SPEAKER 1: This is a production of Cornell University.
ERIC ACREE: It's my pleasure to moderate today's panel discussion. Actually, it was put together by Ira Revels. And I'll introduce to her in a second.
This is part of a Black History Month program. And for those of you who don't know about Black History Month, it actually was started by African American historian Carter G. Woodson. He started it as the Negro History Week back in 1926. And by 1976, I believe, it kind of mushroomed into a month. But I tell people I celebrate it all year round, so that's how that goes.
This panel is titled "A Brief History of Black Education in America-- Ithaca and Beyond. Members of this panel will take a historical look at the American educational experience from black or African American perspectives.
First on the panel will be Ira Revels. Ira is an associate librarian and project manager for Cornell HBCU Digital Initiative at Cornell University Library. Miss Revels was named one of the 2006 Library Journal's Movers and Shakers.
She is the project manager of a collaborative digital initiative at Cornell University Library that involves the Historically Black College and University Library Alliance, the Southern Eastern Library Network, and 20 HBCU libraries. She has served in this position since 2005 and in numerous positions within the Cornell University Library since 2001. As a project manager, she develops, coordinates, and implements digital library training and workflow support on behalf of partnerships in the initiative.
She's a native of New Orleans. So I guess it's Ash Wednesday. A native of new Orleans, Ira received a BA, MEd degrees from Northwestern State University, MLS from the University of Pittsburgh. Her professional career has been dedicated to improving information and technology literacy among under-representative groups. Ira has given numerous presentations on digital imaging, planning digital projects, and technology for digital media production.
She is also a 2007 Frye Leadership Institute fellow. In 2007, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association awarded Ira the Dr. John C. Tyson Young Professional Award. This is a very prestigious award.
Miss Revels today will discuss the role of historically black colleges and universities during the mid-19th century. She will use images from HBCU digital collection, a collaborative project involving Cornell University Library and 21 HBCUs. Some of these colleges include Fisk University in Tennessee, Howard University in Washington, DC, and my mother's old college, Morgan State University in Maryland.
Next on the panel will be Margaret Washington. Dr. Washington is a professor in History Department at Cornell University. Dr. Washington first joined Cornell in 1988 as an associate professor. Her specialties are African American history and culture, African American women in Southern history. She is one of the foremost authorities on the black experience.
Washington holds a BA from California State University, Sacramento, an MA from New York University, and a PhD from the University of California, Davis. She has taught history and culture at the California State University, Sacramento; University of California, Davis; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Irvine. And she also was the director of Africana Hispanic studies that Colgate University.
Professor Washington's most recent major work is titled Sojourner Truth's America. This was published this year, in 2009. This definitive biography unravels Sojourner Truth's world with the broader view of American history, slavery, and other significant reforms in the turbulent age of Abraham Lincoln. Sojourner Truth's America nobly provides a unique lens into the unlikely ancestry of a New York black woman and former slave who was unschooled but became a rousing preacher and political orator. Margaret Washington also published the only modern edition of The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.
Professor Washington today will discuss black education in antebellum New York City, with a special focus on the American free-- oh, excuse me-- the African Free School. At a time when no public education existed, this privately run institution provided formative education for individuals who became the most important African American leaders in the pre-Civil War era.
Last but not least is a good friend of mine, Sean Eversley-Bradwell. Dr. Bradwell is an assistant professor in the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity at Ithaca College. Dr. Bradwell serves as the coordinator for the African Diaspora Studies minor. His current research teaching interests include race theory, hip hop and pedagogy.
He received a BA in political science from the University of Rochester, an MS in education from Rochester's Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, and most recently, a PhD in policy analysis and management from Cornell University. Raised in Amsterdam, New York, Dr. Eversley-Bradwell now resides with his wife, Nicole, in Ithaca. Prior to his position at Ithaca College, Sean served as a secondary social studies teacher and assistant to the principle at the Lehman Alternative School for the Ithaca City School District.
Through his professional and personal involvement in education, as well as his work with community organizations, Dr. Eversley-Bradwell is committed to working towards one more meaningful teaching and learning. Professor Eversley-Bradwell will briefly summarize his dissertation research, with particular attention to a short retelling of the history of black students in Ithaca, New York. Revealing numerous examples of resistance and agency, this history helps us to map great race impacts and structures local communities here in Ithaca.
Each person will present for 20, 25 minutes. And I'm the timekeeper for this wonderful event. And afterwards, if time allows, we will also open it up for discussions. And so, Ira, you're first.
IRA REVELS: Good afternoon, everybody. Good afternoon! Come on!
SPEAKER 2: Good afternoon.
IRA REVELS: It's 4 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon. And we're all excited to be here, yes?
SPEAKER 3: Yes.
IRA REVELS: Yes, OK. I want to thank, in particular, Janet McCue and Ellen Marsh and CJ Lance for their work and their role in helping to make this happen.
So my talk is on the founding of these Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, as they're often called. Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCUs, play a vital role in the education of African Americans. The first HBCU was established at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania on February 25, 1837.
In total, there are 103 HBCU colleges and universities. Most of these were established after the Civil War. Many were founded by ministers, church groups, and individuals. And at least one, Lincoln University in Missouri, was actually founded by a regiment of black soldiers and their white lieutenant after the Civil War. They have a very interesting story.
HBCUs provide two- and four-year education. For example, Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, is a two-year college. Others, such as Howard University, provide four-year degrees and offer a rich set of educational programs. For example, at Howard university, the recent establishment of the graduate degree in hip hop might be of particular interest to Cornell University community since the archives here recently established the Hip Hop collection. Some of the images actually are around the room.
As you can imagine, the libraries and archives at these institutions contain rich histories and tell many stories. My presentation today will offer you a window into the founding of HBCUs. The online collection, some of which you see behind me on the screen, documents the diversity that can be found at each of these schools. And my hope today is that you will take an interest in personally engaging the wealth of information to be found in the HBCU digital collection.
Since 2005, the library here at Cornell has been involved in a partnership to train HBCU librarians in digital collection building. There are 23 partners in total in the project. And that includes the HBCU Library Alliance, the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center, and the Southeastern Library Network.
Since 2006, Cornell and the 20 partners have received about $850,000 in funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for training, equipment, software, supplies, and travel to help partners contribute to the digital collection. I'm the project manager, as Eric mentioned. And I help with project administration, provide workflow support and training, and instruction to the partners.
One of the outcomes of this partnership is that the HBCU digital collection titled Celebrating the Founding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities was officially released last year on Valentine's Day. So what I want to show you are some images from the collection. And at the end, I have a special treat-- one of our partners actually describing images in the Woodruff collection via video.
So first image here is of Atlanta University faculty. And this is from 1905. Can everybody see that OK? Right?
Pictured in this photo, in the upper right-hand corner, is a young [? WB ?] Du Bois, right here. After his special fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania-- which according to the DuBois Learning Center, he effectively studied blacks as a social system in Philadelphia's Seventh Ward slums-- Du Bois taught at Atlanta University. He would go on to teach there for about 13 years. Later on, the Atlanta University actually combined with Clark College to form Clark Atlanta University.
OK. In the second photo is-- as I mentioned in my brief introduction, HBCUs offer a wide variety of courses. And that is evidenced in this photo of students in an architecture course. This is from Tuskegee University. I think you can see students with their drafting boards, drawings back here, and so on and so forth.
This third photo-- or this third image-- let me get it over here. The bigger I make it, I'll have to kind of scroll around. Let me make it a little smaller.
OK, this third image is from Virginia State University. And it is of the 1884 Normal Institute for the Education of Teachers. It's a certificate that was the result of folks who participated in the Institute received this certificate at the end. The Institute was held on campus during the summer. And this particular certificate was issued to William Leighton on August 22, 1884, signed by the principal, James Storum, and state superintendent, RR Farr.
