced double or triple sessions (the splitting of large school populations into morning and afternoon shifts) in overcrowded schools staffed by inexperienced teachers and stocked with racist materials. African Americans resisted total marginalization, devising self-help campaigns designed to transmit cultural knowledge and traditions. Scholar-activist W. E. B. DuBois acknowledged the need to preserve the benefits of black educational autonomy, even as he decried growing racial segregation in northern school districts. “Negro children must not be allowed to grow up in ignorance,” he declared. “This is worse than segregation, worse than anything we could contemplate.”17

With the emergence in the 1940s of the Great Migration’s second, more expansive phase, the black population of the urban North soared and its social and geographic isolation intensified. The emancipatory themes surrounding World War II raised expectations about the possibilities of equal citizenship, as northern racial segregation came to be seen by more African Americans as methodically enforced and patently degrading. Then in 1954 the Supreme Court issued its Brown decision, vindicating the protracted crusade against Jim Crow and galvanizing a postwar black insurgency. “Jubilation, optimism, and hope filled my home,” black sociologist Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, a 10-year-old northerner at the time, later remembered. “Through a child’s eyes, I could see the veil of oppression lift from my parents’ shoulders.”18

For all the grandeur of the Supreme Court edict, its immediate aftermath suggested that generations of struggle lay ahead. In 1955, the Court delivered its “all deliberate speed” order, underscoring the cautiousness and constraints of a Cold War–era decision that lacked the power or will to erase profound historical inequities. A southern mass movement nevertheless mobilized, armed with a mandate and rationale for desegregation and a willingness to face ferocious white opposition. As the confrontation at Little Rock’s Central High vividly demonstrated in 1957, the question of education and democracy had flown to the center of black revolt.

Brown provided a catalyst for grassroots action in the North as well. Activists there also stretched the boundaries of the decision, reinvigorating existing battles for high-quality education or launching new struggles centered on eliminating racially separate schools. The landmark ruling spurred a “vibrant and multifaceted campaign” for integrated education in New York City, as African-American protesters strove to expose the deceptiveness of municipal authorities who depicted racial concentration in the district’s schools as “natural” and unplanned. Long regarded by African Americans as one of many barriers to social equality, enforced separation now appeared to be the very embodiment of racial (p.32) injustice—“the great evil” that had to be eliminated before an open society conducive to black advancement could be constructed. Yet ambivalence persisted. Many African Americans were convinced that white power structures would furnish black children with decent schooling “only if there were white children as hostages in their classroom.” This position required neither a spiritual embrace of white society nor a willingness to adopt its cultural norms.19

Historian Richard Kluger argues that “Separate schools for Negroes carried with them a legacy of social untouchability and psychological inferiority, and so their very presence in a community held the promise of yet another generation of second-class citizenship.” On the other hand, “segregated” and underfunded black schools often played essential social roles and cultivated rich cultural traditions within black communities, and thus “could be simultaneously a source of pride and a symbol of inadequacy.” Some African Americans simply preferred all-black schools on practical and ideological grounds.20 In short, integration, a cause imbued with exhilarating promise during the 1950s and early ’60s, at no time represented an end in itself.

Even tactical support for integration began to seem inauspicious over the course of the 1960s. It was not until the early 1970s that the Supreme Court appeared to sanction immediate and utter dissolution of both de jure and de facto school segregation. By then, judicial decrees, federal policy, and grassroots pressure had desegregated public education in parts of the South, despite virulent white opposition. However, desegregation forces also met bitter resistance in the North. “White backlash” conjures images of peaceable citizens pushed to the wall by black rioters and busing ordinances and pressed into action to preserve “neighborhood schools” and ethnic enclaves. The phrase hardly captures the fury with which many white northerners combated desegregation in the 1960s and ’70s. Boston became a paradigmatic site of antibusing hysteria, but scores of other communities also rallied against the “invasion” of black children, who were viewed as such a grave threat that in Pontiac, Michigan, empty buses were dynamited.21 White racism reinforced the matrix of postwar changes that transformed urban centers, devastating black schools and constricting the futures of the children they served. One such shift was the exodus of white residents from the city core. “White flight” was a highly subsidized process, not simply the result of independent household decisions. The state served as mass suburbanization’s most aggressive sponsor, though discriminatory banks, realtors, and other private interests bolstered the outmigration.22 Federal funds enriched booming residential frontiers from which African Americans were excluded, and deindustrialization spurred the loss of urban manufacturing, further eviscerating the job market and tax bases of cities with rapidly expanding black populations. By the 1960s, it was clear that the primary victims of postwar capitalist restructuring were African Americans, who had been systematically (p.33) denied the housing, social services, political patronage, and employment that buttressed white social mobility.

The structural shifts that depleted central cities ensured that impoverished urban schools became increasingly black domains. “By 1965,” legal scholar Davidson M. Douglas reports, “the percentage of black elementary school students attending majority black schools in Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia ranged from 87 to 97 percent, a sharp increase from the 1940s.” Racial segregation also intensified in New York. Historian Martha Biondi writes that in that city between 1954 and 1960, “the number of schools with a black and Puerto Rican student population of 90 percent or more rose from zero to thirty-eight, and by 1963 to sixty-one, or 22 percent of borough schools.” Inner-city public education sequestered and stigmatized whole populations of children. As African Americans entered the 1960s, increasingly clustered in ghettos amid American’s golden age of prosperity, they were often forced to rely on substandard public schools to propel their children into a credentials society that in coming years would all but bar the undereducated from dignified employment.23

“Their Own Turf”: The New Black Militancy

In the early 1960s, a blend of frustration and rising expectations converted northern desegregation struggles into militant vehicles for mass action. The movement for quality, integrated education had reached its peak. Radical momentum radiated from the South following the student sit-in crusades of 1960. Grassroots coalitions of parents, workers, and other activists escalated local battles against school bureaucracies, whose representatives had greeted their demands for equal education with indifference or condescension. (“You have a nice little demonstration,” New York’s school superintendent told Harlem parents during one protest.)24 By 1963, negotiation and incrementalism had given way to confrontation and direct action. Massive demonstrations unfolded in northern and midwestern cities, with tens of thousands of children boycotting classes and attending “freedom schools” during city-wide campaigns.25

The upsurge of militancy yielded concessions from national and local authorities. By the mid-1960s, dozens of northern school districts took decisive steps toward desegregation, transcending parsimonious “voluntary transfer” programs and turning instead to busing, school mergers, and the redrawing of attendance boundaries to intermingle white and black students. The federal government supplied a stream of funding to local school districts to support equal educational opportunity and attempted to boost the school readiness of poor children by enhancing basic skills. Though these reforms had some positive effects, they failed to redeem public (p.34) schooling for the masses of African Americans, whose educational fates reflected their larger socioeconomic subordination. The pedagogic failure of ghetto schools, one critic acknowledged, “must be blamed on the whole complex of social arrangements whose cumulative viciousness creates a Harlem or a Watts.”26

African Americans began to suspect that both well-meaning white people and the mechanism of liberal reform itself might be powerless to dismantle—might indeed be implicated in perpetuating—the very edifice of oppression. Street insurgents demonstrated this awareness by mounting spontaneous attacks on the property and symbols of white supremacy (extortionist stores, repressive police) in black central cities beginning in the summer of 1964.27 African Americans asked searching questions of American democracy as the economic containment of black inner cities intensified and the failures of integrationist reform were exposed. How could black people move from brokering concessions to seizing genuine power?

