Historical Inequity in Education (US)

Dictionary.com defines Social Justice as “fair treatment of all people in a society, including respect for the rights of minorities and equitable distribution of resources among members of a community.”

There are several areas where resources have not been distributed equitably in the United States.  When the rights of minorities have not been respected and they have not received an equitable share of resources, the results have rippled through the centuries. 

The Social Justice Committee selected education as a first area to investigate.  While our focus is on the status of education in Delaware at the present moment, this blog entry seeks to put those efforts into historic context.  In what ways have educational resources been distributed inequitably in this part of the world?  What effect does past educational inequity have on people today?

During the mid-nineteenth century, many slave-holding states passed legislation to prohibit literacy among Black people.  Even in states like Delaware, where there was not a law against teaching Black people to read, most enslaved Blacks were illiterate anyway because no effort was made to provide for their education.

Although free Black people during this period were often skilled artisans and merchants, white people in the 1800s feared that Black people with power would turn against white interests.  To prevent this, they passed laws and adopted unwritten policies that purposefully prevented Black people from having business success.  One important means to that end was educational inequity.

After the Civil War, the federal government attempted to promote equity for freed Black people.  The Freedman’s Bureau set up schools for Black children.  Thousands of Northerners came into the south as teachers.  The reaction of some in the South was violent.  Both Black and white people were killed by the Ku Klux Klan when they tried to educate freed Black people.

When the federal government required all children, regardless of race to be educated, segregated schools were set up.  The schools for Black children were underfunded, as were many public services in Black areas.  Then many states required literacy tests for voters, thus preventing Black people from voting for change that would have made education more equitable.

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of schools was unconstitutional.  Still the schools that provided for people of color, including people of African, Asian, indigenous, and Latino descent, continued to be underfunded. People of color were prevented from buying homes in white areas, concentrating them in certain areas which then had schools that received less resources.

The economic repercussions of educational and employment inequities also perpetuate the concentration of people in lower income areas where schools are generally still subpar.

The Social Justice Committee of Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church is currently studying the 21st century schools in our area.  Working to provide quality education for people of all racial backgrounds is one way that we can endeavor to break the cycle of systemic racism in our nation and in our communites.