History of the
Historically Black Independent Schools
in New York City
1704 – 2020
Gail Foster, Ed.D.
January 21, 2004, Updated 2017 and 2020.
In c1992, the Association of Historically Black Independent Schools of New York, sent a delegation of
HBIS founders to the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington DC, for a meeting
organized by the Institute for Independent Education.
L - R: Joseph Alexander, Joan Davis Ratteray, Ora Razaq Clark, Ayana Johnson, Gail Foster,
Floyd Flake, Orlando Gober, Taunya Queen-Melendez, Adele Brandon-Toussaint
History of Black Independent Schools in New York
Dr. Foster spent 15 years collecting data on and researching Black independent schools.
In the 1990s, she toured Black boarding schools in the South with her mother, collecting data on many schools that no longer exist. That data is waiting to be published.
1704 – The first school established in the North for Blacks was founded in New York City by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (later known as Dr. Bray’s Associates). Its educational goal was to prepare Blacks for religious salvation.
1787 – The first New York African Free School was established. The school was founded by white “gradual” abolitionists for free Africans. The African Free School would eventually multiply into several schools and evolve into the city’s segregated Black public school system.
1815 – The earliest weekday private school on record was founded by an African in New York City. The African School, as it was called, was established in 1815 by Peter Cruger in his home. This was probably the first “Black-owned” independent school in New York.
1827 – In an address to Black youth, William Hamilton a successful education activist complained that white teachers did not expect enough of black students in the private schools operated by white religious benevolent societies. Many parents waged successful school boycotts.
c. 1830 – Parent boycotts and protests led to the successful removal of a white principal from the African Free School. While parents felt he believed in their children’s ability to learn, they disagreed with his educational goals for their children (ultimately, to return to Africa). These protests also led to the hiring of Black teachers until eventually most of the teachers in their schools were black. Mabee notes “With the change to predominantly black teachers, attendance in the Manumission Society's schools went up sharply.”
1827 – Slavery is abolished in New York State.
1831 – Blacks, then led by the popular black rector Peter Williams, organized a private high school for the study of the classics, the Phoenix High School for Colored Youth. This was one of many efforts by Black people over the decades to establish high schools in Brooklyn, none of which succeeded in thriving.
1833 – Tired of schools run by charitable organizations with all white boards, The Phoenix Society was founded to establish Black independent schools. It had a board membership in which five out of six of the board members were black. The Phoenix Society established several elementary schools and attempted to provide a high school.
1833 – The Board of Education votes to end school segregation in Brooklyn. The system nevertheless continued.
1846 – Now that public schools were assuming the role of providing education for all children, there emerged thinking that private schools and private school charitable organizations were no longer needed by Blacks. As white controlled charitable organizations began turning their private schools over to the public school system, African Americans reacted by founding another charitable society: The Society for the Promotion of Education Among Colored Children. It required that all of its board members be Black, although its membership was integrated. Like the Phoenix Society it attempted to establish a high school for Blacks. While the Society received no public funds for its high school, it did for its elementary school. Over the five years of its existence, it won the respect of Black parents, the NYC Board of Education and the Public School Society. The achievement of this level of widespread respect was a considerable attainment for Blacks during the mid-nineteenth century. The African-founded society was issued a charter, which allowed it to operate elementary schools under the Board of Education’s supervision. It could charge tuition, but was required to admit children unable to pay tuition without charge.
Mid 1800s – Eventually, the Board of Education absorbed all of the semi-private public schools for blacks operated by black and white private charities. Phillip White, the first Black to serve on the Brooklyn Board of Education sought to keep black schools open, while integrating white schools. Despite his efforts, many other Blacks, as well as whites, fought to close black semi-private schools.
1880s/1890s – When the Board of Education did begin closing Black schools, Blacks agitated unsuccessfully to force the Board to hire the displaced qualified Black teachers. The Board responded that the schools existed to serve the children, not the teachers.
1880’s to 1890’s - The absorption of the private schools by the Board of Education ended an era in which African Americans in New York City exercised some control over the education of their children. With the establishment and expansion of the public school system, there was no longer a need for charity societies to operate schools for Blacks. On the other hand, the Black presence on public school boards would remain rare until the 1960s, when again there would be an intimate relationship between the fight for control of local school boards, and the establishment of Black independent schools.