This question had haunted the freedom movement long before Stokely Carmichael and Willie Ricks of SNCC raised the call for Black Power in the summer of 1966. Growing insistence on its resolution reflected the struggle’s maturation, as did the regeneration of black nationalism within African-American political culture. Black nationalism had always been a factor in the movement. Renewed emphasis on racial pride and commitment to political autonomy now drove more black people to define liberation as the pursuit of group empowerment, and to shun assimilationist models of integration as tantamount to submersion in a hostile and alien culture. The rebirth of black nationalism highlighted political questions inherent in African-American urbanization and the emergence of postwar “second ghettos.” Were black inner cities simply reservations for the poor? Were black people primarily oriented toward “opening the opportunity structure within the existing system” or toward transforming “their own turf” into a more powerful and independent community?28

If black people never eschewed the former path, during the 1960s they made remarkable strides in the latter direction. Black Power drew momentum from grassroots traditions of radicalism, from the long-standing cultural value of self-determination, from recent political victories, from the tactical and theoretical inadequacies of “civil rights,” from shifts in the postwar economy, from Third World independence movements, from the eruption and suppression of riots, from renewed awareness of African heritage, from the searing insights of Malcolm X, and from widespread revulsion against U.S. imperialism in Vietnam and other lands. Its main impetus, however, lay in the rising determination of black people to define and defend themselves.

The new politics generated sweeping changes in the realm of education, an area uniquely equipped—because so many African Americans saw it as the critical mechanism of social transformation—to illustrate the influence of the (p.35) black nationalist renaissance. The struggle to reform deteriorating institutions in black communities, to reimagine the provision of social services, and to develop black cultural identity and consciousness all held profound implications for the conceptualization and delivery of education. Most educational justice movements since the 1950s had sought the training and resources necessary for black children to join mainstream society as fashioned by the white majority. After the mid-1960s, the orientation of black activism shifted decisively toward preparing those children to enter society on terms that they might dictate, and to enter in a manner that honored rather than degraded or denied their innermost selves.

Arming black children with a sense of cultural integrity and racial pride had been a long-standing priority for black Americans. What made the late 1960s extraordinary was the intense confluence of these ideas and the fact that they inspired so many black people to seek meaningful autonomy, whether this meant forming black caucuses within largely white educational organizations, agitating for black studies and community control of public schools, or establishing independent black institutions. African-American parents rejected the myth that education was apolitical. They recognized schooling as a matter of power, and they resolved to control the socialization of their children and the definition of their own social reality. They understood that for the oppressed, the transmission between generations of knowledge and cultural wisdom constitutes “a struggle in the arena of ideas,” and they realized that other crusades for freedom and justice might come to nothing if victory in this area were denied.29

Harlemites and other African Americans across the country strove to cultivate a redemptive vision of “black education.” Though no neat consensus emerged, many African Americans saw blackness as a convergence of historical circumstances and cultural values that necessitated distinct pedagogies. “Black,” the new symbol, offered a critical modifier for “education,” the old hope, and a whole generation of theorists sought to interpret their combined meaning. The definitions produced by these educators, parents, workers, intellectuals, and activists demanded a rethinking of the concepts of community, relevance, and autonomy—themes that provided fertile soil for the next generation of black independent schools. To appreciate the appeal of these concepts and to understand their practical application, one must trace from Manhattan to Brooklyn the evolution of community control.

“A Deluge of Action”: The Rise of Ocean Hill–Brownsville

Though the fight over IS 201 continued, by 1967, Brooklyn’s troubled neighborhood of Ocean Hill–Brownsville had overtaken Harlem as the vanguard of black (p.36) educational struggle. If East Harlem provided community control’s beachhead, Central Brooklyn supplied its definitive battleground. Therein lay Brownsville, a black and Puerto Rican enclave so blighted that even New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay called it “Bombsville.” The conglomerate territory of Ocean Hill–Brownsville, whose rates of poverty and unemployment surpassed those of Harlem, was an especially stark nexus of social decay.

Ocean Hill–Brownsville and its surroundings, including Bedford-Stuyvesant, harbored more than their share of anguish. Yet a spirit of resistance flourished within Central Brooklyn’s black populace. The city-wide school boycotts of the early to mid-1960s had drawn some of their most implacable leaders from the area, which featured a full complement of block organizations, antipoverty workers, and parent groups. Black and Puerto Rican residents continued to mobilize, launching rent strikes and pressing slumlords to repair crumbling tenements. As school strike organizer Milton Galamison wrote of a larger portion of black Brooklyn, “Any evidence of injustice can precipitate a deluge of social action.”30

Some inhabitants resolved to resist the crippling of their children in the area’s schools. The local agitators included charismatic Robert “Sonny” Carson of Brooklyn CORE, who in 1967 demanded from Bedford-Stuyvesant principals a detailed plan to bring the community’s black children up to grade level, pledging to ensure the removal of the administrators in question should they fail to comply. (Carson later organized the black nationalist School of Common Sense in the borough.) More modest measures were taken by mothers like Lillian Wagner, a Brownsville Parent Teacher Association president. She approached the microphone at a public hearing of the Board of Education in December 1966, hoping to discuss conditions in her neighborhood schools. The body, however, refused to hear the grievances of the single mother, who had not received advance permission to speak at the meeting.

