Book Review: The Lost Education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the Hidden Heroes who Fought for Justice in Schools

The Lost Education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the Hidden Heroes who Fought for Justice in Schools. Vanessa Siddle Walker. New York: The New Press, 2018. 468 pp.
Reviewed by Asia Lyons & Laura L. Arroyo Educational Equity EdD Program, University of Colorado Denver

“America’s memory of courageous actors is insufficient.  It diminishes on record the role of black educators, their organizations, and their leaders advocating for black children in America’s changing justice terrain” (Walker, 2018, p. 6).  The Lost Education of Horace Tate: Uncovering the Hidden Heroes Who Fought for Justice in Schools is an essential and foundational book for educators and historians across our country, offering fresh insight into Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Movement, and the critical role that educators played across the deep south. Through a powerful, dynamic and inviting prose, author Dr. Vanessa Siddle Walker takes readers on a journey through time; and through the lived experiences of the people and players critical to educational reform in the south.  It is a book rich with almost twenty years of historical research, dynamically told through meticulous storytelling and personal narrative.
    With over twenty-five years of research on the segregation of schooling in America, Dr. Vanessa Siddle Walker brings much knowledge and expertise to the writing of The Lost Education of Horace Tate. Currently serving as the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of African American and Educational Studies at Emory University, Dr. Walker provides sixteen years of research to the writing of The Lost Education of Horace Tate, collected through multiple in-person interviews, historical review, and qualitative research methods. While her other works of nonfiction have deeply considered the impacts of segregation in the south, The Lost Education of Horace Tate departs from other books in its focus on leaders within education serving as the primary change agents for educational equity. This departure is a pivotal juncture for Dr. Walker; and as a result, historical information is presented as new knowledge; highly relevant to educators in today’s continued struggle for educational equity.
    The Lost Education of Horace Tate introduces readers to the life of Dr. Horace Tate, an educator from Greensboro, Georgia.  It follows the significant contributions he made to mobilizing black children, families, and fellow Black educators within the south in their fight for educational justice.  This fight was at a critical time of history when Georgia along with the rest of the south refused equality measures in education, and preferred a “separate but equal” sentiment. “Although the state could pass laws that made Georgia appear to be abiding by federal policies, the failure to implement these was at the local level” (Walker, 2018, p.247). This placed a great burden on local educators due to the inequality that existed within the “separate but equal” policies to advocate for and with the Black children and families struggling to attend school. As a member and eventually vice-president of the Georgia Teacher and Education Association (GT&EA), Dr. Tate effectively worked to petition and demand equal educational benefits for his community, school system and for black children as a whole throughout the state of Georgia. Throughout this book, Dr. Tate presents as both approachable and also larger than life; and his community organization, tenacity, and commitment to the fair and equitable treatment of black students set him apart as a leader singularly committed to the people he worked to serve.
    The Lost Education of Horace Tate is more than a biography of a single educator, however. This is a story of the committed struggle toward equity for the children and teachers of Georgia; before, during and after the decision of Brown vs. Board of Education.  Through the eyes of Horace Tate, the reader bears witness to the painstaking strategy required by educators to ensure that Black students received equal treatment and resources. In addition, a central light is shone on the relationship between the NAACP and GT&EA, and the challenges and enduring conflict that existed between the two organizations.  Candidly, this novel tells of the growing tension between the two organizations as teachers began losing their jobs due to the Brown decision and forced integration measures, as well as the lack of support received by the NAACP when GT&EA needed them most. “The ATA’s regular contributions began in 1938-39 after Attorney Marshall wrote a letter to the organization asking for help in arousing teachers” (Walker, 2018, p.170).   Overall, GT&EA provided members, funds and a voice for Black citizens in the south when many NAACP chapters were being shut down by White government officials, and in so many ways served as the backbone of NAACP as a whole. This compelling juxtaposition of competing interests for two such critical organizations showcases Dr. Walker’s commitment to providing an honest perspective of a highly conflictual and challenging time. In addition, this honesty challenges the reader to think critically and to consider the multiple and complex truths which can and did exist.
    Though thoroughly researched, The Lost Education of Horace Tate leaves the reader with some unanswered wonderings.  The book is careful to explain the relationship between GT&EA and the NAACP; however, there is some sporadic mention of the National Education Association’s need for Black and White associations to combine, and there is little focus on conversations between executive members of NEA and members of GT&EA regarding full support for equality.  This leaves the audience wondering of the support by NEA or lack thereof for GT&EA’s efforts for equal education for Black children. These wonderings aside however, The Lost Education of Horace Tate weaves together a vibrant world of courageous black leaders pivotal in their quest for educational equity, all connected through the life and personal narrative of Horace Tate.  This is a critical perspective offering much fresh insight into Brown v. Board of Education, and it challenges the single narrative most often told of politicians as major change-agents. Indeed, The Lost Education of Horace Tate recenters the narrative of black leadership within the homes, communities, and schools of local Black people who fought and died for educational reform. As we continue to pursue educational reform and equity in urban education,  The Lost Education of Horace Tate serves as a critical reminder that change occurs not only through political leadership, but also through everyday citizen and the collective power shared by a people singularly committed to change.


References

[1] Walker, V.S. (2018). The lost education of Horace Tate: uncovering the hidden heroes who fought for justice in schools. New York, NY: The New Press.