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Published: June 27, 2011

Freedom schools

A group of widely scattered secondary schools established for black children in various southern communities in the 1950s, during the struggle for racial equality. Designed to prepare students for college, the schools offered advanced academic programs unavailable in black schools under racial segregation. Although allegedly offering “separate but equal” education, racially segregated schools deprived black students of the same educational opportunities as whites—a factor that proved central to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA declaring racial segregation of schools a violation of the Constitution.
Despite the Court’s decision and its order to desegregate schools “with all deliberate speed,” southern states persisted in delaying integration for more than a decade. Freedom schools were an element of the civil rights activism that followed Brown, with groups of northern teachers and black southern parents collaborating to establish alternative educational programs to provide gifted black students with the education needed to qualify for college. Although organized as “integrated” schools, they remained largely black, with the few white students usually limited to the offspring of the largely white, northern teachers who staffed the schools. As public school systems gradually integrated during the 1960s, southern freedom schools disappeared. Never a major factor in southern education in terms of numbers of students, they served more as a symbol of the civil rights movement in education than as a force for change in the quality of southern education.