In 1957, the Cleveland Municipal School District’s (CMSD) Board of Education implemented a relay program to address issues of overcrowding in Cleveland public schools. Solely affecting schools that served a predominately black student body on Cleveland’s rigidly segregated East Side, this program split the school day into two three-and-a-half hour sessions to accommodate increasing student body sizes, shortening the school day for African American pupils by an hour-and-a-half compared to the five hours in the classroom given to white peers. As mothers of children on the relay program realized that this was the Board of Education’s permanent solution to overcrowding, they mobilized to protest the racial discrimination pervasive in the Board’s policies. Their picketing and sit-in demonstrations fueled by emotions such as anger and frustration laid the foundation for the larger school desegregation movement that occurred in Cleveland, Ohio from 1957 to 1976. The purpose of this independent study is to examine African American women as the driving force behind Cleveland’s school desegregation movement. Through their personal connection to their children, mothers sustained the movement’s momentum as it faced resistance from the Board of Education and whites, using emotion as a political tool to garner further support. By analyzing mothers’ activism in Cleveland’s desegregation movement, this study also seeks to show the significance of Cleveland in terms of the national civil rights movement and shed light on the imperative contributions of women often overshadowed in the popular civil rights narrative by male historical subjects.


Biro Walters, Jordan




Social History | United States History


Desegregation, Education, African American, motherhood

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis Exemplar



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