Differing Opinions: Segregation in Philadelphia’s Public Schools During the 1930s

As I complete the second chapter of my thesis, I re-read Rachel’s articles published in the Philadelphia Tribune between 1931-1933. Her eloquence, her writing, and her activism is always worth admiring. In her first article, “What Have You to Say?: A System that Breeds Prejudice, she directed her argument against a previous article written by Jas A. Newby as well as the city’s Board of Education. Last night, I located Newby’s article entitled “On Negro Teachers” (September 1931). It read:

In the impression I’ve gotten from the TRIBUNE and some of the speeches I’ve heard of some of those connected with it, has been that anybody is better qualified to teach Negro children than Negroes themselves, and I am not a school teacher, either, and I don’t think I am the only who has gotten that impression. 

Don’t you think that the best interest of the Negro children is served under Negro teachers? Do you think any white person is as anxious to see the Negro advance as a Negro teacher I don’t doubt your good intentions but your attack on Negro schools and teachers has been detrimental to both for if a Negro doesn’t think a Negro is good enough to teach his children can you blame a white person for not wanting a Negro to teach his? 

If our race ever amounts to any thing we must get together, we must have confidence in ourselves and we must boost our own, for people that have no confidence of other races and don’t deserve it. 

Yes, where we have a hundred and twenty and a hundred and fifty graduating in high school in Philadelphia, we would have a thousand or fifteen hundred if the Negro children were taught by Negro teachers. 

Let us all boost our teachers and our teachers will inspire our children to a higher and nobler life. 

Respectfully yours, 

Jas A. Newby

Rachel’s reponse in “What Have You to Say?” (selected portions):

The old proverb, “Strike while the iron is hot,” is as full of truth today as in the days of old. It is quite obvious that the seed of prejudice was sown by the Board of Education when Negroes were appointed to teach in schools comprised only of Negro children. The acceptance of these positions was the acceptance of segregated schools…Undoubtedly, the Board also awaited until this pill was well digested and since there was no noticeable reaction, a second and worse attempt is made to dupe the public into the belief that the Negro teacher’s limitation is the sixth grade…

The theory, “the best interest of the Negro children is served under the Negro teacher,” (quoting Jas A. Newby in a recent issue in this column) is all the “bunk” and only tends toward greater discrimination. On the contrary, the best interest of the American children is served under the efficient teacher, irrespective of race or color. The Negro teacher will then be given the proper place. The competent Negro will be appointed to teach, not only in colored schools, but in mixed, junior and senior high schools and colleges in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

The poisonous venom of prejudice is largely practiced in schools. Hence if we will oust segregation the school system, segregation as a whole is doomed.

However, the conclusions show with unmistakable clearness, when the minds of youth are instilled with the idea that the government of this country exists for the protection and preservation of its people—the things to which we are so bitterly opposed—segregated schools, segregated movies and segregated politics, will dissolve, as it were, into utter oblivion.

I can only imagine what her opinion of our current educational systems would be today.

Until the next post,


%d bloggers like this: