Maxwell AFB and DoDEA Reflect on Integrating Pioneer Public Schools in Alabama > Air Force > Article Display


This year the Department of Defense Education Activity celebrates 75 years of military-related student education, engagement and empowerment. DoDEA is also proud of its history of advocating for justice and equality.

Indeed, in 1963, Maxwell Air Force BaseMaxwell’s DoDEA school, Maxwell Elementary/Middle School, was one of only three integrated public schools in the state of Alabama.

“Maxwell was at the forefront of integrated public education in the South,” said Col. Eries Mentzer, commander of the 42nd Air Base Wing. “The DoDEA school was needed in 1963 to ensure Maxwell Airmen had the freedom to servethe ability to raise themselves to the best of their abilities knowing that, regardless of race, their military children had access to a high-quality, integrated public education.


Prior to the mid-1960s, black and white children in the South attended separate schools following the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Plessy vs. Fergusonwho established the “separate but equal” doctrine used to justify racial segregation.

Maxwell Elementary School opened in 1938 as a kindergarten and high school for grades 1 through 3 for the children of officers and NCOs assigned to Maxwell Field. In 1940 an elementary school was built on Maxwell for grades 1-6. The base operated the school under the supervision of the Montgomery County School Board.

In March 1948, base management ceded control of Maxwell Elementary School to the Montgomery County School Board. The school board operated the school in accordance with contemporary Alabama laws; that is, like a separate school.

In 1954, the Supreme Court decision Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education knocked down Plessy against Ferguson. As a result, the DoD announced that all schools at US military installations would operate in an integrated fashion.

However, the Montgomery County School Board superintendent refused to incorporate Maxwell’s new school facility, located right next to base property, saying it was a violation of the state’s Constitution. ‘Alabama. The language governing separate schooling remains unchanged in the Alabama Constitution today.

As a result, the U.S. government announced on March 16, 1963, that it would build an elementary school on Maxwell that would operate as a fully integrated school.

On September 3, 1963, the new Maxwell Elementary School opened with an initial enrollment of approximately 540 students, including the first black students. Maxwell Elementary School became the first school to integrate into Montgomery County; hiring the first black staff member, librarian Ms. Wilhelmina Baldwin of the Tuskegee Institute, in 1963.

Ten to fifteen black students attend the new integrated school. As part of the school integration process, racial distinction was not made on enrollment cards because, according to Principal Sorenson in 1963, “children are children.”

“It is helpful to understand how DoDEA, through its history, has contributed to the desegregation of education in America,” said Ms. Judith A. Minor, Director of Student Excellence, DoDEA Americas. “Our core values ​​of student focus, excellence, continuous improvement, diversity, individual potential, lifelong learning, shared responsibility and trust continue to inspire our mission. . We strive to advance the vision of “educational excellence for every student, every day, everywhere”.

Maxwell and DoDEA continue to work together to provide quality education to military-related students, regardless of race, ethnicity, color, or creed. Maxwell and DoDEA are further expanding educational opportunities by leading a DoD Pilot Program which allows children of active duty members who live off base to attend base school.

“We are incredibly proud of Maxwell’s role in breaking down barriers to service and promoting high-quality public education in Montgomery,” Mentzer said. “This is another great example of how Air Force Base Maxwell and the Air Force have impacted social justice in America. We thank DoDEA and our local, county, city, and state partners to unite with Maxwell to ensure that K-12 education serves as an opportunity rather than a challenge for Maxwell Airmen, Guardians and their families. By working together, we can secure freedom to serve, enabling our Airmen and Guardians to be the most ready to lead in today’s increasingly complex global security environment.


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