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# What Happened to all the Black Principals After Brown?

Module by: Maurice Smith, Linda Lemasters. E-mail the authors

Summary: Every new generation needs to be reminded that separate but equal is generally not equal. It is important that the next generation of educators not simply celebrate the passage of Brown v. Board of Education, but be aware of the complexity of the ruling and the impact on today’s educational system. By all accounts, Brown was necessary to correct the lack of many basic civil and equal rights for the African American. In the process of providing this remedy, however, neither was sufficient effort provided nor were problems even acknowledged regarding ancillary consequences of the court action. There continues to be a need in the public schools for African American principals and teachers, as well as equal opportunity in those schools. This article contains information as to why Brown was both the solution and the problem.

## Note:

This manuscript has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and endorsed by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a significant contribution to the scholarship and practice of education administration. In addition to publication in the Connexions Content Commons, this module is published in the International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, Volume 5, Number 4 (October - December, 2010), ISSN 2155-9635. Formatted and edited in Connexions by Theodore Creighton and Brad Bizzell, Virginia Tech.

## Introduction

As the nation’s schools have entered the 21st century, student populations have become more diverse. Only 60% of students in today’s schools are Caucasian; 30% are Hispanic or African American. The remaining 10% comprise the Asian population and mixed races (Curry, 2004). According to Hodgkinson (1985), by 2020 in the United States, if the immigration rate continues to increase, there will be 44 million Blacks and 47 million Hispanics. Such diversity manifests itself in linguistic issues. It is estimated that 35% of school children live in linguistically and ethnically diverse homes. For example, one elementary school in Northern Virginia has reported over 80 languages being spoken in its halls (Futrell, 1999). Since this report was produced more than a decade ago, it is highly possible that the variety of languages has increased. Therefore, America will need adult role models to educate the young in schools, especially minority children, and these role models need to mirror the diversity of America’s ever changing ethnic society (Hodgkinson).

Paradoxically, despite these increases in diversity among school populations, America is experiencing stagnation in the number of Blacks entering the principalship. Accompanying this stagnation is a decline in recruitment to the principalship in general. Studies conducted by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) reported that nearly half of rural, urban, and suburban schools were facing a shortage of principal candidates (Educational Research Service [ERS], 1998). Also, the ERS study determined that there was a shortage of candidates for principal at more than half of high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. More specifically, the 1998 ERS study established a significant need for an increase in the number of minorities in leadership positions.

In actuality, the percentage of Black principals in public and private schools has leveled at 11% (Strizek, Pittsonberger, Riordan, Lyter, & Orlofsky, 2006). The minority teaching population was expected to drop from 12% to a low of 5% (Pine & Hilliard, 1990). In 2004, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics determined that African American teachers constituted 8.4% of the teaching population in the United States (“What percent,” 2010).

## Brown v. Board of Education Was Good and Bad

Before Brown v. Board of Education (1954), in minority neighborhoods, boroughs, districts, and counties across America, teaching and administration were considered honorable and good-paying careers for African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans. The teaching profession or school administration provided an avenue for Blacks and minorities to enter the middle class. Also, minority teachers and principals in their communities were positive role models for the young children in their care. They enjoyed the process of developing relationships and fostering knowledge among young adults. Even low-performing Black students profited from their relationships with Black teachers and administrators. These teachers and administrators instructed young people regarding how to relate to each other to eventually be able to impact the world (King, 1993). This phenomenon is vividly expressed in the words of the famous writer, teacher, and feminist, Bell Hooks (1994):

Almost all our teachers at Booker T. Washington were Black women. They were committed to nurturing intellect so that we could become scholars, thinkers and cultural workers, Black folks who used our minds. We learned early that our devotion to learning, to a life of the mind, was a counter-hegemonic act, a fundamental way to resist every strategy of White racist colonization. Though they did not define or articulate these practices in theoretical terms, my teachers were enacting a revolutionary pedagogy of resistance that was profoundly anti-colonial. Within these segregated schools, Black children who were deemed exceptional, gifted, were given special care. Teachers worked with and for us to ensure that we would fulfill our intellectual destiny and by doing so uplifted the race. My teachers were on a mission. To fulfill that mission, my teachers made sure they “knew” us. (pp. 2-3)

It has been estimated that approximately 82,000 Black teachers were teaching 2 million Black children in America in 1954 (Toppo, 2004). On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. Board of Education was handed down throughout the United States. Brown v. Board of Education irrevocably changed the education experience for all Americans, especially Black Americans. The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, determined that in the field of education, the doctrine of separate but equal had no place in America. Separate educational facilities were considered inherently unequal (Willoughby, 2004). Brown ended segregation in American schools and led the country into integration.

