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Race is still a barrier to education

His grandmother’s struggles inspire Cleveland Hayes.

Carly Hill
News Editor

Cleveland Hayes, assistant professor of education, spoke from the heart Monday focusing on the experience of his grandmother, an African American school teacher working in the heart of the Jim Crow South.

As part of the faculty lecture series, Hayes’ talk, “Why I teach: An analysis of one mid-20th century Mississippian educator’s pedagogical perspectives and practices.”

Hayes said his grandmother’s experiences, and that of other black women teachers in the South at that time translated into critical race theory.

“Race is still an important factor in American life,” Hayes said. “Before we can pull back that onion on other factors, we must first focus on race.”

His grandmother, Olivia Smith, began teaching in Mount Olive, Mississippi in 1936. She earned $26 a month in trade, which could be used at the general store, he said.

Teachers were not required to have a college degree, and Smith waited until 26 years after she began teaching to acquire one. Black children often only attended school for three hours a day, and missed class to pick cotton for their families.

The Jim Crow south was extremely segregated, and many blacks sharecropped with white landowners, starting a cycle of debt. Sharecroppers were given land to live and work on, but were forced to purchase supplies from the owner of the property.

Smith established a steady income through teaching and taking other jobs, such as picking cotton.

“She ended sharecropping in my family,” Hayes said.

Hayes then discussed how race is still an important factor today, and must be integrated into how teachers teach students.

“There is a really big crisis in education with black and Latino males,” Hayes said.

Through his grandmother’s success with many children and his family, Hayes draws that empowering black and minority students today can help their circumstances and futures.
“When you look at the experience of black and Latino males, it is almost like genocide,” Hayes said. “They are going to jail.”

Molly Leveque, junior art history major, was intrigued by the topic of the lecture because members of her family were sharecroppers in Mississippi as well.

“I thought the lecture was enlightening,” Leveque said. “We don’t think about race enough.”

An intense discussion occurred after the lecture commenced, with many of the students and faculty in attendance participating.

“I liked how it got people thinking about how we can fix this,” said Margo Cash, sophomore art history major. “Society needs to ask these tough questions.”

After it was over, many faculty members remained to discuss the topic of race and its effects on teaching.

“People presented questions of good things that I haven’t thought about,” Hayes said.

Carly Hill can be reached at

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