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  • Sacred Conversations 2016

Armenta L. Johnson: Advocate for quality education to avoid segregation

One of the reasons I joined the Education Task Force of the Faith Coalition for the Common Good is because education is important to me.

I remember explicit discrimination both my mother and grandmother experienced while teaching. My grandmother taught at a segregated one-room “colored” school in Florida, and my mother taught at a segregated “colored” school in Alabama. I attended the same elementary “colored” school where my mother taught. Each of them was paid less than their white colleagues with funds received from school property taxes.

When we moved to Springfield, my mother applied for a position with District 186, but she was not hired. She did teach at Hope School for the Blind for more than 20 years, and my brothers and I attended schools in Springfield District 186.

As a child down South, I remember being told by whites that “colored people” do not need to be educated. They should remain “in their place” and an educated “colored” is a danger to the society. I also remember my family, the Black (colored) community, and Black churches, including Union Baptist Church, emphasizing that “I am somebody” and education is needed to make a better life for my family.

I remember how civil rights organizations and other liberal activists worked to endorse the anti-poverty and civil rights laws of the 1960s and 1970s. Some of those liberal activists came to Springfield to push for the passing of laws. These laws required that changes be made to the Springfield schools.

In college, I remember reading about Horace Mann, W.E.B. Du Bois and other activists who urged governments to finance public elementary education. These activists recognized that if steps were not taken to eliminate illiteracy in America, democracy would be destroyed because of an uneducated workforce.

Regardless of laws being changed to require that students receive an education, courts have found that poor and minority students underachieve in school. Schools districts often cite they cannot afford to provide highly qualified teachers to those who need strong teachers because of the lack of funds.

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