The integration of schools, however, did not necessarily involve the integration of the staff. Black administrators, especially in the South, lost their jobs and influence during desegregation. Black administrators were no longer tied to Black schools, and they often were moved into the larger system, fired, or demoted (Franklin, 1990). Fulz(2004) reported many discriminatory firings and demotions of Black principals. For instance, of 467 school districts observed, 34 districts had dismissed their Black principals, and 386 Black principals (60%) had been demoted. Life for Black principals was disastrous during the 11 years after Brown. In 11 southern states, researchers estimated that 90% of Black principals lost their jobs. In 1964, for example, there were Black principals in all of Florida’s 67 school districts, but by 1974, that number had diminished to 40 school districts (Toppo, 2004). From 1967 to 1971, the number of Black principals in North Carolina decreased from 620 to 40 (Toppo). Those who remained were fired, demoted, or forced to retire. In some cases, demotion for the Black principal involved his or her working as a janitor or clerk. In one instance, a Black principal was fired because he had not held a monthly fire drill (Toppo).

A similar scenario was illustrated in a dissertation by Wright (2003). His study investigated the Brown decision after 1954, and he completed a narrative inquiry into the declining presence of African American educators. He conducted face-to-face interviews with eight African American educators, who articulated their experiences about life after Brown in Texas public schools. One of the participants, James, discussed his experience with Black principals’ being demoted:

We had a lot of black middle school and elementary school principals that were placed in an assistant principal’s position and very, very many of them who were called assistant principals. Basically they ran errands—they ran errands! Basically, if you were the librarian or you were the principal, you became an assistant. There were no black principals, head coaches, or head band directors. The most negative thing that I experienced was being placed in a sub position coaching with the experience that I had. (Wright, 2003, pp. 135-136)

From 1954 to 1965, it was estimated that 38,000 Black teachers and administrators lost their jobs in 17 southern and border states (Toppo, 2004). For example, there were few Black teachers hired between 1958 and 1968 in desegregated districts throughout the State of Arkansas. In Texas during the 1960s, approximately 5,000 White “substandard” teachers were employed in the state, and the Black teachers, who had better credentials, were told to find work elsewhere or take up a new profession (Toppo).

## Black Students Lost Their Role Models

From 1975 to 1985, the number of Black college students majoring in education decreased significantly, by 66% (Toppo, 2004). Between 1984 and 1989, an additional 21,515 Black teachers in the United States lost their jobs (Hudson & Holmes, 1994).

In Wright’s (2003) study, James, one of the participants, discussed the Black teacher loss in the community:

A number of the teachers that were in the black schools in Community C left Community C after they integrated the schools. . .because they did not give them jobs. If there were 60 black teachers, about 10-13 black teachers left—which is a significant amount when you think about it. They went to integrated cities because, as I said, Community C was just about the last place that they integrated. (p. 136)

Another participant in Wright’s study stated the following:

There was a loss of African American educators when the schools integrated. Many of them left the profession because they felt that they weren’t going to get jobs anyway. For example, a young man that I coached here was about the time of Walter Payton [NFL football player]. He and Walter Payton competed against each other. But people like that left and went to the factory to work. Coaches that I coached against, many of them just left the profession and went on to other places. One African American coach left because he wasn’t going to work as an assistant coach at Caldwell High School; he went to the Job Corps as the assistant director. Just before the schools integrated, I was the head football coach at my school. With integration, Charles was demoted. I became an assistant coach; I wasn’t head coach in the new situation. (p. 136)

The National Education Association (NEA) noted that from 1958 to 1968, 85% of Black teachers held college degrees, compared to 75% of Whites. The U.S. Health, Education and Welfare Department highlighted the plight of Black teachers during this time by issuing the following statement: “In a war, there must be some casualties, and perhaps the black teachers will be the casualties in the fight for equal education of black students” (Toppo, 2004, p. 3). All the aforementioned practices demonstrated the racial discrimination tactics used against the Black teacher.

