History Department Hosts Conversation On History of African American Education

In honor of Black History Month, the Loyola History Department hosted a conversation on “Bridging Teaching, Scholarship, and Activism,” featuring guest speaker Dr. Elizabeth Todd-Breland.

In honor of Black History Month, Loyola hosted a conversation on “Bridging Teaching, Scholarship, and Activism,” featuring Dr. Elizabeth Todd-Breland, a professor of history at the University of Illinois Chicago and the author of “A Political Education: Black Politics and Education Reform in Chicago” as a guest speaker.

Set up to work like a discussion, the event was led by Dr. Tikia K. Hamilton, an assistant professor of history at Loyola. The conversation was centered on the historical debate on the teaching of African American history in schools, as well as the conversation surrounding the desegregation of schools and Black students’ access to the same education as their white peers. 

Hamilton said she felt inspired to invite Todd-Breland to participate in this event because of how well it aligns with her own work in researching efforts of African Americans to obtain equality of educational opportunity in the nation’s capital in the years before Brown v. Board of Education, a topic which she is currently writing a book about. 

“Dr. Todd-Breland’s work on Chicago in the post-Brown period intersects with my work in many ways,” Hamilton wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “Additionally, I really wanted to make sure the History Department had some educational programming for Black History Month, so this just seemed like a natural fit, especially given that I’m teaching a Race and Education class this semester.”

The event was held on the fourth floor of the Information Commons on the Lake Shore Campus and began with a speech from Dr. Bradford Hunt, the chair of the History Department, who hosted the event. In his speech, Hunt said he thought it was important to have discussions surrounding the teaching of Black history now more so than ever before. 

“This is a topic with wide relevance in university life, but also a topic with special poignancy during Black History Month,” Hunt said during his speech. “In 2023, we continue to be witness to systemic racism on a painfully daily basis, and with global inequities and injustices that remain ever-present.”

Todd-Breland discussed the history of desegregation of schools in the mid-1960s, when there was an initiative in the communities surrounding the University of Chicago known as “community control.” This was an initiative by black people in the area to become more connected with the university, according to Todd-Breland. 

“The idea of community control was that Black communities should have the power to determine and create community based education where they already lived, which were largely segregated black neighborhoods, with the resources to do that and more decision making power in their local schools,” Todd-Breland said. 

Hamilton said she found the conversation surrounding community control to be the most interesting portion of the discussion.

“I really appreciated talking about ‘community control’ efforts among African Americans,” Hamilton wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “One of the things that I’m trying to do with my own work is demonstrate how African Americans often differed strategically and ideologically over the issue of integration. To be able to connect the threads of my work in the pre-Brown years to more recent questions about achieving Black educational excellence was quite exciting.”

Todd-Breland said she found it important for people to recognize a Black person’s education as valid and well rounded even when not done in the same space as white education. 

“Increasingly, Black communities were saying ‘I’m not so interested necessarily anymore in integration or desegregation,’” Todd-Breland said. “Many of the people I studied felt that it was insulting to suggest that in order for Black students to be worthy of a quality education, they had to sit next to a white student. That shouldn’t be what makes Black students worthy of a quality education.”

Todd-Breland said she thinks conversations like these are important to take outside of the classroom and apply them to more real-world settings. 

“I think that we should think about the ways that what we are learning in the classroom can be extended, whether that is a research project by students or coming to talks, and that learning happens beyond the time that you show up for class,” Todd-Breland said. 

Hamilton said she finds these conversations important outside of the classroom because they provide students further opportunities to deepen their understanding of histories which are not usually taught in the classroom setting. 

“History departments all around the United States are under attack right now,” Hamilton wrote in an email to The Phoenix. “A common refrain among individuals on the Right and Left is that students are not equipped to handle histories that unsettle them. After two decades of teaching in diverse environments, I can tell you that these claims are misguided.  Thus—whether discussing race, gender, sexuality, or even political differences–creating different venues for communities to discuss “diverse concepts” in history is vital in this moment.”

Todd-Breland said she enjoys having the opportunity to talk with students and faculty outside of the classroom setting, because it allows her to take a more one-on-one approach to teaching. 

Hunt said he hopes students take what they learn at Loyola and apply it to real-world problems in the future.

“I am grateful for a conversation about taking our teaching and scholarship into the world of activism because I think that on some level, we all want to take the things that we research and study and write about and bring it to action,” Hunt said. 

Hunt also said he believes conversations such as these align with the Jesuit values Loyola preaches so often. 

“We hope that the work we are doing and the things we are learning make a difference not just for our own edification and our own career paths but to influence broader audiences and shape public conversations and to give our word purpose and meaning,” Hunt said. 

In the last 15 minutes of the hour-long event, the two professors opened up the floor to questions from those in attendance. There were about 60 audience members, including students and professors of Loyola. 

Anna Gonzalez, a junior majoring in criminal justice, said she initially attended the event for extra credit for a class, but ended up finding the discussion on the teaching of Black history to be interesting. 

“I really did enjoy it,” Gonzalez said. “It was super interesting, and it overlaps with my class right now so I could make connections and that was really fun.” 

Gonzalez said she doesn’t feel like African-American history is discussed enough, so she found this a valuable opportunity to speak more about it.

The original version of this story misrepresented aspects of the conversation during the event, these errors have been corrected.

Featured Image by Aidan Cahill

Lilli Malone

Lilli Malone