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Charles Redd receives a hug from Mayor Tom Henry after Redd was awarded the “Key to the Fort” in a 2008 ceremony. Redd’s work to integrate the city’s schools is a large part of his legacy in the wake of his death last month.

The torch has been passed

Redd’s strides in education remind us how much remains

Fort Wayne community activist Charles Redd, who died last month, played a key role in the educational history of Fort Wayne.

Since 1991 I have been researching Fort Wayne’s educational history. Since 2005 I have focused on the history of desegregation in Fort Wayne. Redd emerged as a key player in the earliest struggles to desegregate Fort Wayne’s public schools, especially in his role, from 1968 through 1976, as executive director of the Fort Wayne Urban League.

The CEO of the Lincoln Life Company served on the Urban League board and recruited Redd to be executive director.

The Urban League took a leadership role in supporting desegregation; Redd became the face and voice of that leadership.

As Urban League head, Redd advocated for equal opportunity for all in housing, health care, jobs and education, but he claimed that education was key to all the others.

At that time five elementary schools, one junior high school and one high school had a majority of black students.

In 1969 Redd, along with the NAACP and the Ministerial Alliance, a group of ministers from black churches in Fort Wayne, led a boycott of those elementary schools. The children attended Freedom Schools housed in Fort Wayne’s black churches.

This action at the beginning of the school year threatened the public schools with a reduced head count of students and, thus, reduced state funding.

The Freedom Schools ended after eight days; the leaders exacted promises from the school board to improve conditions in the black schools.

The Indiana superintendent of public instruction declared that the coalition of the Ministerial Alliance, the Urban League, and the NAACP had to reach an agreement with FWCS over the building program. All future new elementary school buildings would be frozen until an agreement was reached.

In 1971 FWCS desegregated its secondary schools. Leaders in the black community played a role in overseeing that process, even though some did not see desegregation as the answer. According to Redd, the leaders were on the same page on achieving high-quality education for all black children; however, they had differences on the pace and aggressiveness of pushing for that quality through the desegregation process.

Redd’s leadership role in Fort Wayne’s educational history and his lifetime commitment to civil rights, human rights, and public service are all to be lauded. He, as well as many others who participated in the desegregation process, demonstrate the passion and commitment Fort Wayne citizens have always had for educational quality and equal opportunity for all students, even when they disagreed on the best strategy for achieving it.

Quality education and equality of educational opportunity are still being struggled over.

We owe it to inspirational leaders such as Charles Redd that we engage in those struggles with the kind of passion and commitment he modeled.

His death alerts us to the ongoing need for informed and compassionate educational leadership, and to our responsibility to act on our deeply held beliefs to educate all children well. He has passed the baton to us.

Kathleen Murphey is a professor and associate dean of the College of Education and Public Policy at IPFW. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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