White Women’s Role in School Segregation

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Campus Life, History, Media Archive, Passing, Social Science, United States, Women on 2019-01-07 01:45Z by Steven

White Women’s Role in School Segregation


Livia Gershon
Nashua, New Hampshire

A classroom of white students in the 19th century
via Flickr

White American women have long played significant roles in maintaining racist practices. One sociologist calls the phenomenon “social mothering.”

In recent years, many public conversations about American racism have focused on white women—their votes for Trump, their opposition to school desegregation, their calls to the police about black people doing innocuous things. As sociologist Joseph O. Jewell points out, however, this is nothing new. White women have long played a role in maintaining institutional racism in this country.

Jewell focuses on two nineteenth-century incidents involving school segregation. The post-Civil War era was a time of changing racial and gender ideologies. White Anglo-Protestant families in U.S. cities viewed the growing visibility of upwardly mobile racial outsiders as a threat. Meanwhile, public schools and other institutions serving children were growing, creating new roles for middle-class white women—what Jewell calls “social mothering.”

In 1868, a white New Orleans engineer and Confederate army veteran learned there were nonwhite students attending his daughter’s school. When questioned, the school’s principal, the ironically-named Stephanie Bigot, provided a list of twenty-eight students “known, or generally reputed to be colored”—presumably girls whose appearances were passably “white.” Bigot claimed that she had no knowledge of their racial backgrounds but that there were rumors among the student body that they were not white.

Jewell writes that the enrollment of racially ambiguous girls posed a particular threat to white New Orleans families. “Allegations of racial passing compromised the entire student body’s ability to secure either marriage into a ‘good’ family or ‘respectable’ employment,” he writes…

Read the entire article here.

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The report from the Board delegation concluded, ‘[F]rom information received, through Parents and Citizens … more or less colored children have been smuggled into the schools set apart for the education of white children’ (OPSB, pp. 327-8).

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2019-01-05 21:28Z by Steven

‘More or Less Colored Children’

After the OPSB [Orleans Parish School Board] meeting, [William O.] Rogers charged a delegation of Board members to investigate the allegations of race mixing at Bayou Road. He also instructed [Stephanie] Bigot to have each child ‘reputed to be of mixed race’ deliver to their parent or guardian ‘without delay’ written requests for ‘such documentary evidence or testimony of sworn witnesses as will serve to establish the Status, in point of color of said pupil’ (OPSO [Orleans Parish Superintendent’s Office], 1868:298). Without proper documentation, the student would be dismissed promptly from the Bayou Road School (OPSO, 1868:299). Of the twenty-nine students investigated, five had been dismissed. The report from the Board delegation concluded, ‘[F]rom information received, through Parents and Citizens … more or less colored children have been smuggled into the schools set apart for the education of white children’ (OPSB, pp. 327-8). The investigations into the racial and class positions occupied by each of the families in question raised concerns about the dangers of middle-class claims by racial outsiders and the need for rigidly enforced boundaries.

The Daily Picayune noted that two students ‘who bore evidences of African descent’ were, according to both Rogers’ and Bigot’s testimonies, admitted into the school by conventional means: ‘the first upon a certificate of birth in France, and the other at the request of the father, a white citizen of the Second District’ (New Orleans Daily Picayune, 1868, May 22, p. 1). Although each of the girls had been recorded as ‘white’ in the Orleans Parish Register of Births, other records revealed ambiguity about their families’ racial backgrounds (State of Louisiana, n.d.). Both parents of Alice and Anais Meilleur, for example, appeared as ‘white’ in the 1860 census but their father, whose birthplace was listed as France, was identified as ‘mulatto‘ in the 1850 census. These findings, combined with the fact that the fathers of all five girls were employed as white-collar workers,1 confirmed white fears about the threat black social mobility posed to race and class boundaries in light of the postbellum South’s changing social dynamics. Without upper class wealth, the city’s middle-class families relied upon perceived respectability to reproduce social position. Bigot’s carelessness had put their social position at risk by undermining familial claims to racial purity.

Joseph O. Jewell, “Other(ing) People’s Children: Social Mothering, Schooling, and Race in Late Nineteenth Century New Orleans and San Francisco,” Race, Gender & Class, Volume 21 , Number 3-4, (2014). https://www.jstor.org/stable/43496989.

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