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Legal Wins

Then and Now: Resistance to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

While the 1954 landmark Brown decision ended de jure segregation in public schools, it also ended the careers of a generation of highly educated and effective Black teachers and administrators.
Published: November 15, 2022

While the 1954 landmark Brown decision ended de jure segregation in public schools, it also ended the careers of a generation of highly educated and effective Black teachers and administrators. “It represented the most significant brain drain from the US public education system the nation has ever seen. It was so pervasive and destabilizing that, even a half-century later, the nation’s public schools still have not recovered.” Leslie T. Fenwick, Jim Crow’s Pink Slip: The Untold Story of Black Principal and Teacher Leadership, xxiii, Harvard Ed. Press (2022). “We decimated the black principal and teacher pipeline and never rectified that. It is the unfinished promise of Brown that we have not integrated our faculty and school leadership.”[1] Inequality and racial hierarchy are robust and have not been eradicated by laws or decisions by the Supreme Court. To illustrate the point, the tale of two prominent leaders of the Georgia Teachers & Educators Association (the Black educator organization) and, after the merger with the Georgia Educators Association (the exclusively white organization), as leaders with GAE, [2] suffered humiliating consequences for the failure to implement Brown.

The Failure to Implement Brown. A Tale of Two GAE Leaders: Dr. Horace Tate and Dr. Ulysses Byas

In her book The Lost Education of Horace Tate, Vanessa Siddle Walker[3] tells the story of Dr. Horace Tate, GAE’s first African American Executive Director. Dr. Tate had been an exemplary principal for 14 years. Once the school district began integrating, administrators transferred half of the principal’s students and half his teachers and docked $3,000 from his salary. Eventually, the principal lost all his students and was moved to the superintendent’s building. He was given a windowless room in the attic as an office—where he turned in his resignation, humiliated. Dr. Tate was the GT&EA president at the time of the merger with the GEA. He later became a powerful state Senator and was a loyal friend of public education.

Professor Siddle Walker also explains how Dr. Ulysses Byas, unable to enroll at the segregated University of Georgia, went north to obtain a Ph.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University, an Ivy League school. Dr. Byas returned to Gainesville, Georgia, as an elite Black intellectual most determined as a high school principal to make the segregated school as successful as possible. After nine years as an effective principal and as integration loomed, Dr. Byas was offered a promotion to the central office as an assistant superintendent at the best salary he would ever make in his life. To Byas, the position was a promotion to meaningless authority. By the dictates of whites, a Black educator with a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university could not possibly be the principal of a desegregated high school, even if he was a great principal. Thus, white students, teachers, and parents lost the opportunity to witness Black excellence as equal. Hello Professor: A Black Principal and Professional Leadership in the Segregated South by Vanessa Siddle Walker, UNC Press 2009.

What does it mean for American public schooling to have lost tens of thousands of highly educated Black professionals? What could these remarkable professionals have done with American public schools if they had not been thwarted at every turn? Answers may prove elusive. What is certain is the legacy we must live with and must overcome. Fenwick, p. 146.

The Purge of Highly Educated Black Educators Continues Today

GAE has filed three lawsuits in the past several years on behalf of three exemplary Black professional educators: Dr. Lana Foster (Echols County), Dr. Sherilonda Green (Charlton County, and Dr. Leamon Madison (Colquitt County). Difficult as it may be to untangle the damage done since 1954, we know that the purge of exceptional Black educators is ongoing today.

