Excellence in a time of hate


Thomas Sowell, Robert Woodson, Jason Riley and John S. Butler are good and wise men. I credit them for the facts contained in the following column:

It was the first of its kind. 1870 was the year. And 85 years of excellence ensued. How could this have occurred in America… during years of racial hostility and bigotry?

Because free black Americans decided to make it happen.

What happened?

The first public high school for black Americans was opened. Fully segregated, and initially called the M Street School, it was located in Washington, DC.

What followed until the mid-1950s was a flow of continuous high academic performance. 40+ students per class, cracked blackboards, run-down physical facilities, and under-funding did not deter excellence any more than white folks’ indifference or the more general anti-black attitudes of our country.

And just what did this excellence look like? As one example, this: In 1899 standardized testing was performed in all four of the city public academic high schools, and M Street School, one of those four, outperformed two of the three white academic high schools.

Let’s list some more examples: In its 85-year existence the school regularly eclipsed national norms on standardized tests. And, of its 12,000 graduates, most pursued higher education. A few student graduates attended Harvard and other top-flight institutions with a number achieving Phi Beta Kappa status. The first blacks to graduate from West Point and the Naval Academy came from this high school, renamed Dunbar High School in 1916.

More: The M. Street/Dunbar High School students also displayed lower rates of tardiness and absenteeism compared to the white high schools of the city.

Surprising to most experts today, these students were largely from low-income families. Parents of students were unskilled or semi-skilled workers with large numbers who were laborers and maids.

Elsewhere in our nation there were more examples of urban black education excellence, including Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta (Martin Luther King Jr.’s high school) and Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore (Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s high school).

In fact, urban black education excellence occurred in about 90 other segregated high schools nationally over those years. F.T. Mannheim reports that in Kansas City both the segregated Lincoln and Sumner High Schools “dominated science awards for all schools in Kansas City in the 1950s and beyond.”

Sowell, Woodson, and Riley credit a school culture of hard work, high standards and discipline. Parents supported the teachers, the traditional American curriculum and the discipline. Troublemakers were rare and kids who failed were held back. There were no fancy education methods needed to “reach” these black urban kids from low-income families, taught by demanding black educators and leaders.

Neither was there an insulting lowering of academic standards, fashionable today, to achieve some kind of “equity.” (Anybody up for a next-day Latin vocabulary pop quiz? Those Dunbar students were.)

And, predictably, the students performed.

Many other kinds of excellence prevailed during those terrible years of race separatism and hate. Professor John S. Butler describes a different example when black entrepreneurial excellence was on display in Tulsa, Oklahoma:

Tulsa carries a horrid race history, and history, itself, has only recently noted the 1921 race riot which destroyed 36 square blocks of black businesses and homes with scores of black citizens murdered. The part of town destroyed was known as Greenwood, and Booker T. Washington, himself, had inspired the extensive black entrepreneurial success there prior to 1921. Because of its affluence, the area was called “the Black Wall Street.”

But the terrible riot changed all that. Greenwood was wiped out. Adding to the injustice, a “fire ordinance” was passed preventing residences and businesses from being rebuilt.

Defeat? Hardly.

Litigation overturned the unjust and racist fire ordinance and the black community rebuilt itself through its own pooled resources, entrepreneurial spirit, and know-how. Within two years Greenwood was becoming even more prosperous than before the riot. Completely rebuilt by 1938, in 1942 it boasted 242 businesses and 94 professional firms.

Amazing? No.

Put simply, this Greenwood community of black Americans chose to recover and rebuild. Predictably, Greenwood re-emerged: effort and excellence withstood an environment of hate.

Now, in a closing testament to self-determined excellence, let me present the performance of 16 black sailors selected for Navy Officer Candidate School during

World War II

Pressure from Eleanor Roosevelt and black civil rights leaders in 1942 resulted in President Roosevelt banning (on paper) discrimination in the federal government, including the military. The Navy was soon required to select black sailors who would become the first black naval officers. It is said that the officer leading the training did not operate in good faith. The 16-week course was compressed into 8 weeks, and substandard quarters and condescension were a daily experience. How hard was the Navy trying to cause these black officer candidates to washout?

No matter. When the training was completed, classroom and OJT components, 16 of 16 black men were tested and all passed with excellent scores.

Were these men then commissioned? No. The Navy determined that these men must have cheated (how else to explain such results) and retested them separately. These 16 candidates responded with even higher scores. In fact, the scores were the highest group scores ever attained pursuant to officer commissioning.

Surprising? No.

Disciplined, motivated effort once again predictably produced excellence.

Excellence in a time of hate.


In the year of our Lord, 2022, our benevolent leaders in the federal government, teachers’ unions and big corporations are urging schools to teach black citizens to exchange their proven capacity for excellence for a more contemporary capacity: submission to perpetual victim status.

Alan Winslow, Seymour

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