Greater Than Equal: African American Struggles for School Equalization in North Carolina, 1919-1969
Sarah Caroline Thuesen

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Independent Scholar

Primary Discipline

At a time when policymakers across the country are rehabilitating the notion of “separate but equal,” this study looks at the men and women who understood first hand both the possibilities—and the profound limits—of school equalization as a strategy for black liberation. Greater Than Equal explores how black North Carolinians pressed for educational equalization at the level of curricula, teacher salaries, and school facilities; how white officials co-opted the strategy as a means of forestalling integration; and, finally, how black activism for equalization evolved into a fight for something “greater than equal”: integrated schools that served as models of both material equality and civic inclusion. This study foregrounds a neglected chapter in black educational history and offers essential context for ongoing policy debates about the merits and limitations of Brown. The postdoctoral phase of my research seeks to ground the larger equalization struggle within the context of three North Carolina communities that were sites of significant post-World War II equalization efforts. Using school records, board of education minutes, oral histories, and newspaper accounts, this project explores how and why each of these communities built new black schools on the eve of Brown and how those belated equalization efforts shaped the eventual process of desegregation. In considering this history from the vantage point of individual communities, this project disentangles the goals of material equality and desegregation in the evolution of black activism and unpacks the complex expectations that both whites and blacks held for school equalization.
About Sarah Caroline Thuesen

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