This rebuff prompted a crescendo of objections from assembled antipoverty workers and activists, including participants in the ongoing IS 201 conflict and other aggrieved parents from the city’s poorer neighborhoods. Amid audience chants of “Let her speak!” members of the board summarily adjourned and left the meeting hall. Upon the departure of the officials, several protesters filled the dais chairs, proclaiming themselves the “People’s Board of Education.” The renegade body remained in the public hearing hall through the night, conducting a free-flowing discussion of the divide between the record of the schools and the parents’ dreams for their children. As 68-year-old Harlem organizer Mother Audley Moore later remarked, “It was a people’s parliament if ever there was one, and each vowed to remain until the rising sun.”31

The Ocean Hill–Brownsville struggle gained momentum in the wake of the three-day occupation of the central school board headquarters. In the summer of 1967, the Ford Foundation, an outfit that promoted social management as (p.37) the authoritative response to urban crises, sponsored three “demonstration districts” designed to offer residents of Harlem, Ocean Hill–Brownsville, and a section of Manhattan’s Lower East Side a genuine voice in the running of their schools. Appearing to acquiesce to growing pressure, the city’s embattled Board of Education agreed to cede a degree of authority to the neighborhood districts. New York’s experiment in community control had begun.32

A locally elected board of Ocean Hill–Brownsville parents and community leaders began staffing the eight-school district. The board hired a black district administrator who in turn oversaw a team that included four black principals and New York’s first Chinese and Puerto Rican principals. (Prior to these appointments, only four African Americans served as principal in a city of more than 850 schools and a largely nonwhite student population.) The board embraced the sensibilities of its neighborhood when choosing personnel, pursuing both minority and white candidates and weighing factors like commitment to the educability of black and Latino children. It ignored civil service and seniority rankings that ensured job security and determined promotion of the city’s largely Jewish teachers and school supervisors while keeping such positions almost uniformly white. (“The people in the street considered these laws written to protect the moneyed white power structure of this city,” a representative of the Ocean Hill–Brownsville board later argued.) This flouting of conventional merit standards ended the United Federation of Teachers’ (UFT) support for community control and brought the local union and black parents in the demonstration districts into open conflict.

The Ocean Hill–Brownsville governing board felt that its mandate to protect black and Puerto Rican children from racist or substandard teachers trumped narrow trade unionism or “professional rights,” a concept, it charged, that further entrenched white privilege at the expense of students of color. Nor would the board be satisfied to languish in impotence. Attempting to consolidate its contested power, it abruptly dismissed (or “forcibly transferred”) 19 intransigent district teachers and supervisors, most of them white, whom it accused of sabotaging the experiment in self-government. Thereafter, a full-scale conflict flared. Claiming that due process had been violated, the overwhelmingly white UFT launched a series of bitter, district-wide strikes that all but paralyzed the school system and stoked deep-seated racial animosities.33

The Ocean Hill–Brownsville confrontation stands as a “watershed moment” in the contemporary efforts of African Americans and other minorities to resist banishment to the social and economic margins of disintegrating urban centers.34 The affair was both a practical bid for accountability and a sign of blossoming political consciousness. Mobilized parents in Brooklyn and elsewhere hoped to compel school bureaucrats to respond to their desires for their children, whom they wished to see included in the technological revolution engulfing American (p.38) society. By 1969, battles for greater parent and neighborhood involvement in the decision-making process of local schools had gripped urban centers across the country. Within two years of IS 201’s opening skirmishes, grassroots pressure had made community control the most explosive issue in education.35

“The Back Way”: Black Survival and the Conundrum of Integration

The community control movement garnered much of its mass support from a universal impulse: the will to survive. African-American parents recognized that without adequate preparation for college and dignified employment, their children would remain stranded on the fringes of a technocratic society. Black educational revolts reflected conventional aspirations for social mobility. However, even the seemingly straightforward matter of survival contained multiple meanings, an indication of the complex motives that propelled African-American struggles. “Black survival” entailed not only economic advancement but also the literal preservation of life, as well as the strengthening of black consciousness and social institutions.

When African-American demonstrators decried “educational genocide,” a phrase maligned by school officials, they deployed a discourse of survival that acknowledged many assaults, from cultural denigration to political and economic subordination.36 The social empowerment implications of “survival” deepened in the late 1960s and early ’70s. “We do feel that we can develop the kinds of black kids in the ghetto who can withstand the negative influence of white education … without undergoing too much psychological damage,” African-American social work professor and IS 201 activist Preston Wilcox asserted in 1968.37 Speaking in 1972 before a gathering of black teachers at a Bedford-Stuyvesant junior high, another community control veteran declared:

In the Yeshiva schools the teachers teach the Jewish kids what they need to know to survive in this world. This is a black school. It’s made up of black and Puerto Rican kids. If you see any white kids here you show them to me because there ain’t any. This is a black school for black kids and you’ve got to teach them what they need to know to survive.38

“Survival” encompassed a host of aspirations. The concept could signal a need for greater black representation in mainstream society, affirm the value of black separation as a regrouping strategy, or entail some creative combination of these approaches. By the late 1960s, the broad discourse of survival seemed poised to (p.39) eclipse narrow visions of integration. Many African Americans welcomed educational models that transcended or rejected integrationist ideals.39

Conventional modes of desegregation proved capable of fulfilling neither evolving black aims nor the original objective of high-quality education. Prospects for substantial racial intermingling dwindled further amid the “bitter demographic and political facts” of the day. Nationwide, more children attended racially homogenous schools in 1970 than had done so in 1954. In 1971, the Supreme Court sanctioned busing as a remedy for segregation, yet the specter of “forced busing” continued to generate fierce white resistance. The rhetoric of “neighborhood schools” (versus campuses in outlying communities) masked a deep commitment to segregation. As one observer noted in 1967, “Protecting the neighborhood school has been the Northern equivalent of preserving the Southern way of life.”40

Integration offered a means of thrusting handfuls of black children toward the centers of social privilege in specific locales. These were often the sons and daughters of more assertive, informed, or better-off families who were positioned to seize limited opportunities to attend more prosperous white schools. But desegregation failed as a mass solution. “If a parent wants to bus a child and can do so, all right,” Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm declared in 1970. “But I am talking about the welfare mother. I am talking about the masses whose children will still be left behind.”41 The black schoolchildren who served as desegregation’s shock troops in the 1960s and 1970s often discovered that simply enrolling in white schools guaranteed neither equality nor educational opportunity. In 1972, legal scholar Derrick A. Bell recounted the abuse and humiliation that many such youngsters endured:

Black children are harassed unmercifully by white students, are suspended or expelled for little or no cause (when they are not simply ignored) by white teachers, are taunted and insulted, segregated within classes, excluded from extracurricular activities, shunted off into useless courses, and daily faced with a veritable battleground of racial hostility, much of which is beyond the ability or willingness of courts to rectify.42

Meanwhile, beginning in the 1950s, school mergers, closures, and other desegregation-related changes led to the massive dismissal and demotion of black teachers and administrators, particularly in the South. The shuttering of beloved black schools or the stripping of their cultural significance and identity through the loss of cherished traditions, emblems, colors, mascots, and names deepened the ordeal. Many black parents struggled to weigh the trauma black children often suffered during forays onto white campuses against the benefits of what they believed to be an objectively superior academic experience. Despair (p.40) enveloped one black mother after a Pontiac, Michigan, school bus delivered its African-American passengers to the rear entrance of an elementary school as a way to evade screaming antibusing pickets. “If there’s anything that grates on black folks’ nerves,” she said, “it’s going in the back way.”43

