View as Webpage • February 7, 2023

Inside this Special Edition 

  • The Story that Refuses to be Silenced
  • Black Student-Centered Policy Agenda
  • We Must Do the Right Thing – Honoring the Legacy of a Southern Civil Rights Hero
  • Get Classroom Lessons in IDRA's We All Belong – School Resource Hub 
  • The Father of Black History – What Carter G. Woodson Continues to Teach Us About Our Present Moment  
  • School Segregation through Vouchers – What Policymakers Can Learn from a History of State Efforts to Use Vouchers to Avoid Integration
  • Owning Our History – Henrietta Wood’s Story
  • IDRA History Snapshot

The Story that Refuses to be Silenced

by Terrence Wilson, J.D.

It is impossible not to notice that attacks on truthful and accurate history have swept the nation, particularly the South, over the last few years. Most recently, Florida leaders made news by seeking to ban implementation of AP African American Studies while AP courses teaching the language and history of the peoples of Europe, Japan, Germany, Italy and Spain are all permitted in Florida.

It is clear that these leaders see a unique danger in allowing students to have an appreciation for the full experience of Black people in America. Nevertheless, those who know Black history understand that the current efforts to whitewash and censor will ultimately fail because the story of Black people in this country is the story of a resilient people who from the beginning refused to be denied an education.

The story of Black people in America is one of a people who demand to learn and have their story told. It is the story of a people who, since being stolen and brought to this country, endeavored to learn despite incredible danger and persecution. In fact, historian James Anderson estimates that by 1860, 5% of enslaved people (over 200,000 individuals) had learned to read.

It is the story of former slaves taking ownership of the educational futures of their children by building their own schools even before the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau. It is the story of Black educators and administrators across the South who opened so-called “native schools” like the Pioneer School of Freedom in New Orleans in 1860 and the Fortress Monroe School in Virginia in 1861. In fact, John Alvord, appointed Superintendent of Schools for the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1865, estimated that by 1866 there were at least 500 schools established by Black educators and administrators for Black students in operation throughout the South.

It is a story of a people who demanded equal access to education despite Jim Crow laws, threats of violence, and separate and unequal segregated schools. It is the story of a people who continue to demand an education that sustains their culture, treats them with dignity and tells the story of their collective experience.

These leaders do not want students to learn Black history and about the Black experience because they know that having a knowledge of their collective past will sustain their collective future and enable them to continue striving together toward a just educational future.

IDRA recognizes the power, strength and resilience of Black students and their families every day, but particularly so during Black History Month. Over the coming weeks, IDRA staff will publish an updated policy agenda for Black students as well as additional Black History Month reflections from our Black staff members in an effort to celebrate Black students and the rich history of Black people in America. 

Black Student-Centered Policy Agenda

by Morgan Craven, J.D.

Just like their peers, Black students bring great talents, interests, joy and cultural contributions to their classrooms. They deserve to be supported and guided through their academic and social lives by teachers and administrators who care deeply about their success and believe in their potential.

Unfortunately, Black students bear the brunt of systemic inequities and the policies that create and sustain them, including underfunded schools, harmful discipline and policing practices, and a lack of access to meaningful counseling and coursework that prepare them to access and succeed in college. Black students also encounter administrators and educators who do not see the assets they bring but instead subscribe to harmful stereotypes about Black students’ – and their families’ – academic potential, social engagement and commitment to school.

Black students deserve excellent and equitable schools, just like everyone else. Policymakers can make changes at every level to achieve that goal, including those in IDRA’s newly-updated Black Student-Centered Policy Agenda. These policy recommendations can be adjusted for adoption at the local, state and national levels.

See: A Black Student-Centered Policy Agenda

We Must Do the Right Thing – Honoring the Legacy of a Southern Civil Rights Hero

by Thomas Marshall III, M.Ed.

It was not until the summer of 2020, a time that etches in our brains as a racial reckoning in this country, that I learned about one of the South’s most important stories. Sarah Mae Flemming, an unsung civil rights trailblazer. Before Rosa Parks decided not to give up her seat in Montgomery in 1955, another young woman in Columbia, South Carolina, exercised that same resistance.

Though the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case had just declared segregation illegal in public schools, many spaces like buses and other public spaces remained staunchly segregated.  

