A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Post-Civil Rights Chicago
Elizabeth Todd-Breland

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Illinois at Chicago

Primary Discipline

I will spend the first half of the fellowship period completing my book A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Post-Civil Rights. The book is a historical analysis of black politics and education reform in Chicago from the mid-1960s through the present. Beginning in the 1960s, the book investigates struggles for desegregation, community control, independent black educational institutions, and black teacher power as diverse strands of a broader politics of black achievement developed in response to the welfare state’s failure to deliver educational equity and discourses of black inferiority. Bridging studies of Civil Rights and Black Power era education organizing and studies of contemporary education reform policies, the book analyzes how the community-based approaches to school reform developed by black parents, educators, students, and organizers in Chicago during the 1960s and 1970s collided with and contributed to the privatization policies of increasingly powerful local and national corporate-style education reformers since that time. With the national ascendency of Chicago’s politicians and education policies, this local story has national implications. Based on archival research and oral histories, this social and intellectual history uses political organizing as a window into the dynamic interplay between schools and communities. The book demonstrates how historical transformations produced the racialized political struggles for power, resources, and representation that continue to animate urban education and racial politics today.I will use the remainder of the fellowship period to extend the research from the book to consider transformations in schools and communities in the multiracial city. I will continue compiling a data set that I began for the book on the racial demographics of Chicago Public Schools staff and students over a fifty-year period. This data set will serve as the foundation for a future digital humanities mapping project that uses schools as sites to examine racial tensions, demographic changes, and politics since the 1960s.
About Elizabeth Todd-Breland
Elizabeth Todd-Breland is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned her PhD in History from the University of Chicago. Her research and teaching focuses on 20th-century U.S. urban and social history, African American history, and the history of education. Her book manuscript, tentatively titled, A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Post-Civil Rights Chicago, is under contract with the University of North Carolina Press. The book analyzes transformations in black politics, shifts in modes of education organizing, and the racial politics of education reform from the 1960s to the present. Todd-Breland’s research has also been published in edited volumes and the Journal of African American History. Her research agenda is a product of her commitment to educational equity, racial justice, and a sustained engagement with the racial politics of education in research and practice. Todd-Breland has created professional development workshops, curricula, and courses for K-12 teachers on critical pedagogy, African American history, urban education, and college readiness. She has also worked with diverse groups of Chicago Public School students as a high school social studies instructor and college counselor.

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