The demeaning implications of integrationist practice intensified black alienation. The power to design and implement desegregation campaigns resided far beyond black communities, reinforcing the white paternalism that many African Americans yearned to escape. The premise that black children should bear the burden of migration angered black parents who envisioned integration as a proportionate exchange in which all involved parties shared burdens and benefits. “Most black folks feel, too, it’s always been one-way, it’s been black kids being brutalized, psychologically manipulated—it’s never been white kids,” Brooklyn teacher Leslie Campbell later maintained. “We say, ‘O.K., you want integration, why don’t you bus white kids into Bedford Stuyvesant?’ ”44

Then there was the question of the basic nature of black schools. The IS 201 affair had evolved from the premise of the inseparability of integrated schools and excellent education. Now the notion of the inherent inferiority of all-black schools seemed grossly insulting—“mix Negroes with Negroes and you get stupidity,” as CORE’s Floyd McKissick put it in 1966. The Ocean Hill–Brownsville struggle demonstrated the growing reluctance of some residents of the community to disparage black schools by defining them simply as “segregated.” Questions of power and control began to rival the old view of racial concentration as the hallmark of oppression.45

Other factors eroded black investment in desegregation. Bonds of solidarity and heritage connected many African Americans to black institutions and environments. The prospect of cultural attrition in white schools remained a source of quiet anxiety. A 1968 cartoon in an Ocean Hill–Brownsville community newspaper depicted a black man seated at a table in an upscale restaurant. “No bean ‘n’ rice, no turnip greens ‘n’ hog jowl, no kinda soul food!” the diner quipped. “You call this inter-gration? I calls it starvation!”46

By the eve of the 1970s, the discrediting of unjust or assimilationist modes of integration appeared all but complete. “Now it is clear to blacks that our initial acceptance of one-way ‘integration,’ based on a definition of integration developed by whites, put the burden on us and perpetuated the very thing we most desired to end—the one-sided view of who’s valuable in this society,” Boston activist Mel King maintained. But how absolute was the shift in emphasis toward improving existing black schools or creating new, autonomous ones? Was desegregation “as a broad social goal and a major political objective” truly dead?47

Most African Americans remained deeply committed to dismantling the lingering structures of racial segregation. Pragmatic desegregation as a pathway to social and economic advancement remained as critical to black liberation as did (p.41) strategic separation.48 Integrationist and nationalist impulses were never mutually exclusive. Many militant integrationists affirmed black institutions while insisting that African-American freedom and dignity required access to the apparatuses of white power. Indeed, desegregation campaigns actually stimulated the racial consciousness of young activists, who rejected the idea that cultural dissolution constituted an acceptable cost of full citizenship.49

“A Common Mood”: The Ideologies of Community Control

To understand the depth of support for community control of black schools in neighborhoods like Ocean Hill–Brownsville, one must consider widespread alienation from narrowly conceived integration, on one hand, and rising optimism about the internal development of black communities, on the other. Black central cities appeared degrading to their occupants not because of the racial composition of these territories, but because of the relative powerlessness of their inhabitants. In such neighborhoods flourished a politicized minority with a conscious, strategic orientation toward either integration or nationalism, and a substantial majority whose politics can best be described as pragmatic. Individuals traversed these categories—or combined their essential perspectives—based on the changing realities of struggle.

By the late 1960s, however, the cultural value of black self-determination had won the allegiance of virtually all political currents. Though vigorous internal debate continued, the idea of a unified, politically and culturally autonomous “black community” captured the imagination of many African Americans. One scholar has argued that “In the late 1960s, the black community stood as a conglomeration of often contradictory interests and directions, dubiously tied together by a common mood which combined centuries of anger with new hope, increasing desperation with new confidence.”50 Reconciling such complexity with the broad mandate for community control requires an examination of the common impulses that connected traditionally competing political outlooks.

Pragmatists, for their part, employed a compelling logic. While African- American advancement required immediate access to decent education, substantial residential and school desegregation appeared unlikely in the foreseeable future. The shift to educational self-rule constituted a rational strategic adjustment given prevailing realities. Underlying this perspective was the proposition that geographic racial concentration might provide a basis for empowering—rather than merely containing—black communities. Preston Wilcox, IS 201 tactician and social work professor, expressed the pragmatist (p.42) view in 1966 when he urged a gathering of Harlem parents to reassess the premises of integration. “If one believes that a segregated white school can be a good school, then one must believe that a segregated Negro and Puerto Rican school, like I.S. 201, can also be a good school,” he argued. “We must be concerned with those who are left behind and who will be left behind even if the best conceivable school desegregation program should be implemented.”51

Then there were those with an ideological commitment to integration. Many of these figures adopted a compromise position that acknowledged the practical shortcomings of integrationism while offering forthright support for community control. “I don’t want segregation,” IS 201 parent leader David Spencer declared in 1966, “but if I have it, I want it on my terms.” Babbette Edwards of Harlem’s community board continued to view black neighborhood involvement in school governance as a reform that might ultimately facilitate integration. Yet she rejected the prospect of further desegregation plans engineered by white officials. “Our priority is black community control,” she acknowledged.52

The community control movement also contained an avowedly nationalist element. Its ranks included members of New York’s Afro-American Teachers Association (ATA), the organization that had split from the UFT to become the union’s most intractable adversary. Many who identified with black nationalism saw community control of education as the initial campaign of a struggle for greater authority over police forces, businesses, and other institutions within African-American neighborhoods. Nationalists wished to use public schools to foster a robust racial consciousness and to acculturate black children according to concepts of African identity. “We understand now that the schools have been preparing us to live in a white society as white people,” declared Ocean Hill–Brownsville middle school administrator Albert Vann, an ATA official. “They have been preparing us for something we can never be.”53

On some questions, nationalists, pragmatists, and integrationists remained too closely aligned to constitute separate camps. A broad cross-section of the black working class could understand the concept of community control—could grasp the need for African-American parents to root out racist administrators and materials and ensure that their children’s teachers actually believed that they could learn. Yet the mainstream news media and UFT leadership, ignorant or scornful of the political realities of black inner cities, depicted militant impulses within community control campaigns as the bitter fruit of a black nationalist fringe. They saw the organic black impetus toward self-determination as the result of manipulation by foreign ideological agents.54

