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Decades After Civil Rights Gains, Black Teachers a Rarity in Public Schools

Nearly 63 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case kick-started racial integration in schools — and six decades after a group of African-American students had to be escorted by federal troops as they desegregated Little Rock’s Central High School — students nationwide are taught by an overwhelmingly white workforce. Even as the proportion of black, Latino, Asian, Indian, African and other “non-white” students grows inexorably, the teachers these children encounter are nearly all white. And the racial mismatch, in many places, is getting worse.

The dilemma is, in part, a little-known and unintended legacy of the Brown decision. Because most white communities in the 1950s and 1960s preferred white teachers over black ones, court-ordered desegregation often ended the teaching careers of black educators. One historian, Emory University’s Vanessa Siddle Walker, has said the culture of black teaching “died with Brown.”