Birmingham City Schools have experienced segregation, desegregation, white flight and dwindling enrollment over the past 50 years. But can the system use lessons from the past to build a stronger future for its students?
Dr. Tondra Loder-Jackson, a UAB professor in the School of Education, has researched the topic and written an article entitled “The Sociopolitical Context of Education in Post-Civil Rights Birmingham.” It has been published in The Peabody Journal of Education. She has also written a book set for release in December entitled, Schoolhouse Activists: African American Educators and the Long Birmingham Civil Rights Movement.
In advance of the WBHM/Southern Education Desk Issues and Ales forum on the future of Education in Alabama, Dr. Loder-Jackson, a graduate of Birmingham City Schools, discussed her research. Here excerpts from the interview.
I have to think about this topic from two standpoints – one being a child who grew up in Birmingham, but then also as a researcher. Being from the city, having strong family ties and friendships here, it means I have an affinity to Birmingham. But as a researcher, I also do have to step back and be willing to critique.
Birmingham’s Past Propels Its Future
We know that Birmingham has a strong history of Civic Capacity. And the focus has been on the 1950s and 1960s phase of the Civil Rights Movement. But when it comes to education one aspect lost on a lot of us is the role citizens played — the role that families played in transforming the school system. People like Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, the Armstrong family, the other families that desegregated Ramsay, West End and the teachers that supported them show me that we have a long history of common citizens getting involved in democratic issues in this city.
Preparing for Changing Demographics
It’s most important that schools do right by the students who are there, irrespective of their identity. People want to see excellence. That can occur in Birmingham City Schools. I believe if we make the system excellent for the students who are currently there, that could be a magnet for those who desire diversity.