A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2018
“An important contribution to our understanding of how ordinary people found the strength to fight for equality for schoolchildren and their teachers.”
—Wall Street Journal
In the epic tradition of Eyes on the Prize and with the cultural significance of John Lewis's March trilogy, an ambitious and harrowing account of the devoted black educators who battled southern school segregation and inequality
For two years an aging Dr. Horace Tate—a former teacher, principal, and state senator—told Emory University professor Vanessa Siddle Walker about his clandestine travels on unpaved roads under the cover of night, meeting with other educators and with Dr. King, Georgia politicians, and even U.S. presidents. Sometimes he and Walker spoke by phone, sometimes in his office, sometimes in his home; always Tate shared fascinating stories of the times leading up to and following Brown v. Board of Education. Dramatically, on his deathbed, he asked Walker to return to his office in Atlanta, in a building that was once the headquarters of another kind of southern strategy, one driven by integrity and equality.
Just days after Dr. Tate's passing in 2002, Walker honored his wish. Up a dusty, rickety staircase, locked in a concealed attic, she found the collection: a massive archive documenting the underground actors and covert strategies behind the most significant era of the fight for educational justice. Thus began Walker's sixteen-year project to uncover the network of educators behind countless battles—in courtrooms, schools, and communities—for the education of black children. Until now, the courageous story of how black Americans in the South won so much and subsequently fell so far has been incomplete. The Lost Education of Horace Tate is a monumental work that offers fresh insight into the southern struggle for human rights, revealing little-known accounts of leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois and James Weldon Johnson, as well as hidden provocateurs like Horace Tate.
In this narrative history backed up with detailed scholarship, Walker, professor of African-American educational studies at Emory University, sheds light on the mostly unsung heroes black teachers, principals, and other school personnel in the battle for equal education in the South leading up to Brown v. Board of Education. Drawing on two years of interviews and the long-hidden archives of lifelong education activist Horace Tate, a former Georgia state senator who was a school teacher and principal in his younger years, the author recounts how Tate and others secretly fought the "separate but equal" ethos to get roomier buildings, school buses, and other educational necessities for African-American pupils. Their work had to be clandestine because, Walker writes, "even those trying to fly under the radar who attempted to challenge inequality could pay with their livelihoods, their health and sometimes their lives." Walker gleans facts and colorful details from documents like letters and meeting minutes to illuminate how the personable Tate and his colleagues, "masterly tricksters," deliberately obfuscated their activist roles behind their docile public faces as teachers and principals. This well-told and inspiring tale, with its rarely discussed angle on the school segregation fight, will draw in readers interested in meaningful work and activism, or just a well-told tale.