The militancy of the Ocean Hill–Brownsville citizenry deepened throughout 1968 and 1969 as the struggle to resist the subversion of community control wore on. Major news outlets displayed a stark bias, citing as evidence of black extremism any nationalistic or chauvinistic tendency within the politically (p.43) complex affair. Meanwhile, UFT representatives leveled accusations of “mob rule” and magnified troubling incidents of anti-Semitism to restore public faith in the supremacy of white bureaucratic professionalism over the insurgencies of the urban black poor and working class.55 The prejudices of the news media and the political establishment incensed Ocean Hill–Brownsville inhabitants. “They must kill Ocean Hill-Brownsville in order to give credibility to their belief that we are not capable of self-determination,” declared Rhody McCoy, administrator of the neighborhood district. Black Brooklyn at the height of the struggle was hardly “a unanimously aroused and totally mobilized community.” Yet its schools were far from strongholds of “revolutionaries without a following,” as a major news magazine opined.56

Some African Americans interpreted community control as an explicitly black nationalist demand. Others saw a bid for traditional reform. (“We’re like Boston Tea Party Indians,” one Harlemite exclaimed.) Sponsors of New York’s Black Solidarity Day hailed “all complexions of militancy.” Still, few Ocean Hill–Brownsville parents questioned what Marxist theorist Grace Lee Boggs called “the individualist, opportunist orientation of American education.”57 Acceptance of the ethic of schooling as a matter of individual preparation for job competition overshadowed overtly anticapitalist critiques. As a cause that brought into conflict exploited black and Puerto Rican workers and an ascendant class of relatively privileged, overwhelmingly white craft unionists (i.e., New York City public school teachers), the period’s defining community control battle further imperiled the links between black militancy and the mainstream labor movement.

Of course, it was organized labor in its conservative, postwar incarnation that had repudiated those ties in the first place. In its struggles to defend newfound class privileges, the UFT appeared to black New Yorkers not as a social democratic ally, but as another lilywhite craft union, like those in the construction trades, that was prepared to close ranks with employers and industry to exclude people of color from the halls of power. By contrast, the community control movement displayed growing awareness of the structural nature of urban poverty and the dual character of racial and class oppression, and thus provided ample groundwork for future challenges to white supremacy.58

“Ocean Hill–Brownsville Is Like Kenya”: Community Control and the Colonial Analogy

All manner of ideas, reformist and radical alike, circulated within Ocean Hill–Brownsville. While the efforts of the black separatist Republic of New (p.44) Africa to promote a plebiscite on the matter of Ocean Hill–Brownsville’s formal sovereignty generated only polite interest, a major premise of this drive—the view of black urbanites as a subject people residing in conquered “national” territory—proved ubiquitous. The internal colony theory of black ghettos, an idea derived from Third World struggles and refined by African-American intellectuals like Harold Cruse and Jack O’Dell, permeated popular discourse during the mid-1960s. A Harlem antipoverty official lectured on the concept in 1967, and an IS 201 administrator later interpreted its essential meaning. “Ocean Hill-Brownsville is like Kenya,” he said. “We are like another part of West Africa. We have all been excluded from the seats of power.”59

The idea that African-American communities constituted colonial possessions of white America provided a compelling explanation for the subordination of central cities, whose economies and political will were subject to “foreign” rule. For Brooklyn’s Black Caucus, whose members called for United Nations recognition of “30 million Afro Americans within a racist nation of white oppressors,” the idea represented a kind of orthodoxy. A less literal conception of colonial status led Brooklyn clergy, activists, and black citizens of all political creeds to describe their schools and neighborhoods as afflicted by absentee domination. The parent council of an Ocean Hill–Brownsville junior high referred to the strike-related police occupation of the community as “an invasion by a foreign military force.”60

While such declarations revealed the influence of political theory, community control drew much of its momentum from quotidian impulses. Many Ocean Hill–Brownsville parents supported the movement simply because they remained desperate to see their children properly educated. They tended to follow a middle course, declining to demand total autonomy or to deploy inflammatory rhetoric. But the wisdom, even inevitability of their bid to control the schools seemed irrefutable. “This is our community … this is our community … and we don’t own anything in it!” one parent exclaimed. “Not even our own children.”61

The quest to control the socialization of black and Puerto Rican children fueled larger desires for dignity and power. As parents and workers were drawn into the movement, their capacity for political self-organization was revealed. Alienation from public schools and from other failing civic institutions in black neighborhoods continued to fester. The rising consciousness of Harlem, Ocean Hill–Brownsville, and similarly aroused black communities suggested that a powerful political transformation was underway. In the throes of struggle, very few participants recognized the inherent constraints of home rule.

By the mid-1960s, Harlem’s Intermediate School 201 had become a symbol of the militant rejection of superficial and unjust desegregation schemes. (p.45) Community control, a pragmatic alternative, reached its apogee in Central Brooklyn. Ocean Hill–Brownsville’s bid for authority over local schools encountered staunch opposition from bureaucratic unionists. However, the imperatives of African-American “survival” and educational salvation generated multiple forms of resistance. Far from a symptom of disillusionment, campaigns for black autonomy reflected growing optimism about the prospects for internal development of African-American neighborhoods. Cries of “educational genocide” indicted not only shoddy “ghetto schools” but also the larger structural domination of the black urban core. Redemptive models of education needed to fulfill broad visions of dignity while preparing youngsters to help “decolonize” their communities. These militant ambitions would converge in the principle of “social relevance.”


(1.) George Jackson, Soledad Brother (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), 12. For related discussions of community control, black educational thought, and black self-determination, see Daniel H. Perlstein, Justice, Justice: School Politics and the Eclipse of Liberalism (New York: Peter Lang, 2004); Dionne Danns, Something Better for Our Children: Black Organizing in Chicago Public Schools, 1963–1971; Matthew Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006); Jack Dougherty, More Than One Struggle: The Evolution of Black School Reform in Milwaukee (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005); Bill Dahlk, Against the Wind: African Americans and the Schools in Milwaukee, 1963–2000 (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2010); Craig Steven Wilder, A Covenant with Color: Race and Social Power in Brooklyn (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

(2.) “Operation Shut-Down,” pamphlet, January 21, 1965, Box 15, Folder “Boycott 1965,” ASP, CUL; Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Youth in the Ghetto (New York: HARYOU, 1964), 188. For early references to “educational genocide,” see Robert L. Levey, “Hint Defiance of Collins During Dr. King’s Visit,” Boston Globe, April 21, 1965, 7, and Ray Rogers, “Watts Group Charges School Discrimination,” Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1967, 11.

(3.) Hope R. Stevens, “Economic Structure of the Harlem Community,” Freedomways, Summer 1963, 343–354; Editors, “Harlem—A Community in Transition,” Freedomways, Summer 1963, 262; “Junior High School 139: A School So Bad Even Teachers Picket,” New York Amsterdam News, December 21, 1963, 3; Sylvester Leaks, “Talking About Harlem,” Freedomways, Summer 1963, 263.

