Community & Government

Equality in Education Before Brown

Discover how Black children were educated before the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, from the creation of common schools to the impact of school desegregation on Black children who were never intended to be assimilated into public schools.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Educating Black Children for Oppression - Nikole Hannah Jones • Educating the Emancipated - Angela Davis

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

Sign Up


[SOLEMN MUSIC] NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES: If we want to understand education, of course, it always is good to go to the beginning to understand the history. We were a country at our founding that wanted to believe that we were not a class-based society. The founders, in breaking off from Britain, wanted to create an egalitarian society where your bloodline and your wealth did not determine your value. And one important aspect of that was the establishment of common schools. Prior to having common schools, which we today call public schools, education was for the elite. It was only for people who could afford to send their children to private school or could hire private tutors. And at the time, there was a great educator named Horace Mann. He believed strongly in the idea of schools, and he's known as the father of public education. When we all hear that quote, "Education is the great equalizer of man," that came from Horace Mann. And he believed that public schools were an important democratizing force, that you had to have an educated citizenry to exercise democracy. And also, at that time, there were lots of European immigrants, Catholic immigrants, coming into Boston, and they saw common schools as a way of creating a shared national identity, of really assimilating those new immigrants. So he establishes these common schools. But Black children are excluded from those schools which should be the early clue of who was designed to assimilate, who was designed to be a citizen and who was not. Horace Mann himself was not racist. He actually believed that Black children should be educated and that Black children should be integrated. But he also understood that if he wanted to get enough white people from Massachusetts to agree to use their tax dollars to support public schools, he couldn't have Black children in classrooms with white kids. So he was willing to sacrifice Black children in order to build this larger institutional common good and then bring Black children in later. So that's rule number two that we learn from the common schools movement. One, Black children were never meant to be assimilated into the democracy, and two, what we still see today is that Black children's well-being can be sacrificed for a greater good. So these two things get established right away. And, as some scholars say, from that moment, then, we create a system of public schools that are a democratizing agent for white children and an agent of oppression for Black children. So some children are being exercised to be citizens in a democracy, to lead, and other children are being exercised into oppression and to serve. That has been the way our public schools have operated from their founding. And in fact, the very first school desegregation lawsuit in this country did not occur in the South, because Black children in the South couldn't go to school at all. It actually occurred in Boston when a Black parent sued because he wan...

About the Instructor

From critical race theory to the 1619 Project, Black intellectuals are reshaping conversations on race in America. Now seven of those preeminent voices share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future. Gain a foundational understanding of the history of white supremacy and discover a path forward through the limitless capacity and resilience of Black love.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Angela Davis, Cornel West, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Sherrilyn Ifill, Jelani Cobb, and John McWhorter

Seven preeminent Black thought leaders share their insight on the reckoning with race in America in three parts: past, present, and future.

Explore the Class
Sign Up