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A 1967 Black Panther Party poster advocating for a school boycott. (Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence)


Paired with the struggle for integration and desegregation, African Americans' struggle for community control of Harlem schools makes up a significant aspect of the history of education in Harlem and the political activism that occurred in the middle decades of the twentieth century. While the historical narrative often assumes that black residents in Harlem (and throughout the country) unanimously fought for school integration, in reality, segments of the black community in Harlem consistently felt that local control of schools were more important than pushing for desegregation. Even more, generally speaking in the 1950s and 1960s, Harlemites focused their efforts on community control and less on desegregation, despite the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed "separate but equal." Therefore, understanding and analyzing the complicated reasons why Harlem residents sought community control over desegregation is one of the key themes that must be further explored in research on the history of education in Harlem. Even more, this tension (that still exists today) within the black community between pushing for desegregation versus community control remains a central aspect of education in Harlem.


Brief Historical Background

Initially the idea of community control can be at least partially linked back to influential black thinkers such as W.E.B. DuBois, an advocate of black nationalism. While he did not necessarily advocate against integrating schools with white children, he did recognize that along with others such as Carter G. Woodson, that "black history" must be taught to children and that black students were unwanted anyway in white schools.

In many ways, the idea for community control (and tension with those who pushed for desegregation) can be traced to these early movements in Harlem in the 1920s between the nationalists and integrationists. However, it was not until the 1950s and early 1960s that Harlem parents and activists began to commit to pursuing local control of ther schools instead of continuing to push for seemingly futile efforts at desegregation in Harlem. Therefore, Harlem activists began fighting for community control, such as the battle for I.S. 201 in Harlem in the 1960s--a middle school in the area. Harlem parents and activists boycotted I.S. 201 unless it was led by black administrators and teachers, which was problematic for the United Teachers Federaton (UFT) and UFT head Albert Shanker. Although the conflict I.S. 201 is the most well-known struggle for community cotol, it is a larger representation of the shift toward community control in Harlem.


Foundational Questions

1) How is the struggle between those who advocated for community control and those who advocated for desegregation grounded in previous debates between nationalists and integrationists in the 1920s in Harlem?

2) Why did Harlem activists seek community control instead of desegregatin? Did they? How has the literature explained this phenomenon and is it accurate?

3) Was community control the proper cause for activists to undertake and how does it relate tensions in Harlem's black community today?

Literature and Resources


Decter, Midge. “The Negro and the New York Schools.” Commentary 38, no. 3 (1964:Sept) (1964): 25-35.

Hentoff, Nat. “Making Public Schools Accountable: A Case Study of P.S. 201 in Harlem.” The Phi Delta Kappan 48, no. 7 (March 1, 1967): 332–335.

Lacks, Roslyn. “A Harlem Uprising. Parents in School District 5 Won’t Take Second Best Any Longer.” Village Voice N 13: 1978.
———. “The Tradition of Benign Neglect (on Harlem Uprising).” Village Voice Ap 2 (1979).

McCoy, Carmen A. “The Independent Harlem School System.” Community Mr-Ap (1969).

Nuggins, Willis. “Letting the Chidren of Harlem Back to Public Schools.” The Amsterdam News, 1923.

Solomon, Victor. “An Independent Board of Education for Harlem.” Urban Affairs Review 4, no. 1 (1968): 39 –43.


Forest, Jennifer. “The 1958 Harlem School Boycott: Parental Activism and the Struggle for Educational Equity in New York City.” Urban Review 40, no.

      1 (March 2008): 21–41.
Guttentag, Marcia. “Children in Harlem’s Community Controlled Schools.” Journal of Social Issues 28, no. 4 (December 1972): 1–20.
Harbison, Thomas F. “Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution? Harlem’s Public Schools, 1914--1954”, 2011. [dissertation]
                 *SEE Ch. 5 and Conclusion
Hoffnung-Garskof, Jesse. A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York After 1950. Princeton University Press, 2008.
                 *SEE Ch. 5 and Ch. 6
Johanek, Michael C., and John L. Puckett. Leonard Covello and the Making of Benjamin Franklin High School: Education As If Citizenship Mattered.  

      Temple University Press, 2007.
                 *SEE Ch. 1, Ch. 2, Ch. 4, Ch. 6, and Ch. 7
Johnson, Lauri. “Making Democracy Real’.” Urban Education 37, no. 5 (November 1, 2002): 566 –587.
Lewis, Heather. Protest, Place and Pedagogy| New York City’s Community Control Movement and Its Aftermath, 1966--1996. New York University, 2007.
Ransby, Barbara. Ella Baker And The Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. University of North Carolina Press, 2005.
                 *SEE Ch. 5
Ravitch, Diane. The Great School Wars: A History of the New York City Public Schools. Johns Hopkins University Paperbacks ed. Baltimore, Md: Johns

      Hopkins University Press, 2000.
                 *SEE Ch. 27
Roderick, Tom. A School of Our Own; Parents, Power, and Community at the East Harlem Block Schools. The Teaching for Social Justice Series. New      

      York: Teachers College Press, 2001.
Sugrue, Thomas J. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. Random House Digital Inc., 2009.
                 *SEE Ch. 26
Taylor, Monique. Harlem Between Heaven And Hell. University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Weiner, Melissa F. Power, Protest, and the Public Schools: Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers

      University Press, 2010.

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