Virginia State University, like several HBCUs, has gone through several name changes over the years. And numerous examples of this kind of thing can be found throughout the digital collection. They even have images of early-- well, let's see. We'll go to the next one here.
I'm actually going to do something kind of brave. And I'm going to search for this one. If I could spell.
This next image here is from Tuskegee University. And it is of Booker T. Washington and his favorite horse, Dexter. Booker T. Washington was president and founder of Tuskegee University, then Tuskegee Institute in 1881. You'll also recall that George Washington Carver, the inventor of peanut agricultural science, he was the director of agriculture at Tuskegee Institute from 1897 until his death in 1943. Booker T. Washington asked him to please come and direct that department, which he did.
The fifth image is a class photo from 1915 at Fisk University. This photo features pictures of two future Virginia State University faculty members, Felicia D. Anderson and Edna Meade Colson. Anderson would write the words to the alma mater and establish the Department of Drama at Virginia State University. And Edna Meade Colson became director of the Division of Education.
It's kind of small on the screen. I won't point them out. But this is an example of several of the early classes-- or example of some of the early classes of students that can be found in the collection. And if you can kind of see, these folks are indicated here with little arrows, if you can see that.
Right now there are about 6,500 objects in the digital collection. And we've recently added one partner, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. And we're adding additional partners periodically as people agree that they want to participate.
I'll talk to them and see where they're at in their process, see if they have any digital images to contribute. And if they don't, we try to get them some help from the partners who have equipment and training. And they contribute.
The final thing that I'd like to show you for my presentation today is a video. And I may-- yeah, we'll do one video. It's a pretty short clip of one of the archivists at the Robert W. Woodruff Library.
And what she's done is she's describing photos in the Woodruff's collection. Now if you understand, the Robert W. Woodruff Library of the Atlanta University Center services, I believe, five institutions-- Morehouse College, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, and Morris Brown College. And so they provide library services for all of those colleges. So they have a really interesting collection, as you can imagine, of images from all of those institutions. And so here is Andrea Jackson describing classes and presidents.
-The class of 1896 at Clark College. And certainly, it's lots of men and women. And we love that. This, again, is undergraduate, where this is graduate level. So we're extremely proud of people of color that were achieving so highly back then.
So we talk about the presidents who were leading these students. This is Wilbur Thirkield. And he actually was an acting president of Clark University as well as dean of Gammon Theological Seminary. So we're able to share the history of both of those institutions through documentation of this photo of this man, Wilbur Thirkield.
This is John Hope, one of our most famous presidents. He was a president of both Atlanta University and Morehouse College and was the first African American president of those institutions. So he was a pioneer for higher education.
And really, his wife, Lugenia Burns Hope is well-known for being an activist in the black community in Atlanta and really provided a lot of the social services. So you can see that, certainly, he was working on the education of blacks. She was working on the social improvement and empowerment of blacks.
IRA REVELS: More video to share at some other point. Thank you guys for listening to the presentation. And I hope you get a chance to check out the collection. If you have a pen, it's located at HTTP HBCUDigitalLibrary.auctr.edu. That's AtlantaUniversityCenter.edu.
SPEAKER 4: Could you do that again?
IRA REVELS: Yep. http://HBCUDigitalLibrary.auctr.edu Thank you, folks.
SPEAKER 5: Thank you.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: You can have that. I'll just use that. Thanks. Good afternoon, everybody.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: First of all, a disclaimer. I am not an expert on education in New York or anyplace else. And I came to this topic or this interest in black education through my work, my research on Sojourner Truth. So that's how I got into it. And so if you ask a question and I don't know the answer, that's probably why.
But it's a fascinating subject. And there's not a lot on it in the secondary literature. And it is a story crying to be told.
In 1785 in New York City, a group of white Quakers and Federalist politicians that included Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and John Jay, the first Supreme Court Chief Justice, formed the New York Manumission Society, an organization dedicated to the gradual extinction of slavery in New York state and to the improvement of the conditions of free people of African descent. Two years later, in 1787, that same Manumission Society established the first benevolent society school for blacks in the state. This Free African School, as they called it, would later multiply into several schools, and eventually evolve into the city's black public education system.
The Manumission Society members believed that education would reduce white prejudice against blacks and thereby work toward ending enslavement. The lesson plan, therefore, at the school, focused more on what whites called moral improvement-- piety, frugality, and the work ethic-- more on that than it did on spelling, penmanship, grammar, and astronomy, although those were included. I was very interested in the astronomy aspect of it. And from what I can gather, that had to do with the fact that so many black men went to sea. I don't quite get the relationship, but I saw that in some of the literature.
It was also believed that since blacks would only become domestics, laborers, waiters, and the like, there was no need to educate them beyond the upper elementary grades. While furthering this benevolence, the Manumission Society was also instrumental in passing the first state gradual abolition law in 1788, which freed people born after 1799. So in effect, it freed no one. But the pressure and the growth of the Manumission Society did bear fruit, because in 1817, the state passed an abolition law to take effect in 1827 which would free all adult enslaved people in New York State.
The Free African School was thriving in the 1820s. Most of the teachers were white. And the principal, Charles Andrews, was also white. He was well-respected by black parents until, in 1830, a couple of incidents came to light that caused the parents to rise in protest and call for his resignation.
First of all, the principal abraded a young student because, while Mr. Andrews was helping one of the other students, a student went to the door, answered the door, and came back and said, Mr. Andrews, there's a colored gentleman at the door who wants to speak to you. Well, after Andrews spoke to the man, he went back to the student and said, how dare you refer to a colored man as a gentleman? So that was one thing that really upset the parents.
And then it turned out that Charles Andrews was a colonizationist. And he was teaching support for colonization to the children. Nonetheless, Andrews was considered a very good principal by some of the students. And some of them fought to keep him. But he was eventually replaced, after a couple of years, with a black principal.
The New York African Free School had some of the most interesting and popular and activist individuals in the 19th century. And I think it's important to just mention some of them. First of all, there was James McCune Smith-- 1813 to 1865.
He was bar-- he went to the Free African School. He excelled there-- keeping in mind that the Free African School only goes up to like the sixth, seventh grade in terms of education. But he excelled there.
And then he had some private tutoring from his parents. His parents were free. So he was born free.
And he was ready for college, or normal school, as they called it then. He was not allowed to go to any of the normal schools in the United States. So people in the Manumission Society and others got together and raised enough money for him to go to school in Scotland.
So he went to Glasgow University in 1832, where he got three academic degrees, including a doctorate in medicine. He interned in Paris. And then he returned to New York City in 1837.
Now think of that. He leaves in-- he starts in 1832. He gets three degrees and interns. By 1837, he's back in New York City.
And there he distinguished himself as a physician among his people and as a pharmacist. He was the resident physician for the Colored Orphan Asylum for many years, for which he got very little pay. He was also a radical abolitionist, very close to people like Frederick Douglass, whites who were active in the anti-slavery movement, such as Lewis and Arthur Tappan and Gerrit Smith.
He organized what was called the Committee of Thirteen. This was a committee in New York City in 1850 who organized against the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and vowed to do everything they could to spirit people out of New York City, because New York City was full of people who had been self-emancipated for many years but were now being hunted down. So he had a very illustrious career as an activist.
Toward the end of the antebellum-- or excuse-- yeah, the end of the antebellum era, he joined the Republican Party with some trepidation. But it was, at that point, the only viable political party that had the power to end slavery. And he died in 1865, just after the end of the Civil War.
Then there was Ira Aldridge-- 1807 to 1867. Ira Aldridge was a student along with James McCune Smith. All these men that I'm referring to went to school together at the same time.
And he, very early on, besides excelling in academics, showed a proclivity for the theater. And at that time in New York City, there was a theater called the Grove Theater, a black theater, because blacks could not go to white theaters. So they formed their own. It turned out that the Grove was so popular that whites started going. And the owner of the Grove made whites sit in the balcony, which is what they usually reserved for blacks--
SPEAKER 6: Whoa.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: --in a segregated area where they couldn't see very well.
