Essay on American Society

With its fiftieth anniversary, scholars have had ample reason to return their attention to Brown and reassess its meaning. From the Grassroots to the Supreme Court: Brown v. Board of Education and American Democracy represents one of the earliest efforts, drawn from a conference convened at the University of South Carolina in 2002. In the words of Peter F. Lau, the editor, this collection “reinforces long-held views of the decision’s seminal importance and revolutionary nature” (p. 13).

While the sixteen contributors to the book, scholars of law and history, largely support the above claim, their findings are not a simplistic restatement that Brown launched the civil rights movement. Instead, a more nuanced picture emerges, one that covers a broad p of time, combines bottom-up and top-down methodologies, contextualizes the integrationist campaign within larger themes of grassroots activism and constitutional change, and still accounts for variables of race, class, and region. Although the collection is kaleidoscopic, its essays essentially operate along two perspectives.

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The first draws connections between long-standing traditions of grassroots activism and the traditional narrative of Brown. As studies by Raymond Gavins, Kara Miles Turner, and Peter Lau make clear, before Brown local activists sought legal remedies as part of a larger, comprehensive fight for equality. Alongside celebrated battles in the courtrooms, they pressed other campaigns for voting rights and economic justice. Enriching our understanding of grassroots mobilization, other essays demonstrate that activists had to contend not simply with external obstacles but also with internal divisions of race, class, gender, language, and culture.
Similarly, Tomiko Brown-Nagin skillfully explores intraracial tensions over the handling of post-Brown litigation in Atlanta. Christina Greene focuses on the often-overlooked role of women’s activism in her sharp study of Durham, North Carolina, while Laurie B. Green addresses the dynamics of urban-rural relationships by employing a much-needed metropolitan approach to her exploration of Memphis and the surrounding Mississippi Delta. Other essays complicate the traditional narrative further, moving beyond the bounds of black-white relations to address experiences of other communities of color, especially outside the South.
Furthermore, in a sweeping essay by Vicki L. Ruiz, he examines the meaning of segregated education for Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, and Native Americans in the West. Also, Madeleine Lopez likewise offers a focused study of Puerto Rican experiences with desegregation in New York City, where campaigns for bilingual education complicated the integrationist struggle. In conclusion, the essays in the book embrace Brown, yet assert that the case represented but one component of the larger civil rights revolution.
Indeed, as the collection suggests, during the twentieth century the struggle for integration and the struggle for equality diverged as often as they merged. As Lau notes, “Seldom does significant change occur from any single source or emanate from any single direction” (p. 14). Therefore, the book offers a picture of the civil rights revolution that is appropriately diverse and complex. LITERACY AND RACIAL JUSTICE: THE POLITICS OF LEARNING AFTER BROWN V BOARD OF EDUCATION. This book by Catherine Prendergast examines the critical issues raised in the celebrated case of Brown v Board of Education.
It must be noted that the five essays that make up Prendergast’s volume plot the “intersections” between racial politics and educational practice and, in so doing, shed a great deal of light on the nature and intent of current educational initiatives and controversies. In the introduction and in Chapter 1, “The Economy of Literacy,” Prendergast examines the Brown ruling, a ruling that was ostensibly intended to end racism’s power over educational policy and practice, but ultimately did not!
The author uses contemporary literacy theory and critical race theorists’ reading of the Brown ruling to argue that the justices’ explicit and implicit arguments reify a view of education as essentially White property. That is, the arguments and remedies of Brown constructed equal opportunity as the right of racial minorities to be educated among Whites: the quality of schooling that Black children receive is directly dependent not only on a White presence in schools but on Whites’ implicit willingness to share their privilege and property with Black children.
It must also be noted that the book’s remaining chapters–“Desegregation Comes to the Piedmont: Locating Ways with Word,” “Give me your Literate,” and “Literacy and Racial Justice in Practice: High School X”–may be of most use and interest to a slightly narrower audience of writing teachers, language theorists, and educational researchers. Chapter Three examines the seeming absence of race issues and racial identity in Shirley Brice Heath’s Ways with Words.
The final essay in the volume, “Literacy and Racial Justice in Practice,” is based on Prendergast’s experiences as a tutor and aide, and later as a researcher, at “High School X” (a pseudonym for a Midwestern alternative high school). Here, Prendergast presents a realistic view of the stresses, tensions, and occasional triumphs of a partially-integrated school whose mission is an explicit recognition and celebration of difference.
Although the lack of financial support for the school in the local African American community is an ongoing frustration for school administrators, Prendergast maintains that her study of HSX can provide some particularized insights for teachers and researchers and some “lessons” for a realistic approach to the ongoing racism of the American education system. The book’s conclusion addresses the thorny issues of ubiquitous educational testing, the role of the scholar in political change, and the reparations movement.
Finally, Although the book is not without its faults–for instance, Prendergast’s analysis of the court cases would have been more compelling had she examined the rulings and opinions of the justices, rather than relying on secondary sources, and the way that the term “literacy” slips around, unmoored by any attempt at definition, can be confusing–Literacy and Racial Justice tells an important story.
Readers will discover in this story new insights into their own experiences–as students, teachers, and scholars–even as they struggle, with Prendergast, to understand both the too-often disheartening realities of today’s schools and the society whose history and values those schools enact. References 1. Lau, Peter F. , Ed. From the Grassroots to the Supreme Court: Brown v. Board of Education and American Democracy Durham, NC: Duke University Press 406 pp. , $25. 95, ISBN 0-8223-3449-6 Publication Date: February 2005 2. Brown v. Board of Education: Caste, Culture, and the Constitution. By Robert J. Cottrol, Raymond T. Diamond, and Leland B.
Ware. Landmark Law Cases and American Society. (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, c. 2003. Pp. xii, 292. Paper, $15. 95, ISBN 0-7006-1289-0; cloth, $25. 00, ISBN 0-7006-1288-2. ) 3. From the Grassroots to the Supreme Court: Brown v. Board of Education and American Democracy. Edited by Peter F. Lau. Constitutional Conflicts. (Durham, N. C. , and London: Duke University Press, c. 2004. Pp. x, 406. Paper, $25. 95, ISBN 0-8223-3449-6; cloth, $94. 95, ISBN 0-8223-3475-5. ) 4. Catherine Prendergast. Literacy and Racial Justice: The Politics of Learning after Brown v. Board of Education. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2003. 205 pp. $25. 00.

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