Black Education in Harlem:
There can be no doubt of the drift of the black South northward. -- W.E.B. DuBois
At the turn of the century, directly prior to the "Great Migration," the population of blacks in New York City proved to be scattered, although the great majority of them lived in Manhattan. However, between the years of 1890 and 1914, New York City experienced a large influx of blacks from the South, arriving with the hopes of economic and social opportunities. By 1910, southerners comprised a majority of the residents in black neighborhoods, with South Carolinians comprising a large number of the migrants.
The opportunities sought by the southern migrants included not only those in search of work, but also a large number of children in need of schooling. With the prospect of greater educational opportunities in the North, many blacks intended to take advantage of such opportunities, providing their children with the hope of rising above many of the prejudices experienced in the South within the school systems. Jim Crow laws took over the South rampantly, furthering the schism between black and white, and affecting education to a great extent. A number of cities at the turn of the century had not legislated separate education for blacks, and in some instances, black teachers were employed in schools comprised of a majority of white students. New York existed as one such city, for the law of New York stated that there should be no separation of the races within the schools..
Despite the law, blacks were not exempt from segregation within the realm of education. While many left the South for better opportunities, segregation maintained many of the same hardships experienced in the South. Furthermore, available jobs proved to be low-paying, and rent sky high. In the realm of education, the public school system did not serve the needs of blacks. L:ike in South Carolina, schools quickly became overcrowded, the teachers were underpaid and in many instances underqualified. Furthermore, having an education did not guarantee employment, and it proved even more difficult to attain a high social status and respect for the knowledge possessed.
Booker T. Washington's notions of vocational training for blacks exhibited themselves in Harlem as in the South. The development of trade schools served to train blacks in fields such as cooking, embroidery, sewing, millinery, etc. This sort of domestic training proved effective for women moving into the city, and the development of the YWCA in 1905, and the YWCA Trade School a few years later, served the needs of women in preparation for joining the work force. The YMCA did the same for men, training them for manual labor and work in factories. Rooted in a Christian family atmosphere, the YWCA and YMCA provided the Harlem community with a sense of hope about conditions in their neighborhood, and they served as a means for social and moral uplift of the black community.
Social and moral uplift proved to be necessary for the Harlem community, for as time progressed, so did racial prejudice, resulting in a lack of services for the youth of the community. While officials claimed they did not segregate schools in New York City, it became apparent that funds were simply not made available for schools in the Harlem area. After the Harlem race riot of 1935, the mayor called for an investigation into the conditions of Harlem schools, thinking that "perhaps" something needed to be done within the framework of the schools in order to improve the morale of the students and, in turn, the community. The Frazier Report called attention to the problems encountered in schools in Harlem: double sessions, overcrowded classes, high teacher turnover, lack of equipment in shops, laboratories, libraries, gymnasiums. Furthermore, the report cited that schools failed to encourage their students toward commercial and academic training "to which they were entitled and for which they were equipped."
From the early years of migration at the turn of the century, up until the World War II Era, the education of blacks in Harlem became subject to the discriminatory practices present across the nation. While black philosophers like W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T Washington urged blacks in the direction of education, instilling pride in their followers, the nation as a whole served to downplay their efforts with discriminatory actions taken toward blacks. As a result, the education system suffered many downfalls, hindering the ability for blacks to gain an adequate education, and fostering greater prejudice. While leaving the South to escape such prejudices and inadequacies in education, blacks in the North realized the same hardships with lack of funds, etc., they experienced in the South.
Most of the Schools have no facilities whatsoever for washing hands in the toilets. Public schools 10 and 168 have unheated outdoor toilets. -- New York Times, April 11, 1935.
A new movement, however, began to develop in the North. While education did suffer its hardships, it cannot be ignored that a large number of blacks would not back down from their goal of attaining their deserved role in the American democracy. Politically, as more blacks became educated in ways to actually make a difference, the seeds of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s rooted themselves in the activism of black leaders during the '30s and '40s. The rise of the Communist Party and other political movements served to work for the rights of blacks in all social spheres, including education. Thus the hardships inflicted upon blacks during this time period served to alert the public -- and the developing activism served to educate the public -- of the necessity of change.