Skip to Content

1970Black Studies

Bridging the Gap

Black and white photograph of Marva Collins in a classroom with students

Education Pioneer Marva Collins Helps Summer School Students in 1981

Protesters with bullhorn and sign that reads, "Power to the people -- support the strike," San Francisco State College strike

The Strike for African American Studies at San Francisco State

Protesters with bullhorn and sign that reads, "Power to the people -- support the strike," San Francisco State College strike

The Strike for African American Studies at San Francisco State

Despite the hard-won gains of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, African American children were still under-served in public schools. By the mid-1970s, southern schools were more integrated than other schools around the country. Redlining relegated Black children to significantly under-funded schools, and many were inappropriately labeled “learning disabled.”

In 1975, substitute teacher Marva Collins cashed in her pension fund and opened Westside Preparatory, a private school on the West Side of Chicago. The school provided kindergarten through eighth-grade level classes. Collins based her teaching on classical education, which, she said, “allowed students to flourish.” Taken away from the rigid scoring systems of public schools, many students were found to perform above grade level when they entered area high schools. Students were taught a rigorous curriculum in a nurturing environment that promoted discipline and academic excellence. Collins stated, “We’re an anomaly in a world of negatives.” She added, “Our children are self-motivated, self-generating, self-propelled.”

This era also saw the rise of African American and Black Studies in universities across the nation. While academic efforts to reconstruct African American history began in the late 1800s, programs and departments did not appear in universities until the 1960s, with California universities leading the charge. The Black Studies curriculum was not only a source for historical knowledge, it also empowered African American students. Some high schools and community colleges also added programs centered around the Black experience, and by 1971 there were more than 500 programs across the country.