Student Perspectives of Supporting and Hindering Factors in School Integration and the Role of Racial Identity in the Process
Type of DegreeDissertation
Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology
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May 17, 1954 would be an important historic day and would influence education in the lives of African American students in the United States with the unanimous verdict of Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas that ruled separate but equal was no longer an acceptable practice in education for students in elementary and secondary schools across the country. Across the United States, school leaders grappled with implementation of integration, and in many portions of the country, especially in the Deep South, integration would be a slow and often tumultuous process for African Americans fighting for their rights to attend integrated schools. This study investigated one school system’s efforts to develop a Freedom of Choice initiative to desegregate the schools to fulfill the letter of the law of the Brown decision. The research examined the process to implement a Freedom of Choice initiative, the perceived factors that facilitated and hindered the process, and the perceived positive and negative outcomes as a result of this initiative. A secondary focus was on the role and perception of racial identity during the Freedom of Choice initiative from the perspective of those students that were a part of the integration efforts in one southern town. This historical case study allowed the story of school desegregation to be told from the perspective of nine participants who were students during this transition as the school integrated under Freedom of Choice. There have been limited studies completed that have focused specifically on Freedom of Choice in schools and few, if any, discussed the impact it had on students that were affected by the integration of schools. This study sought to provide significant information to the body of work related to school integration in primary and secondary schools from the lived experiences of those involved in integration. The findings of this research indicated that there was a strong sense of family and community support for integration along with compassionate teachers and students that helped to facilitate the transition for students. Although the school system integrated with little negative publicity, there were points during integration that greatly hindered large numbers of African Americans students that mainly revolved around the racist attitudes of teachers and students in the city. One story that did resonate with the participants was a loss of culture from the African American community as they integrated into the all-White schools. The research allowed for a previously untold story to be recorded from the lived experiences of students from their perspective of living in the South. The findings of this research also indicated that students’ racial identity was greatly influenced by their home life, and as students began the integration process, their racial identity was affirmed in their relationships with others. Students understood what race meant and the African Americans were proud of their background. Again, this strong sense of pride was developed from home. Caucasian students understood the world around them in terms of race, and that they benefited in their race was in power and making the decisions in the school system. The idea of white privilege was explored and this concept was evident through the interactions of the Caucasian students during integration.