In 1964 June Manning Thomas became one of the first thirteen Black students to desegregate Orangeburg High School in South Carolina. This extraordinary experience shaped her life and spurred in her a passion to understand racism and its effect on education in the Black community. In Struggling to Learn, Thomas details the personal trauma she and her Black classmates experienced during desegregation, the great difficulties Black communities have faced gaining access to K-12 and higher education, and the social and political tools Black southerners used to combat segregation and claim belonging.
Combining meticulous research and poignant personal narrative, this provocative true story reveals the long and painful struggle for equal education in the Jim Crow South. Thomas articulates why Black communities persisted in their pursuit of school desegregation despite the hostility and unfulfilled promises along the way. This is a story of constructive resilience—the fighting spirit of an oppressed people to ensure a better life for themselves and their children.
June Manning Thomas is the Mary Frances Berry Distinguished University Professor Emerita of Urban Planning at the University of Michigan.