Oral Histories

Interview of Owen Knox

Teacher, elementary school principal, and assistant superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District. UCLA adjunct professor of education and Pepperdine University assistant professor of education. Founder of Council of Black Administrators (COBA), National and Western Regional Councils on Educating Black Children, and the Watts Learning Center.
Black Educators in Los Angeles, 1950-2000
African American History
Biographical Note:
Teacher, elementary school principal, and assistant superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District. UCLA adjunct professor of education and Pepperdine University assistant professor of education. Founder of Council of Black Administrators (COBA), National and Western Regional Councils on Educating Black Children, and the Watts Learning Center.
Stevenson, Alva Moore
Knox, Owen
Persons Present:
Knox and Stevenson.
Place Conducted:
UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alva Moore Stevenson, Program Coordinator in the UCLA Library Department of Special Collections; M.A., African American Studies, UCLA.Stevenson prepared for the interviews by reviewing secondary sources on Black education nationwide, in Los Angeles and the history of Blacks in Los Angeles. Stevenson, as a native of Los Angeles, was already well-versed in much of the history of the Black community.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Knox was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
7 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series documents efforts to secure quality education for Black students in the Los Angeles area in the years 1950-2000. This includes the issues of integration/desegregation, increasing the numbers of Black teachers and administrators and the struggle against discriminatory hiring practices, securing equitable resources and safe learning environments, and maximizing achievement levels
Birth in Baton Rouge—Parents’ ccupations—Mixed race origins of grandparents—Grandparents’ occupations—Building of the family home—Significance of owning a home—Family builds Mount Zion Baptist Church—Headley Family—Mother’s role as an Evangelist—First Experience at Elementary School--Mother’s role in Baptist Home Mission Society—Reverend Gardner Taylor—Demographics of Baton Rouge—Experience at McKinley High School—Experience in “Gang”—Stealing from Community--Significance of Experience—Experiences with Discrimination—Huey Long—Attending Leland College--Relationship with Black Professors—Eddie G. Robinson—Teaching at DeSoto Parish Training School--Incident at Department Store—Mother’s Advice on Race—The Odd Men—Underground Railroad--Differences in Parents’ Views on Acceptance of Discrimination—Anger at Discrimination—Experience with Dynamic of Light and Dark Skin Color—Date with Creole Girl—Blacks Passing for White--Segregated Social Events—Correlation between Skin Color and Success—Emphasis upon Education –Church Support for Knox’s Education—Education As a Way Out—Performing in Elementary School Play—Black History Taught—Harlem Renaissance—College Training of Black Teachers—Visiting Tougaloo College.
Knox’s brothers and sisters—Their role in his upbringing and education—Guidance from family members—Influence of family life—Sisters’ teacher training—Swallowing a tack—Early preparation for dealing with violence—Influences on Career Choice—Scarcity of employment in Baton Rouge—Steering Black college students in southern Louisiana to northern schools—Pursuing medical school in Chicago--Insensitivity of Chicago residents—Seeking college funding at Manufacturer’s Bank—Teaching position at De Soto Parish Training School—Antagonizing “White Element” of the City—Traveling to Los Angeles—Attending Summer Session at USC—First experience attending school with Whites—More advanced lab—Cooking mostly vegetables and fruit—Scarcity of meat—Innovative cooking with squash—Occupations and deaths of friends—Mother’s evangelism—Black women’s historic leadership roles—Black Louisianans who migrated to Los Angeles— Membership in Hamilton Methodist Church—Support for civil rights movement in the South—Voting for Augustus Hawkins—Differences in African American and larger Los Angeles communities—Misperceptions about Los Angeles as “Land of Freedom”—Experiences with hiring and workplace discrimination—King Rally and March to Downtown Los Angeles—Obtaining Teaching Credential—First Teaching Position—Obtaining Administrative Credential—Lack of parity and resources in South L.A. Schools—Type of Black history taught—LAUSD Office of Urban Affairs—Meeting of principals—Confrontation with White principal—Number of Black administrators in early 1950s—Composition of L.A. School Board—Faye Allen.
