The Progressive History of the New Lincoln School

The above image is taken from "Race and Progressivism at the New Lincoln School: Teaching Race Relations Through Experience" by Michaela O'Neill Daniel, a thesis submitted to the Department of Afro-American Studies in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honors (Harvard University, Cambridge MA. 21 March 2003).

Minniejean Brown was one of the nine black students who integrated the Little Rock Arkansas High School. At some point, well described in many places, among them in the first episode of the documentary Eyes on The Prize, Brown could no longer take the constant persecution and taunting of the white students and ended up having to leave Arkansas. She was welcome and celebrated at The New Lincoln School on 110th Street on full scholarship (which was at the time a total of $1050) in 1957.  She graduated from New Lincoln in 1959.

So it was especially timely when I came across the following quotation from Barbara Ransby's fascinating biography of the Civil Rights Leader Ella Baker, which helps to trace the racially progressive history of the New Lincoln School, which I attended from 1963 through 1969. My sister and I attended on a half scholarships. Not sure how much money that would have been by then but mother points out that without the added income of my stepfather Burdette working at General Motors together with her income from public school, we would not have been able to afford it. 

In 1954,  (Ella) Baker agreed to serve as a member of the Intergroup Committee, chaired by Kenneth Clark, which was set up by the New York Board of Education to address some of the problems African American and Latino children encountered in the public schools.  On the eve of the Brown decision, in April 1954, the committee hosted a conference at the New Lincoln School in Manhattan, titled "Children Apart," which indicted the school system for instilling a sense of inferiority in black children and perpetuating an enormous disparity in the resources allocated to black versus white schools. The meeting drew activists, social workers, educators, and parents from across the city and kicked off several years of intense protests and lobbying for school reform, school desegregation, and increased youth services in New York  . . . those who attended were primed to act once the imminent legal victory in the Brown case created an opening for change. 
from Barbara Ransby's Ella Baker & The Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. University of North Carolina Press, 2003 (152-153)

 These words from Barbara Ransby's fascinating book about the life of Civil Rights maverick Ella Baker serve as yet another indication to me of the largely unheralded role of the New Lincoln School  in the struggle for school desegregation.  Ella Baker, who was a major political activist in
New York in the 1950s while I was growing up, looks and sounds so familiar to me as I am reading Ransby's insightful description of her personality and her techniques or organizing, and as I study the pictures of her included in the volume.

I had little sense of New Lincoln's historical or current role in school desegregation struggles in New York while I was a student there in the 1960s, and even less when I wrote about being a student at New Lincoln and its racially integrated environment in my first book, Black Macho.  In 1978, when my book was published, there wasn't any internet, or any way of accessing the kind of retrospective information that is available now and I was no historian.  At the time, it also seemed as though the policy of the school was to keep the students in the dark (with a color-blind kind of philosophy) so far as the role racial politics had played in our history. Perhaps they were right to do so since it seems fairly unlikely that students, teachers, and parents could have ever come to an agreement about how best to proceed, given the expensive tuition.

Ella Baker was particularly good at exploiting such opportunities for sudden leaps forward among disparate forces, skills that she would display superbly when it came time for her service in 1957 as one of the founders of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) along with Bayard Rustin, Stanley Levinson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

For more on New Lincoln, see its webpage at http://www.newlincoln.org

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