What of the Negro Teacher?
Events in the South over the past two years have united all Negroes in the common battle to end segregation and discrimination. This Negro solidarity developed almost immediately after May 17, 1954. But it has placed at least one group of Negroes--the teachers--in an extremely difficult, complex situation. Many believe that by pushing for integration, they are pushing themselves right out of their jobs.
This has already happened in three Missouri communities. The NAACP plans to start court action against them for firing the entire Negro teaching staffs when the dual school systems were integrated.
'Some Economic Loss'
Leslie J. White, secretary of the Texas Colored Teachers State Association, summed up the reactions of most Negro teachers when he recently stated: "Although we may suffer some economic loss in initial phases of the desegragation process, the ultimate gains that will come from elimination of second-class citizenship should be our primary concern."
In North Carolina, another spokesman expressed the same feeling. He said that Negro teachers expect the loss "of a few jobs here and there, perhaps wholesale in some places. Most of us know it is a calculated risk that we have to take for the sake of the next generation."
The most complex factor of integration at the teaching level revolves around the qualifications of the Negro teachers. If Negro teachers are really inferior, no one can defend keeping them in an integrated school. But by breaking the vicious circle (bad schools giving bad educations to pupils who then in turn become bad teachers) at the student level, the first generation of teachers must invariably suffer.
And the Negro teachers are, for the most part, bad. In his book The Negro Potential, Eli Ginzberg points out that "the average future Negro teacher (freshmen in teacher-training institutions) in the South ranked below 95 percent of the freshmen in the whole country."
Discharging all the sub-standard teachers, however, would not solve the problem. A teacher shortage already exists in this country: experts estimate the nation must find 16 new teachers between now and 1965 for every ten teachers presently on the job, and on the college level it must find between 16 and 25 new ones by 1970 for every ten presently employed. Finding any teachers--qualified or not--has become a difficult enough task these days. It would hardly seen sensible to start a recruitment campaign for more by discharging a large number of Negro teachers. But it would seem equally foolhardy to accept the unqualified Negro teachers and allow educational standards to sink to the lowest common denominator in integrated schools.
The situation is further complicated by the probable reaction of the whites to Negro teachers in integrated schools. They will not like it. Having Negro children in the classroom is quite different from having a Negro teacher, who will have considerably more influence on the white students than their fellow Negro classmates. This prospect may increase southern resistance to integration to an unmanageable point.
Some Negro teachers tend--unrealistically--to softpedal this aspect of the problem. They feel it will be a long time before real integration becomes a fact. In the meantime, limited integration, or de facto segregation will essentially preserve the status quo until Negro education improves to the point where it will equal the standards of that offered white students.
One NAACP executive, Herbert Wright, feels optimistic about the forthcoming struggle over the rights of Negro teachers. According to him, Negro teachers "tend to be better qualified on number of degrees possessed" in big cities than white teachers. He also maintains there are a large number of white teachers in the South working on a temporary certificate, first granted during World War II.
Wright feels strongly that teacher integration must take place in the South. He bases his argument in part on the economic status of the Southern Negro. According to him, the Negro has "no mobility in employment. Teaching is one of the few professions open to him, which is one reason why there are so many more colored teachers in the South per capita than in the North."
Still Favor Integration
Most Negro teachers view the situation more realistically than Wright. They accept the possibility of job displacement, although this does not stop them from favoring integration of students.
A poll of 150 Negro teachers in South Carolina clearly shows their apprehension concerning desegration in that state. Almost three-quarters of them thought there would be considerable job displacement. And when asked how Negro teachers would vote on desegration in a secret ballot, only 23.8 percent said they would vote for it. Furthermore, 80 percent said that with integration there would be new ways to stop equality in pay and other privileges. The group was evenly divided on whether or not they would prefer to work in a desegregated system.
While these teachers are not necessarily representative of the Negro point of view, they do point out the anxieties many Negro teachers must be facing today. They are torn between a desire to end their second-class citizenship and a desire to keep their jobs.
It would be impossible to predict what the eventual fate of the Negro teacher in the South will be. But these various factors affecting his future position explain why he is not taking a militant position in favor of integration. A Georgia colored teacher characterized the situation when he said that "we have become interested spectators."