The lost education of Horace Tate

Educational historian Vanessa Siddle Walker’s (2018) book The lost education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the hidden heroes who fought for justice in schools, details Horace Tate’s contribution to the fight for educational opportunities for black children in the Southern United States.

Horace Tate (1922-2002) served for 16 years in the Georgia State Senate, and his daughter, Dr. Horacena Tate currently serves in the same seat. However, it is not this period of Dr. Horace Tate’s life that is the focus of Walker’s book. Walker introduces the book with an anecdote about her first meeting with Dr. Tate. As she explained her interest in black education, he smiled and commented, “You’ve got part of the story” (p. 1). Thus began Walker’s exploration into the hidden story of Dr. Tate’s contribution to the fight for justice for black children. The book provides a larger contribution as well. As Walker puts it, black educators were the “unseen midwives” of the protests against inequality that occurred during the 20th Century (p. 9).

Dr. Walker interviewed Dr. Tate numerous times, and talked to his wife and others. The book is based primarily on extensive archival research that took many years examining collections in Massachusetts, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, and Washington DC. Prior to his death, Dr. Tate directed Walker to his privately-held archive containing extensive records of the Georgia Teachers and Educational Association (GT&EA), for which he served as Executive Director. These records are one of the most comprehensive archives of a Black educators’ association in the U.S. (pp. 371-372), and were crucial for the development of the book.

The book is organized into three sections: The education of a young principal, the education of Negro leaders, and the education of a people. The first part of the book chronicles Horace Tate’s early life, his education at Fort Valley State College, and his first years as a principal in Greensboro, Georgia. The second part of the book explores how the GT&EA prepared and trained young black leaders like Tate. The leadership of this organization worked closely with the leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Council of Officers of State Teachers Associations (NCOSTA). Through extensive archival research in addition to interviews with Dr. Tate, Walker was able to trace the role played by black teachers and educational leaders in the state of Georgia in coordinating with national organizations to fight for the rights of African American people.

The third part of the book, which focuses on the education of a people – describes what happened after the Supreme Court decision on Brown Vs. Board of Education in 1954. After decades of fighting for resources for schools serving black children, members of the GT&EA faced challenges to integration from white administrators, state leaders and local communities. Black teachers and administrators lost their jobs, while schools remained segregated. The integration of GT&EA with the white national teachers’ association was also beset with problems.

This book documents the secret work conducted to forward the cause of social justice for equitable educational opportunities for black children in the South. Why secret? Fighting for justice is dangerous. For example, readers learn that the house Mr. Tate and his wife Virginia lived in while he was a principal in Greensboro, Georgia was burned one summer when they were away working on graduate degrees. Readers also learn about those who lost jobs and their lives.

This study uses “historical ethnography,” an approach that Walker used in an earlier study on black schooling during segregation (Walker, 1996). Historical ethnography draws on both interviewees’ recollections and archival research. Walker’s meticulous footnotes also document her visits to the sites and places described in the book. Walker shares the process she took in the study. Phase 1, which took two years, involved examining documents at Dr. Tate’s home and interviewing him. During Phase 2, Walker developed a chronology of events using archival records. Walker describes Phase 3 as aligning what she learned from the GT&EA records with other records as she developed the narratives of events.

For anyone interested in education in the Southern states of the U.S., Walker’s book provides a fascinating account of interest to all educators. Walker’s book also provides a wonderful example of how archival research can be combined with interviewing and site visits. Having visited some of the towns mentioned in this book, I was eager to learn more about the history of Georgia. This book provides a wealth of information, and is written in an engaging style that kept me reading to the last page.

Kathy Roulston

References

Walker, V. S. (1996). Their highest potential: An African American school community in the segregated South. University of North Carolina Press.

Walker, V. S. (2018). The lost education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the hidden heroes who fought for justice in schools. The New Press.

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