African American News and Genealogy

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Recalling the record of black education

Some stories have to be written, even cry out to be written, and are best told by those with up-close, first-hand experiences with the subject. "Recalling the Record: A Documentary History of the African-American Experience Within the Louisville Public School System of Kentucky (1870-1975)" is one of those stories. Author Ruby Wilkins Doyle, a product of Louisville schools and a retired high school English teacher, tells the story quite well through the compilation of 317 documents pertaining to the struggle for public education for African Americans. Her desire is to make sure the record is correct, and her deep appreciation for those who preceded her in the struggle to make education available to "Negro" children resulted in extensive research to produce "Recalling the Record." Doyle could have taken several approaches in her work from writing about her own journey through the system, to interviewing some of her predecessors, as well as those who followed her. Instead, she chose to let the record speak for itself through the vast assemblage of documents, which, when put together, tells an incredible story of strength. African Americans in Louisville struggled, organized, petitioned local and state government and used their savvy and personal resources to obtain an education for themselves and their children. The author deftly weaves together documents that "are revealing of the occurrences relating to the quest for an equitable public education" for black children before, during and immediately following the Civil War, during the periods of World War I and II … to the Civil Rights Era "and the integration, desegregation, merger, and busing epochs." Doyle writes, "Before and during the Civil War period, some freedmen and even some slaves were getting the rudiments of an education in Louisville." Having a little learning available for the few wasn't enough, and through the efforts of some blacks and with the help of a few influential whites, education efforts grew. Tiny private schools were held in churches, beginning with the Adams School in December 1841. Other schools were held at Fifth Street Baptist Church, Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church and Center Street Church (now Brown Memorial C.M.E. Church). Blacks were taxed, but not a penny of their tax dollars was used to educate their children. Instead, it was used for the care of paupers. Over time, small victories built hope. Doyle pays tribute to many educators and local leaders of the day who had to accept meager doles from the coffers but never gave up their quest to create an education system for blacks eager to learn. The names and efforts of many early educators are noted because it is they who were in the best position to lead the fight for education. Some ring familiar to Louisville's black community even today: Joseph S. Cotter, Charles H. Parrish, A. E. Meyzeek, William H. Perry, Clyde Liggin, Maude Brown Porter, Atwood S. Wilson, Lyman Johnson. From the struggle to obtain elementary and junior high schools, to a protracted campaign for a "colored" high school and a normal school, African Americans persevered until they reached many of their goals. Doyle proudly writes, "neither the black community leaders, educators, nor parents ever wavered in their determination to get a quality education for their children." This well-written reference guide and story of resilience, perseverance and determination is appropriate for homes, public and school libraries and institutions of higher learning. The reviewer is a writer and critic who lives in Louisville; she was a longtime teacher in local schools.


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