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A chorus of Black student voices that renders a new story of US education—one where racial barriers and violence are confronted by freedom dreaming and resistance
Black students were forced to live and learn on the Black side of the color line for centuries, through the time of slavery, Emancipation, and the Jim Crow era. And for just as long—even through to today—Black students have been seen as a problem and a seemingly troubled population in America’s public imagination.
Through over one hundred firsthand accounts from the 19th and 20th centuries, Professor Jarvis Givens offers a powerful counter-narrative in School Clothes to challenge such dated and prejudiced storylines. He details the educational lives of writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Ralph Ellison; political leaders like Mary McLeod Bethune, Malcolm X, and Angela Davis; and Black students whose names are largely unknown but who left their marks nonetheless. Givens blends this multitude of individual voices into a single narrative, a collective memoir, to reveal a through line shared across time and circumstance: a story of African American youth learning to battle the violent condemnation of Black life and imposed miseducation meant to quell their resistance.
School Clothes elevates a legacy in which Black students are more than the sum of their suffering. By peeling back the layers of history, Givens unveils in high relief a distinct student body: Black learners shaped not only by their shared vulnerability but also their triumphs, fortitude, and collective strivings.
About the Author
Jarvis R. Givens is an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a faculty affiliate in the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He specializes in the history of education, African American history, and theories of race and power in education. His first book, Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching, was published in 2021, and won the 2022 Book Prize for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, as well as the 2022 Outstanding Book Award for the American Educational Research Association. Professor Givens is currently building the Black Teacher Archive, an online portal that will house digitized records documenting the more than 100-year history of “Colored Teachers Associations.”
“A sharp examination of how Black students have consistently overcome institutionalized racism. This book, which will appeal especially to educators and historians, triumphantly rewrites Black students into a history that has ignored them. An eloquently necessary study.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A must-read for anyone seeking to understand and educate Black children.” —James D. Anderson, author of The Education of Blacks in the South, 1860–1935
“In School Clothes, Givens offers a penetrating historical excavation of the ancient tropes and distortions that have for centuries dominated the discourse about black students . . . revealing their wounds and their witness, listening to their voices and insights, laying bare their armor, celebrating their gifts, and composing a liberating cultural narrative that is at once heartbreaking and hopeful . . . and true.” —Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, author of Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer
“School Clothes is an ode to Black adornment: veils both literal and symbolic, the masks we wear that grin and lie, the outfits and encouraging words we choose for our children&mdsah;from Sunday morning to the first day of class—to help them shine. Givens’s careful attention to the interior lives of Black students is astonishing to witness. And this book is a mighty weapon against a world that calls those young people problems, disruptions, unworthiness enfleshed. At every turn, Givens speaks back to such misrecognition with fire, rigor, and a measure of tenderness that clarifies the true stakes of this groundbreaking new work: the preservation of all that we love.” —Joshua Bennett, author of Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man
“Drawing on a range of personal memoirs and a wealth of historical and theoretical knowledge, Givens reveals that Black students experience the classroom as a terrain of battle, a stage, an observatory and a microscope, and a space of nurture, imagination, and freedom-making. And as such, they must dress for the occasion.” —Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
“School Clothes takes readers ‘behind the veil’ to gain insights from several generations of Black students. This is a brilliant, well-researched, and cogent study that centers the voices and experiences of Black students in the American educational system. It is a beautiful tribute—and testament—to the power of Black knowledge and resistance.” —Keisha N. Blain, coeditor of the No. 1 New York Times bestseller Four Hundred Souls and author of Until I Am Free