Raymond C. Pierce
Sixty-five years ago the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education marked a monumental moment in both this nation’s struggle for universal education and the struggle with equitable inclusion of African Americans within the citizenry of the United States.
Public education has always known resistance. Horace Mann and other early 19th century advocates for public education pursued a national policy for mass education with a goal of heightening a unified citizenry and social order. This movement for mass education was met with much resistance, primarily by those who believed education was reserved for the elite. Nonetheless, public education eventually flourished in the North. This movement would not extend south of the Mason Dixon Line, where a massive segment of the population was enslaved as labor for that region’s agrarian economy.
Following the Civil War, the movement for tax-supported education in the South was engineered by newly emancipated African Americans elected to hold office in state legislatures under the protection of Union troops. This movement was financed by Northern philanthropists like George Peabody, who sought the creation of a system of education for the newly emancipated population of African Americans in the South. Foreseeing the advancement of the Industrial Revolution, Peabody and his companion philanthropists understood the social, moral, and economic benefits for the education of African Americans and also poor Whites in the South.