And the Grove didn't last very long. But Ira Aldridge began to hang out at the Grove. And the middle-class African American community, the people who were aspiring for social mobility and economic mobility, were very religious. And children or anyone who wanted to aspire to social and economic mobility did not go to the Grove.
So when Ira's father found out that that's where he was hanging out as a kid of 13 or 14, he told him he'd rather see him dead than hanging out there. And he said, well, I want to go into the theater. He said, I'd rather see you dead than in the theater.
So he ran away at 17. He got some help from a British actor who had seen him and thought he was very talented. And he was a stowaway on a ship. He went to England, got help from this British actor, whose name was Watson, and became one of the most famous tragedians in Europe, Britain, and Russia at that time.
He was on the London stage numerous times throughout his illustrious career. He played Othello. He played [? Zonga ?] the Moor. There was a very famous playwright called Edward Young who wrote a play that everyone was raving about called The Revenge. He got the lead in that.
He got the lead in musical farces. And he got the lead in plays that the lead was not black, which raised the ire of some Britons. But nonetheless, he got those leads. So he was Macbeth. He was Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.
He had a very illustrious career. But he would not come back to the United States. He got several offers to come. But the idea was if he came, he would have to perform in segregated audiences. And he refused to do that.
The crowning achievement of his life was when the great British actor Edward Keane became violently ill, and they called on Ira Aldridge to play the part of Othello. And this was a part he had played many times before. But he'd never been asked to take the place of the person considered Britain's greatest actor. So that was a crowning achievement of his life.
He always wanted to go back to the United States. But he reconciled himself to the fact that he could never go and perform for his own people in an integrated setting. So he refused to do that, whereas other people, other entertainers were doing just that, performing to segregated audiences.
And then there were others that I can't mention in the interest of time, such as Theodore Wright was a famous Presbyterian minister, the first graduate of Princeton Seminary. And Henry Highland Garnet, a very prominent African American minister, Presbyterian minister, activist, leader of black conventions, the first person of color, first African American to give a sermon in the halls of Congress, right after the Civil War. And nonetheless, Garnet became so disillusioned with American racism after the Civil War that he migrated to Liberia.
And all of these men and many more whose names-- if I went through a roll call, I'm sure some of you would recognize-- went to school together in the African Free School and became very prominent. So the point is that the African Free School was doing a great work in New York City.
Well, with the emancipation in 1827 and New York City's black population mushrooming to 19,000 people, other means of education were necessary besides the privately run Free African Schools. Because it's important to keep in mind that these schools, they're important. But they can't possibly serve the entire black community.
And it's also important to keep in mind that these are people who just got out of slavery. And the idea of having the means to provide the clothing for your children to go to school was a problem. So wealthy, benevolent white New Yorkers formed charity societies, one of which was called the Public School Society. This group operated the largest charity schools for blacks in the state of New York. And they would eventually take over the Free African Schools.
But unlike the Manumission Society, the Public School Society was not interested in erasing prejudice or in overall black improvement. The charities served all poor children. And this is a time, in the 1830s, when Irish immigration is becoming very, very large in New York City. So it's an issue of what they're doing for the poor, which includes not only African Americans but Irish as well.
And this is not the only society. But it is the most important one. And it's significant to African Americans because it becomes-- people say that the African Free School became a public school when the Public School Society took it over. But that's not true. It was not a public school in the way we think of a public school, that is, funded by the public.
So unlike the Manumission Society, this society was not interested in black improvement. The charity served all poor children. It segregated children. It hired black teachers but payed them less.
Moreover, the Public School Society was intricately linked to the American Colonization Society. Now if you don't know, this organization was formed by Southern and Northern whites, Southern slaveholders and Northern white races to rid the nation of all free blacks by sending them to a region in Central-West Africa, newly carved out, that today we call Liberia.
Educating free blacks was necessary for the missionary purposes in Africa, these colonizationists said. And that's what frightened the parents at the African Free School about Charles Andrews. They felt that if he was a colonizationist and he was encouraging their children to think that colonization was the answer for them, then they didn't want any part of that.
The Public School Society also adopted the Lancaster method, which is the idea of using the brightest students in the class to teach the other students. And that was a way of cutting down on money to hire actual teachers. So the level of education that blacks received was not as good as-- was only as good as the teachers that they had, who were students themselves. And it certainly wasn't as good as the schools when they were in the hands of the Manumission Society, which hired bona fide teachers.
So that, along with the racist rationalization for establishing the society in the first place, meant that black children did not receive a quality education. Nonetheless, throughout the antebellum era, the society, which called itself the Public Society, maintained a relatively tight hold on black education once the Free African Schools were under their control. Because once the manumission law was in effect in 1827, the New York Manumission Society began to think about disbanding. And once they disbanded, then they turned the schools over.
The other way in which African Americans were educated was through the Sabbath schools. The Sunday School Movement swept across the nation in the early 19th century. It began because they wanted to have these schools for people who didn't go to church. Because when you went to church in this era, you had to have a pew. And you paid for your pew.
So if you were poor, you didn't have a-- you couldn't rent a pew. Then you usually wouldn't go to church. So it began for those who didn't go to church, couldn't go to church, or those who didn't go to school, because children worked just like adults did.
So the Sunday schools, when they began, they taught the three Rs as well as religion. And for many blacks, a Sunday school was the only means of basic education. Both children and adults, as I said, worked in the daytime.
Sunday schools were not popular at first because conservatives-- these are people we call Sabbatarians-- protested that having a school on the Sabbath was a sin and a desecration of the holy day. And it also absolved the parents from their own religious responsibility and their control over their children. They also complained that it was run by lay people and not by ministers.
So it was at first not very popular. But the movement caught on, first of all, because it didn't cost anything. And all of these schools cost something, except the Free African School. But the other schools, even-- once they were taken over by the Public Society, even they had a charge. So the Sunday schools cost nothing.
The teachers were obviously dedicated and idealistic. They weren't there for the money. And it was a way to influence the poor, which is what benevolent people always want to do. For most black children, this was the only schooling they had. And from the very beginning, blacks were attracted to the Sunday schools.
The person credited with bringing the Sunday school to New York City was a black woman, a former slave named Katy Ferguson. She was born in slavery and separated from her mother at the age of eight. She converted to Methodism. And the Methodists purchased Katy's freedom.
She married, had two children. All her children and her husband died. And the young widow became a cake maker and a confectioner and did a thriving business. She married, had two children, but lost them all to illness. How am I doing?
ERIC ACREE: Five minutes.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: OK. The young widow used her home to care for orphans and poor children with her own resources. Because sometimes, especially with black children, when their parents were working, if they weren't out in service, then they just roamed the streets. And so Katy would gather these children and bring them into her house and talk to them about God. She couldn't read and write herself, by the way-- and talk to them about god.
She would also take-- there were also a lot of displaced children, that is, orphans. She would bring in orphans. And so what she did was she started a foster home as well as what she called the Sabbath School for Children.
And on Sundays especially, she would invite all the children in her neighborhood, in the Five Points, for Christian teaching. And a white minister named John [? Sanford ?] would watch her. And he was so impressed with her work that he offered her a lecture room in his church.
And that began the first Sunday school in New York City. It was open to all children of all colors. And from this began New York City's Sunday School Movement.
With the exception of Katy Ferguson's Sunday school organization-- because it grew, and other churches emulated her. The ones that the High Church-- that is, the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the Dutch Reforms-- the ones that they established were all segregated. And blacks' response to that was-- what's happening while these Sunday School Movements are going on and they're being segregated in the High Church is the black independent movement is happening.
And as black independent churches were formed, these pastors began to encourage Sunday schools in their own congregations, and urging the more educated members of their congregations to devote themselves to this kind of uplift. So by the 1820s, black church Sunday schools were thriving. And by 1860, there were 10,000 black children and adults throughout the state in Sunday schools.
