The struggle to reform higher education and kickstart social change in the South during the 1950s and 60s continues to hold lessons for those working for educational justice today.

During the inaugural event of the University of Washington’s Banks Center for Educational Justice on Oct. 26, College of Education Professor Joy Williamson-Lott discussed her new book “Jim Crow Campus: Higher Education and the Struggle for a New Southern Social Order” and its connections to contemporary issues involving academic freedom and free speech.

“It reminds me that we need to remain vigilant in the current context,” Williamson-Lott said during her talk. “We take these kinds of rights and freedoms for granted that they will always be around.

“Those gains made during the middle 20th century … were dearly bought and protecting them not only honors the activists of the past, but it ensures institutions of higher education remain vital and vibrant spaces to sustain democracy.”

Watch the entire event, including Williamson-Lott’s dialogue with Michelle Purdy, an education historian from Washington University in St. Louis who has published multiple works analyzing racial history in education, below.

In “Jim Crow Campus,” Williamson-Lott shares a narrative of how the activism of students and faculty alike overlapped with struggles for Black freedom as well as opposition to the Vietnam War and connects the radical racial changes of the mid-20th century to the potential for deep influence existing in higher education today.

Williamson-Lott’s research focuses on the influence of social movements and institutions of higher education on each other. Her previous works include “Black Power on Campus,” which explores student-administration interactions from 1965-75 that led to today’s campus support systems, and “Radicalizing the Ebony Tower,” which examines issues of institutional autonomy and the relationship between historically black colleges and the civil rights and Black Power movements.

The Banks Center for Educational Justice is a central location for partnerships, program development and collaborative research with early childhood through university educational settings that sustain Native, Black, Latinx, and Asian and Pacific Islander young people across Seattle and Washington state. Follow the Banks Center for Educational Justice on Twitter.

The event was co-sponsored by the UW's Center for Communication, Difference and Equity and Department of American Ethnic Studies.

Jim Crow Campus Book Talk


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