Exhaustive Defiance: Black Youth and the Persistent Quest to Democratizing Extracurricular Activities in Public Schools, 1964-1975
Vincent Willis

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Alabama

Primary Discipline

History of Education
This project aims to (re)construct a history of competing philosophies about the right to participate in extracurricular activities during the early phases of desegregation. Despite federal involvement, implementing deracialized extracurricular activities were arduous. Race-based practices were not annihilated by federal regulations nor did those directives alleviate the need for black youth to advocate on their own behalf for full participation in public schools. Therefore, we need a critical analysis on racialized practices that endured after race-based schooling was rule unconstitutional. The history of extracurricular activities in public schools, particularly in the South, reveals that implementation has been racialized, classed and gendered (N. G. Adams and Adams 2018). Prior to Brown, black students were protected at black schools from the brunt of racialized practices (Walker 1996). Indeed, being able to participate in all school practices factored into several black students� decision to remain at their black school instead of desegregating white schools. Black students at segregated black schools learned that a quality academic experience was a holistic endeavor. They could not reconcile that their white counterparts were deserving of superior academic opportunities no more than they could accept they were innately incapable of participating in all extracurricular activities. The summation of extracurricular activities during Freedom of Choice lies within black students� refusal to accept restrictions and whites� disinclination to see them as co-participants. Consequently, I argue we need to view this oppositional history through a theoretical lens that captures the thorny and auspicious actions that resulted from the strange relationship between defiance among black youth and whites� refusal to re-conceptualize educational equality through the lens of participating in extracurricular activities. Using archival research, oral history and Georgia as a case study site, this project investigates how extracurricular activities were implemented and how black students responded to racialized practices. This work challenges the unidirectional narrative that presents extracurricular activities as a racial unifier around a common cause by elevating the various ways sports and other social school activities deepened divisions along racial lines.
About Vincent Willis
Vincent Willis is an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences in New College with an appointment in Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama. He earned his Ph.D. in Educational History from Emory University, a MA in African and African American Studies from the Ohio State University, and a BA in African American Studies from Morehouse College. His work centers the historical ideas and actions of Black youth to operationalize a more inclusive concept of educational equality. Additionally, his work investigates the consequences of educational policy?federal and local?operating unapologetically oppositional for decades to over-resource white schools and grossly underfund black schools and opposing the improvements black youth demanded. His forthcoming book, Audacious Agitation: Black Youth and the Uncompromising Commitment to Equal Education (under contract with the University of Georgia Press) along with peer-reviewed articles illustrate how the historical advocacy of Black youth represent their refusal to envision democracy as merely an abstraction. Instead, Black youth applied those ideals to their lived experiences as public-school students with hope of making public education more democratic. Dr. Willis? research agenda reflects a commitment to understanding the nuances of educational equality from the perspective of marginalized communities that intend to have their ideas and actions shape educational policy.

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