An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum Historical Context

Stephen Spender

Historical Context

Poverty as Social Injustice

When Spender wrote "An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum," the world was in the midst of major cultural and political change. In 1954, in the landmark case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation in the schools was unconstitutional. In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of a bus to a white passenger, inciting a bus boycott by the African American community that ultimately led to desegregation on buses in 1956. Beginning in 1960, student sit-ins and other non-violent protests became a popular and effective way of desegregating lunch counters, parks, swimming pools, libraries, and the like. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech, and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The year Spender's poem was published, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination of all kinds based on race, color, religion, or national origin. This legislation was unprecedented.

Behind these major historical events, countless lives were changed or ended during this tumultuous time. The late 1950s and early 1960s unearthed an America that had been kept hidden for centuries. Although slavery had been abolished, African Americans were dying every year at the hands of racists. Equality was a seemingly futile hope not only in America but also across the globe. Poverty was rampant among African Americans, especially in the South. They were often undereducated and perpetually oppressed by white southerners bent on...

(The entire section is 660 words.)