Interview with Thomas Atkins
QUESTION 7
JACKIE SHEARER:

Can you also give me some background on how the NAACP developed a focus on education to begin with?

TOM ATKINS:

The NAACP--ah, agenda for dealing with problems in the Black community has always been essentially the same. It was to deal with all them. Ah, housing, employment, and, and ah, political action and, and ah, public accommodations. But education has always been ah, the top ah, of that tree. Ah, and the reason is a belief that unless the cycle of poverty and lack of preparation can be broken ah, the community is destined forever ah, to be in the role of an underclass. And that means getting to the kids, helping the kids to know more and therefore be prepared to do more than their parents, each generation. So education ah, was the logical opening wedge. The other reason ah, education was, was chosen as an area of focal, focal point is that it affected so many people simultaneously. No other institution, no other public institution in which there were major problems had centralized control and simultaneously affected so many people as the public school system. So if you tackle the public school system, at least there was somebody to talk to. You want to deal with housing, who do you talk to? The real estate board? The brokers? The individual home owners? A person wants to sell or wants to buy, where do you go? In education there's a focal point by the nature of the beast. Ah, and that's what led back in the ear--in the late '40s and early '50s to an increasing focus on education. Those race factors. Thurgood Marshall and the people who worked with him in developing a strategy and in honing the techniques ah, saw this as an opening wedge, the thing that could be used to pry open ah, a whole system of segregation and discrimination.