And this became a major form of learning. Churches had alphabet classes. They had spelling contests to see who could spell out the most verses in God's holy word. Children sharpened their recall by memorizing Bible verses, prayers, and the morals of a Sunday school lesson. And one little girl broke a record by reciting 709 Bible verses at a black Sunday schools convention.
Then finally, there was the Collective Initiative within the black community, which is sort of related to the Sunday School Movement. But it's also separate. Because as rural blacks began to descend on the city and black churches set up these Sunday schools, they also decided that they needed to set up night schools because adults needed education as well as children.
And so they set up adult night schools. They charged $1 per quarter. And they had very little result as we-- sometimes for obvious reasons.
Because first of all, when you consider what African Americans did for a living, for the most part, they were domestics. They were tub carriers. They were chimney sweeps. They were coachmen. They were peddlers-- occupations that required that they work 12 to 14 hours a day.
And after that, they obviously didn't have much energy for mental acuity to take a literacy class. So the churches made this opportunity available. But they always complained that people weren't taking advantage of it.
And then there was the Phoenix Society, because much of what I've talked about has been-- actually, all of it has been about elementary education. And African Americans insisted that they needed higher education. There was no high school for African Americans anywhere in the North at this time.
So in 1830, an organization was formed in New York City called the Phoenix Society. It was a group of black intellectuals and a few white supporters, one of whom, Lewis Tappan, was one of the important founders of a number of HBCUs in the post-Civil War era. So their aim was to promote the betterment of their race through literature, mechanics-- OK-- literature, mechanic arts, and moral improvement.
And from 1831 until 1848, they tried to establish a high school. I'm fast-forwarding here. At one point, they tried-- in 1831, they had a building. They set up teachers. They had two teachers.
All of the times that they did this, their teachers were white because they were trying to teach classics. They were trying to teach Shakespeare. So they wanted people who had higher education. And their teachers were from Amherst. One was from Harvard.
These schools would last for a year. One lasted for three years. And they simply couldn't sustain them.
Two reasons, apparently, why. One activist said it was because black people did not have the kind of lucrative jobs that would allow them to contribute to these schools. Another, Theodore Wright-- whom I mentioned as one of the African Free School graduates-- had something else to say. And this is what he said.
"Our schools dwindle and die. Our churches are crippled and drag. And our learned men are driven from the country for want of contributions, while our porter houses, gaming tables, and theaters receive from our pockets their tens of thousands. What are we waiting for? Do we expect or wish our white brethren to drag us from our poverty, ignorance, and degradation without effort on our part?"
So on the one hand, one person is saying it's because of the economic position blacks are placed in. Another leader is saying it's because we're not helping ourselves enough. Nonetheless, they continued to try and set up these high schools, until finally the board of education was formed.
In 1842, New York City formed the board of education. But again, it wasn't a board of education that had under its rubric all of the schools. It was a board of education that the Common Council gave money to to help some of the private schools.
And the African Americans set up there a society called a Society for the Education of Colored Children. And again, they tried to establish a high school. It lasted for a year. And at that time, in 1847, there was only one high school in the North. And that was in Cincinnati.
By now, there are far more Irish in New York City than African Americans. And the Irish are a very powerful voting block. They can vote. African Americans cannot.
So African Americans are afraid they're going to take over the public school system. And because of this labor antipathy, this competition between blacks and Irish, that they will be pushed out of getting money for their school system. The board of education is sensitive to that.
And so what they do is they take the Irish Catholic schools and the Public Education Society that the African Free Schools were under, and they put them all under the board of education. And so that gets rid of the little private school motivation of trying to get money from the city. And New York, supposedly, opens up so that we don't have segregated schools. And of course, we know that that's not quite what happened. But in policy, that was what was supposed to happen.
What we do know is that New York students of high school age were able to go to some high schools, the high schools where once all of these schools came under the board of education and were taken from the Public School Society and the Catholic societies. Then African Americans had an opportunity to go to public schools. They were integrated.
And so there were situations where they would be told that there was no room, because they didn't want black students. And so on the one hand, the schools are supposed to be open and integrated. But on the other, one of the failures was that in the segregated situation, the African Americans would have been able to go to school as blacks in their own environment. But once that was no longer an option, then they were sort of at the mercy of the board of education and the goodwill of people in a neighborhood in terms of allowing African Americans to go to school with whites.
But it was a mixed blessing. And this is the situation for African Americans and education at the time of the Civil War. OK, thank you.
IRA REVELS: I'm afraid it's [INAUDIBLE].
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: I'm going to try to do a couple of things. One, incorporate some of the ideas, the historical content that Dr. Washington was talking about, as well as the use of photos that Miss Revels did as well, if we can find a way to make this happen.
I began doing this research in Ithaca. We'll actually explain this real quick. I'm going to try to do a couple things.
One, there's a film called Resolve, which talked about high-stakes debate. And in this film, they're talking about the human brain is capable of consuming about 700 words per minute, that we may not seem that we can sort of consume that much information, but that in reality we can. And so I'm going to let images play in the background without referencing them at all. But they're images that I've gleaned from local Ithaca history-- from these archives, from the History Center archives, from the Ithaca City School District archives.
In hip hop, there's a phrase called "crate diggers." And that sort of digging in the crates and finding all these images was part of the research that I did above and beyond reading reports of the Ithaca Black Counsel, or the Fugitive Slave Act that was taking place. And so as these images stroll, I'm not going to reference them, but assume that you can multitask and consume multiple forms of media-- me talking at you and these visual images that are coming up.
So my research begins all with local Ithaca history and the experience of black students, in particular, about going to schools in Ithaca, New York. So this talk is a story. It's not a children's story, though young people are prominent.
It's not an epic, though it is informed by centuries of history. And it's not a fable, though it does include judgments on morality. This story is an educational kind of narrative and tells the history of educational success and struggle in Ithaca, New York.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, black students are almost four times more likely to be placed in special education classes. They're three times more likely to be suspended from high school and at least twice as likely to exit school without a high school diploma. In fact, by nearly every statistical determinant, black students in the United States are negatively and disproportionately represented.
This disparity in statistics is commonly referred to as, quote, "the achievement gap," end quote. And along with some national alarm, there's been a myriad of policy reforms to close the gap. Most of the energy and research spent attempting to eliminate, quote, "the achievement gap," unquote, focused on urban schools in urban communities.
And I keep talking about "quote, unquote" with the achievement gap because it's a term that I don't use. It's a term that I think to be assumptive language. And assumptive language is an idea that's usually frequently talked about in real estate seminars of how to transfer ownership.
So when we talk about the achievement gap, we're talking about whose achievement? Black students' achievement? No, that's something I dispute.
In fact, I make the argument, we're better off calling it a teaching gap or an education gap, as opposed to an achievement gap. It's not that black students aren't learning. I make the argument that they're not being taught.
According to people like Mr. Anderson, who writes a book, The Education of Black Students in the South, that there's a famed Southern saying that "If the corn don't grow, don't nobody ask what's wrong with the corn." We ask what's wrong with the farmer, right? So I'll use that same sort of idea.
This attention is rightfully placed on urban schools for two reasons. First-- in particular, we're talking about New York state-- the majority of black students attend urban schools. New York state's big five school districts-- New York, Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Yonkers, are home to over 75% of all black students in the state. New York City alone is charged with educating over 60% of all black students in the state.
Thus, the focus on urban schools is an attempt to address the realities for most black students. By and large, urban schools are said to, quote, "have more teachers who are inexperienced, poorly trained, uncertified, more textbooks that are out of date, fewer computers, larger class sizes, and buildings that are in worse repair." It's from an article by a gentleman by the name of Evans.