Ms. Flemming was coming home from work one morning and sat in the front of a South Carolina city bus, with two white people in behind her. The bus driver forcefully told Ms. Flemming to leave and blocked the doors as she vacated the bus.

Ms. Flemming waited a week to alert her family about the incident. Once she did, local South Carolina civil rights activist Modjeska Monteith Simkins hired attorneys to help Ms. Flemming file a suit, invoking the 14th Amendment. The case, initially struck down in South Carolina, was appealed and then taken to the Fourth Circuit. The court struck down segregation on city buses – a massive win for civil rights. 

I became emotional when reading about Sarah Mae Flemming’s courageous conviction to resist such laws that ruled the Jim Crow South. Sarah Mae’s story happened 16 months before the “first lady of civil rights,” Rosa Parks, took her seat in history.

Sarah Mae stands out to me because she is from my hometown. She comes from descendants of enslaved people from the county where I attended school. Her’s is an untold story that many students won’t be able to hear in classrooms because certain politicians chose to dictate the way we teach our history. 

“It was the right thing to do,” said Sarah Mae Flemming in The State, April 25, 1956 

Let Ms. Flemming’s story be one to remind us that each day, in its simplest form: We must always do the right thing.

Get Classroom Lessons in IDRA's

We All Belong – School Resource Hub 

IDRA’s school resource hub is designed for educators, families and policy advocates who want to make sure students receive a strong, truthful education in our public schools. It provides lesson plans for all grades, instructional best practices and historical resources to support educators and advocates in promoting culturally-sustaining schools and fighting harmful censorship policies. Below are some highlights!

Gladys Bentley – Gender-Bending Harlem Renaissance Performer and Musician

Learn about the trailblazing, gender-non-conforming performer Gladys Bentley with this digital short from Unladylike2020. Support materials include discussion questions, vocabulary, a research project on queer identity during the Harlem Rennaissance, and a close reading of Bentley's famous essay, "I am a Woman Again." See lesson

African American History: Climbing the Wall

In this lesson by PBS History Detectives, students learn how the life of an enslaved person changed from the Antebellum period through Emancipation. They analyze primary source documents in order to create a timeline of an individual slave’s life and then watch a clip from the episode Bill of Sale, to confirm their findings. See lesson

CulturED Collection #2 – E-raced: A Lesson Uncovering the False Science of Race

For this lesson by IDRA, students will be introduced to the history of race. Our modern understanding of race was introduced starting in the 1600s as European scientists and philosophers conducted pseudo-research to prove that humans were not made or evolved equally. Students will learn that modern research disproved virtually all of these claims of racial superiority, and yet the story is passed on despite the lack of scientific evidence. See lesson

Yes, She Can: Michelle Obama

For this lesson by IDRA, students will read the text entitled, Michelle Obama: First Lady, Going Higher. They will learn about the important experiences that shaped the life of the first Black First Lady of the United States. Students will also understand Mrs. Obama’s commitment to service and education and how she inspires children to be healthy. Students will draw lessons from Mrs. Obama’s life to write a poem or short story about why they matter. Includes modifications for emergent bilingual students. See lesson

The Father of Black History –

What Carter G. Woodson Continues to Teach Us About Our Present Moment  

by Makiah Lyons

February is Black History Month, recognizing and honoring Black people and their culture, spirit, stories and contributions to the world. Amidst a growing movement to censor conversations around race and identity in schools, the observance of Black History Month is as necessary now as it has ever been.

Since 2021, several states have enacted curriculum censorship laws, limiting how teachers can teach issues of race, racism and other ideas deemed divisive or uncomfortable. Growing campaigns to ban books from public schools and libraries have also targeted books with themes of race or racism.

Last month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration sent a letter to College Board rejecting its new African American history course, calling into question its legality and – perhaps even more troubling – its educational value. The College Board released the official curriculum framework on February 1 and, while much of the original content remains, many contemporary topics have been removed.

Black History Month was created not only as a celebration of Black History but to encourage truth-telling and the development of culturally sustaining school curricula so that Black children may understand themselves and their past and be prepared for their future.

Black History Month would not have been possible if not for the work and legacy of Carter G. Woodson, a man often called the “Father of Black History.”

