Black and Latina Women’s Educational Activism
This collection explores Black and Latina women’s education advocacy in New York City from from the late 1800s to the present.
Histories of the civil rights movement tend to emphasize charismatic male leadership, like that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and pay much less attention to Black and Latina women. 1
They also tend to focus on activism against racism and racial segregation more than struggles against ableism and for disability rights. And when they do document disability rights struggles, they tend to focus on white activists and white disabled people rather than Black or Latinx disabled people and activists. Accounts of this history almost always neglect the ways that racism and ableism have been connected over time, and how some activists fought against both together.2
Black and Latina women saw that segregation was a problem in their city. They identified a range of racist and ableist policies that caused it, and criticized the culture of poverty theories that blamed Black and Latinx families for their children’s educational deficits. They found multiple ways to challenge segregation. They went to court, organized boycotts, demanded policy changes, pushed for new opportunities for their community’s children, advocated for their own children, and much more. Some created educational spaces within their activist groups. Some did this work as parents, some as teachers, and some as community organizers. Some were all three.
In each document set you will see an image of an activist or activists. These images make us think about representation - meaning how people present themselves to others and how they are represented by others. How do the different women in these portraits choose to represent themselves? Or, who chose to represent these women, how, and why? How do representations matter for how we understand the past, and how we think about the present?
Scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw provided the term “intersectionality” to describe the ways racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and other forms of discrimination intersect, interact, and overlap with one another.3 For example, Black women face both racism and sexism not as separate challenges, but in connection with one another. Sexuality and gender identity also interact with racism and sexism. Black or Latina women who are disabled experience ableism and disability differently than their white peers, for example. As you read about each of these women’s lives, consider how they experienced multiple oppressions, shaped their own identities, and decided how they would fight for justice. How do their experiences and their ambitions feel similar to, or different from, yours today?
Jeanne Theoharis, A More Beautiful and Terrible History: The Uses and Misuses of Civil Rights History (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), chapter 7. ↩︎
Sins Invalid, Skin, Tooth and Bone: The Basis of Movement is Our People: a Disability Justice Primer (Berkeley: Sins Invalid, 2019); Sami Schalk, Black Disability Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2022), and see Schalk’s discussion of her work on Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. ↩︎
Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum iss. 1, article 8 (1989), https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1052&context=uclf and this interview with Columbia Law School. For a similar formulation of this idea that predates Crenshaw’s article, you can view the 1977 Combahee River Collective Statement here. ↩︎
Elizabeth Cisco Resisting Segregation in Queens
Black parents, including Elizabeth Cisco and her husband Samuel Cisco, resisted the policy of school segregation. Their actions helped change New York state law.View primary sources
Lucile Spence and Teacher Activism
New York City put many barriers in place to prevent Black teachers from getting jobs. Many of the Black teachers who cleared these hurdles worked together and found a variety of ways to seek equality for New York students.View primary sources
Mae Mallory and the “Harlem Nine”
In 1957, a group of Harlem parents including mother of two and activist Mae Mallory, sued the Board of Education. Then they organized a boycott to highlight segregation and inequality in their children’s junior high schools.View primary sources
Willie Mae Goodman fighting Willowbrook
Willie Mae Goodman and the Gouverneur Parents Association used legal suits,direct protest, and persuasion to try to improve the treatment of children with developmental disabilities like Margeurite Goodman.View primary sources
Denise Oliver and the Women of the Young Lords Party
The Young Lords organized in New York’s Puerto Rican communities starting in 1969. They a range of issues that they saw affecting Puerto Ricans, including poor sanitation, poor health care, hunger, and poor education.View primary sources
Audre Lorde and Student Protest at CUNY
Audre Lorde was a writer, activist, and educator at the City University of New York. She worked with student activists who were part of the movement to make CUNY’s enrollment and curriculum more inclusive of Black and Puerto Rican students.View primary sources
Cisco on Trial in Queens
Samuel B. Cisco is charged with violating truancy laws after refusing to send his children to a segregated school.
People ex rel. Cisco v. School Board of Queens
After her husband passes away, Mrs. Elizabeth Cisco continues the fight against segregation in the courts.
Albany Evening Journal
Elizabeth Cisco is recognized for her role in ending legal segregation.
“Two Public School Teachers”
The Survey Graphic publishes a special issue about art and intellectual life in Harlem, edited by Alain Locke.
Wadleigh’s School Zone
The NYC Board of Education draws school zones to segregate Wadleigh as an all-Black school.
Mayor LaGuardia’s Commission on the Harlem Riot
Mayor LaGuardia forms a commission to study the root causes of the 1935 “Harlem Riot."
Hotel Pennsylvania Meeting Learns of Harlem School Ills
Lucile Spence and the Teachers Union hold a conference to discuss schools in Harlem.
Your Child and Willowbrook
Willowbrook State School opens as the largest state institution of its kind in the United States.
We Kept Our Retarded Child At Home
In the 1950s, children with intellectual disabilities could be excluded from public schools despite laws that required children to attend schools
Commission on Integration, Subcommittee on Zoning Draft Report
The New York City Board of Education appoints a group to study racial segregation and make recommendations for integration.
“We’d Rather Go to Jail”
Mae Mallory, Viola Waddy and other members of the “Harlem Nine” boycott Harlem schools.
In the Matter of Charlene Skipwith
A judge rules in favor of parents whose children participated in the “Harlem Nine” boycott and were charged with neglect.
Mae Mallory and her daughter Patricia
During the “Harlem Nine” boycott, Mae and Patricia Mallory became the face of the struggle.
“Viva Harlem U!”
City College students occupy campus to call for reforms in admissions and curriculum.
City College student protesters outline the changes they want to see in their university.
Evelina Antonetty and United Bronx Parents Protest School Lunch
United Bronx Parents protest poor quality school lunch.
¿Le gustaria que sus niños…?
United Bronx Parents encourage parents to come together to discuss bilingual education.
Iris Morales Leads Political Education Class
The Young Lords party creates spaces for members to study history and politics.
The Educational Needs of the Puerto Rican Child
United Bronx Parents researched problems faced by Puerto Rican students in Bronx schools.
Willie Mae Goodman and Marguerite Goodman
Willie Mae Goodman and her daughter Marguerite Goodman are photographed together.
Mom is Worthy Opponent for State
The New York Daily News writes about Willie Mae Goodman’s success in keeping her daughter Marguerite at the Gouverneur Hospital and improving the care of all residents there.
Audre Lorde’s autobiographical writing captures her experience in school with a vision disability.
“Puerto Ricans” (Spoken Version)
Toni Cade Bambara recalls how her Puerto Rican neighbor was treated when he went to school.
Evelina López Antonetty Mural
Tats Cru paints a mural to commemorate the life and work of Evelina López Antonetty.
Women of the Young Lords Party
Denise Oliver and other Young Lords members reflect on their years in the party and what they learned.