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Peabody Journal of Education, Volume 90, Issue 3, 2015

Race and Opportunity in the American South

Introduction

Introduction to Race and Opportunity in the American South

Jerome Morris, University of Georgia

This issue of the Peabody Journal of Education focuses on “Race and Opportunity in the American South” and expands previous scholarly and policy conversations around education and opportunity in the region. In a 2010 themed issue of the Peabody Journal of Education, a number of scholars offered an important contribution that focused on “Education in the American South: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Conditions.” The group of essays in that issue addressed how economic, social, and legal conditions shape education in the region. This issue, however, focuses specifically on how the nexus of race, class, and place shape educational experiences, opportunities, and outcomes in the U.S. South. In this issue, conceptually as a group of scholars, we highlight the centrality of race in shaping the social context of schooling, historically and contemporarily. We also acknowledge how the places where people are born, grow up, live, and attend school—known as the “geography of educational opportunity,” have consequences for their educational experiences and outcomes (Morris & Monroe, 2009; Tate, 2008). And “place” has implications for people's lives because it can constrain or promote opportunities.

The American South's identity as a cultural and geographical space is enigmatic in nature. It is often thought of as a region consisting of the states that seceded from the Union during the Civil War. However, empirically speaking it is historically defined as the states that had joined in protecting racial slavery in the United States by 1860. The institution of slavery also grounds the South's shared history as it shaped every facet of its residents' lives and was instrumental in defining notions about race, many of which remain. In no area was this more evident than in the arena of formal schooling, where laws were created to purposefully deny education to enslaved black people, as well as to limit their access to quality schooling after emancipation (Anderson, 1988; Smith, 1999). After slavery was prohibited, discriminatory laws and inequitable practices persisted well into the middle part of the 20th century and were coupled with legalized Jim Crow segregation, lynching, and the continued denial of black people's citizenship rights (Irons, 2002).

The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States has given rise to new conversations about race and opportunity throughout the United States. Yet, concerns remain about the education of poor and minority students within and beyond the South, the resegregation of public schools, policies and practices that reproduce educational inequality for recent immigrants and their children, racial profiling and unfair policing, and the weakening of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It is important to situate the analyses and insights highlighted in these articles within this broader social context, and with the awareness of how southern states served as battleground sites of the modern civil rights movement. Once known for its oppression of Black people, recently, the U.S. South has been a major destination for black and Latino migrants from other regions of the United States because of new perceptions of the South as a place for social and economic upward mobility. The authors in this issue address these and other issues, and the implications for education.

CONTENT OF THIS ISSUE

To begin, Dr. Tondra L. Loder-Jackson's (University of Alabama at Birmingham) article, “The Sociopolitical Context of Education in Post-Civil Rights Birmingham,” employs the politics of the education field to describe how the educational challenges in Birmingham's public school system today mirror those facing many urban school districts across the region and the United States. In a fascinating way, she raises questions about whether the city's renowned civil rights history of grassroots mobilizing can be extended to efforts to reform a school system that enrolls an overwhelmingly socioeconomically disenfranchised Black student population.

Drawing on critical theories of race and place, as well as Black education and resistance, Dr. Kristen L. Buras's (Georgia State University) essay, “‘Thank God for Mississippi!’ How Disparagement of the South Has Destroyed Public Schooling in New Orleans—and Beyond” provides an insightful analysis of the politics of race and schooling in the South. This powerful and provocative essay suggests that school reforms in the South are only a microcosm of larger and contemporary national efforts that undermine Black education. Using New Orleans as a case study, she especially raises questions about market-based approaches to school reforms.

Using geographically weighted regression and spatial mapping as measures of poverty, Dr. William F. Tate and Dr. Mark C. Hogrebe's (both at Washington University in St. Louis) article, “Poverty and Algebra Performance: A Comparative Spatial Analysis of a Border South State,” offers insight into how race, poverty, and place influence algebra outcomes across 543 school districts in Missouri—a border South state. Their study demonstrates the need to pay closer attention to local context and suggests the utility of geographic clustering when analyzing relationships between poverty, mobility, and education variables such as students' performance.

