Lost stories of training head start teachers: The University of Alabama, a Federal program, and meanings of race
The purpose of this study was to examine the partnership between the University of Alabama and Project Head Start from 1965 to 1975. Head Start was a War on Poverty program that sought to provide preschool education to poor children, first through a summer program, and later through a yearlong school program. Project Head Start created a need for trained early childhood educators. In the rush to launch the program in mere months, universities planned training programs across the country to prepare teachers for the first Head Start program. The University hosted the second largest training in the country with teachers in attendance from Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia. From June to July 1965, the University of Alabama trained over 1,700 teachers during three separate one-week sessions hosted at four sites. While the Office of Economic Opportunity specifically designed Head Start to address poverty, race played an unmistakable role in the program. Launched after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Head Start was designed at the federal level to be a completely racially integrated program. While this lofty goal was not achieved, especially in the initial launch of the program, the aim of desegregation was realized in the teacher-training program at the University of Alabama. Through archival research and oral history, this study primarily focused on the Head Start teacher-training programs at The University of Alabama that were interracial programs at a time when widespread desegregation had yet to reach either the University or city. This study also investigated the initial implementation of Head Start in Tuscaloosa in 1965. In contrast to the teacher-training program that occurred on campus, the town’s Head Start operated as a completely segregated program illustrating the persistence of segregation in the South and underscoring the significance of the desegregated program that occurred at the University. The partnership between the University and Project Head Start extended through the 1970s and contributed to desegregation of the campus Child Development Center.