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Jim Crow's teachers: Race, remembering, and the geopolitics of teaching in the North Carolina coastal plains

Hilton Keon Kelly, University of Massachusetts Amherst


There is conflict in memory over the quality and character of legally segregated schools for blacks. On one hand, there is a profoundly negative national memory of these schools as "inherently inferior" compared to their white counterparts. On the other hand, there are overwhelmingly positive counter-memories of these schools as "good" among many former students, teachers, and community members. This dissertation explores one aspect of this conflict in memory by examining the collective remembering and perspectives of former teachers. The research is driven by two enduring questions: (1) How can we explain the existence of a national memory of legally segregated schools for blacks as "inferior" and the collective remembering among former teachers of these same schools as "good?" (2) Given the well-documented inequalities linked to the geopolitics of race and racism in the Jim Crow South, from the perspective of former teachers, what was the quality and character of teaching in the all-black school before federally-mandated desegregation in the South? The data consists of 44 oral history interviews with former teachers in three counties in the North Carolina coastal plains, local and state archival materials, and secondary historical sources. The dissertation is divided into three parts. In the first part, I advance a theory of collective remembering based upon hidden transcripts. I found that participants in my study remember from hidden transcripts—latent reports of the social world created and lived in all-black schools and communities. In the second part, I show how the voices of collective remembering among participants reveal hidden social relations and practices that were constructed away from the guise of white educational authorities. I found that participants fashioned situated pedagogies for the acquisition of educational capital that black youth could exchange for jobs, civil rights, and social power. In the third part, I conclude that the national memory of "inherently inferior" all-black public schools does not tell the whole story about legally segregated education. Ultimately, I found that the oral narratives of Jim Crow's teachers reveal a critique of power and a fight for respectability that shaped teachers' work in the Age of Jim Crow. ^

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Kelly, Hilton Keon, "Jim Crow's teachers: Race, remembering, and the geopolitics of teaching in the North Carolina coastal plains" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3275748.