Books: Non-Fiction

Fugitive Pedagogy Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching

Book - Non-fiction. By Jarvis R. Givens. 2021. 320 pages
Themes: African American, Education

Tessie McGee read to her class in a steady measured tone, quietly engaging in a calculated act of subversion. She was Black, 28-years-old, and taught history in 1933-1934 at the only Black secondary school in Webster Parish, Louisiana. 

On many occasions, McGee made what she deemed to be necessary revisions to the mandatory curriculum. Based on her own judgment, and perhaps at the recommendation of fellow Black teachers, she often read passages from Carter G. Woodson’s “book on the Negro,” which rested comfortably in her lap. She kept the book out of sight, understanding the likely repercussions were she to be caught. Like most Black educators, Miss McGee was a public employee and vulnerable to the disciplinary practices of Jim Crow authorities.

But she was undeterred. “She read to us from that book,” one of McGee’s students recounted. “When the principal would come in, she would . . . simply lift her eyes to the outline that resided on the desk and teach us from the outline. When the principal disappeared, her eyes went back to the book in her lap. . .”

Black education was a subversive act from its inception. African Americans pursued education through clandestine means, often in defiance of law and custom, even under threat of violence. They developed what Jarvis Givens calls a tradition of “fugitive pedagogy”—a theory and practice of Black education in America.

The enslaved learned to read in spite of widespread prohibitions; newly emancipated people braved the dangers of integrating all-White schools and the hardships of building Black schools. Teachers developed covert instructional strategies, creative responses to the persistence of White opposition. From slavery through the Jim Crow era, Black people passed down this educational heritage.

There is perhaps no better exemplar of this heritage than Carter G. Woodson—groundbreaking historian, founder of Black History Month, and legendary educator under Jim Crow. Givens shows that Woodson succeeded because of the world of Black teachers to which he belonged: Woodson’s first teachers were his formerly enslaved uncles; he himself taught for nearly thirty years; and he spent his life partnering with educators to transform the lives of Black students.

Fugitive Pedagogy chronicles Woodson’s efforts to fight against the “mis-education of the Negro” by helping teachers and students to see themselves and their mission as set apart from an anti-Black world. Teachers, students, families, and communities worked together, using Woodson’s materials and methods as they fought for power in schools and continued the work of fugitive pedagogy. Forged in slavery, embodied by Woodson, this tradition of escape remains essential for teachers and students today. [Description from publisher.]

9780674983687 | Harvard University Press

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