(4.) Sara Slack, “We’d Rather Go to Jail,” New York Amsterdam News, December 13, 1958, 24; Jennifer de Forest, “The 1958 Harlem School Boycott: Parental Activism and the Struggle for Educational Equity in New York City,” Urban Review 40 (2008): 21–41; Adina Back, “Up South in New York: The 1950s School Desegregation Struggles” (PhD diss., New York University, 1997).

(5.) Clarence Taylor, Knocking at Our Own Door: Milton A. Galamison and the Struggle to Integrate New York City Schools (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2001); Editors, “Harlem—A Community in Transition,” 262.

(6.) Views [Harlem Parents Committee newsletter], February 1965, Box 15, Folder “Boycott 1965,” ASP, CUL; “An Analysis of the Board of Education Open Enrollment Policy,” Box 14, Folder 99, MGP, SCR.

(7.) Fred Powledge, “Leaders of Protest Foresee a New Era of Militancy Here,” New York Times, February 4, 1964, 1; Annie Stein, “Strategies for Failure,” Harvard Educational Review 41 (1971): 158–204; Harlem Parents Committee, “The Education of Minority Group Children in the New York City Public Schools,” pamphlet, 1965, Box 1, Folder 28, JWJ, SCR; Views, August 1965, Box 13, Folder 27, EJB, SCR; “A Slice of IS 201 History, April,1966: Parents Council District #4,” Box 24, Folder 1, PWP, SCR; Fred M. Hechinger, “I.S. 201 Teaches Lessons on Race,” New York Times, September 25, 1966, 166; “Battle to Control Black Schools,” Ebony, May 1969, 48; Herbert Kohl, “Integrate with Whom?” Interplay, June–July 1968, 27; Thomas K. Minter, “Intermediate School 201, Manhattan: Center of Controversy,” pamphlet, Box 53, Folder 17, UFT, RFW; Jason Epstein, “The Politics of School Decentralization,” New York Review of Books, June 6, 1968, 26–32; “A Summary of the Controversy at I.S. 201,” IRCD Bulletin, Winter 1966–1967, 1–2; Diane Ravitch, The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools (New York: Basic Books, 1988).

(8.) Views, April and May 1966, Box 15, Folder “Views/HPC,” and February 12, 1965, Joseph Patterson and Calvin Oba letter to Parents, Box 15, Folder “Boycott 1965,” and “Action Training Clearing House Notes on Decentralization,” and “Community Control of Schools—‘We Couldn’t Do Worse,” Box 1, Folder 6, ASP, CUL.

(9.) Views, July 1966, Box 13, Folder 25, EJB, SCR; Views, November 1967, Box 52, Folder 17, UFT, RFW.

(10.) Laurence T. Sorkin, “Anarchists and Royalists in the Promised Land: I.S. 201 and Single School Autonomy,” unpublished paper, 1967, LGL, YLS; Gene Currivan, “Board Sets Talks in School Dispute,” New York Times, September 11, 1966, 79; Marlene Nadle, “Ghetto Fight: Quality, Segregated Education,” Village Voice, September 29, 1966, 11; Andrew Kopkind, “Down the Down Staircase: Parents, Teachers, and Public Authorities,” New Republic, October 22, 1966, 12; Preston R. Wilcox, “Issues and Answers: Black Male Principal,” Renewal, October–November 1966.

(11.) Dorothy S. Jones, “The Issues at I.S. 201: A View from the Parent’s Committee,” Integrated Education, October–November, 1966, 23; “Events and Issues Surrounding Intermediate School 201,” 1966, Box 21, Folder 33, JHC, SCR.

(12.) Preston Wilcox, “The Kids Will Decide—And More Power to Them,” Ebony, August 1970, 134; George Todd, “Say ‘School Chaos Harder on Blacks,’ ” New York Amsterdam News, September 16, 1967, 25; “A Proposal for a Neighborhood Education Committee,” 1966, Box 10, Folder 9, PWP, SCR; Merelice Kundratis, “Roxbury Unit Seeks School Control,” Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 1968, 13.

(13.) Quoted in James C. Harvey, Black Civil Rights During the Johnson Administration (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1973), 202; see, for example, Diane Ravitch, The Troubled Crusade: American Education 1945-1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 162, 174.

(14.) Will Lissner, “Harlem Proposes a Special Panel to Operate I.S. 201,” New York Times, October 3, 1966, 1, 37; untitled essay, 1966, Box 1, Folder 6, ASP, CUL; “Conflicting Images of the Community’s Role in the School,” unpublished essay, Box 11, Folder 19, PWP, SCR; quoted in Jeremy Larner, “I.S. 201: Disaster in the Schools,” Dissent, January–February 1967, 33.

(15.) Robert Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 11.

(16.) Thomas J. Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2008): 170–171.

(17.) Danns, Something Better for Our Children, 13, 22–23; Michael W. Homel, Down from Equality: Black Chicagoans and the Public Schools, 1920-41 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1994), x; Jean Anyon, Ghetto Schooling: A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997), 50–63; Jeanne M. Theoharis, “ ‘Exposing the Whole Desegregation Myth’: The Harlem Nine and New York City’s School Desegregation Battles,” in Freedom North: Black Freedom Struggles Outside the South, 1940-1980, ed. Theoharis and Komozi Woodard (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 67, 69; Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty, 174–179; David M. Douglas, Jim Crow Moves North: The Battle Over Northern School Segregation, 1865-1954 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 7, 10, 192; Gregory S. Jacobs, Getting Around Brown: Desegregation, Development and the Columbus Public Schools (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1998), 7–10; Vincent P. Franklin, The Education of Black Philadelphia: The Social and Educational History of a Minority Community, 1900-1950 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1979), 48–49, 71–73, 150, 188–197.

(18.) Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, “Families as Educators: The Forgotten People of Brown,” in Shades of Brown: New Perspectives on School Desegregation, ed. Derrick A. Bell, Jr. (New York: Teachers College Press, 1980), 3.

(19.) Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 151–155; Martha Biondi, To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 241–248; Jack Dougherty, More Than One Struggle: The Evolution of Black School Reform in Milwaukee (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 37–45; Robert L. Carter, “A Reassessment of Brown,” in Shades of Brown, 22; David B. Tyack, “Growing Up Black: Perspectives on the History of Education in Northern Ghettos,” History (p.277) of Education Quarterly 9 (1969): 291; Alton Hornsby, Black Power in Dixie: A Political History of African Americans in Atlanta (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009), 226–230; Paula S. Fass, Outside In: Minorities and the Transformation of American Education (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 7; Manning Marable, Race, Reform & Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 53.

