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Free Content ‘Let me in, I have the right to be here’: Black youth struggle for equal education and full citizenship after the Brown decision, 1954–1969

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An area often neglected in the historiography of public education in the United States is the contributions made by black youth in the fight for equal education. During the 1950s and 1960s, when the struggle for equal education reached its apex, black youth were an essential part of the struggle. This article centeres the activism of black youth by illuminating how they actively fought for educational equality after the Brown decision and how their activism was linked to a larger struggle for full citizenship. Moreover, I examine the multiple forms of direct action black students utilized to promote citizenship education. By elevating their usage of walk-ins, walkouts and sit-ins, I argue that black youth advocated for more than just access into a building previously denied to them. Their activism was deeply rooted in the tenets of citizenship education. Using empirical data from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) files, A. Philip Randolph papers, Bayard Rustin papers and historical black and national newspapers, this article shows how equal education was inextricably linked to citizenship education and both would have to be accomplished before educational equality could be obtained. While the Brown decision legally reshaped public schools in the United States, it was the advocacy of black youth – particularly those living in the South, along with civil rights and teacher organizations that declared second-class education unacceptable. This work adds to scholarly works on citizenship education by illuminating the various ways black youth used civic participation as a tool to achieve educational equality. I conclude by suggesting that teachers and students can benefit from this historical work because it portrays the different ways students can participate in educational reform while simultaneously giving teachers ideas of how to support and empower their students for civic engagement.

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Keywords: Brown vs. Board; Civil Rights Movement; activism; black youth; citizenship education

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Emory University

Publication date: December 1, 2013

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  • Citizenship Teaching and Learning is global in scope, exploring issues of social and moral responsibility, community involvement and political literacy. It advances academic and professional understandings within a broad characterisation of education, focussing on a wide range of issues including identity, diversity, equality and social justice within social, moral, political and cultural contexts.
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