Something of our own: "Muhammad Speaks" in the cause of Black agency in school reform, 1961--1975

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


John Briggs


Black agency, Reform, School desegregation, Civil rights movement, Nation of Islam, Black press, Muhammad Speaks

Subject Categories



This historical analysis of the Black newspaper Muhammad Speaks draws from oral histories, public documents, private collections, Black press archives, and fifteen years of the weekly newspaper itself to examine the wider role of Muhammad Speaks in framing public discussion in Black communities on school reform in the 1960s and 1970s. The paper is examined for its discussion of dominant social ideas from the perspective of underrepresented voices, revealing a distinct and sophisticated counterpublic exchange of ideas. The study explores how editors and journalists employed news coverage and editorials to stage arguments regarding who schools are most answerable to, what knowledge is most worth learning, who can be entrusted to educate oppressed communities, and to what extent dominant group cultural norms should define the character of public education. Joining the conversation were Muhammad Speaks ' panoply of Black contributors, including: separatists, integrationists, grassroots and civic leaders, and parents and children who demonstrated dynamic patterns of Black American thought regarding what educational reforms are best suited for liberatory ends.

The study argues that Muhammad Speaks ' educational discourse complicates presumed dichotomies between the educational thought of Black Americans who promoted a strategy of separatism and those who promoted a strategy of racial integration, by revealing historically important overlap between the two positions. Moreover, contributors denounced legal segregation as inherently evil and unjust yet did not consider legal desegregation to be the only means of achieving Black school improvement; nor was integration seen as the decisive end goal. Instead Muhammad Speaks' contributors aimed to redefine the priorities of school reform by calling for an education that was responsive to Black necessities, substantiated by lived Black experiences and dedicated to Black liberation. The paper's contributors further advocated for Black agency in determining the function of schooling through direct participation as teachers and school leaders and through local school governance.


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