Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


White and black teachers associations decide to merge

This year, exactly a decade after Brown v. Board of Education declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, the Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA) in the USA passed Resolution 12. This resolution called for the merger of the predominantly Black American Teachers Association (ATA) and the predominantly white NEA. 

The ATA was founded in 1904 in Nashville under the name of National Association of Colored Teachers. One of the founding members was John Robert Edward Lee, who was born a slave in Texas and later became the director of the Academic Department at Tuskegee Institute. By 1907, acknowledging that not all teachers working with black youth were colored, the name was changed to the National Association of Teachers in Colored Schools. In 1937, the name was changed again to the American Teachers Association. 

The NEA was founded in 1857 "to elevate the character and advance the interests of the profession of teaching and to promote the cause of popular education in the United States". In 1925, when NEA President Mary McSkimmon created the NEA Committee on Problems in Negro Education and Life, she opened the door for formal cooperation between the ATA and the NEA. 

Since that moment, the two groups began to work together in a variety of initiatives, like the struggle to achieve accreditation for African-American schools and colleges in 1934. These combined efforts continued over the years. A decade later, in 1947, the NEA challenged the segregationist laws in Southern states and the District of Columbia by affiliating 18 black education associations. Two years later, the NEA continued challenging the racist laws when African-American delegates from states with segregated black and white associations attended the 1949 NEA convention. By 1951, John Warren Davis, a former ATA president and a board member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, became the first African-American chairperson of an NEA Commission. The following year, former ATA President George William Gore, Jr. was elected as NEA’s first-ever black vice-president.

After 40 years of informal cooperation, and following the decision to merge in 1964, the ATA and the NEA finally merged in 1966 in Miami, Florida. Two years later, in 1968, Elizabeth Duncan Koontz became the first African-American president of NEA. In the years that followed, state affiliates also merged. After the merge, a stronger and more plural NEA continued the struggle for further desegregation and for equal educational opportunities. 


National Education Association (2004) American Teachers Association: The Story of the ATA and the NEA. 

Prepared by DS (OISE/University of Toronto)


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