Celebrating Black History

The impact on Black students of evolution of education

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Getting an education for a time was outlawed for Black people; those who did learn to read and write had to learn in secret.

While no longer the case, historians say, some of the impacts of that time still has remnants in education today.

Historians say that during slavery the education of Black people was part of the path to liberation. Education advocates say limited expectations, negative assumptions, and stereotypes of Black students often have roots that stretch back to slavery and segregation.

For generations, the nation’s racial dividing line was thick; not just in daily life but also in education. Educator Patricia Payne grew up with predominately Black teachers. “I had nothing but beautiful memories of my childhood in my school experiences.”

Years after Brown vs. Board of Education mandated the integration of schools, Payne had her first white teacher after enrolling in Shortridge High School, where Black teachers weren’t allowed to teach.

“I mean it just wasn’t the same because we were a few of the Black students who were there,” Payne said.

Lasana Kazembe is an Africana studies professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. He said school integration came with possibly unintended consequences; it created a purge as countless Black educators and administrators were pushed out. “You see the hollowing out of that large of a technical class with all that expertise and experience replaced with who younger whiter people who do not live in the community, who have no cultural connection to the people, and who have no cultural context.”

Payne started teaching at Indianapolis Public Schools in 1962. Immediately, she knew work needed to be done. “And the first thing I noticed was that even though my whole classroom was Black, none of the textbooks none of the curricula reflected that.”

She eventually helped create a Black history curriculum guide in the 1970s, and to this day continues to dedicates her life to education.

“So what we call Black studies or Africana studies, all that is is the missing pages of world history,” Kazembe said.

He agrees with Payne, saying you’d always find slavery in the history books, but the deeper history wasn’t there and, to some degree, is still missing even today.

In the summer, the IPS School Board voted to approve the Racial Equity policy, which in part aims to reduce racism and cultural bias. Payne serves as its director.