Dr. E. Babette Edwards is a parent leader and advocate for school reform in New York City. The Babette Edwards Education Reform in Harlem collection dates from 1964 to 2006 (bulk 1966-1977), and consists of files documenting her work with the Harlem Parents Union and as a member of the Governing Board of the Arthur A. Schomburg Intermediate School 201 Complex. The collection includes fact sheets, grant applications, meeting minutes, memoranda, organizing files, pamphlets, position papers, professional correspondence, and research regarding education policy and racial politics in New York City.
Biographical/historical: Dr. E. Babette Edwards began her career as a parent leader and advocate for school reform in New York City in the 1950s. Born and raised in Harlem, she remained in the neighborhood working to improve the education system and to raise awareness about educational issues, specifically those affecting African-American and Latino students.
In 1958, Edwards became involved with the negotiating committee to establish a new public school in Harlem, the Arthur A. Schomburg Intermediate School 201 Complex (I.S. 201), whose purpose was to alleviate overcrowding conditions in the neighborhood. The new school was conceived with the intention of having an integrated student body, and to offer a higher quality of education than the existing neighborhood schools. However, the Board of Education was unable to recruit white students to attend the school, and although it was slated to open in 1965, the school remained closed amid protests from parents.
In December 1966, Edwards participated in an occupation of a New York City Board of Education hearing in Brooklyn, in what was known as the People's Board of Education. At the hearing, members of the community were symbolically elected and took the seats of current Board of Education members, remaining in the hearing room for three days until they were arrested. The sit-in was an action to raise awareness about demands for decentralization of neighborhood public schools, and to promote a greater level of participation in educational matters by parents and community groups.
In 1967, Edwards served as co-chairperson on the East Harlem Task Force for Quality Education, which advocated for I.S. 201's independence from Board of Education management, and petitioned for an elected governing board of parents and community members to be put in place to run the school. In April of 1967, the school was opened to students when an agreement was reached with the Board of Education for I.S. 201 to be operated by a community-elected governing board that included parents, teachers, and community representatives. In the fall of 1967, Governing Board elections were held, and Edwards was elected as a community representative.
In September of 1968, I.S 201 received funding from the state of New York as one of three Community Education Centers known as "Demonstration Districts," whose purpose was to demonstrate how community control of a school district can improve the school. However, in 1970, Edwards and the Governing Board of I.S. 201 called for a boycott of the community board elections in response to the Decentralization Law of 1969. The new law placed control of the school's budget, staff hiring, textbook selection, curriculum, and construction under the jurisdiction of the New York City Board of Education, and created much larger school districts. In 1971, Edwards resigned from the Governing Board, and soon after the Board of Education voted to eliminate the demonstration districts.
Edwards went on to co-found and work as executive director of The Harlem Parents Union (HPU) in 1969. HPU's mission was to improve schools in Harlem and the education its students received. HPU performed advocacy services such as escorting parents to student suspension hearings, assisting students at the hearings, aiding students in gaining admissions to selective enrollment schools, meeting with school administrators, educating parent groups in school selection, communicating with local community school boards, and participating in citizen-led efforts to improve the public school system.
In 1974, Edwards and the HPU organized a New York City public schools boycott to protest conditions at neighborhood schools. The parents of eleven students withdrew their children from school and demanded that the Board of Education reallocate funds that would have been spent on public schooling to the families to spend on a higher quality education of their choosing. Edwards operated an alternative school from HPU's Harlem community center, which offered education to students participating in the boycott and to those dissatisfied with New York City's public school education.
Edwards was a strong proponent of implementing a voucher system for students enrolled in underfunded public schools. As chairperson of the Harlem based organization, Citizens Committee for Effective Education, she argued that vouchers would give the students at failing schools the same opportunities as those from more affluent backgrounds. In 1975, she presented her argument to the New York State Board of Regents at the Regents Legislative Conference in a statement entitled, "Education Vouchers for Blacks and Hispanics." In 1976, as a member of the National Board of Trustees with Citizens for Educational Freedom, Edwards spoke in support of education vouchers to members of the Democratic Platform Committee of the Democratic Party.
In 1993, Edwards and the HPU participated in an ACLU/NYCLU-authored amicus curiae in the case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. (CFE) v. State of New York. The case brought by the CFE contended that state funding for education in New York City was inadequate, unequal, and resulted in inferior education for students attending New York City public schools. The litigation asserted that these inequities were in violation of anti-discrimination provisions of the New York State Constitution, and Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Statutes.
In 2000, Edwards helped found the Harlem Education Roundtable, where she served as both chairperson and Board president. In 2002, the organization proposed building a public charter school in central Harlem called The Harlem Roundtable Academy for Excellence in Education. They also hosted workshops for parents and public school students about education policy.
Content: The collection consists of materials documenting Babette Edwards' work as a member of the Governing Board of the Arthur A. Schomburg Intermediate School 201 Complex, executive director of the Harlem Parents Union, as an advocate for education reform, and her extensive research on education practices and policy. The collection recounts Edwards' decades of organizing to improve the education available to New York City youth. It is particularly strong in documenting the history and controversy surrounding the I.S. 201 Complex, and the political climate in Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically regarding racial inequities in public schools, and the community's collective efforts to organize around this issue. The narratives for the various organizations of which Edwards was involved and causes she fought for are revealed in her files and research. The collection chronicles education reform efforts within the context of the civil rights and black power movements, and reveals the ways in which reform strategies evolved over time.
Files are arranged alphabetically by subject or name, and Edwards' file names were preserved.