Producing Outstanding Scholarship
Dr. ArCasia James-Gallaway is an ACES Fellow and Assistant Professor of Teaching, Learning and Culture at Texas A&M University. We spoke to Dr. James-Gallaway about the Black History Month 2021 theme, The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. Her scholarship addresses the history of African American education and seeks to bridge past and present perspectives on African American struggles for educational justice. Dr. James-Gallaway is a first-generation college graduate and third generation Waco public schools alumna.
What is the inspiration for your research?
From a very young age, I was amazed by Black people's unrelenting fight for social justice. I was impressed by the fact that there are stories about Black people pushing back against oppression or subjugation. I am inspired because, especially in recent political moments, one can start to lose hope in some ways. But reading back on the history of how African Americans have consistently pushed and fought, even when we weren't always successful, inspired me to continue to tell those stories.
I am inspired by my lack of exposure to K-12 African American history education in Waco Independent School District. As a college student attending the University of Texas at Austin, I had the opportunity to take a course on African American history. Within the first couple weeks of the class, I was overcome by a paralyzing sense of betrayal. I realized that I had not learned any history about anybody that looked like me. I realized that, even as an advanced placement student, I was not afforded the opportunity to explore history from a critical perspective. The historical content made available to me wasn't reflective of my community, my people, and the constant struggle that we wage to correct the world. I continue my scholarship to ensure that future students of history have access to African American stories of resistance, struggle, and resilience.
I am inspired by the power of a good story. Stories matter. As a historian, my goal is to tell really good compelling stories that challenge what we think. All of these things shape how we see the world and how we interact with others.
Tell us about your background and how it shaped your research?
I abide by the adage that, “research is me-search” in some way. You can learn so much about who researchers are based on what they decide to study. I have the good fortune to study my home, Waco, Texas. My main project examines the history of school desegregation in Waco from the perspective of the Black students who had to desegregate. I search to understand what Black students went through on a daily basis. Desegregation usually focuses on “Brown V. Board of Education,” but in places like Texas and other southern states desegregation took place a generation later.
My research assesses what desegregation was like for the people I grew up around, people in my church family, people in my actual family. What was it like to not have access to schools and then to be forced into them? What were the everyday experiences of students in the classrooms, in the hallways, in the cafeterias? I also try to understand how those experiences may have been different based on the Black student’s gender or their socioeconomic background. Exploration of the intersection of race with other identity characteristics revealed differences in the experiences of Black people. For example, the experience of a Black girl from a working class background who didn't have indoor plumbing might differ significantly from that of a Black boy who came from a middle class home where both of his parents had master’s degrees and were both employed? My research reveals that while individuals in both categories experienced great hardship, they were impacted in different ways.
I was informed directly by my own experiences as a student who attended Waco Independent School District schools from kindergarten to 12th grade. I attended a school whose student population was predominantly Black until 3rd grade when my parents moved to the historically white area of West Waco. I asked myself even as a young child and obviously my questions evolved as I did, “how can this happen?” My research is an opportunity I created for myself to answer those questions and work backwards to understand how this came to be. How in the late 90s and early 2000s did I attend two different schools in the same district that are still very segregated?
Some of what informs my research is the desire to understand why I was one of the very few students of color in my classes at Waco High School where the student population was predominantly Black and Brown. My research has shown that once schools desegregated, student tracking occurred. Students were placed in ability groups in an attempt to continue to segregate students within the same school. I used oral history interviews to talk to former students who had very similar experiences unpon being invited into the advanced placement track in the 70s. They were the only Black students in their classes. So much of what I experienced was an attempt to look back and understand how history unfolded.
My goal is to produce a monograph, which I have named Black Waco. It is really important to write this book because it fills a great historical void. I never learned as a student that Black Waco had a history where the segregated Black schools won international band competitions and had a Black student who led a walk out. My research recounts how students organized to protest against the closing of the G.W. Carver High School, which was a staple in the Black community. In completing this research, I learned that the civil rights movement or the Black Power movement wasn't just something that happened in North Carolina; there were currents of it in Waco. This is powerful.
My work is an attempt to give back to the community that poured so much into me, made me who I am, and helped to give me the perspective I have. The next phase of this project is to understand Waco Independent School District through the lens of three Black women in the same family who all went through that school district. From my perspective, my mother's perspective, and my maternal grandmother's perspective. I am interested in using our perspectives and our experiences as a lens through a family of Black females. What can we learn and what lessons can we provide not only about Waco Independent School District, but any school district that teaches Black girls? I am really excited about all the work that the Office for Diversity is doing. African American history is culture, is essential, is foundational to the American society.
What do you like to do when you’re not researching/writing?
COVID-19 has halted a lot of my hobbies, but pre-COVID I really liked to travel. I like to put myself in situations where I have to learn lessons that I cannot learn at home. This was one of the reasons I taught history in China for a year after college. I did that in large part because I knew that being in China would force me to develop a skill set and a perspective that I could not get at home.
Lately, given the pandemic, I use a lot of my free time to strengthen my fiction reading skills. Fiction is tough for me to read, with the exception of greats like Toni Morrison. Fiction is tough, but I think it is very rewarding to strengthen those skills and spend some time away from my work while still providing an opportunity to think about ideas I might be researching a little differently. I also really like to organize things. Organizing gives me peace and calm that counterbalances so much chaos everywhere around us. Organization is a remarkable self-soothing mechanism.
Crystal S. Carter