Eleventh Annual Brown Lecture in Education Research: A Long Shadow: The American Pursuit of Political Justice and Education Equality

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This article examines the historical relationship between political power and the pursuit of education and social equality from the Reconstruction era to the present. The chief argument is that education equality is historically linked to and even predicated on equal political power, specifically, equal access to the franchise and instruments of government. Following the Civil War and the collapse of the slaveholding aristocracy, the nation faced an unusual opportunity to reinvent itself by incorporating a new concept of equal citizenship in the postbellum Constitution. Despite the new constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law, Congress failed to establish equal access to the instruments of government. Following a protracted and intense debate over race, equality, and voting rights, the leaders of the Reconstruction Congress decided not to establish the most important guarantee of equality, that is, equal access to the elective franchise protected by federal constitutional authority. The failure to transfer the regulation of the elective franchise from the respective states to Congress sowed the seeds for the ultimate disenfranchisement of African Americans and left their pursuit of education equality in the hands of state governments committed to segregation and inequality. This critical decision casts a long shadow over the pursuit of education equality from Reconstruction to the present, including current efforts by several states to disenfranchise voters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-335
Number of pages17
JournalEducational Researcher
Issue number6
StatePublished - Aug 11 2015


  • equity
  • historical analysis
  • politics
  • social justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education

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