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Harvard EdCast: A Long Struggle for Justice

In the Harvard EdCast, Vanessa Siddle Walker uncovers the lost history of black educators — and the compromised promise of desegregation.

Vanessa Siddle WalkerEighteen years ago, Vanessa Siddle Walker, Ed.M.’85, Ed.D.’88, professor of African American Educational Studies at Emory University, was given the key to unlock a little-known history: the history of black educators’ struggle for educational justice in the era of desegregation. 

After spending the bulk of her career researching the history of segregation in America, Walker found out that there was a lot more to tell about school integration efforts, especially around the question of why schools are more segregated today than 50 years ago. The story begins with a man many of us are not familiar with, a Civil Rights–era educator named Horace Tate

Tate, who started his career as a teacher and principal in the 1940s, went on to become head of the Georgia Association of Educators and, in the 1970s and 1980s, a member of the Georgia State Senate. He is the subject of Walker’s latest book, The Lost Education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the Hidden Heroes Who Fought for Justice in Schools. “He’s an exemplar, if you will, of what we left behind,” Walker says. She explores Tate’s contributions, as well as the many unknown black educators who advocated for their students in the years before and after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

>> Walker will reflect on how the voices of black educators shaped Brown v. Board of Education — and the compromises that followed — at the Askwith Forum on Thursday, March 28, at 4 p.m. Learn more and watch the livestream here.  

Before Tate’s death, he welcomed Walker into his massive personal archive, giving her access to decades of records that, in many cases, had otherwise been destroyed or forgotten following desegregation. 

Walker describes black educators as being “full of hope” about desegregation, thinking that black children would finally be given the same access to educational opportunities as white children. But, as Walker points out, “in real time, that’s not what happened.” As she worked through Tate's archive, she pieced together how many black educators —Tate included — came to foresee what she calls a “desegregation compromise,” which ultimately played out right before their eyes. 
 
Black educators were forced to give up their schools and their advocacy networks. What they got in exchange is access, but never full access, Walker says. “Many [schools] didn’t fully desegregate, and we also know in the years since that … we have less access, more segregation then we had in 1970,” she adds. 

In this episode of the Harvard EdCast, Walker discusses the significance of Tate and figures like him, where we went wrong with school integration, and whether we can do better. 

About the Harvard EdCast

The Harvard EdCast is a weekly podcast featuring brief conversations with education leaders and innovative thinkers from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Jill Anderson, the EdCast is a dynamic space for discourse about problems and transformative solutions in education, shining a light on the compelling people, policies, practices, and ideas shaping the field. Find the EdCast on iTunes, Soundcloud, and Stitcher