Woodson was a teacher and scholar. Born in Virginia in 1875 to parents who were formerly enslaved, Woodson had little access to education and helped his family by working on their farm and in coal mines as a teenager. Woodson taught himself several school subjects and saved money to attend high school at the age of 20, graduating only two years later. He would go on to become a teacher and a school principal before earning a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1912. Woodson was the second Black American to earn a doctoral degree, after W.E.B. DuBois.

Keep Reading: The Father of Black History

School Segregation through Vouchers –

What Policymakers Can Learn from a History of State Efforts to Use Vouchers to Avoid Integration

by Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D. 

Vouchers and other school privatization initiatives are harmful, anti-democratic policies that funnel communities’ hard-earned tax dollars into unregulated, unaccountable institutions and divert resources away from schools serving the vast majority of children served by our nation’s public schools.

This is by design.

As James Anderson writes in The Education of Blacks in the South, "Both schooling for democratic citizenship and schooling for second-class citizenship have been basic traditions in American education… both were fundamental American conceptions of society and progress, occupied the same time and space, were fostered by the same governments, and usually were embraced by the same leaders.”

Historically, state and school leaders have used vouchers and other so-called “school choice” initiatives to perpetuate second-class citizenship for Black children.

In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, those opposed to desegregation “capitalized on the distinction between universal public school access and controlled private school access as a means to subvert the court’s directive to dismantle segregation with ‘deliberate speed’” (Mead 2012).

These measures were particularly prevalent in the South, where state and school district leaders turned to the misleading rhetoric of school “choice” to maintain segregation.

Keep reading: School Segregation though Vouchers

Owning Our History – Henrietta Wood’s Story

by Alisha “Tuff” Tuff

Our stories are precious and powerful. Our histories tell us where we come from, where we have been and how our resistance and determination changed our future. Have you ever heard the story of Henrietta Wood?

Henrietta was a formerly enslaved person in Ohio after her enslaver granted her freedom upon leaving Kentucky, a slave state. Her freedom was well-documented. This changed, however, when the enslaver’s daughter and son-in-law conspired to re-enslave her because they believed they were entitled to her.

They worked with a man named Zebulon Ward who captured Henrietta by paying off her employer to trick her into crossing back into Kentucky. Along the way they destroyed Henrietta’s copy of her freedom papers. Additionally, the court that had Henrietta’s original freedom papers lost them in a fire. Henrietta pleaded for her freedom to a Kentucky court in Wood v Ward, but, without documentation, Kentucky law at the time considered her an enslaved person.

Henrietta was sold to Gerard Brandon, one of the largest slaveholders in the South. Eventually, the Civil War began, and Brandon ran further south to Texas to avoid emancipation, bringing the African American people he enslaved with him.

In 1866, Henrietta became a free woman again.

She was determined to get justice against Ward for his role in kidnapping and enslaving her. She took him to court once again in Cincinnati, Ohio, in Wood v Ward. Henrietta Wood won and was awarded $2,500 – the biggest sum ever given to a former slave in U.S. history.

All around the United States, there are people who try to silence our stories and histories. Often, our histories have been shared with false pretenses or have been pushed to the side. But our stories show our pain and sorrow, resilience, excellence, power, wisdom, culture, triumph and capability. We come from a lineage of fighters. We shall overcome. We must preserve our stories and continue to pass down our legacies. We must continue to fight to bring our stories into the classroom because this is American history! Black history is American history.

IDRA History Snapshot

Dr. Henry Williams, professor of education at the University of Houston – Clear Lake, addresses participants

IDRA holds commemorative summit conference in 1980, “The Brown Decision in Retrospect, Introspect, Prospect” 

As reported in the IDRA Newsletter: “The purpose of the conference was to examine minority students' progress, or lack of it, during these 25 years; to determine if we as a nation are where we want to be, and if not, how to get there. The areas examined to determine this were: the impact of desegregation on the education of Black students and on the social mobility of Black professionals; the applicability of the 1954 desegregation model in 1980; the importance of community involvement in and support for the education of Black students; and the role of school administration and faculty in the litigation process and in implementing appropriate programs of instruction.”

IDRA is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is to achieve equal educational opportunity through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college.  

Reach Out To Us
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  Linkedin  Pinterest  Youtube