James D. Anderson Delivers Eleventh Annual AERA Brown Lecture to Record Audience
James D. Anderson Delivers Eleventh Annual AERA Brown Lecture to Record Audience

James D. Anderson 
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
October 2014

Before a record audience of over 700 on-site attendees at the Ronald Reagan Center in Washington, D.C., and more than 500 online viewers from around the world, James D. Anderson delivered the eleventh annual AERA Brown Lecture in Education Research.

Anderson’s lecture, “A Long Shadow: The American Pursuit of Political Justice and Education Equality,” explored the historic and inseparable relationship between the right and freedom to vote and the pursuit of education equality. Anderson is Edward William and Jane Marr Gutsgell Professor of Education and Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In his opening, Anderson stated, “Choices made by the 39th Congress in 1866 cast a long shadow over our nation’s historic pursuit of equality.” With the precision of a historian examining social context, influential decision makers, and facts, he went on to say that the framing of equality in the 39th Congress opened the door to Jim Crow education and continues to corrode education today.

Anderson focused his analysis on a long sweep of events, time periods, and poignant illustrations from the state of Alabama. He noted:

  • Alterations made to the original 14th Amendment that empowered states to disenfranchise voters on the basis of race;
  • Regression in the Black Belt counties in Alabama, which saw educational funding for Black students cut from 44% to 11% between 1890 and 1930, and saw Black enrollment in 1915 fall below 1877 percentages;
  • The 1901 Alabama Constitutional Convention, which altered the definition of educational equality and further disenfranchised Black voters; and
  • The manner in which school desegregation was implemented in the 1960s, which eliminated an entire generation of Black educators. 

These data point to the erosion of educational attainment and basic rights for Blacks as the years unfolded after Reconstruction.

“I come to the conclusion that [the Reconstruction Congress] had it right in the first place, just not the courage to act on their most noble ideals,” said Anderson. “People are being disenfranchised today, because of their failure to protect the right and the freedom to vote in 1866.”

“The country is changing and we have to make decisions about immigration, about the Dreamers, about the way forward,” said Anderson. “Will this Congress, will this nation, make the right choices to move forward with a democracy in which we can all live and work together, or will it cast a long shadow over generations unborn?”

AERA President Joyce E. King, presiding at the lecture, emphasized the importance of sustained scholarship in addressing the most pressing issues of the day.  As King put it, “We have the opportunity and the moral obligation to apply principles and evidence from social science research and theorizing to the problems of injustice.”

Estela M. Bensimon, chair of the AERA Brown Lecture Selection Committee, conveyed a similar message in introducing Anderson: “There is no one better qualified than Professor Anderson to take a sweeping view of this history and its lasting legacy.”

The lecture created a buzz beyond the Reagan Center. Groups across the country—in Alabama, Louisiana, New York, Illinois, Kansas, Utah, and Washington State—gathered to watch the lecture live online. The event Twitter conversation reached trending status, and the lecture received national media coverage, including in U.S. News & World Report and Education Week.

The lecture was made possible through the generous support of 13 Friends of Brown: American Institutes for Research, American Political Science Association, American Sociological Association, Association for the Study of Higher Education, College Board, Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, ETS, George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, History of Education Society, SAGE, Spencer Foundation, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Education, and University of Maryland, College Park College of Education.

The 2015 AERA Brown Lecture will be held on Thursday, October 22, 2015. The Brown Lecture Selection Committee is currently accepting nominations for next year’s lecture.

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