Another example of such racism occurred in June 1955 in Greenville, Mississippi. A group of angry White parents wanted a number of Black teachers fired because they were members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In August of 1955, therefore, the local school board voted that Black teachers were banned from membership to the NAACP. If affiliated with the organization, Black teachers were to be immediately dismissed from the school district (Toppo, 2004).

More importantly, a residual effect of the loss of many Black teachers upon Black students was a profound change in Black student achievement. The Black teachers’ cultural guidance and instructional approaches were lost to Black students when integration was implemented. White teachers did not understand Black culture; nor were they aware of different instructional approaches for Black students. Thus, White teachers expected Black students to conform to their instructional methods and content. Black students, in most cases, found it difficult to conform. The result was a decline in Black students’ achievement in integrated schools (Hollins, 1996).

As depicted in Wright’s (2003) research, White teachers, in some cases, did not treat Black students fairly in the classroom. Charles, one of the participants in Wright’s study, portrayed this tendency:

With integration, the people were convincing children that they were second class. One simple example that I can share with you: These little eager black kids, very smart, would get through with their work first and then run up to the teacher. “Here is my work,” and the teacher was busy; she just wouldn’t look up. She would just let them stand there, and then here comes two or three of the white kids saying, “I’m through.” Well, she’d reach and get their work. Those teachers did hurtful things to our children, and so a lot of our children gave up. Eventually they came up with this tracking of our kids. We were all going to the same school, but in a sense it was still very segregated because they had figured out a way to still segregate within the system. (p. 134)

White researchers spoke harshly of Black teachers during the earlier years of integration. They stated that Black students could not learn because of the improper teaching methods used by Black teachers. According to Ethridge (1979), one White researcher noted, “If black children have not learned, it is because black teachers have not taught them and because black principals have not seen that they were taught” (p. 218). Furthermore, Ethridge wrote about one researcher’s suggesting that White principals should replace Black principals. That researcher believed White principals could out-perform Black principals and ensure that Black children learn. These psychological attacks on Black educators, according to Ethridge, destroyed the aspirations of “hundreds of Dunbars, Booker T. Washingtons, Lincolns, Phyllis Wheatleys, Maggie Walkers, and other school children around the South” (p. 218).

## Massive Resistance

Black teachers, students, and principals remained in constant fear for at least a decade. These years became known as the era of massive resistance. The term massive resistance was derived from a phrase used by Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia when 90% of the Congressional delegation from the South created and signed a “Southern Manifesto.” This document depicted Brown as a “clear abuse of judicial power” and declared that all signers would fight against integration by using any means at their disposal (Ogletree, 2004). For example, in Virginia, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, integration ceased to exist. These states chose to close Black schools, and Black children were sent to nearby schools. The loss of 6,000 Black teachers and 50% of the Black principals was caused by this decision (Ethridge, 1979).

During these years, southern Whites attacked many Black students and legally prevented Brown’s implementation. They created over 3,000 private schools to combat integration (Schofield, 1991). It was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965 that small incremental changes began to occur for Black teachers and administrators (Grant, Tate, & Ladson-Billing, 1996). With the passage of those two acts, the federal government issued the power to stop the firings and provided the necessary additional legislation to implement all aspects of Brown (Grant et al.). Enforcement of the mandate to stop the firings was difficult and, at best, the government’s efforts to protect Black teachers and administrators were spotty (Toppo, 2004).

Subsequent historical review supported the contention that desegregation had a significant effect on the number of Black school principals. The southern and border states lost half their Black principals and thousands of Black teachers. This loss shook the very foundations of the Black community and threatened the academic success of Black children (Tillman, 2004).

Not only were there quantitative gaps between Black and White principals, but there were also qualitative differences. Despite these troubled beginnings after Brown, the number of Black principals in public and private schools stood at 11.5% in 1993-1994 (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 1997). Even at 11.5%, African American administrators have continued to be role models for African American students (NAESP, 2000). Of the 104,633 principals in the United States’ public and private schools in the 1993-1994 school year, 9,078 were African Americans (NCES). According to the NCES (1999), the percentage of Black public school principals in 1999 remained at 11% of a total of 83,790 principals in the United States. According to a more recent study from the NCES, the number of Black principals has settled at 11% (Strizek et al., 2006).

