Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Educational Theory, Policy, and Practice
Historians have written much, particularly about large urban cities, on the desegregation of the American school system (Anderson 1988; Fairclough 2008; Watkins 2001; Irons 2004). However, little research has been conducted on the role that small communities played in supporting and influencing the development of desegregated school systems, and how African Americans in these communities experienced education. The focus of this research will be on the oral history of a rural community in Louisiana that desegregated schools in the early 1970s. What is unique is that, instead of avoiding desegregation, this community chose to create a unified school district in which all children were able to integrate which was unlike large urban school districts. This unusual response to integration was the result of the efforts of both Black and Whites. Using the methods of oral history, I examined how the school community of Zachary was able to adjust to desegregation. My primary question was, how did the community experience desegregation? What shaped and constructed an interracial community that struggled with the complexities of race and integration. As these issues were examined, research was conducted by recording oral histories of White and Black teachers, principals, and community members. Then, I looked at archival research of newspapers, yearbooks and documents of the city of Zachary. Together, these data sources painted a picture of how this community created unified school for both Black and White students. Zachary’s pragmatic choice to unify their schools in order to comply with the federal integration order led to themes in my research. Themes of integration as a bitter pill, unintended consequences of integration, and intended consequences of integration came to light. By examining these themes I was able to determine how this small rural community was able to unify their system with a positive long term outcome when many cities are still trying to gain a handle on integration 40 years later.
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Stone, Heather N., "Never Forget Where You Came From: An Oral History of the Integration of a Rural Community" (2014). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 2834.