Tom's River School Boycott 1927
Backstory and Context
The protest of Tom’s River demonstrated that it doesn’t take one thousand men or women to make a difference, as well as the fact that African Americans actively fought against the oppressive tactics of the white men in power.
Edgar Fink, supervising principal of the public school in Toms River, New Jersey had made a recent trip to Texas where he learned “how to treat the colored people.” Sadly his trip was not enlightening, but rather a lesson in segregation. Upon his return he made the decision to force the Township to lease an African Methodist Episcopal church in a nearby town.
Starting in the winter of 1927, thirty five black students were reassigned from the modern school of Tom’s River to the “primitive one-room structure”. The one room school room had once been the status quo, but teaching five to fifteen year olds in the same room was no longer justifiable. The parents of the children were apart of the generation that migrated north in order to work hard labor jobs. They had moved from an incredibly oppressive environment, and now resituated in the north they weren’t going to accept discrimination or segregation by the local government.
“We left the south because of Jim Crow laws and we are not going to stand for that treatment here,”-Statement produced by a committee of Tom’s River parents
A protest was organized by the fathers of the students, and eventually all but around five students were boycotting the newly established “Jim Crow” school. Thankfully James Weldon Johnson, one of the founding members of the NAACP and outstanding civil rights activists, caught wind of the boycott and sent a pressuring telegram to the states Governor Harry Moore. He urged Moore to dismiss Edgar Fink the supervising principal, referencing the states two hundred blacks as a large collection of votes he wouldn’t want to lose. While the town attempted to use fines and prison to force the parents to have their children attend schools, the parents had the full growing support of the NAACP and its legal powers behind them. Judge Harry Newman ruled that the actions of the school board were illegal and noted state law that states the illegality of barring a child from a public school based on religion, nationality, or color. He ordered the black students that were assigned to the one room schoolhouse to be sent back to the modern school.
This victory while only involving a small amount of parents and students initially was incredibly powerful. They were able to fight back against an oppressive system that almost never lost. Fighting against the threat of prison and fines the parents were able to successfully and rightfully reinstate their children into a modern school..