A Curry Role in Virginia School Desegregation

by Lynn Bell

When emeriti professors Hank Allen and Jim Bash visited Ruffner Hall in 2007, Patrice Grimes nearly missed meeting them. If a colleague hadn’t thought of her on his way down the hall to visit these trailblazers in Virginia’s desegregation movement, she might never have experienced the great honor of chronicling their story.

To a qualitative researcher like Grimes, whose dissertation work described civic education in Georgia’s African American schools before the Brown v. Board of Education decision, this story was a treasure waiting to be fully unpacked. Since 2008, in addition to her work in social studies teacher education, she has been conducting interviews and digging up long-forgotten documents to pull together an inspiring Curry School story too-long neglected.

…this story was a treasure waiting to be fully unpacked…

During the Martin Luther King Jr. week celebration last January, she organized an event honoring these two close friends in the presence of their families and a roomful of faculty, students, and community members. A plaque has been placed in the atrium of Bavaro Hall to commemorate their legacy of leadership among teachers and administrators across the region. In the coming year she will be writing her findings for publication. Both Bash and Allen have expressed interest in one day having the historical documents she has collected donated to a library for use by researchers and students.

The following information about the Curry Desegregation Center is adapted from a paper Grimes presented at the 2010 American Educational Research Association conference in Denver.

by Patrice Grimes

In 1964, the U.S. Federal Government authorized the funding of 27 national educational centers to address the desegregation of public schools. This action was, in part, a response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared racially separate public schools unconstitutional. The mission of these sites, known as Consultative Resource Centers, was to support school districts by training teachers and administrators making this challenging transition.

Hank Allen and Jim Bash

Hank Allen and Jim Bash visit in Bavaro Hall after an interview with Patrice Grimes.

In 1967, The Curry School received one of those grants written by Professor James Bash. The Curry Desegregation Center (CDC), as it was commonly called, operated with a small staff that serviced school systems in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and Washington, DC. Bash hired Nathan Johnson, the University’s first African American faculty member, as associate director. Howard “Hank” Allen became executive director in 1973 and led center programs until it closed in 1981.

Spreading the word was a constant challenge, as the climate of Massive Resistance in Virginia and the South required using professional and social networks to gain access to schools.

Central to the Center’s success was a specific curriculum that evolved in the early years and guided programs. Over a four year period, Bash wrote or co-authored five monographs that became known as the CDC Human Relations model. These were the basis for professional development workshops and action plans used by teachers, school administrators and community groups.  They were also distributed nationally to libraries at other Center sites. Eventually, they were part of a series published by Phi Delta Kappa, a national professional education association, and were advertised for nationwide distribution in its flagship journal, The Kappan.

With a solid curriculum and dedicated staff, the Center conducted institutes and meetings, facilitated school and community groups, and when possible, talked with local media to move the message beyond the University of Virginia. Spreading the word was a constant challenge, as the climate of Massive Resistance in Virginia and the South required using professional and social networks to gain access to schools. Staff interviews document a well-crafted approach to introduce and implement the curriculum throughout the region.

Nathan Johnson and Jim Bash

Nathan Johnson and Jim Bash, 1967

A key person in the Center’s work was Nathan Johnson. Johnson was the first African American faculty member at the University and the Center’s associate director for six years. Following a distinguished career as a public school teacher and administrator, Johnson joined the Curry School after completing his doctoral studies here under a Southern Education Foundation Fellowship. Johnson Hall at Hereford College on Grounds is named in his honor to acknowledge his scholarly influence and leadership at a critical time of transition at the University.

The Center highlights one of the many little-known efforts to challenge the Massive Resistance movement against school desegregation in Virginia and the South. The story of these dedicated educators can inform us of the possibilities as well as challenges in school reform today.

(Grimes’s full paper is titled: Beyond Beta Bridge: The Curry Desegregation Center and its Role in Public School Curricular Reform, 1967-1981.”)

You can read more about the Consultative Resource Center on School Desegregation in Eleanor Vernon Wilson’s history, The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, 1905-2005.

Jim Bash

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Hank Allen

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