1934 – The longest continuously existing historically Black independent school in New York City, the Modern School was established in Harlem by the daughter of poet J. Rosemond Johnson (brother of James Weldon Johnson, and co-author of the Negro National Anthem). It closed its doors at the beginning of the second millennium.
1948 – Junior Academy was founded by Gayle Bostic in 1948 in Brooklyn. This large private school served over 600 students at its peak. It closed its doors in the mid 1990s, shortly following its founder's passing.
1953 – Lakeview School in Queens is founded. It closed it’s doors in the mid 1990s.
1950s–1960s – Black private schools in the south begin going out of business because of desegregation laws. Some of these had been founded or inspired by Booker T. Washington in the 1800s and early 1900s. Some among these which survived became known as Historically Black Colleges, the term from which Dr. Gail Foster, later in the century, derived the name Historically Black Independent Schools to refer to their K–12 counterparts.
1968 – The African American Teachers Association, a group of Black public school activists, gets involved in the Oceanhill-Brownsville struggle over community control of the public schools. Their work would eventually lead to the founding of the nation’s first documented national organization of black independent schools known as the Council of Independent Black Institutions (CIBI).
1969 – A community organization called The East was founded by the African American Student Association, led by Jitu Weussi of the African American Teacher’s Association.
1970 – In February, The East opened an independent school called Uhuru Sasa. This was the first of the politically conscious and Africentric schools that captured the black power movement of the 60's and incorporated it into the curriculum and instruction of the school. By 1973 there were a number of these schools in New York City, some of which were founded by former teachers at Uhuru Sasa. In the photo above, fourth from the left is Ayana Johnson, founder of Johnson Preparatory School, formerly known as Uhuru Sasa.
1972 – These schools formed a local organization called the Brooklyn Family Schools. These schools had a common heritage and common goals which grew out of the efforts of the African American Teachers Association’s initiative for community control of public schools. Included among the New York member schools were the Lizzie Goodman Memorial School and the Harambee Sasa School in Queens; the Modefi Academy, the Hgnahan School, the Robert Conners School, the Shule Ya Mapinduzi School, the Al Karim School (later Cush Campus), the Zidi Kuwa School, the Uhuru Sasa School, and the Weusi Shule (later Johnson Preparatory School), all in Brooklyn.
1972 – The Afrikan-American Teachers Association organized a planning meeting to establish a national organization. Two months later, CIBI, the Council of Independent Black Institutions is founded as an umbrella organization for Independent Afrikan-centered schools and individuals who are advocates for Afrikan-centered education, nationwide, and abroad. Jitu Weussi who initiated the first organizational planning meeting was it’s founding Chair. CIBI members include schools in the United Kingdom and West Africa.
1973 – From the initiative of Jitu Weussi, a national organization was formed and the Brooklyn Family Schools became the Council of Independent Black Institutions, CIBI.The new organization convened in South Carolina with other schools of like vision around the nation, and is active today. Its activities include a model national science Exposition, an alumni association, a bi-annual teacher training institute, and conventions. Jitu Weussi served as its founding Chair for seven years.
1988 – The Toussaint Institute Fund is founded by Dr. Gail Foster in New York. (In the photo above, she is fifth from the left.) Its original mission was to raise money to establish an independent school and to operate a scholarship program that would highlight the need for black independent schools. The scholarship program targeted boys who were doing poorly in public schools and placed them in black independent schools where they were expected to and did experience success. The scholarship program operated from 1988 to 2000. Within a few years of its founding, the organization put aside its vision for establishing an independent school and instead became the primary advocate and publicist for Black independent schools in New York. It collaborated with the national Institute for Independent Education to document black owned independent schools nationwide. In 2002 the Toussaint Institute Fund attempted, unsuccessfully, to win state approval to establish a charter school for boys modeled on Black independent schools. The Toussaint Institute Fund closed its doors in 2002 and passed the mantle for advocating for black independent schools in New York to two organizations founded by Dr. Foster, the Association of Black Independent Schools of NY and the Black Alliance for Educational Options of New York. Dr. Foster secured a seat for and represented the Historically Black Independent Schools of NY on the Council for American Private Schools (CAPE), a national association of organizations of private schools headquartered in Washington, DC.
c. 1989 – The first all inclusive Conference of New York and New Jersey black owned independent schools was organized by the Toussaint Institute Fund and held in New Jersey. It brought together for the first time both secular and religious schools, and schools representing a wide range of ideologies. Surprised to discover they existed in such great numbers, this conference led participants to found New York’s first incarnation of the Association of Historically Black Independent Schools. Included in this founding group were CIBI member schools.
