History: Homeschool Warrior and Pioneer

The African-American March in Homeschooling

By Raymond Moore

About the time talk was spreading that our black brothers and sisters were indifferent to home education, I had the delightful experience of meeting Helen Jackson …in court. The talk was rampant that Blacks feared home education was being used as an excuse for separating Blacks and Whites.

That was not true at all. And I’ll tell you how I know. My Black friends have minds of their own. I found that out when we had three of them on our Research Foundation Board at one time: Mylas Martin of IBM, Harvard professor Stuart Taylor, and Dr. John Ford, who was at various times, Mr. San Diego, vice president of the California State Board of Education, and later president. He is still a consulting specialist who lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California with his lovely wife, Ida. Dr. Ford was chairman of our Research Committee, the operational arm that contributed largely to the pioneering and development of the modern homeschool movement when Reader’s Digest picked up the research from Harper’s and scattered it to 52,000,000 readers around the world. The men were not rabble-rousing, color-conscious activists. None of us even considered at our meetings that they were men of color.
In fact, Dr. Ford is the hero who took copies of the Phi Delta Kappan – America’s leading educational journal – to the California Legislature that destroyed the efforts of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to get all California tots into school by age two and a half. Our cover story on the June 1972 issue of that magazine, and three guest editorials, was a long report of our research that targeted the California early schooling plan. The State School Head was Dr. Wilson Riles, an elegant Black man. But no favors from Dr. Ford!

We lost Helen Jackson’s whereabouts for several years and when we were finally able to get in touch with her we found her story continues logically with five Jackson achievers, Helen’s kids, all well-moored Christians:
o Johnny, age 16, a distance runner who is looking forward to a math/physics major in college.
o Zakiaya, 17, a National Merit Scholar who was president of the student union in her secondary school and has turned down an all-expense scholarship at MIT for $35,000 award from Vanderbilt U. for a career in bioengineering and physics
o Isa, 25, who after accepting a scholarship in chemical engineering from University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has formed his own, now nationally known construction engineering firm.
o Malik, 27, a Robert Morris College presidential scholarship grad who is now a financial analyst and software specialist.
o Baqiyyah, 30, near image of her mother, a scholarship student all the way. After 5-years as a missionary, is taking a teaching MA.

We could go on and on about a graphics genius and his well-known editor wife – Art and Pat Humphrey, now of Fort Worth, and deeper into the Lone Star State to Earle and Erma Toussaint of Austin. Both couples have been stars against the backdrop of trials during the early years of the homeschool movement. One of these days we must tell you more about an array of heroes and heroines of all colors and creeds from Maine, Michigan and Georgia to Texas, Colorado, California and Washington. Hopefully that will reach you via an authentic history of home education early in 2001, told by those who were there.

Meanwhile we continue the story of a rare heroine whose hard-working siblings all know what it’s like to occupy scholarship row:

In 1986 Fort Worth Attorney Shelby Sharpe asked me to be expert witness in a class-action suit instituted by Gary and Cheryl Leeper et al. against the State of Texas. I anticipated a tough battle. Some of our greatest homeschool heroes and heroines, starting with Ruth Canon and leaders of the Truth Forum, were from the Lone Star State. Its State Education officials had pained us for years. Make no mistake, whether for good or bad, Texas can be tough. Yet the judge was good news. He opened the way for a little black lady to gently peel anti-family toughs like a hot, boiled potato. She left no doubts that she knew how to peel potatoes. Her little paring knife had a handle of love and a steel blade of truth.
My recollections are not exact; but the nuances are crystal clear in my memory. I remember the kind judge. With him and Attorney Sharpe, my job was a song. His honor freely expressed approval of our evidence. This was Black-Hispanic-White class-action synergy.

The bailiff called the petite mother to the stand from the back of the courtroom, her five young ones strung along beside her. She responded with a smile – nothing supercilious; just confident. Those who know Helen Jackson, know her faith in God.

Three Texas State attorneys, one an assistant attorney-general, were arrayed against her. They knew my background, but obviously knew little about this bit of Black femininity. They hadn’t bothered to check her out, although she was the Black plaintiff in the class-action triumvirate that was accusing the State of harassment for teaching their young at home.

Then all changed! One of the Texas team, I believe the assistant attorney general, lit into her. I feared over-kill, like a sledge-hammer hitting an upholstery tack, but soon found that the sledge was cardboard, and the ‘nail’ was hardened steel. I don’t have the record handy, so I offer only a sketch at best, but the outcome was about like this:

“Mrs. Jackson, Do you believe in women working?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Do you work?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Where?”
“At home.”
“Have you ever had a job?” The questioning moved along in what seemed a taunting or disrespectful tone, including his eyes and body language, as if to find out what kind of broom Helen had pushed. She took it all patiently, even sublimely. The attorney seemed irritated at her quiet freedom.
“Yes, sir” she replied.
“Where did you work?”
“In Houston.” She was brief, determined not to reveal her surprise until the last moment.
“Where in Houston?”
“At NASA.”
“What did you do at NASA?” At this point he smiled indulgently, as if wondering if she worked in the restaurant or in housekeeping. This was the opportunity she had patiently waited for…
“Well, you see, I am a John’s Hopkins University astronautic electronics engineer. At NASA, I was promoted to be the first black woman in space when I discovered that my oldest son was developing serious emotional symptoms and needed me more than NASA did. So I returned to teach him at home. And he is doing very well.”

The lawyer’s jaw dropped. Another attorney dropped her pencil. The judge peered over his spectacles with a big grin. There was some commotion in the Court, but he soon brought down his gavel. He ultimately gave us the case. Although the State twisted and weaseled in order to cloud it, Texas has been among our freest of the 50 states and the U.S. territories ever since.

Shortly after, Phyllis Schlafly, herself something of a heroine, with her Eagle Forum, made Helen “National Mother of the Year.” Often she was compared with Crista McAuliffe, the school-teacher mom who left her family to meet tragedy as the first woman in space. Invariably it was decided that Helen’s mothering way was really the better way.

This article was originally printed in two issues of the Moore Report International (Sep/Oct 00 and Nov/Dec 00)

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One Comment

  1. Cat
    Posted April 17, 2021 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    As someone with a terrifyingly intelligent homeschooling mother who has often faced similar condescension, I find this story IMMENSELY satisfying and will be looking up Mrs. Jackson. She sounds like an amazing person!

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