So we have an idea of this notion-- and I would make the argument that "urban" is always code word. "Suburban" is racial code word as well, right? Whites, middle class, right? "Urban" is code word for drug-infested, poor, poverty-stricken communities. And when we're talking about urban schools, those sort of racial code words all apply to urban education as well.
Others talk of gross underfunding, lack of qualified teachers, inadequate resources, and decrepit infrastructure as the most cited contributions to our failing urban schools. On the contrary, suburban schools typically experience none of the above. On average, suburban schools have the highest per-pupil expenditures, state of the art facilities, access to the best and, quote, "most qualified teachers"-- whatever that may mean-- and a wide range of curricular as well as co-curricular options.
Despite the absence of factors frequently identified as causes of racial disparate outcomes, the achievement gap in white and minority students in suburban schools is actually larger than the national average. So what's taking place in suburban schools that we'd have a racial disproportionality that exceeds the national averages? It seems counterintuitive.
"Within the past decade, a growing number of suburban communities have"-- this is from the Minority Student Achievement Network-- "acknowledged the racial and ethnic achievement disparities in their primary and secondary schools." In fact, a consortium of relatively diverse, affluent, and educated communities have formed the Minority Student Achievement Network in order to, quote, "study the disparity in achievement between white students and students of color through intensive research."
It may not be coincidence that a major-- or a majority of the MSAN districts are located in college or university towns. What's going on in university cities? Blake Gumprecht writes-- or excuse me. Blake Gumprecht defines a university or college town as, quote, "any city where a college or university and the culture it creates exert a dominant influence over the character of the community."
Amherst, Princeton, Ann Arbor, Eugene, Madison, Chapel Hill, Cambridge, Evanston, on and on are all communities with rich histories of academic excellence. And all are founding MSAN members. Now what does that say about Ithaca, which not only has a university but also a college? We are a university town and a college town.
Nearly all the MSAN school districts can be found on national lists of the best school districts in the United States. So in short, even in the best school districts and in the communities where education literally dominates the landscape, racial disparities in educational outcomes are pronounced by race. It is within this context that this project turns attention to Ithaca, New York.
While Ithaca is not an MSAN member-- the lead researcher is Mr. Ferguson, out of Harvard University, who's also done some research here in Ithaca-- Ithaca shares numerous MSAN qualities with other districts. Not only is Ithaca the quintessential university town, hosting both an Ivy League university and a selective a private college. Ithaca also has a legacy and reputation as one of the nation's finest. And this is longstanding.
By most measures, Ithaca is a community of academic excellence. In the Ithaca City School District, more than-- excuse me-- more than half of the high school students enroll in honors classes. More than 80% graduate, attend four-year schools. And nearly 15% of all graduates go on to attend Ivy League institutions. We are the envy of most districts across the nation.
Ithaca has an active drama club, an award-winning orchestra, and nationally ranked science clubs. As evidenced by the ICSD's academic excellence, Ithaca High School repeatedly appears on national lists of the best high schools in the country. This year, we are ranked number 393rd. That's out of 20,000. So out of 20,000 schools, we're in the top 90th percentile.
And that's down. When I began teaching in Ithaca City School District in 1996-- the year 2000, we were ranked 83rd in the nation. So despite the fact that some people may see a slip, we're still in the 99th percentile in many respects.
Given the fact that there are over 20,000 high schools, Ithaca-- state puts us pretty high. However, the data found in the ICSD annual Equity Report Card reflect many distressing trends reminiscent of the national data. The Equity Report Card indicates that black students in Ithaca schools are far more likely to be suspended, more likely to be identified as special education students, less likely to be enrolled in AP and advanced classes, and less likely to receive a high school diploma. In fact, according to a front-page newspaper article, black students in Ithaca experience roughly a 50% chance of graduating from the best high schools in the country.
This listing of statistical dispro-- excuse me-- statistical disproportionality by racial classification could continue ad nauseam. There are pronounced racial differences in math and language arts test scores, school participation in clubs and extracurricular activities, school awards and recognitions, dropout rates, what I call "forceout rates," and more. All of these disparities have been thoroughly documented in local media as well as annual Equity Report Cards.
But more importantly, if you compound these disparities in discipline, achievement, participation, test scores, and the like, there is the existence of racial tensions, racial violence and racial hostility. These tensions have become violent. And school fights occur episodically, if not cyclically.
In fact, the aftermath of the two most recent altercations, in 2004 and in 2008, over half the student body stayed home from school in fear of increased racial violence. Harvard University researchers, Cornell researchers, college researchers, the Office of Civil Rights, the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission, and the US Department of Justice have all conducted separate investigations in Ithaca schools in the past decade.
So to better understand this history and the experience of black students, I engaged in a two-part process. One, I interviewed black students about their experiences directly after the period of racial tensions in 2004. Secondly, I combed the archive to provide my research with the appropriate sociohistoric context of black students in Ithaca, New York. What does the history tell us about the experiences of black students in Ithaca, New York? Part of what emerges, and part of what you're seeing, and part of what we'll discuss is the history-- or the "his-story" of educational inequality in a community of academic excellence.
And a short word about my findings. In making meaning of the history of Ithaca, I extrapolate key three ideas. First and most obviously, education in Ithaca has deep and treasured roots. References to Ithaca as a center of learning reach back over 200 years.
In fact, Ithaca's first attempt to form a college in 1822 are precisely what makes the Ithaca Academy, Ithaca's first high school, possible. Ithacans put in a proposal with John Hobart to get a college. John Hobart is given the college. We are not.
We are told, if you can raise another $10,000, $15,000, the state will entertain your proposal. Rather than take the $8,000 that Ithacans thought it would take to formulate a college and raise another $15,000, they take that money and formulate what they call the Ithaca Academy in 1822. So well before New York state compulsory laws in 1874, Ithaca has a high school that predates-- not just for black students, but for white students-- that predates this by 50 years. And so you start finding that folks from all over the world come to Ithaca precisely to get a high school education, a high school diploma.
Cornell begins in 1865, as folks know. And there was an attempt to form this symbiotic relationship between Ithaca High School-- quote, unquote "Ithaca Academy"-- and Cornell. So if you get through the Academy, your admittance to Cornell University was almost guaranteed. So students start moving to Ithaca not for the high school diploma, but precisely because it opens the doors to not any Academy, to this Academy, to this institution. And so Ithaca has been talked about as a center for learning for over 200 years.
Ithaca has been celebrated and celebrates itself as a global center of learning. Ithaca's libraries are as vast as its schools. A research university, a liberal arts college, a community college, high schools, Catholic schools, private schools, alternative schools, homeschooling, massage schools, vocational schools, Suzuki schools, Free Schools, RePublic Schools, Montessori schools, and a growing schools of hard knocks can all be found in the Greater Ithaca community. Ithaca community has a storied and diversified tradition of academic excellence. And this helps to explain why, for Ithaca and for Ithacans, education is the industry.
Second, even within a community of academic excellence, the needs of some students have always been neglected. Since its inception, Ithaca High School has struggled to form a cohesive community. Reports of a fragmented student body begin to emerge before the turn of the century and could be traced at any given time interval.
Sevan Terzian's research and writing on the early years of Ithaca public schools proves instructive here. Terzian writes, quote, "The lesson to be learned from the historical case in Ithaca as well as these current examples is this. If secondary schools are to cultivate thoughtful citizens in a democratic society, policymakers and administrators must devise new ways to solicit regular and ideas and needs from all"-- his emphasis-- "their constituents." Concerted efforts to integrate and many times segregate Ithaca High School reflect a local awareness that not all students received the highest quality education. As much a tale of academic excellence, the story of education in Ithaca is also one of academic failure.
The third and final theme for me is the paradox of resistance. More specifically, a resistance to oppression and a resistance to equity. In the former instance, there is clearly strong legacy of resistance to oppression. This is evidenced by local black folks' fight to secure freedom during enslavement.
