Student’s award-winning research explores black opposition to desegregation
Much has been written about school integration following the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Jessica McCulley, a graduate student in history at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, chose to explore an often overlooked aspect of racial desegregation – opposition from the black community. For her work, McCulley is the winner of the Jacqueline Tatom 2010 Young Scholar Best Paper Award.
Deborah Cohen, association professor of history at UMSL and the faculty member of record on McCulley’s senior seminar, praised the student for her work, which explores the resistance to desegregation within St. Louis’ black community.
“She questioned what many today assume – that everyone immediately saw the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision as a win for blacks around the country,” Cohen said. “Thus, her paper is a critical re-examination of the tensions and struggles over the benefits of Brown and who should bear the costs of its implementation.”
For her paper, “Black Resistance to School Desegregation in St. Louis during the Brown Era,” McCulley focused on a group of black St. Louis public school teachers who feared their jobs would be lost to white teachers due to integration of the schools. The teachers openly resisted the decision made in the landmark court case, which led to a counter-resistance of other black community members against them.
She conducted her research and wrote the paper while student teaching at the St. Louis Public Schools’ Carnahan High School.
“I was interested in researching the quality of schools available to black students prior to integration and how they compared to schools offered to white students,” McCulley said of her initial intentions. “Through further research, I discovered that whites weren’t the only ones to oppose desegregation and this group of black teachers surfaced. The rest just fell into place.”
The Jacquinline Tatom Award is given by the St. Louis Metropolitan Research Exchange in conjunction with the Des Lee Collaborative Vision at UMSL, East-West Gateway Council of Governments and the Sam Fox School of Washington University in St. Louis. The award commemorates Jacqueline Tatom, an architect, urban designer and teacher whose work explored the metropolitan landscapes of St. Louis and its environs. The award is presented to a student paper at an area university or college that offers new insights about St. Louis, its surrounding region in Missouri and Illinois or both.
For winning, McCulley will receive a $1,000 award and her paper will be published in The Confluence, a regional studies journal published by Lindenwood University Press.
“I have to say, at first I was more surprised than anything,” McCulley said of winning the award. “I was just excited that someone other than my professor and I actually read my essay. I was really proud to see my research transform into the final essay, so it feels great that others can see the finished project as well.”
McCulley is from Jackson, Mo., and earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UMSL in August. After she completes her master’s degree, she plans to study African-American history while pursuing a doctoral degree.
Cohen, associate professor of history, says she feels McCulley won’t have any trouble successfully achieving her academic goals.
“Jessica is the kind of student that professors love to teach,” Cohen said. “She works hard, takes criticism well and was dogged in her research.”
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