(20.) Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality (New York: Knopf, 1976), 510; Jacobs, Getting Around Brown, 17; Howell S. Baum, Brown in Baltimore: School Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 76.

(21.) Ravitch, Troubled Crusade, 175–177; Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty, 181–189, 451–466.

(22.) Anyon, Ghetto Schooling, 71–81; Franklin, The Education of Black Philadelphia, 200; David B. Tyack, The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974), 284; Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); Self, American Babylon, 211.

(23.) Ronald P. Formisano, Boston Against Busing: Race, Class and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 12; Douglas, Jim Crow Moves North, 266–68; Jacobs, Getting Around Brown, 10–16; Biondi, To Stand and Fight, 248.

(24.) Leonard Buder, “Picketing Quiet at School Board,” New York Times, July 16, 1963, 13.

(25.) Fred Powledge, “Leaders of Protest Foresee a New Era of Militancy Here,” New York Times, February 4, 1964, 1, 20; Danns, Something Better for Our Children, 33–42; Taylor, Knocking at Our Own Door, 121, 129.

(26.) Christopher Jencks, “Private Schools for Black Children,” in Restructuring American Education: Innovation and Alternatives, ed. Ray C. Rist (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1972), 172.

(27.) See, for example, Countryman, Up South, 156.

(28.) Manuel Castells, The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 67; Mel King, Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1981), xxvi, 129, 153.

(29.) Marilyn Gittell, Local Control in Education: Three Demonstration School Districts in New York City (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972), 24.

(30.) Steven V. Roberts, “Brownsville Sinks in Decay and Fear,” New York Times, March 7, 1968, 45. See also Sylvester Leaks, “Is Community Control of Schools New Lever for Black Liberation?” Muhammad Speaks, September 8, 1968, 15; Milton A. Galamison, “Bedford-Stuyvesant—Land of Superlatives,” Freedomways, Summer 1963, 420.

(31.) May 9, 1967, Oliver Leeds, Bob Carson, Maurice Fredericks, Mary Phifer Letter, Box 52, Folder 17, UFT, RFW; “Chronology: The People’s Board of Education, New York City,” Views, 1967, 3, Box 15, Folder “Views/HPC,” ASP, CUL.

(32.) New York Civil Liberties Union, “The Burden of Blame: A Report on the Ocean Hill-Brownsville School Controversy,” Urban Education, April 1964, 9; L. Alexander Harper, “School Daze in Ocean Hill-Brownsville: The Death of Classroom Colonialism,” Church in Metropolis, Winter 1968, 26.

(33.) Fred Ferretti, “Who’s to Blame in the School Strike,” New York Magazine, November 18, 1968, 23; Preston Wilcox, “ ‘Troublemakers at the Board of Education: Fact or Fantasy,” Equity and Excellence in Education, June 1967, 47–53; Jerald E. Podair, The Strike That Changed New York: Blacks, Whites and the Ocean Hill-Brownsville Crisis (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 71–74; “Report to Governing Board Ocean Hill School District from Personnel Committee, Mrs. Clara Marshall, Chairman,” n.d., Box 1, Folder 6, ASP, CUL; Leonard Buder, “Ghetto Residents Seeking New Role,” New York Times, January 11, 1967, 27, 33; Maurice J. Goldbloom, “The New York School Crisis,” Commentary, January 1969, 43–48; “Chronology of the Events in the City’s School Crisis,” New York Times, November 4, 1968, 54.

(34.) William W. Sales, Jr. and Rod Bush, “The Political Awakening of Blacks and Latinos in New York City: Competition or Cooperation?” Social Justice 27 (2000): 35.

(35.) Merelice Kundratis, “Roxbury Unit Seeks School Control,” Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 1968, 13; “An Open Letter to Teachers,” Foresight, February 1969, 5; “Community Control Across the Nation,” Community [Queens College Institute for Community Studies], February 1969, 1–2; Fred M. Hechinger, “Negroes’ Priority Demand,” New York Times, October 13, 1968, 1; Joe Walker, “Harlem Struggles for Voice in the Control of Black Schools,” Muhammad Speaks, October 4, 1968, 36.

(36.) See, for example, James Goodrich, “Black Confab Hears Political Action Call,” Los Angeles Sentinel, June 1, 1967, A1; C. Gerald Fraser, “Survival Is a Topic at Black Power Conference,” New York Times, August 30, 1968, 24; “Black Survival,” Black Panther, October 5, 1968, 4. Also see Civil Rights Congress, ed. We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government Against the Negro People (New York: International Publishers, 1970), and William L. Patterson, “ ‘We (Still) Charge Genocide,’ ” Muhammad Speaks, June 26, 1970, 23; “Let Freedom Ring!” flyer, n.d., Box 15, Folder “Boycott 1965,” ASP, CUL.

(37.) Transcript of Jim Leeson Interview with Preston Wilcox, Brooklyn, May 1968, CRD, MSR.

(38.) February 17, 1972, unnamed letter, Box 24, Folder 9, UFT, RFW.

(39.) See, for example, Dahlk, Against the Wind, 41.

(40.) Derrick A. Bell, Jr., “School Desegregation: Seeking New Victories Among the Ashes,” Freedomways, Winter 1977, 35–38; US Commission on Civil Rights, Racial Isolation in the Public Schools (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1967), 199; Carl Bernstein, “Norfolk: Learning to Live with Busing,” Washington Post, November 29, 1971, 1; Dionne Danns, “Racial Ideology and the Sanctity of the Neighborhood School in Chicago,” Urban Review 40 (2008): 64–75; Alex Poinsett, “Ghetto Schools: An Educational Wasteland,” Ebony, August 1967, 54.

(41.) Shirley Chisholm, “The Black as a Colonized Man,” Afro-American Studies 1 (1970): 8. “What kind of a hypocrite am I to tell black children to do their thing in school and college so that they can take their rightful place in society?” Ocean Hill–Brownsville school administrator Rhody McCoy fumed in 1970. “Where is that place?” (“Does Integration Still Matter to Blacks?” Time, March 9, 1970, 14.)

(42.) Derrick A. Bell, Jr., “Integration—Is It a No-Win Educational Policy for Blacks?” in Federal Pre-School and Early Childhood Programs From a Black Perspective, ed. Evelyn K. Moore (Washington, DC: National Policy Conference on Education for Blacks, 1972), 7.