The very first black folks in Ithaca were enslaved. That's how black folks come to Ithaca. So when Dr. Washington was talking about "born free," that is always a notion that jars me because I keep forgetting about this idea of being born free and born slaved. As a legal doctrine, what does that mean?
But the very first folks that came here-- and you may have saw the quote that early settlers brought human chattel along with movable goods. They brought slaves. So the Speedsville farm, which is located in Brooktondale, New York, is one of the first places that we have enslaved Africans beginning in Ithaca, New York.
So their fight to obtain their freedom, the works of Peter Webb, Daniel Jackson, Peter Wheeler, Harriet Tubman, George A. Johnson, Dr. Corinne Galvin, and others are notable about black folks' resistance. Organizations such as the Saint James AME Zion Church, who celebrate its 175th year in existence-- 175 years of a local black church. That's quite some time.
Alpha Phi Alpha, the very first national black Greek organization that begins on Cornell University. The Southside Community Center were formed in large part to resist isolation and segregation. Part of the reason why A Phi A begins is because black folks weren't allowed into white fraternities. They weren't allowed to live in white dorms. So they lived off campus with local black families.
Ithacans formed the Serv-Us League, the Council for Equality, the Ithaca Black Caucus, and the Village of Ithaca as organizations who actively refused to accept educational failure. By any measure, the agency in Ithaca's black community is impressive, and equally noteworthy as they continue to cross racial and cross economic alliances. So I'm impressed by not only these cross-racial attempts, but attempts to reach across crossed economic lines, crossed class lines. History informs us that Ithacans demonstrate an unwavering audacity to fight for a qualitatively better community.
Simultaneously, however, there is a legacy of resistance to equity. In other words, Ithaca's history includes a government decree that denounced the Fugitive Slave Law. So in 1850, when Congress passes this Fugitive Slave Law, the Ithaca government passes a legislation that denounces that and says to black folks, in the South specifically, if you get here, we'll harbor you. We'll house you.
Now that is much more in word than in deed. But that's an impressive point to take place. But also includes, as timing would have it, a KKK rally that marched down State Street, that was 500 strong and marched down the streets of Ithaca In 1925.
So we're torn. We had this dual nature in Ithaca of wanting to be progressive but also being utterly racist. There are stories in 1850 of local black actors who could not stay at the Ithaca Hotel because they didn't serve colored folks, right? I know Ithacans present themselves as being progressive. But we are as much of the racial national character as any other community.
Racial fights, specious legal codes, and overt discrimination in employment and housing are interwoven in Ithaca's history. As Claudia Montague writes, quote, "Although Ithaca has a cherished reputation for racial tolerance that predates the Civil War, the experience of its black community did not differ greatly from those blacks almost anywhere in the nation." We're part of the United States. And we're part of that history.
Similar to national models, Ithaca has constructed a school system and community culture that actively works to maintain racial and economic power hierarchies. Attempts to formulate policies that would promote equity have met frequent and at times fervent resistance. Programs, resources, and offices designed to promote equity have been systematically eviscerated. Claims of budgetary and/or political constraints are found throughout local history.
Despite, or rather alongside the many platitudes placed upon Ithaca, resistance to equity is a formative part of Ithaca's character. One hypothesis guiding my work was the naive belief that no one had dug deep enough, that no one had pushed through the frustration, the anger, the confusion, or the struggle to solve local educational problems. After all, these may be national issues. But they are oftentimes lived locally. That difficulty existed because no one had solved the riddle.
In order to remedy this educational and community crisis, I read for answers. I read books on black education. I read Carter G. Woodson, Du Bois, David Walker, Mary Bethune Cookman, Janice Hall, Geneva Gay, [INAUDIBLE], Shawn Ginwright. And that can go on.
I read books on educational theory and democracy and oppression-- John Dewey, Pierre Bourdieu, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Joel Spring, Henry [INAUDIBLE], and the list can go on. I read books on Afrocentric epistemologies-- Molefi Asante, Cheikh Anta Diop, CT Keto, Patricia Hill Collins, and others. And I read local historians-- Carol Kammen, [INAUDIBLE], Corinne Galvin, Claudia Montague, William "Daddy" George. Some folks may know the George William Agency. Frank Boynton, and scores of journalists.
When I could not find answers in the national literature, I then sought answers from local black students. When I could not find the answers from local black students, I sought answers in the local history. The more I read, the more I researched, the more I began to see an interesting pattern develop.
There exists a plethora of suggested answers. And throughout the national and local history, the best recommendations are repeated often. Rather than affirming my research findings, this repetition actually began to cripple my research. The possibility of recycling the same policy recommendations seemed academically disingenuous.
During the 1879 commencement ceremony for a relatively young Ithaca High School, Ithaca's first board of education president, Rochon, addressed the students, parents, and community members. It was the commencement ceremony for Miss Jesse A. Johnson and her classmates. Miss Johnson was the first class to complete Ithaca High School's public four-year curriculum. Though the public school begins in 1875, the very first year of students to get all four years were in 1879.
Miss Jesse A. Johnson, the daughter of George and Mary Johnson, was also the first black graduate of Ithaca's public high school, receiving her degree in the scientific course. It is quite possible, even likely, that Miss Johnson and her family were somewhere in the audience. George Johnson is instrumental in Ithaca history because he's part of the Underground Railroad. He's Ithaca's most famous and widely known Underground Railroad conductor.
So to have-- in black studies, we frequently talk about connection between education and liberation-- or education and freedom. So to have the very first graduating class have Jesse A. Johnson, the daughter of an Underground Railroad, only affirms the connection between education and liberation for me. And I guarantee, most black students at Ithaca High School don't know that history. Most folks in Ithaca don't know that history, that the very first graduating class contained members that were freedom fighters in many respects.
So as they're in the audience between the readings, the essays, the [INAUDIBLE] selections, and the congratulatory remarks, the Johnson family would have looked on as the board president, ES Esty, rose and spoke the following. Quote, "Do not receive these diplomas merely as certificates of acquirements and success already achieved. But rather, regard them as the keys which shall unlock for you the doors of the colleges and universities."
So your high school degree was solely a key to get you on to the next level. That's how Ithaca High School begins. That's why it exists.
"Regard these as but the stepping stones by which you may go higher," Esty says. "Always room at the top. Although the lower and middle ranks jostle each other in competition and struggle for position and support, how serenely the comparative few who attain eminence stand both in life and history."
So he's already talking about the fact there is a resource struggle between have-gots and the have-nots. And you want to be on top because there's always room for you here. And that became the title of my dissertation-- "Always Room at the Top."
We're not worried about you poor white folks who come from rural areas. We're not worried about your poor black folks who come from urban areas. We're worried about the sons and daughters of professors and of administrators and of deans and of provosts. You're the children that we want to get on to college, nobody else.
A century later, Ithaca High School diploma still unlocks the doors to the nation's best colleges and universities. However, over a century later, we still continue to see the lower and middle ranks struggle and jostle for support and position. Esty's early influence in the formative years of Ithaca High School come-- or excuse me-- help Ithaca to create what they call Cornell's largest fitting school.
I'm not sure if anyone caught that slide when it came up. But that was from the Ithaca High School yearbook. So Ithaca High School was selling itself as Cornell's largest fitting school, a public institution trying to get folks on to, at that point in time-- beyond the land institution-- a private education.
So it's one of the best secondary schools in the nation for many reasons. But regrettably, far too many have yet to ask, why is there always room at the top? And as I close, the student interviews provide some answers to this question.
While there are certainly differences found in the student experiences and commonalities-- excuse me. The commonalities that emerge from the interview transcripts proved to be the most instructive here. The participants called for diversifying the faculty, requested that teachers possess cultural competence, asked for a curricular relevancy, and strongly recommended disciplinary reforms. There was also a general sense that the district could and should do more to permit a climate of comfortableness and cohesion.