In comparison, the percentage of Black principals in Virginia for the 2003-2004 school year was 21%? (Virginia Department of Education, 2004): Of the 1,918 Virginia principals, 411 were Black. An even higher percentage of Virginia assistant principals were Black (Virginia Department of Education): Of the 2,100 Virginia assistant principals, there were 589 Black assistant principals, representing an impressive percentage of 28% (Virginia Department of Education). Of the 4,018 Virginia public school principals and assistant principals, 1,000 (25%) were Black.

## Where Have the Black Principals Gone?

In 2007-2008, the percentage of Virginia public schools’ Black principals and assistant principals was 24.8% or the total number remained nearly the same as four years previously. (Virginia Department of Education, 2008). Three fourths (73%) of Virginia public school principals and assistant principals were White and 1.4% were Hispanic. Less than 1% of principals and assistant principals were Asian (.4%) or members of other ethnicity groups (.4%).

According to Gates et al. (2004), a RAND study determined that minority teachers in North Carolina and Illinois were more likely than White teachers to be hired as principals. Therefore, the proportion of minority administrators in Illinois and North Carolina was higher than that of White administrators. For example, the growth percentage rate of minority principals in North Carolina increased from 22% in 1990 to 24% in 2000. The minority teaching pool and the minority retention rate, however, have remained low in North Carolina public schools (Gates et al.). Gates et al. concluded that minority teachers are more likely than non-African Americans to leave the system. Evidence to support this result was established through the RAND Corporation’s comprehensive analysis of North Carolina administrative data. These data were systematically collected, thereby allowing the researchers to track individuals over time and across schools and districts (Gates et al.).

According to a 1990-1991 NCES study, minority principals tended to lead a large proportion of high-minority schools (Gates et al., 2004). A later NCES (1997) report indicated that almost 70% of principals of high-minority public schools were Black, as were 60% of the principals of minority private schools. On the other hand, in low-minority public schools, Black principals made up only 11% of the principal population. Also, the average salary of minority principals in public schools ($57,669) was higher than the salary of White principals ($54,466). These Black principals changed the stereotypes about inferiority and incompetence in the school divisions (NCES). In addition, Black principals tended to teach longer than White principals before entering administration (Andrews & Basom, 1990; Miklos, 1988).

Indeed, there has been a lack of Black teachers and Black principals in the profession, and the gap widened in 1998. Women in 1998 made up 72% of all K-12 teachers but only 34.5 % of the school principals. African American women made up 5.8% of the total population of principals, and African American males represented only 4.3% (Patterson, 1998).

Lankard (1994) noted in his research that the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education predicted the minority student population would grow to 39% by 2000, whereas the minority teacher population would decline to below 5%. Although researchers have noted that the 5% projection for minority teachers did not come to fruition, the minority student population has reached the 39% mark. Therefore, the literature has indicated that the lack of Black teachers will be a serious dilemma with regard to the dwindling supply of Black principals in the future (Lankard). For example, the U.S. Department of Education determined that of 131,241 bachelor’s degrees awarded to Blacks in 2004, only 6,457 were in the area of education; this number represented 4.9% of all bachelor’s degrees awarded to Blacks (“The Solid Progress,” 2006). The master’s degree in education, however, was the most popular degree for Blacks. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 15,784 of 50,657 master’s degrees in education (31.2%) were earned by Blacks (“The Solid Progress”).

