What Oklahoma Teachers Can Learn From the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Dec 5, 2018 12:00:00 AM

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On this day in Montgomery, Alabama, 63 years ago, Black people strategically rebelled against one of White supremacy’s ‘systems.’ That day, Black folks got into formation and demonstrated a type of discipline that hasn’t been replicated since. Blacks in Montgomery boycotted their city’s bus system for 380 days starting on December 5, 1955. This revolt against ‘the system’ cost Montgomery 1.1 million dollars in lost revenue, enough to close Montgomery Transit if the boycott continued. The city’s Black population made up 75 percent of bus riders. Blacks were treated as second-class passengers, forced to enter on the side of the bus and ride in the back of the bus, all while paying the same wage for a seat as their White counterparts. The Montgomery bus boycott fractured racial stigma that Blacks were undisciplined and unable to advocate for themselves. Blacks throughout the South scored a tremendous victory when the court ruled segregation on city buses unconstitutional. It truly was a historic moment. America had reached an era of racial equality in its public transportation system. White supremacy lost a small battle that day in Montgomery. However, if you know anything about supremacy, you know that it's insidious, like a snake. Even when we think its eradicated, it continually finds a way to slide back in and camouflage into the ether. Only those it harms recognize its presence. In the spring of 2018, [pullquote position="right"]62 years after Montgomery, teachers across the country walked-out of their classrooms and into the halls of their state capitals, demanding better pay.[/pullquote] Some states allocated more funding for their teachers and school than others. In Oklahoma, teachers and schools received half of what they initially demanded from their state legislators. Oklahoma state politicians struck a deal with the teachers union, Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), who declared an end to the walkout on April 12, only 10 days after the teacher walkout began. The OEA faced criticism from some teachers, parents and education advocates who believed that not enough funding was secured. The 2018 Oklahoma teachers’ strike fell 170 days short of the Montgomery bus boycott. While Blacks in Montgomery received their full demands, Oklahoma teachers accepted a $6,000 salary raise, $1,250 raise for support staff and a small increase in public school funding through a tobacco tax. Oklahoma Policy Institute reported that: “The new revenue is being used to fund a long-awaited pay raise for teachers,” and that it has “…increased funding for school operations by $50 million, which is far less than the $200 million teachers demanded, and makes up less than one-third of the amount that has been cut from schools since 2008.” So once again, schools across the Sooner State will continue to struggle with insufficient funding for the next several years. Sadly, the megar-sized funding secured isn’t enough to close the achievement gap nor plug the school-to-prison pipeline in Oklahoma, which is bursting at the seams. The Oklahoma Policy Institute also reported that students of color benefit from smaller class sizes, a pathway to closing the opportunity gap and plugging the pipeline. Yet somehow [pullquote]the message for additional funding to ensure these students of color have access to smaller class sizes was lost amid the thousands who walked in the spring of 2018.[/pullquote] Once the teachers and unions received theirs, the tribes fighting for the few scraps left over from a dried-up oilwell simply walked away. In the end, it is Black children and the communities they come from that always suffer the most—more blight coupled with continued failing neighborhood schools due to the lack of resources and insufficient funding, and less opportunity and a higher probability of being incarcerated. What if the teachers and the union had stayed just a few extra days, perhaps weeks, maybe months, maybe even a year and 15 days—like the Montgomery bus boycott? Maybe Oklahomans can learn a thing or two from Montgomery; don’t walk away from a political fight until you are sure that every member (students of color and their under-resourced schools) of your team can get what they need to reach success. If that were to happen, perhaps African-Americans wouldn't flock to the nearest public charter school for a better life-chance like how teachers flock to the nearest state for better pay.

Nehemiah Frank

Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Wall Street Times and a descendant of two families that survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Although his publication’s store and newsroom are headquartered in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Frank currently works remotely from his home in Atlanta, Georgia. Frank played a pivotal role in marking the Centennial of the Race Massacre, attending the U.S. Congressional hearings in Washington D.C. with the last living survivors, and planning President Joe Biden’s visit. Frank has been featured on NBC Nightly News, MSNBC with Tiffany Cross, BBC, ABC, BNC, NewsOne, and other major media outlets. His work is featured in TIME Magazine and other publications besides his own. In 2021, Frank was listed as number 44 on The Root 100’s most influential African-Americans. In 2017, Frank gave a TED Talk at the University of Tulsa, titled “Finding the Excellence Within”. Lastly, Frank was a speaker at SXSW 2022. Nehemiah is a fierce advocate for charter and community schools.

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