From these voices, specific policy initiatives were formulated by centering the experience of black students who participated in my study. They recommended policies that included creating dynamic learning spaces. This is never more true than the advent of things like Wikipedia, which has changed the way in which knowledge is constructed.
It is no longer, I give you an assignment. You go home to your alcove, hide by herself, and come back and spit back to me. It's much more interactive.
Students are never far from their communication devices, right? There's a constant need to be able to connect it to others and information feedback loops. So we should take that as maybe a way to change our classroom spaces.
Increase staff training, development, recruiting, and retain a racially diverse staff. Reform and expand the curriculum, utilize alternative assessments, revamp disciplinary practices, as well as begin the process towards detracking, which is a process that actively integrates-- or segregates students. I go on to say things like, the Aspen Commission has asked for people to consider their policy recommendations, all 75 in total.
And I make the same recommendation. Doing one of these may be well worthwhile. But only when we do all of them is the problem-- or will we find some sort of positive outcomes.
Despite my optimism-- and I am optimistic about the role of education to dramatically impact students' lives-- what I've come to realize is that we already know what to do. This is what history taught me. We have known what to do. If we listen to students and their families, if we review the history, if we critically read the state of policies, we have all the ideas that would make a difference both locally and nationally.
The problem does not exist because we lack the brainpower to discover answers or the resources to create a solution. Ithaca has had some of the best of Ithaca black intelligentsia come through these doors. Between Cornell and Ithaca College, we repeatedly cycle through. And we can ask why many folks leave. But we cycle through the best of the black intelligentsia-- comes through in Ithaca, New York.
All right, so that's not the answer. It's not brainpower. What we lack is a collective willingness to match word and deed.
We have not yet put into practice what Ithaca's own have put onto paper. We've come close. People have often fought, organized, and collaborated. Sometimes we diligently try. But ultimately, we allow transformation to fail.
We can identify a host of potential factors critical race theorists call whiteness as property, interest convergence, empathic fallacy, or our own lack of sociohistoric comprehension. One of the things I was trying to work on is trying to reinform the collective memory, since Ithaca is so transient as a college or university town that people lack a collective memory or a community memory. And how do we understand the experience of black folks throughout history, that issues we're seeing in the high school today are not new? 1861, 1844, 1832-- I could point you to reports and documents all along the way that talk about the exact same thing.
Or the failure of transformation could easily be a result of greed, fatigue, passivity, ignorance, apathy, or worse, malice. In the final analysis, it is not the educational policies that need to be addressed, but rather our larger community politics. All of the recommendations-- all of my recommendations have been made previously. Each has strong advocates, again, locally and nationally. There is no shortage of supporting rationales, policy proposals, research reports, or action plans.
The reality is that the policy and issues have been decidedly unimplemented-- purposely unimplemented. And as a result, and until the Ithaca committee decides that our disproportionate educational outcomes are no longer desirable, black and poor students will continue to have roughly a 50% chance or a 50-50 chance of graduating from one of the best high schools in the country. My question is, where do we go from here? Thank you.
ERIC ACREE: I want to-- technical-- I want to thank the three speakers for giving us some very much-- food for thought. I mean, Ira starts off with talking about historical black colleges and is actually showing us some very important images. And the one thing that can't be lost with her dialogue was importance of the historically black colleges for African Americans, because this was the place they had to go because they were shunned out of so many other places.
And Professor Washington gave us an excellent overview of independent or African Free Schools that were established in New York City and the struggle to maintain them. But the thing that came away for me with that was the people-- the leadership that came out of these schools and how they were able to maintain themselves.
And lastly, but not least, Sean Eversley-Bradwell gave us a really great critique of the struggles and racism and the plight of African Americans here in Ithaca, in terms of what they went through. And the last thing he left me with was really striking in terms of the intelligence that have gone through here, but also the struggles for the common folk, not just African Americans, but also poor white and rural areas that are shunned out of it.
So with that said and done, we have a few minutes. I'm sorry we're going a little over. But we started a little late because of technical difficulties.
Now what I want to do is just spend maybe-- I don't know how much time we have-- maybe 5 to 10 minutes for question-- a Q&A session for members in the audience. So just raise your hand. I'll point to you. Comment, question, and then we'll take it from there. You could direct it to one of our panelists as well. Yes, Professor [INAUDIBLE].
SPEAKER 7: As someone in the district, it's a wonderful experience for me to listen to this history and contemporary issues. Because of lack of time, I will limit myself to one question [INAUDIBLE]. Is the international dimension in the 19th century-- I came a little late because I was in another meeting. But I came on time to hear Ira talking about the inclusion of Lincoln University.
Lincoln University, which started as Ashmun Institute, whose objective was to train people for overseas, to go to civilize-- missionaries. And of course, it changed its status later on at the Civil War. And when they realized that there was work to be done right here in terms of helping to construct-- and changed their name. And Margaret was talking about that Colonization Society. And is it Andrews--
MARGARET WASHINGTON: Mhm.
SPEAKER 7: --the effort? It was at the same period, and the same period when the Ithaca Academy. So I'm always interested in seeing what was happening in terms of the interface or race, class. And the international dimension of that was so much at the center of all these experiences.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: Colonization was the most powerful movement at that time. There was a big abolitionist movement to end slavery immediately and for black equality. But it was marginalized. Most people who talked about the issue at all wanted blacks colonized in Africa.
And Lincoln University was going to be one of the ways they were going to train people to go over there, because the rationale for sending the black population back to Africa was to civilize the Africans. And so they needed an institution where they could train people in the way they wanted to train them so they could go back and civilize them. Yeah, so-- but Lincoln's mission shifted after freedom. But that is why it was established, yeah.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: My own-- in the international aspect in my own research, it's interesting. The very first yearbooks in Ithaca would list the addresses of the students. So we don't have those privacy issues today, right?
But it was amazing to me to keep seeing that there were folks coming from all over the world-- China. Now I would assume that many of these folks weren't black folks. But China, India, England, France, Germany-- that was listing as their hometown. So what you find is people not just moving from California or from Canada to come into the United States, but making the trip overseas in 1908, 1905, 1903--
MARGARET WASHINGTON: That's amazing.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: --to get education here, in large part because they knew that would then springboard them on to Cornell University.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: Yes.
SPEAKER 7: May I just add, the international dimension of the-- ironically, later Lincoln that was going to colonize Africans trained, by accident, some of the African leaders who were going to free Africa of the Europeans. [INAUDIBLE] So quite interesting.
ERIC ACREE: Peter, did I see you had your hand up?
SPEAKER 8: Yep. Professor Washington, I'm curious about the sources for the story of the Africa Free Schools. I would be-- just thinking off the top of my head, I can't imagine there's much of an archival record for them, that they might not even be the subject of newspaper articles or other commentary. So I'm curious-- so I was amazed that you got so much out of your story and am curious what you're drawing upon.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: Well, at the New York Historical Society, they have the New York Manumission papers. And within the New York Manumission papers are the records of the Free African Society. They're wonderful records because they even have the children's drawings and the names of some of the teachers.
I mean, I was looking for information about Sojourner Truth's son, who was literate. And I wondered if I'd find his name. But I was also interested in who the women teachers were. And I was interested in the salaries. So they had all that kind of information.
And then once the Public Education Society took it over, they have records. So those records are there. And in addition to that, because the New York Manumission Society was all white-- there were no blacks in it. And these were prominent people. In their records, like in their diaries, they'll say, went to the Free African School today and heard such and such and such give an oration. So yeah, it's amazing how much-- that's why I say it's a story just crying to be told.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: Can I comment on that briefly, that point, because this is partly what got my research started. When I started reading local histories, I kept reading local historians say things like, there's no black folks in Ithaca. Or black folks weren't archived. And that-- if we're here, we're arch-- there's a way in which the archive is.