## Summary

Lyons and Chesley (2004) wrote about Brown after 50 years. They noted the following in their research, presenting

findings from a study of 36 current and recently retired African American high school principals in North Carolina and Alabama to determine their perceptions of the legacy of the Brown decision for both African American educators and high school students. Additionally, the article presents the views of a small sample of these principals who were interviewed regarding the degree to which African American high school students are currently involved in student leadership roles and school activities. Results of the study indicated that the vast majority of the respondents believed that Brown had benefited both African American educators and students; however, they indicated that it had some unintended consequences such as a precipitous drop in the number of African American teachers to serve as role models, competent professionals, and authority figures for students—both black and white. (p. 298)

Some educators may believe this topic has been written about too frequently and the discussion exhausted. Every new generation, however, needs to be reminded that separate but equal is generally not equal. It is important that the next generation not simply celebrate the passage of Brown, but be aware of the complexity of the ruling and the impact on today’s educational system. By all accounts, Brown was necessary to correct the lack of many basic civil and equal rights for the African American. In the process of providing this remedy, however, neither was sufficient effort provided nor were problems even acknowledged. Only sporadic and ancillary consequences were noted from this historical court action. There continues to be a need in the public schools for African American principals and teachers, as well as equal opportunity in those schools. Keeping this need noted in the literature may compel young educators and the new generation to correct the “unintended consequences” of Brown (Lyons & Chesley, 2004, p. 298).

## References

Andrews, R. L., & Basom, M. R. (1990). Instructional leadership: Are women principals better? Principal, 70(2), 38-40.

Curry, G. E. (2004, March 1). Brown v. Board of Education – 50 years later. Vital Speeches of the Day, 70(10), 310-317.

Educational Research Service. (1998). Is there a shortage of qualified candidates for openings in the principalship? An exploratory study. Washington, DC: Author.

Ethridge, S. B. (1979). Impact of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision on Black educators. Negro Educational Review, 30, 217-232.

Franklin, V. P. (1990). They rose and fell together: African American educators and community leadership. Journal of Education, 72(3), 39-64.

Fultz, M. (Spring, 2004). The Displacement of Black Educators Post-Brown: An Overview and Analysis. History ofEducation Quarterly, 44(1).

Futrell, M. H. (1999, May). Recruiting minority teachers. Educational Leadership, 30-33.

Gates, S. M., Guarino, C., Santibanez, L., Brown, A., Ghosh-Dastidar, B., & Chung, C. H. (2004). Career paths of school administrators in North Carolina: Insights from an analysis of state data (TR-129-EDU). Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

Grant, C. A., Tate, W. F., & Ladson-Billing, G. (1996). The Brown decision revisited: Mathematizing a social problem. In M. J. Shujaa (Ed.), Beyond desegregation: The politics of quality in African American schooling (pp. 29-52). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hodgkinson, H. L. (1985). All one system: Demographics of education: Kindergarten–graduate school. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership.

Hollins, E. R. (1996). Culture in school learning: Revealing the deep meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Hooks, B. (1994). Teachingto transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

Hudson, M. J., & Holmes, B. J. (1994). Missing teachers, impaired communities: The unanticipated consequences of Brown v. Board of Education on the African American teaching force at the precollegiate level. The Journal of Negro Education, 63(3), 388-393.

King, S. H. (1993). The limited presence of African-American teachers. Review of Education Research,63, 115-149.

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Lyons, J. E., & Chesley, J. (2004, Summer). Fifty years after Brown: The benefits and tradeoffs for African American educators and students [Electronic version]. The Journal of Negro Education, 73(3), 298-314.

Miklos, E. (1988). Administrator selection, career patterns, succession, and socialization. In N.J. Boyan (Ed.), Handbook of research on educational administration (pp. 53-76). New York, NY: Longman.

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Ogletree, C. J., Jr. (2004). All deliberate speed. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Patterson, F. D. (1998, December). The African American education data book, volume II: Preschool through high school education. Fairfax, VA: Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute. Retrieved from http://www.patterson-uncf.org/dbook2.html

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Strizek, G. A., Pittsonberger, J. L., Riordan, K. E., Lyter, D. M., & Orlofsky, G. F. (2006). Characteristics of schools, districts, teachers, principals, and school libraries in the United States: 2003-2004 Schools and Staffing Survey (NCES 2006-313 Revised). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Tillman, L. C. (May, 2004). (Un)Intended consequences? The impact of the Brown v. Board of Education decision on the employment status of Black educators. Education and Urban Society, 36(3), 280-303.

Toppo, G. (2004, April 28). Thousands of Black teachers lost jobs. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-04-28-brown-sode2_x.htm

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Wright, J. L. (2003). After the 1954 Brown decision: A narrative inquiry into the declining presence of African American educators. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64(3), 832. (UMI No. 3086853)

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