Currently the Department Of Education of New York City educates 1.1 million students every single day and 53 years ago today, 464,000 Black and Puerto Rican students boycotted school.
It had been 10 years since the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that made separate education along lines of race, unequal. And even though New York City was not in the south, and supposedly a bastion of liberty, equality and justice in 1964, as it is right now, our schools were segregated and unequal.
“After years of unsuccessful lobbying, the Parents’ Workshop for Equality decided to take direct action against the school board and called upon Bayard Rustin to organize a one-day protest and boycott of the city’s public school system. With the boycott set for February 3, 1964, Rustin worked with local Civil Rights organizations to plan the boycott, as well as local ministers who established freedom schools for participating students to attend.”
Look really hard at this flyer for this protest. “I don’t have a good integrated school” with an apparent Black and Brown student staring through a shattered, supposed school window with a look of forlorn.
The narrative then, as it is now, is that the inferior education that Black and Brown students receive lies in the fact that they are separated from white people. And that a good integrated school would be their saving grace, their ticket into mainstream society. I have a different take, but this isn’t about my thoughts, yet.
The February 3rd protest happened 6 months after Dr. King’s March on Washington and though it successfully galvanized Black, Puerto Rican and white liberals in the fight for doing away with racial segregation in NYC schools, the one day protest was ultimately unsuccessful. The school board remained “cautious” about desegregation, especially because in the north there was no official law about segregation.
And while Blacks and Puerto Ricans fought for rezoning laws and equitable access to a “good education,” White citizens protested against any zoning changes that would make their kids have to travel to schools out of their neighborhoods and would end the de facto segregation taking place. “The New York Times” criticized the boycott as a “violent, illegal approach of adult-encouraged truancy” and dismissed the civil rights demands as “unreasonable and unjustified” while taking a sympathetic tone with the white mothers who just wanted to keep their children safe.
“Among those opposed to the boycott were Parents and Taxpayers (PAT), a coalition of white neighborhood groups who organized protest marches and a boycott against zoning changes and school desegregation in March 1964. The marchers, “15,000 white mothers” as the press dubbed them, held signs reading “Keep our children in neighborhood schools” and “I will not put my children on a bus.”
To this date, the 1964 1 day boycott has been the largest civil rights boycott in US history and it happened because 464,000 Black and Puerto Rican students and families decided that it was time to stand up for themselves.
Let’s sit with that for a minute.
This boycott that I have never heard of, that as a history teacher in the DOE I’ve never taught, that is never acknowledged is THE LARGEST CIVIL RIGHTS BOYCOTT IN US HISTORY and it happened in New York City and not the South.
And so here we are, 53 years later with a public school system that is still segregated. But I want to pose a number of questions; 1) Why is/was integration the goal? 2) What are we integrating our students of color into? 3) What do people of color lose in order to gain the right to learn next to white students?
What I do know is that when students of color go to school with white students they drown in the beliefs, policies and practices of white supremacy. These integrated schools do not have an integrated culturally diverse staff or curriculum. These integrated schools do not create an inclusive environment that desires diversity. As a matter of fact, these integrated schools eventually end up with disproportionate outcomes based on race. Essentially, everything bad that can happen, happens to the Black and Brown students; they are suspended more, have lower grades, perform worse on exams and reports show that they experience high rates of micro-aggressions.
But let me step off my soapbox.
When I learned about this boycott, which, to be honest was yesterday, I had a lot of feelings, and that was before I actually read up on the boycott and the resistance it faced. I first wondered why in all my years as a student in the DOE and then a teacher, which let’s say is 20 plus years, had I never heard of this? And if I did, would I have cared? And would it have inspired me and my peers, as a student, to stand up for something?
In our current socio-political climate, when our students might be feeling helpless and hopeless wouldn’t this be a great topic to engage them in?
You know what I wonder? What would it take to get 464,000 Black and Puerto Rican students and their parents, activists and community leaders to boycott school today? And if we could ever galvanize like that, what difference would/could it make?
My hope is that if we could organize to do this today that it wouldn’t be around the unsuccessful, dare I say harmful policy of integration but around a more progressive policy of engaging in culturally responsive training for pedagogues and administrators, investing in decolonizing our curriculum and engaging in a pluralistic curriculum that centers positive racial identity development, constructing a pre school to graduate school pipeline to support the development, training, recruitment and retaining of educators of color…Shoot, TFA was all about flooding our schools with good white people. Why can’t the same system, well, an even better system be created to get culturally responsive educators of the African Diaspora up in our schools.
You see what I did there! 🙂
Let me help you take one step towards liberation. Do you know who your city council person is? Get to know them and let them know what you need from them, what you demand from them.
We are living in the 60s of our lifetime, and if we know anything about history (damn, we really don’t know anything about history, but just work with me) if we know anything about history, it is that the impossible becomes possible when we decide to make it so. And all revolutions are fueled by the energy, ideology, and hope of our youth.
Listen my culturally responsive educators, you better figure out the ways you’re going to resist and the ways you will deepen your students critical consciousness. Remember that 50 years from now the youth will ask you, what did you do when the resistance was taking place?
How will you answer?
Oh, wait, one more thing before I go. Yesterday, Yemeni-American Bodega owners shut the city down in protest over the Cheeto-in-Chief’s Muslim ban. For me, living in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, this was a beautiful protest, also startling. When I turned the corner to go down my busy street and saw all of the bodegas closed, I felt an immense sense of pride.
What I didn’t know was that they all gathered in protest downtown outside Brooklyn’s Borough Hall and all prayed together at sunset. And if you don’t talk about this today in your classes, with your colleagues, with your parents, you ARE the problem and the reason why we cant have nice things.
No, but, seriously we can no longer be in our own little bubble, drowning under the weight of the Danielson rubric, the fear state exams and worrying over who has their hat on and didn’t come to school with a pencil, or notebook, or your homework.
The revolution is being televised.
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