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Higher Education for African Americans before the Civil Rights Era, 1900-1964.

Higher Education for African Americans before the Civil Rights Era, 1900-1964. Edited by Marybeth Gasman and Roger L. Geiger. (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2012. Pp. 200. $34.95.)

Both the histories of higher education and of African American education have flourished in recent years, producing rich bodies of scholarship; this volume of essays nicely melds them together. Coeditors Marybeth Gasman and Roger L. Geiger maintain a twofold purpose: first, to focus on the efforts of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) to establish complete autonomy and raise academic profiles; and second, to shed light on discrimination and intimidation of African American students attending Northern universities.

The editors carefully chose the periodization, commencing with W. E. B. DuBois's pioneering study in 1900, The College-Bred Negro, and culminating with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This represented a unique and critical time in American history that witnessed the maturation of Southern de jure segregation, persistence of Northern de facto segregation, record lynchings, the Harlem Renaissance, and key Supreme Court decisions that profoundly shaped African American experiences in higher education--Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada [1938], Sweatt v. Painter [1950], and McLaurin v. Oklahoma [1950]--as well as the conflicts surrounding the admission of African American students to the universities of Alabama in 1956 and of Mississippi in 1962. The essays bring these events into sharper focus by adding texture and exploring specific, and often ignored, institutions and experiences in a variety of locations.

Gasman and Geiger are well known for their valuable contributions to the history of higher education, and the essayists consist of a fine blend of promising junior and established scholars. Michael Fultz's contribution gives readers a rare glimpse of "obscure" forms of higher education for African Americans residing in urban areas, examining numerous city normal schools and junior colleges (18). Richard M. Breaux analyzes how aspiring African Americans found limited opportunities at six leading Midwestern universities because of hostility by some white classmates, manifested through student Ku Klux Klan incidents and blackface minstrel performances, among other racial threats and insults. Lauren Kientz Anderson's study of "interracialism" at Fisk University is fascinating, examining yet another attempt--albeit unsuccessful--at racial progress within a university setting (77). Howard University receives special attention. Timothy Reese Cain reveals the means by which this institution's faculty pioneered unionization while Louis Ray presents the university's maturation process. Finally, Linda M. Perkins examines the competition between HBCU and Northern white universities for talented African American students.

These authors as a whole provide a fascinating collection that ponders higher education dynamics through the lens of race. They include relationships between and among students, faculty, and administrators in dominant white society, portraying relentless struggles as well as many setbacks and some steady, but difficult, progress. From an editing standpoint, the writing occasionally appears uneven. Nevertheless, the broad range of topics tickles the palate and promises an exciting research agenda. This volume too would serve as a fine pedagogical tool in African American history courses as well as courses in the history of higher education.

University of Pittsburgh Richard J. Altenbaugh
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Author:Altenbaugh, Richard J.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2014
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