Case #1. Dr. Lana Foster, including her father, mother, and daughter, was among the few African Americans ever hired by Echols County in over 100 years. Dr. Foster grew up as a young Black girl in a segregated school system in Echols County and would later serve over thirty-four years working as one of the sole Black educators within the system. Echols County Schools’ history of racism originated with slaveholders and segregationists and would lead to U.S. Justice Department suing Echols County for discriminatory practices. That history included the time Dr. Foster's husband ran for election to the Echols County Board of Education when she and her husband received a death threat with a makeshift grave built for them with a headstone stating: "Here lies the bodies of James and Lana Foster" topped with a watermelon and a black face. In 2018, Dr. Foster was given a notice of nonrenewal of her teaching contract. Through GAE legal services intervention, Dr. Foster proved that her nonrenewal was a pretext for racial discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission co-counseled with GAE in negotiating a settlement agreement requiring Echols County to hire minority educators. We are continuing to monitor compliance with the settlement agreement.
Read the settlement agreement here

Case #2. Although Charlton County Schools invested in Dr. Sherilonda Green to be a superintendent, she was not granted an interview when the position became open. Dr. Sherilonda Green grew up as a Black girl in Charlton County Schools and experienced racial discrimination first-hand, most notably from the now-former Superintendent of Charlton County Schools, Dr. John Lairsey, who was then her teacher. Often, Dr. Green knew she had excelled as First Chair, but Dr. Lairsey would keep her as Second Chair to keep a white student in First. On one specific occasion, when Dr. Green beat a white student for a competitive team, Dr. Lairsey told her: “I am going to put you all on the team because if I put the one that really made it on the team, I am going to lose my job.” The lawsuit details a troubling history of lies and deceit designed to impede and frustrate Dr. Green’s career, combined with discrimination against African Americans in the school system.

When asked under oath whether he was troubled by the fact that Charlton Schools has never hired a Black superintendent in over 100 years, the school board chairperson replied, “It’s just the fact that that’s the way it is.”
Read the Judge’s Order here.

Case #3. Dr. Leamon Madison was born and raised in Colquitt County. He graduated from

Colquitt County Schools as a high school student and star football athlete. Dr. Madison began working with the school district in 2004: first as a paraprofessional, then as a teacher, and then as administration. Dr. Madison has always received stellar work performance evaluations for his entire career. In the wake of the George Floyd murder, Dr. Madison, principal at Cox Elementary, sent an email to staff asking for empathy in meeting the social-emotional needs of their young students, as well as speaking out about racial injustice in a positive, affirming way. Soon after, the superintendent summoned Dr. Madison to discuss the “George Floyd email.” Upon return to Cox Elementary, a white lady teacher told Dr. Madison, “We are going to lynch you.” Three days later, Dr. Madison lost his job. Read the complaint here.


What can be done at this point? Professor Fenwick makes the following suggestions:[4]

  • “Tell the history and refute the myth.” The story of purging highly credentialed Black educators needs to be told and frame policy discussions around diversity because many of the same power structures remain in place today
  • Interrogate teacher licensure entrance examinations and cut scores
  • Examine how the transfer of Black principals and teacher jobs to less qualified whites affected and continue to affect generational debt from the past to present times
  • Invest in the preparation, recruitment, and retention of a new generation of educator preparation program faculty and universities
  • Invest in HCBU teacher preparation programs and Hispanic-serving programs
  • Invest in the preparation of Black superintendents
  • Invest in an anti-racist curriculum
  • Diversify curriculum materials, instructional models, professional development, and textbooks


[2] GT&EA was the Georgia Teachers & Educators Association, created towards the end of the First Reconstruction 1886-1888. The GT&EA was a predominantly Black organization that accepted white educators as members. The GEA was the Georgia Educator Association, created in 1886, comprised exclusively of whites. After Brown, during the late 1960s, leaders from both organizations held discussions that eventually culminated in a formal merger in 1970. GAE is the product of the merger.

[3] A former high school English teacher, Professor Vanessa Siddle Walker, earned a B.A. in Education, UNC Chapel Hill 1980, Ed.M. Harvard 1985, and Ed.D. 1988. Until her recent retirement, she was the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American Educational Studies at Emory University and was president of the prestigious American Educational Research Association in 2019–20.

[4] Fenwick, Epilogue, p. 147-153.


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