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At a Glance
The material in the collection has been kept in its original order; an alphabetical list is available.
The Annie Stein Papers contain research materials, newspaper clippings, publications and reports related to the attempts to desegregate New York City's public schools.
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Rare Book and Manuscript Library
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This collection has no restrictions.
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Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Annie Stein papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Ownership and Custodial History
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed by Thai Jones (Columbia GSAS 2013) in 2009.
Finding Aid written by Thai Jones (Columbia GSAS 2013) in May 2009.
2009-08-22 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz.
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
Biographical / Historical
"The average child in eighty-five percent of the Black and Puerto Rican schools is functionally illiterate after eight years of schooling in the richest city in the world. This is a massive accomplishment." These first sentences, from an essay Annie Stein wrote for the Harvard Educational Review in 1971, encapsulate a lifetime of radical activism, a career in statistical research, and a habit of righteous anger.
For nearly 50 years-- working through labor unions, civil rights committees, and community groups-- Stein used these energies to combat the routines and institutions of racism. Her efforts could be structural or personal; she wrote amicus briefs in crucial legal battles, and she rebuked individual vendors on Coney Island for selling Confederate flags. She mobilized to defend the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930s. During the 1940s, she helped lead the movement to integrate restaurants in Washington, D.C. From the 1950s through the 1970s, she struggled to end segregation in New York City's public schools. This was her greatest campaign-- involving thousands of students, parents, teachers, researchers, and administrators-- but it was also her most frustrating one.
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka denied the legality of "separate but equal" education. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, school districts around the nation considered how to implement the new laws "with all deliberate speed." But, in New York this blandishment hardly seemed necessary. The City-- northern, liberal, wealthy-- was already ahead of schedule. The leaders of its school system had issued their own statement in 1954, and it was even more ambitious than the federal mandate. "It is now the clearly reiterated policy and program of the Board of Education of the City of New York" it read"to devise and put into operation a plan which will prevent the further development of such [segregated] schools and would integrate the existing ones as quickly as practicable.".
That year, the City possessed 52 schools where all the students were either Black or Puerto Rican. Classrooms in neighborhoods such as Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant were overcrowded and dysfunctional, while excellent schools in nearby white enclaves operated with hundreds of empty seats. For years, activists worked to fix this imbalance.
Organizing with parents and community groups in the underserved areas, Stein demanded mass transfers, bussing, open enrollment-- anything to get children into the high-grade institutions. The School Board refused to offer more than token concessions. Finding that racist fears were too powerful to allow existing white schools to be segregated, Stein and others agreed that the Board should construct new academies in mixed neighborhoods. Marshaling a huge investment, the City built 244 schools, but 57 percent of them were already completely segregated when their doors first opened for operation. Administrators resorted to every expedient to ensure this. In some instances, zoning lines ran right down the street where the school had been built. Black and Puerto Rican students lived on one side-- they would attend classes in the new building. On the other side of the street, the white side, students were zoned for a different school, often miles away.
In 1964, Stein joined community leaders and thousands of parents to plan a one-day boycott. Mobilizing the tactics of the civil rights movement, the organizers leafleted the city, focusing on "places where women gather-- beauty shops, Laundromats, small groceries" and demanding strict discipline. "In keeping with the dignity of our cause, picket lines should be carried out in a quiet and orderly fashion" their instructions read. "Our appeal to people is a moral one. Under no circumstances should anyone attempt physically to stop a person from entering a school." On Freedom Day, Feb. 3, 1964, half a million students stayed home. It was a dramatic action, but the fundamental problems remained.
Following a decade of policy vacillation, political confrontations, and the investment of billions of dollars, New York found itself with 201 schools that only served Black and Puerto Rican students-- a fourfold increase over 1954. In 860 schools, there were only four Black principals. Integration had failed. The City was forced to issue an embarrassing confession: "We must conclude that nothing undertaken by the New York City Board of Education since 1954 has contributed or will contribute in any meaningful degree to desegregating the public schools of the city.".
The parents and communities in suffering neighborhoods changed their strategy. Instead of trying to switch their children into white schools, they attempted to gain autonomy over the segregated institutions that had been foisted on them. They called the new tactic"community control." But sovereignty over the schools required power over hiring and firing. In Ocean Hill-Brownsville, the community board attempted to terminate several white teachers. The United Federation of Teachers would not allow this. In 1968, for several weeks, 50,000 union teachers and administrators went on a series of strikes. The ensuing conflict degenerated in recriminations and violence. The union played up instances of anti-Semitism and "Black extremist excesses" while community members spoke of racism and Apartheid. The conflict revealed fissures that many liberals had believed were closed. New Yorkers had to choose between their loyalty to labor or to civil rights. Annie Stein had ties to both movements. She had never crossed a picket line in her life. But she did so in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, and without hesitation. Her commitment was to the students and parents of the City.
"Let's shake these learned cobwebs from our eyes and look at the reality" she once wrote. To achieve this, she contributed her energies, research, and critical analysis to such groups as the Brooklyn NAACP, the Public Education Association, and Parents Against Racism in Education. In her articles and polemics, she was apt to cite Kenneth Clark or Franz Fanon, but most of her source material was provided by her opponents. Jammed filing cabinets encroached from the walls in her one-bedroom apartment. Over the years, she filled the drawers with clippings from newspapers and magazines, official school board publications, and research reports. Using these, she distilled the data into devastating accusations against the school system. When liberal educators issued their findings, she was able to refute them with their own evidence. Her rage transferred into columns and rows of pencil-scratched numbers. But, even as she analyzed the minutiae of double-humped curves and numerical "flip points" her work always kept focus on the larger issues. Racism in schools was not a statistical problem. It was not even an educational problem. It was a social problem.
In Stein's opinion, the racial divide in education reflected basic economic relations. "Blacks and Puerto Ricans are needed to man the restaurant kitchens, the hospital orderly jobs, the handtrucks and workrooms of the garment district, the unskilled port jobs, and the draft calls" she wrote. Whites, on the other hand, were "trained to fill the hundreds of thousands of office jobs in this financial and commercial capital of the world.".
Failure required everyone to contribute. "It took the effort of 63,000 teachers, thousands more administrators, scholars, and social scientists, and the expenditure of billions of dollars to achieve" Stein wrote. "Alone, however, the 'professional' educators could not have done it. They needed the active support of all the forces of business, real estate interests, trade unions, willing politicians, city officials, the police, and the courts." Teachers expected Black and Puerto Rican students to fail. Sociologists predicted their families to be pathological. Neighborhoods knew that integrated schools would not be able to teach effectively.
Stein challenged the City and its citizens to do better. Educational injustice could only end if prejudice itself was defeated. And this could only occur if the rising generations were raised together in tolerance. "If racism in the society at large becomes reflected in school policies" she concluded in one report"remedy must be sought through continuing and extending the battle against racism in society as a whole and by protecting the child from this racism. School policies and attitudes cannot be permitted to continue to reflect society's racism.".
Annie Stein's work remained unfinished when she died in May 1981. She was 68 years old.