School clothes A collective memoir of Black student witness

Jarvis R. Givens

Book - 2023

"Through over one hundred firsthand accounts from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Professor Jarvis Givens offers a powerful counter-narrative in School Clothes to challenge such dated and prejudiced storylines. He details the educational lives of writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison; political leaders like Mary McLeod Bethune, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis; and Black students whose names are largely unknown but who left their marks nonetheless. Givens blends this multi...tude of individual voices into a single narrative, a collective memoir, to reveal a through line shared across time and circumstance: a story of African American youth learning to battle the violent condemnation of Black life and imposed miseducation meant to quell their resistance"--

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2nd Floor New Shelf 371.829/Givens (NEW SHELF) Checked In
Boston : Beacon Press 2023.
Physical Description
xii, 228 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Jarvis R. Givens (author)
  • "School clothes" and the Black vernacular
  • Living and learning behind the veil
  • Going to school north of slavery
  • Becoming fugitive learners
  • Learning and striving in the afterlife of slavery
  • Reading in the dark : becoming Black literate subjects
  • A singing school for justice
  • Some of them became schoolteachers
  • Hieroglyphics of the Black student body.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

History of education scholar Givens (Fugitive Pedagogy) delivers an intriguing if somewhat theoretical account of African American education in the 19th and 20th centuries. Expounding on the metaphor of "school clothes," or clothing "purchased with the specific intent of being worn to school," Givens contends that clothes were "forms of protection just as much as assertions of dignity and self-worth for young black people whose childhoods continued to be threatened, even after slavery was legally abolished." He also suggests that Black students "dress themselves up for a new life, a new world, one in which all God's children have shoes, and a robe, and wings, as the African American spiritual goes." Though analysis of the "distinct subject position" of "the black student" and other scholarly discussions can grow abstract, Givens unearths and contextualizes many fascinating stories, including Zora Neale Hurston's memory of contorting herself to meet the expectations of two white patrons who visited her fifth-grade classroom ("They asked me if I loved school, and I lied that I did," she later wrote). Elsewhere, Utica Institute founder William Holtzclaw recalls how his mother, a sharecropper, would "outgeneral" the family's white landlord by "slip me off to school through the back way" during cotton picking season. Patient readers will be rewarded with a tapestry of first-person voices capturing "the beautiful and the terrible realities" of Black education in America. Illus. (Feb.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Kirkus Book Review

A sharp examination of how Black students have consistently overcome institutionalized racism. As Givens, a Harvard professor of African and African American studies, notes, Black students, forever "picked at and prodded as specimens for study," have never been treated as subjects of their own discourse. This book ends centuries of silence by piecing together more than 150 years of student eyewitness accounts found in everything from autobiographies to yearbook inscriptions. Givens begins with accounts from Alexander Crummell and Henry Garnet, two 19th-century New York teens who experienced "witnessing," which "involves coming into awareness of how the violence and mistreatment of other individual black people could potentially be visited on oneself." Though living in the "free" North, both boys saw--and recorded--their experiences with the hate crimes perpetrated against Blacks Americans seeking education. Like countless others after them, they survived a White supremacist system through ingenious means. When tight finances prohibited the purchase of new clothes, parents--e.g., those of late-19th-century student William Holtzclaw, whose mother cut up an old petticoat to sew him a white suit needed for a school performance--found ways to help their offspring "bear new marks" that repudiated myriad humiliations of slavery and enforced poverty. The young Richard Wright--who sought assistance from a sympathetic White man to help him check out library books in the Jim Crow South--routinely engaged in acts of "fugitive learning." As Givens writes, eloquently, "beneath the veneer of compliance and deference to white authoritative power, the black school was always a singing school of protest and fugitive planning, where black students could dream up a world more beautiful and more just than the one around them." Collectively, these young people helped create "a tradition that transmitted a sense of self-worth and respect" to the generations of Black youth that followed them. This book, which will appeal especially to educators and historians, triumphantly rewrites Black students into a history that has ignored them. An eloquently necessary study. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.