From the Great Depression through the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling in 1954, the way that American teachers understood and taught about race in the classroom underwent a paradigmatic shift. This article examines the distinctive experience of black teachers, whose understanding of the race concept was subtly different from the predominantly white educators in the nation’s leading educational associations. Educational discourses on race can be recovered through an analysis of teaching journals, textbooks, and conference proceedings from both white and black teaching associations. While white educators drew on anthropological models of racial diversity and cultural relativity to craft a revised way of teaching about race in the 1940s, black teachers maintained a steady conception of race as divided into only two meaningful categories: white and colored. I show that black educators taught about race in ways that directly challenged claims of white superiority and promoted a positive black racial identity. This article explores how the changing contexts of the Great Depression, World War II, and the postwar era influenced the black educational discourse on race. In conclusion, I evaluate the black educational discourse on race as a subtle but potentially powerful strategy in the black freedom struggle. This study speaks to an intersection of scholarship on the social production of race, civil rights history, and educational history.


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pp. 335-363
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