1991 – The first edition of the Directory of Independent Schools owned by African Americans in New York and New Jersey is published by the Toussaint Institute Fund and edited by Dr. Gail Foster. It defines these schools as schools in which the majority of the board is African American. It lists 85 schools including seven in New Jersey. There would later be two more editions (1994 and 2000) that would sell over 10,000 copies to parents throughout New York City and support the recruitment efforts of listed schools while helping parents to identify options. The Toussaint Institute would continue to maintain the only existing data based on New York’s schools and later an extensive data collection on then existing black boarding schools. This data base would facilitate the organizing of New York schools for over a decade.
1991 – The first incarnation of the Association of Historically Black Independent Schools (Association of HBIS) was established at a planning meeting on April 21, 1991, held at St. Marks Lutheran School. The consensus was to “create a formal organization of NYC black owned schools.” Its ambitious purposes were “to market and advertise on a collective basis; to lobby government and business leaders to support the interests of our schools, particularly in the area of private school vouchers; to maximize our buying power by purchasing collectively; to network; to share successful fundraising and instructional and school management ideas; and to work to support the development of a national as well as local fundraising body.”
1991 - On November 25, the Association of Historically Black Independent Schools (AHBIS) members held a meeting at Teachers College, Columbia University, in conjunction with Congressman Rangel’s presentation there in order to introduce themselves to Rep. Charlie Rangel. This introduction paved the way for a future trip to the nation's capital (photographed above.)
1991 to 1996 – The AHBIS remained active for five years until it eventually lost its momentum. It’s member institutions were Johnson Prep School, Mrs. Black’s School, Ebenezer Prep School, Bibleway Learning Center, Pilgrim Christian School, Toussaint Institute Fund, St. Paul’s Community Christian School, Cush Campus School, Unique Christian Academy, St. Marks Lutheran School, New Covenant Christian School and Christ Crusader Academy. Ora Razaq of Cush Campus and Gail Foster of the Toussaint Institute Fund served as its co- chairs.
c. 1992 – The Washington-based Institute for Independent Education (founded by Dr. Joan Ratteray, photographed above, second from left) asks Gail Foster to help organize a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington DC. Dr. Foster drafts and sends a letter from AHBIS signed by several Black independent school principals to each of New York’s Black Congressmen. Reps. Rangel, Owens, Townes, and Flake all attend the meeting, as do principals from St. Paul's, Johnson Prep, St. Mark Lutheran School, and New Covenant Christian School. The turn-out is impressive, but the Congressmen make it clear that they will not under any circumstances support vouchers. (Rep. Flake, who founded Allen Christian School in Queens, is photographed sixth from the left above.) The Institute for Independent Education would go on to establish an accrediting process for black owned independent schools and secure funding to help some schools meet the established standards.
1993 – The first planning meeting of the Toussaint Institute for Historically Black Independent Schools (TIHBIS), a sister organization to AHBIS, is held in December at Junior’s Restaurant in Brooklyn. Present were Johnson Prep, St. Peter Claver, New Covenant Christian School, Bethel Christian Learning Center, and Cush Campus. Ora Razzaq founder of Cush Campus School (formerly known as Al Karim, one of the Brooklyn Family Schools) is photographed above, third from left.
