Vanessa Siddle Walker, Hello Professor: A Black Principal and Professional Leadership in the Segregated South. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Pp. 312. Cloth $32.50.
Schooling for African Americans in the segregated South has been viewed historically through its deficits. As noted by Vanessa Siddle Walker, it is common to discuss segregated black schools in terms of funding inequalities, inadequate facilities, and the neglect of black educators' needs by white school board members and superintendents. Hello Professor offers a revisionist perspective by examining the experiences of Ulysses Byas, a black high school principal who worked in the Gainesville, Georgia, school system from 1957 to 1968. Using Byas's thoughts and writings, Walker portrays a sophisticated network of African American educators, parents, and community members working together nationally, regionally, and locally to craft an agenda that focused exclusively on the needs of African American children. At the forefront of this agenda were black intellectuals concerned with the plight of African American students, including Horace Mann Bond, Allison Davis, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Along with black school officials, these scholars developed a nontraditional pipeline that connected the best teaching practices of the era to black principals and communities in order to "address directly the limitations of their [black students'] segregated education and envision new possibilities."
One of the purveyors of the black intellectuals' agenda was Ulysses Byas who, like many black school principals of that period, was known as the "Professor. "Byas's biography is interwoven into this historical ethnography of the complex social environment of the Jim Crow South. Byas's leadership style and methods allowed him to successfully navigate the rules and regulations of white school boards and superintendents to upgrade black schools, even when this was unpopular among white taxpayers. Byas was revered as "Or. Jekyll and Mr. Hydell as he masterfully "played the game" of outwitting school officials, using the local press to expose inequalities, while masking his agenda of seeking educational equality for his students.
Byas's creative and resourceful leadership style was traced to influences in his childhood. Born in 1924, he was one of eight children, raised in poverty by a single mother who insisted that all her children complete high school. As a young man, Byas...