This website exists to promote awareness of the existence and significance of equalization era schools in Tennessee. For these particular research purposes, “equalization schools” are public school buildings for African American children that were either newly constructed or improved in the late 1940s through the late 1960s, in attempts to avoid racial integration of the state’s segregated school system.
These school buildings and their significance are often overlooked for many reasons, some of which are: 1) many equalization era schools have just relatively recently passed the “50 year” mark to be considered “historic”; 2) the existence of school buildings from this era are stark, and potentially embarrassing, reminders of the lengths to which segregationists used public funds to defy the 1954 Brown v. Board ruling that declared “separate but equal” unconstitutional; and, 3) the buildings themselves are not “high style” or overtly attractive, and are often embedded within already marginalized landscapes.
Much of this work was inspired by fieldwork conducted throughout Tennessee. As my work at the Center for Historic Preservation (Middle Tennessee State University) often involves community-led preservation in historic African American communities, I’ve had many opportunities to learn how these equalization schools represent more recent layers of history in their respective historic communities. Rebekah Dobrasko’s work on equalization schools in South Carolina has helped shape my research.
This site is a constant work in progress as I conduct fieldwork and archival research. Any attempt to generalize is not meant to overlook the unique stories and situations of communities. Instead, I aim to provide preservationists in Tennessee a framework that can be used to begin to understand the significance of equalization schools and their places in the state’s historic landscape.