And so what I started realizing is that my reading of the archives is vastly different than other people. So I'm finding things that a number of folks aren't looking for that lens. And so I usually begin this talk about showing photos from 1889 or 1875 showing individual black students. Like, it depends on what you're looking for.
If we're a part of the existence, of course we're archived. Of course we're here. And that may be different from an archivist's perspective. But from a researcher who's a non-trained archivist, I'm always finding much more there than people ever assume is there.
ERIC ACREE: It's always amazed me. You never see black people on Seinfeld. Anyway. Yes?
SPEAKER 9: I just have a question about-- did you say that-- about the Ithaca High School records about the international students. Was I-- I just didn't get the connection. Where did you see the--
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: These are in the first yearbooks.
SPEAKER 9: In the yearbooks.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: So if you go down to the public library, which has-- I think the first yearbook begins in 1906, or maybe 1905.
SPEAKER 9: And also, I'm curious about the picture of the African American students. I had just-- alum. And that looks like around when I was graduating. It must have been 1970s.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: Yeah, it was 1968.
SPEAKER 9: Oh, it was that early?
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: And I show that picture-- I show that picture in particular because people oftentimes say that there was no connection between college students and students in the town, which is laughable because the first black students at Cornell University could not live on campus. They are barred from living in the dorms. And so they lived with black families.
And so that's probably why A Phi A begins at Saint James and not on campus. But I show that picture, in essence, to say, they pre-date the Willard Straight takeover. And many of those students that are in that photo were connected to the folks who took over Willard Straight Hall. There was a symbiotic connection between the high school students and some of the black students.
SPEAKER 10: I've got a separate question for each one of the panelists. Let me start with Miss Revels. The consortium, how large is it? And what is your expectations for its growth potential [INAUDIBLE] other HBCUs?
IRA REVELS: Right now, we have 21 partners. And we are actively bringing on the other partners. All of the partners are members of the HBCU Library Alliance. So in order to contribute to the collection, you need to be a current dues-paying member.
And there has been quite a bit of interest among the members. They have a semi-annual conference. And during that conference, folks have-- I've been to, I believe, three of them thus far. Maybe two of them-- semi-annual. At least two of them. But at each of those conferences, I find that folks are asking questions about how to participate. So definitely, we're adding people as they indicate their interest.
SPEAKER 10: Just one other follow-up. I'm a graduate from an HBCU. So how can I-- and I have a vast network of other graduates, not only from mines, but other schools. How can I network and get this information out to them, being an alumnus? And so if their schools are not part of that 21-- to get the word to them, or to get the word to the librarians, or to [INAUDIBLE] hands?
IRA REVELS: Basically, I think if you know of particular people who are of an interest, I can send you information that will help you get it out to them. And we can talk. I know your school, in particular, Johnson C. Smith is not a member.
SPEAKER 10: Right.
IRA REVELS: And I actually have talked to a library director. So they're in the middle of their information literacy programming.
SPEAKER 10: OK, good.
IRA REVELS: Yeah, I can talk to you about that.
SPEAKER 10: Yeah, I'll get you offline.
ERIC ACREE: [INAUDIBLE]
SPEAKER 10: Miss Washington-- yeah, I'll make it short. I was just impressed. Actually, I'm impressed with all of y'all because of this information that I'm gathering today. You spoke about colonization when-- the first stages of the school. And what struck me was that you mentioned one of the person of colors that was an actor.
MARGARET WASHINGTON: Ira Aldridge.
SPEAKER 10: I should've brought my paper. Right-- got my notes. And he went over to England. And he decided not to come back to this country.
Now my question was, was it a mindset? Because my thinking is that his audience in England was mixed. So was it the fact that he just didn't want to come back here to the States? What was so different about it?
MARGARET WASHINGTON: His audience in England was mixed. His audience in the United States would not be.
SPEAKER 10: Even at that time?
MARGARET WASHINGTON: Even at that time. You would have to perform to segregated audiences.
SPEAKER 10: All right, and Mr. Sean.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: You want this to last longer, don't you?
SPEAKER 10: I like your ending quote where you say, "Where do we go from here?" And my thoughts are, for this change-- it would be lovely if this change could come from the bottom up. And what I mean from that is parents and students going to school board superintendent.
But my thoughts is, since Cornell and IC is tied into all of this-- from your presentation-- why can't the scholars at Cornell, IC, and the representatives from the school board, and the superintendent all get together? What's wrong with these minds, why they can't sit down at a table and realize all this?
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: A colleague of mine, Dr. John Raible, at one point in time-- who used to be an Ithaca City School District employeee-- said, "Schools aren't broken. They're working perfectly." They're designed to get the results they're getting.
And so I think many in Ithaca don't see-- I was having dinner a couple weeks ago with someone who said that they know people who move here for the school district. And I started laughing because I know people who move out for the same reason. So it's a matter of perspective and what your child's experiencing.
So for the vast majority of Ithacans, Ithaca High School works phenomenally well. It gets them on to Cornell, to Brown. And if we're not talking about the Ivys, we send-- there's 300 graduates at Ithaca High School each year. We send more than 30 students per year just to this institution.
So 10% of the graduating population comes here. Another 20% goes-- doesn't leave the area code to go to school. So be it Binghamton, or be it whatever the case may be. So that's part of the issue.
What I think Cornell and Ithaca College-- where I'm working at now-- are starting to realize is that the racial disproportionality is actually starting to hurt the recruitment, because there's plenty of diverse faculty who want to come to work at this institution-- or not just faculty-- staff, who's like, I don't know if I could bring my child into all that drama at the high school. And I've heard that from more than one applicant that we've tried to bring to our center who did some quick research.
And so I think now that Cornell and IC are beginning to apply appropriate pressure on the school district. And the community itself is starting to realize this is not the community we want to generate. That if we're really trying to do something different, we've got to have a groundswell of community support. And that's my point. I'm optimistic for the first time in a long time that enough people are on board to have some conversations that are different than what we've done historically.
ERIC ACREE: Maybe one or two more questions. Can you be somebody's witness? Go ahead.
SPEAKER 11: Well, just a question for you also. Do you have documentation of the earliest black students at Ithaca College or at the Ithacans' Conservatory?
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: Yes, 1908. It's one of the pictures you may have saw. It's funny. We can't identify the student.
There's a list of 17 names. And my wife, who does pretty extensive genealogy research, has tried to go through the census and find each of those 17 people. Part of the problem is that we're not sure what the maiden name is, as opposed to the birth name. And sometimes race is not listed.
But the very first graduate of Ithaca College Music Conservatory we have is-- according to the pictures, anyway-- is 1908, which predates Cornell. I think Cornell had a black student in 1889. But didn't--
SPEAKER 12: It's earlier than that. Earlier than that.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: I'll have to-- we can have that-- yeah, sure.
SPEAKER 12: In the 1870s, there are black students. They're not African American. They're Caribbean. First graduates at Cornell graduate in 1890. So they're here in 1886.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: Maybe that-- that's the part that I'm thinking of-- the first graduates.
SPEAKER 12: 1886, they come.
SEAN EVERSLEY-BRADWELL: Thank you.
ERIC ACREE: That was [INAUDIBLE], the university archivist. I want to thank the panelists for a rousing-- we should give them another round of applause.
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Ira Revels, Margaret Washington, and Sean Eversley-Bradwell look at American education from the perspective of African
Ira Revels discusses the role of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in black education during the mid to early 19th century, using images from the HBCU Digital Collection, a collaborative project involving Cornell University Library and twenty-one HBCUs;
History professor Margaret Washington discusses black education in antebellum New York City, with a focus on the African Free School. At a time when no public education existed, this privately run institution provided formative education for individuals who became the most important African American leaders in the pre-Civil War era;
Ithaca College Professor Sean Eversley-Bradwell presents the history of black students in Ithaca, NY, revealing numerous examples of resistance and agency. This history helps to map how race impacts and structures local communities.