Education and the Great Migration- Part three

Board of Education's Administration Building i...

Board of Education’s Administration Building in Oakland To interview for a teaching job, Delie would have had to go here–except the Board wasn’t hiring “her kind” in 1935.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the end of their northward journey in A Champion’s Heart, Delie expresses the wish that she would like to get a teaching job once they reach Pittsburgh.  Champ, being the true hero that he is, tells his lady love that she should be able to do whatever she would wish.  He believed that once they reach the Promised Land, it should be easy for her to obtain a teaching job, given that she is one of a few hundred thousand (about two percent) in 1935 to have a college degree .

But Champ didn’t know: Black teachers did not have it easy in the “Promised Land” of Pittsburgh.

My grandmother knew this first hand.  When she graduated from Perry High School in 1937, she had never had a black teacher.  None of the siblings that followed in her footsteps ever had either.  It was only in 1937, Pittsburgh Public Schools hired its first full-time black teacher. By the end of World War II, there were only four full-time black teachers in the school district and these teachers taught in elementary schools in predominantly black neighborhoods.

In Race and Renaissssance: African Americans in Pittsburgh since World War II, Joe Trotter and Jared Day discuss this difficulty.  They present the example of Ollie May Guice, who taught Spanish. She left Pittsburgh after being told by the districts’ personnel director that the high schools were not prepared for “her kind.” Another black teacher was told to go back and get an elementary certification since “blacks can’t be put in high school.”

So in some ways, when Delie arrives in Pittsburgh in 1935, the Promised Land wasn’t so promising after all.  It took several more decades of progress in the right direction, and by the late 1950’s the percentages of teachers increased to 5.3%. Pittsburgh Public Schools began to hire more black teachers so that by the time my father graduated from college in the mid 1960’s, he was quickly offered a  teaching job and an opportunity to further his education in administration. In this way, the teaching profession in this city of the “Promised Land” began to show more inclusion after a long period of rigidity.


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