(43.) William E. Nelson, Jr., “School Desegregation and the Black Community,” Theory Into Practice 17 (1978): 122–130. For a discussion of desegregation and the loss of black cultural traditions, see David S. Cecelski, Along Freedom Road: Hyde Country, North Carolina and the Fate of Black Schools in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), and Vanessa Siddle Walker, Their Highest Potential: An African American School Community in the Segregated South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996). For a discussion of black education and social and cultural capital, see Marion Orr, Black Social Capital: The Politics of School Reform in Baltimore, 1986-1998 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999); “Genocide by Desegregation/White Control,” pamphlet, Institute of Afrikan Research, Harlem, 1982, Box 24, Folder 9, PWP, SCR; David K. Shipler, “Busing in New York: Ambivalence, Not Outrage,” New York Times, March 20, 1972, 39; Daniel Zwerdling, “White Militance in Michigan—Block Those Buses,” New Republic, October 23, 1971, 14. See also Milton A. Galamison, “Educational Values and Community Power,” Freedomways, Fall 1968, 311–318.

(44.) Lesley Oelsner, “Goal of Integration in Schools Elusive,” New York Times, November 20, 1977, 64.

(45.) Floyd McKissick, “A Communication: Is Integration Necessary?” New Republic, December 3, 1966, 34; “African-American Teachers Association Demands Self-Control, Self-Determination, and Self-Defense for Schools in the Black Community,” flyer, September 1967, Box 24, Folder 8, UFT, RFW.

(46.) “Jist Funin’,” cartoon, Community Advocate (Ocean Hill-Brownsville), n.d., Box 53, Folder 2, UFT, RFW.

(47.) Mel King, “Thoughts on Busing: 1972, not 1954,” manuscript, March 1972, Box 25, Folder 10, PWP, SCR; Philip Green, “Decentralization, Community Control, and Revolution,” Massachusetts Review 11 (1970): 437; Shipler, “Busing in New York,” 39.

(48.) As a measure of African-American ambivalence toward the most contentious desegregation method—busing—during the height of Black Power, consider the 1972 antibusing resolution passed by the National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana. After the resolution sparked an outcry from some of the gathering’s 7,000 attendees, delegates rushed to pass a qualifying resolution that opposed busing where it destroyed high-quality education in black communities and supported it where it “serves the end of equal education for black people.” (See “Hatcher Reviews Parley of Blacks,” New York Times, March 16, 1972, 34; “Inside the Black Convention,” New York Amsterdam News, March 18, 1972, 1.)

(49.) Jean Carey Bond, “The New York School Crisis: Integration for What?”Freedomways, Spring 1964, 201.

(50.) Quoted in Marable, Race, Reform & Rebellion, 97.

(51.) Preston Wilcox, “The Controversy over IS 201,” Urban Review 1 (1966): 13.

(52.) Larner, “IS 201: Disaster in the Schools,” 29; Lillian S. Calhoun, “New York: Schools and Power—Whose?” Integrated Education, January–February 1969, 33. This stance was somewhat distinct from that of the NAACP, which offered tepid support for community control while maintaining its traditional stance against the nationalist position. “We do not believe that community control and desegregation are inherently incompatible or in conflict unless they are made to be by the advocates, white or black, of racial separatism,” the organization’s national office proclaimed. See Alan Altshuler, Community Control: The Black Demand for Participation in Large American Cities (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1970), 60–61.

(53.) “Battle to Control Black Schools,” 44.

(54.) One academic wrote, “Negroes who have become discouraged with the slow pace of progress toward desegregation in the schools are increasingly receptive to the separatist argument of militant black nationalists.” Daniel U. Levine, “Confused Reform Rhetoric in the Big Cities,” Integrated Education, September–October 1968, 30. The origins of nationalist revolt were actually more homegrown. For example, the first demonstration staged by Harlem’s incipient Black Panther cadre in September 1966 targeted a local school that many of the young picketers once had attended. (See Thomas A. Johnson, “Black Panthers Picket a School,” New York Times, September 13, 1966, 38).

(55.) Examples of media bias abound. On the occasion of a triumphant, largely black and Puerto Rican march from city hall to the Board of Education headquarters in Brooklyn, an event hailed by the Black Panther newspaper as “one of the largest demonstrations of strength in the history of black struggle in New York City,” the New York Times, ever faithful to the cause of portraying northern black protest as disruptive and illegitimate, snubbed the demonstration as a temporary nuisance for rush-hour commuters. (“20,000 in N.Y. March for Black Control,” Black Panther, October 26, 1968, 15; Maurice Carroll, “School Protest Blocks Traffic on Brooklyn Bridge,” New York Times, October 4, 1972, 38.) For examples of UFT rhetoric, see “The Black and the Jew: A Falling Out of Allies,” Time, January 31, 1969, 55–59; and “Who Should Run the Schools,” Newsweek, October 28, 1968, 84.

(56.) “They Must Kill Ocean Hill/Brownsville … ,” Rhody McCoy press release, n.d. (c. 1968), Box 1, Folder 6, ASP, CUL; “The Talk of the Town: Notes and Comment,” New Yorker, October 26, 1968.

(57.) “Black Solidarity Day,” 1970 flyer, Box 24, Folder 9, and “Let’s Take Our Schools!” flyer, n.d. (c. 1968), Box 55, Folder 16, UFT, RFW; Thomas A. Johnson, “Protesters Carry Cause from School to School,” New York Times, December 11, 1968, 36; “Black Mother Speaks On: Mis-Education of the American Child,” Muhammad Speaks, October 11, 1968, 34; Grace Lee Boggs, “Education: The Great Obsession,” Monthly Review, September 1970, 29.

(58.) Herbert Hill, “Letter to the Editor,” Issues in Industrial Society 1 (1970): 69; Charles Isaacs, “Colonial Politics in the Schools: A Case Study,” unpublished manuscript, Box 1, Folder 6, ASP, CUL; “On the Line: Who Will Control New York City Schools,” Guardian, October 26, 1968, 11.

(59.) Agee Ward, “Ocean Hill: Education, Community, Power and the Media,” Center Forum, November 13, 1968, 1–10; “Ocean Hill Target for Black Militants,” New York Amsterdam News, March 22, 1969. For early examples of internal colony analysis, see Jack O’Dell, “Colonialism and the Negro American Experience,” Freedomways, Fall 1966, 296–308; and O’Dell, “A Special Variety of Colonialism,” Freedomways, Winter 1967, 8; Larner, “I.S. 201: Disaster in the Schools,” 33, 39.

(60.) Calhoun, “New York: Schools and Power—Whose?” 25; Soul [Newsletter of Brooklyn Black Caucus], July 4, 1968, Box 55, Folder 17, and “Position Paper—The Parent-Community Council, from JHS 271,” May 15, 1968, Box 55, Folder 16, UFT, RFW.

(61.) Miriam Wasserman, “The I.S. 201 Story,” Urban Review, June 1969, 4; Preston Wilcox, “Changing Conceptions of Community,” Educational Leadership 21 (1972) [original emphasis].