1994 - TIHBIS is formally announced to the public in April. Modeling itself on NAIS, it establishes standards for membership, membership dues, a membership application process that requires a school review by an Advisory Board. Members are the Christ Crusader Academy, the Modern School, Central Harlem Montessori School, Muhammad University of Islam, Cambria Center, Ebenezer Prep School, the Learning Tree Multicultural School, St. Paul Community Christian School, and Fellowship Academy. Through TIHBIS, Dr. Gail Foster is a voice for New York's historically Black independent schools on the New York State Commissioner’s Advisory Council on Non-Public Schools. She represents them at the New York State Office of Non-Public Schools, and on the Council on American Private Education in Washington DC. TIHBIS is also a voice for the schools on the board of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
1994 – AHBIS (and TIHBIS) hold an October 27th meeting at Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn inviting elected officiais to meet with principals “to get to know one another and to share some of our views on education for the next decade.” An invitation to public officials is signed by the principals of nine member schools. The AHBIS in collaboration with TIHBIS drafts a position paper on School Choice and presents it to black officials.
1997 – At its November meeting CIBI votes to reevaluate the eligibility of all of its member schools and declares that schools who convert to charter schoois can maintain their membership, but may be required to become “provisional” members.
1997 – The 22nd Annual CIBI Science Exposition for Young Afrikan Scientists is held in Detroit Michigan April 23–25 at the Plaza Hotel. These science fairs sustain a national reputation for excellence, over several decades.
2000 – The Toussaint Institute Fund documents 70 HBIS schools in New York City serving approximately 12,000 students in the first ever study of New York HBIS academic performance. It is published as a chapter in City Schools by Ravitch and Viteritti. Historically Black Independent Schools are found to outperform public schools in their districts on state examinations.
2000 – Gail Foster begins to transition out of leadership of the historically black independent schools in the greater New York area as well as active engagement with the state's non-public school bodies and her membership on the Council for American Private Education. She begins introducing Rita McCormick principal of St. Paul's Community Christian School to the Commissioner’s Advisory Council on Non-Public Schools in preparation for her resignation.
2000 – First organizing meeting for a new association of schools is called by Dr. Gail Foster on March 20, and held at the St. Paul's Community Christian School (founded by Johnny Rae Youngblood). Foster invites the Director of the New York State Office of Non-Public Schools (Tom Hogan) and the Chair of the Commissioners Advisory Council (Rabbi Martin Schloss) to help persuade schools as to the importance of establishing organized representation at the state level. Over 15 schools send representatives. She recommends Rita McCormick to the group as her replacement.
2001 – The first planning meeting for the new organization is called by Rita McCormick in April. Nine schools are represented. Collectively the schools develop a name, mission statement, and membership criteria for the new organization. The organization is viewed as a revitalization of it's predecessor and called, the Association for Historically Black Independent Schools (AHBIS). Rita McCormick is elected its first President. The organization remains active for several years.
2004 – The Rev. Dr. Johnny Rae Youngblood assumes leadership of the organization and meets with Dr. Gail Foster in New Lebanon New York to learn the history of the organization and discuss it’s future. Present are Rita McCormick and Sheree Palmer (founder of the Cambria Center School in Queens). The organization remained active for several years thereafter.
2006 – The administrators of the Trey Whitfield School in Brooklyn, assume leadership of AHBIS.
2012 – Many HBIS schools in New York have closed due to competition from charter schools and the organization has lost it's city-wide active membership and momentum. The association becomes inactive.
2017 – Members of the inactive Association meet to revitalize it. A representative is invited by the US Department of Education to the National Private School Leadership Conference in Washington DC and attends and reports back. Dr. Gail Foster and Sheree Palmer agree that the organization's historical record is worth documenting. This website is established to record and document the organization's history and the history of historically black independent schools.
Kenneth B. Clark, "Issues in Urban Education" in Black Manifesto for Education, ed. Jim Haskins [New York: William Morrow, 1973, p. 82]
Gail Foster, Historically Black Independent Schools in City Schools by Diane Ravitch and Joseph Viteritti, Johns Hopkins Press, 2000
Gail Foster, New York City's Wealth of Historically Black Independent Schools, Journal of Negro Education 61 (1992).
Carleton Mabee, Black Education in New York State, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1979.
Carter G. Woodson, Miseducation of the Negro, (Washington DC, Associated Publishers, 1933).
On the Road to Success (Washington DC, Institute for Independent Education, 1991).
Jitu Weussi, founding Chair of the Council on Independent Black Institutions was interviewed by Gail Foster for this history in 2000.