More on first teaching position—Quality and diversity of teachers—Neighborhood surrounding school—Different teaching styles—Effects of economically depressed neighborhood—Education to change lives—Community response to poor education—Teacher quality in South L.A.—United Civil Rights Committee of NAACP—Black Board of Education—Black Congress—Legacy of Walter Bremond—Effect of experiences with racism in Louisiana—Similarities in educational disparities between Louisiana and Los Angeles—Difference in educational standards—Visible and invisible disparities—Differing philosophies on addressing problems—Bias in employment and promotions— Restrictive housing covenants—Demographic parameters of Black community in early 1950s— Changing demographics of Black Los Angeles—Dispersal of Blacks in later years and loss of political power—Access to public accommodations and businesses—Dining in Downtown Los Angeles—Frequenting theaters on Central Avenue—Experiencing great entertainment—Decline of Central—Effect on Black businesses—Effect of Brown v. Board locally—Changes as a result of Blacks in government—Implications of nationwide changes in the '60s—Watts Rebellion of 1965—Disrespect for African Americans—Replacing White principal at 102nd Street Elementary School—Response to Rebellion—Office of Urban Affairs— Principals' Examination—Educational disparities—Meeting with superintendent— Formation of Council of Black Administrators (COBA)—Perception of COBA as a separatist organization—Original mission.
Impact of King and Kennedy assassinations on schools and community—Violence prevention in the aftermath—Effect of Black Panther Party—Breakfast Program—Symbionese Liberation Army and US Organization—United Civil Rights Committee—Walter Bremond and the Black Congress—Fred Dumas—Organizing COBA—Dumas’ legacy—His lecture on “corporate image”—Pioneering King Holiday—Role of Office of Urban Affairs—Dumas’ role in integrating Valley schools—Increasing numbers of Black administrators—Disparity in funding for South Central L.A. schools— Teacher quality in the inner city—Paucity of academic success among African American students—Blaming Black parents and students—Changing demographics—Applying for training teacher positions—Passed over for assistant principal positions—Fear of integration—Communist Party recruitment at high schools—Jordan Educational Complex—“Blowouts”—CP organizers at Fremont High School—Definition of a revolutionary— Advice to African American students—Walkout at Hamilton High School—Reaction to CP organizers.
Impact of court cases on integration of the district—Black community discourse on educational iniquities—Community groups coalesce on integration—Necessity of participation by educators—Role of integration in addressing iniquities—Disproportionate number of Black students in remedial and special education classes—Self-segregation of Black students—Views of Black parents on integration—Transport-A-Child (TAC) program—Distrust of busing by Black parents—Safety concerns—Achievement levels of students –Entertainer support and funding for TAC—Removal of bungalow—Busing plan for the Valley—Acceptance of Knox’s plan by the court—Board member remark—Nira Hardon—Background of Crawford v. Board—Intent to segregate Jordan and South Gate High Schools—Case solidifies support for integration—Black organization opinions on busing—Concerns about desegregation of teaching staff—Impact of busing White students to formerly all-Black schools—Opposition to busing in Valley and West Los Angeles—White misperceptions of Black community—Why white kids were not bused—Magnet School Program—Busing anathema to segregationists—Death threats—Common ground between Black and White parents—Socializing between the two groups—Similar financial problems—BUSTOP---Support of integration by Norma and Burt Lancaster—Positive experiences with White supporters—Influence of Knox’s background on integration views—Difference between desegregation and integration—Positive aspects of desegregation—Missed potential of integration—Costs of busing on Black community—Locke High School Band—Talent drain—Compromised academic achievement—Teacher expectations regarding Black students—Failure of busing program—Senate Bill 1—Voluntary busing program—Ted Alexander—Ten Schools Program—Demographic shift in the district—Children Can No Longer Wait program—Pedagogy for educating African American children—Enduring problem of low achievement.
Augustus Hawkins convenes National Council on Educating Black Children (NCEBC)—His call to action—Blueprint for Action—Hawkins’s modus operandi—Dividing NCEBC into regions—Western Regional Council on Educating Black Children—Highlights of Blueprint—African American students as proxies—Costs of non-education—Disputes at Baltimore planning meeting—Debates around Black English—Knox’s views on African American dialect—Different ways of transmitting thought—Black English and Oakland School District—Similarities between bilingual education and Black English—Ronald Edmonds and More Effective Schools—Ten Schools Program—Culturally relevant pedagogy—Multicultural education curricular development—African influence in the development of mathematics—African contributions to history and culture of America and Western civilization—Pythagorean Theorem—Additional skills of African American students—President Obama’s attention to educational needs of African American students—Effective training of teachers and administrators.