In our article, “Adolescents' Perceptions of Opportunities in the U.S. South: Postracial Mirage or Reality in the New Black Mecca?” Dr. Sara E. Woodruff (Mathematica Policy Research) and I pull from ethnographic interviews and 1,329 surveys from a racially diverse group of adolescents across three different high schools in a suburban Atlanta school district to probe youths' perceptions of race and educational opportunity in what is currently being considered as the “post-racial era” in the United States. We especially note how black adolescents embraced meritocratic notions of opportunity and use destigmatization strategies to thwart prejudice. We then explore the role that a predominantly Black suburb may play in mitigating the effects of black adolescents' day-to-day encounters with racial discrimination.

In “Nativity Shifts, Broken Dreams, and the New Latino South's Post-First Generation” Dr. Pedro R. Portes (University of Georgia) and Dr. Spencer Salas (University of North Carolina at Charlotte), transcend the traditional Black–White binary about race and opportunity in the South. These authors examine policy initiatives and responses to the growth of Latino immigration in the South such as the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act (GSICA), and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, and the meaning for the schooling experiences of Latino transnational children of immigration. They critique what they describe as nativist paradigms and suggest new ways of imagining the education of Latino children in the South.

Finally, “Black Families and Schooling in Rural South Carolina: Families' and Educators' Disjunctive Interpretations of Parental Involvement,” by Dr. Michele Myers of the University of South Carolina, utilizes the voices of teachers and Black parents to illuminate their disjunctive interpretations about parental involvement in rural South Carolina. A former principal of a predominantly Black Title I elementary school, Dr. Myers's case studies of three demographically different communities puts forth ways educators and parents can become more effective partners in the education of low-income minority children.

Collectively, these articles capture the importance of examining issues around race and educational opportunity in the U.S. South. In doing so, the authors investigate the politics of race and culture in education, interrogate issues of identity and schooling, offer new methodologies for investigating poverty and place, and highlight participants' responses and resistance to larger social, cultural, political, economic, and educational forces. As the editor of this issue, I am especially delighted that I was able to feature the scholarship of two graduate students I have worked with, both of whom now hold PhDs (Dr. Michele Myers and Dr. Sara E. Woodruff). Some of the thinking reflected in this issue emanated from our writing retreats at the University of Georgia during the summers of 2011 and 2012. Although not exhaustive, it is my hope that the articles presented serve as fodder for expansion on the ideas presented, and encourage future research around race, class, place, and education in the U.S. South.

REFERENCES

1. Anderson, J.D. (1988). The education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
2. Irons, P. (2002). Jim Crow's children: The broken promise of the Brown decision. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
3. Morris, J.E., & Monroe, C.R. (2009). Why study the U.S. South? The nexus of race and place in investigating Black student achievement. Educational Researcher, 38(1), 21–36.
4. Smith, P. (1999). Our children's burden: The many-headed Hydra of the educational disenfranchisement of Black children. Howard Law Journal, 42(2), 133–239.
5. Tate, W.F. (2008). “Geography of opportunity”: Poverty, place, and educational outcomes. Educational Researcher, 37, 397–411.

CONTENTS

Journal abstracts are linked to titles. 

The Sociopolitical Context of Education in Post-Civil Rights Birmingham

Tondra L. Loder Jackson

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 3: pages 336-355.

“Thank God for Mississippi!” How Disparagement of the South Has Destroyed Public Schooling in New Orleans – and Beyond

Kristen L. Buras

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 3: pages 356-379.

 

Poverty and Algebra Performance: A Comparative Spatial Analysis of a Border South State

William F. Tate & Mark C. Hogrebe

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 3: pages 380-403.

 

Adolescents’ Perceptions of Opportunities in the U.S. South: Postracial Mirage or Reality in the New Black Mecca?

Jerome E. Morris & Sara E. Woodruff

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 3: pages 404-425.

 

Nativity Shifts, Broken Dreams, and the New Latino South’s Post-First Generation

Pedro R. Portes & Spencer Salas

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 3: pages 426-436.

 

Black Families and Schooling in Rural South Carolina: Families’ and Educators’ Disjunctive Interpretations of Parental Involvement

Michele Myers

Peabody Journal of Education: Issues of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, Vol. 90, No. 3: pages 437-458.


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