Marlee S. Bunch
Marlee Bunch is an educator with over 16 years teaching experience. She holds two graduate degrees and is currently working on her Ed.D. from the University of Illinois. She holds a teaching certificate, gifted education certification, Diversity and Equity certificate, and an ESL (English Second Language) certification. Her experiences teaching at the secondary and post-secondary level, have allowed her to write curriculum, mentor teachers, create workshops, tutor, advocate for inclusion, and most importantly mentor students. Her research, teaching, and educational advocacy work seeks to disrupt inequities, advocate for educational reform and illuminate the power of storytelling and history. Her research focuses on the oral histories of Black female educators and communities.
Unlearning the Hush: This study will illustrate the impact the long history of segregation, Brown v. Board of Education, and desegregation efforts had on the teaching experiences of Black, female educators in Hattiesburg, MS, particularly between the years 1954-1971.
"Knowledge unfits a child to be a slave.”
Relying extensively on oral history, this study details the lived experiences of Black women educators, specifically the lived experiences of my ancestors who taught pre- and post-Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It is my attempt to “undo the hush” that has silenced or unacknowledged these women in the historical record and desegregation historiography. Far too often, the voices of Black women have been disregarded, questioned, discounted, or silenced. Notwithstanding, since the Emancipation Proclamation (1863), Black women as educators have been at the forefront of ensuring that Black students and communities were given the civil liberty of education and literacy. Throughout history, these educators found creative compassionate ways to navigate, and periodically upend, systemic practices in American society that legally or purposefully sought to deny Black folk their personhood, education, and access to full-fledged citizenship. Unbeknownst to many of us, the efforts of these educators preserved and enhanced not only Black life and opportunity, they also forever changed the laws and landscape of the United States.
This study tells an important aspect of this story. It explores the lives and stories of Black female educators, pre-and-post-Brown, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi between 1950 and 1970. It examines the historical implications of public-school desegregation in Hattiesburg, and the ways in which Black female teachers bore the brunt of this difficult experiment in American history. Ever-present in this study’s findings are the facts that Black female teachers in Hattiesburg were at the forefront of these desegregation efforts, and despite the challenges endured, they remained steadfast in shining their light for their students caught in the crossfire of undoing centuries of segregation policy and practice.
This research amplifies the voices of these incredible Black women, who were trailblazers in their profession and craft. It also serves as a corrective to the under-inclusion and under-emphasis of the role Black female teachers in Mississippi played in the desegregation efforts of dismantle Jim Crow schools. It breaks the silence of the hush associated with these women and serves as a counter narrative to existing literature on the agency and presence of Black female teachers in southern desegregation efforts. This history reveals stories of resilience, creativity, and joy; compassionate characteristics of leadership all too often overlooked in the historiography on desegregation efforts in the South, particularly in Mississippi.
Central to this narrative in particular, is my grandmother. She was my elder and was an important educator and leader amid these desegregation efforts. She, alongside the other Black women of Hattiesburg Mississippi, found creative ways to ensure the Black school experience was exceptional and memorable. They taught not only the core subjects of learning, but infused messages of personal development and community uplift in them. They created yearbooks and workbooks to memorialize the school experience when no resources existed or were budgeted for such considerations. They taught their students as if they were their own children or kinfolk. These stories, coupled with my own teaching experiences, are foundational to this study. They guide this research and provide intimate glimpses into the incredible contributions and world Black female educators have made for their students, classrooms, communities, and nation. Their stories serve as the foundation for others to unlearn the hush of not telling the stories of the people who changed their lives and communities for the better.
As our population becomes more diverse, we must consider the importance of schools having a teaching staff that mirrors our student population. Lash and Radcliffe state: A review of the literature shows 50% of all African American professionals were teachers (Foster, 1996) in the 1950s, but during the second half of the century and into the 21st century, these numbers significantly decreased (Irvine, 1988). According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the racial/ethnic distribution of full-time public-school teachers included 83% White, 7% Black, 7% Hispanic, and 3% other (NCES, 2010). Black students in pre-K–12 accounted for 15% of all students, but only 7% of the American pre-K–12 teaching force identified as African American. Ironically, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas (1954) is believed to be one of the major reasons for the declining numbers of African American teachers. (Karpinski, 2006; Patterson, 2001; Place, 1996).
The theoretical framework that informs my study is oral history. I want to examine how policies and institutions are influenced and navigated by racial issues. Counter storytelling and the notion that racism is a permanent fixture are both lenses that will inform my research. Oral storytelling is an important component to my research, as Black history and culture is steeped in the oral tradition—paying homage to this fact and capturing the stories of my participants is both part of my framework and objective. This is connected to my positionality as a Black woman, a Black educator, and a lover/teacher of literature and writing. The stories of Black women have influenced who I am—the stories of my grandmother who taught for 38 years in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the stories of my Mama who both loathes and mythologizes growing up in Mississippi, and also the stories passed down in books and by family members that have allowed me to learn small pieces about my history, ancestry, and self—despite much of it being lost from slavery, death, and broken families. These stories collectively inform my views and my perception of self.
The disparity and imbalance of Black, teachers—specifically Black, female teachers is unsettling. Having observed many school districts as an educator, and worked in both urban and suburban settings, I can attest to the lack of representation of Black women in both the classroom and in leadership positions. Much of the research either focuses solely on Brown vs. Board, leaving out the narratives of the Black educators that decision impacted, or it frames Black women as “naturally good caretakers,” but discounts the other aspects of the teaching talents and professional contributions Black women have made to the field. The importance of my research study cannot be overstated. As our population becomes more diverse, we must consider the importance of schools having a teaching staff that mirrors our student population. Michelle Foster illustrates that prior to Brown, 50% of all African American professionals were teachers (Foster 1996), but these numbers have significantly decreased in the last half of the 20th century and first decades of the 21st century. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), illustrates these stark declines in the racial/ethnic distribution of full-time public-school teachers. A 2010 report from NCES reveals that 83% White, 7% Black, 7% Hispanic, and 3% other. Black students in pre-K–12 accounted for 15% of all students, but only 7% of the American pre-K–12 teaching force identified as African American. Ironically, Brown is believed to be one of the major reasons for the declining numbers of African American teachers[SC1] . (Karpinski, 2006; Patterson, 2001; Place, 1996).It makes sense that Brown is cited to be one of the reasons for the declining numbers of Black teachers, because in many ways, integration forced Black teachers into spaces that did not welcome who they authentically were.
 Frederick Douglass, The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (Hartford, Conn.: Park Publishing Company, 1892), 97. Retrieved 3 August, 2021 at: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Life_and_Times_of_Frederick_Douglass/fFTcLFXId-wC?hl=en&gbpv=0.
 NCES, 2010 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2010). Digest of Education Statistics (NCES 2010-013). Washington, DC: Author.
 Karpinski, 2006; Patterson, 2001; Place, 1996.
Leadership/Diversity and Equity, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Doctoral candidate (ABD), and degree expected by Dec. 2022
Masters of Science, Emporia State University
Masters of Science. Gifted Education degree and certification.
Masters of Education, DePaul University
Masters of Education. Secondary teaching certification- English and Social Studies. ESL certification. Gifted certification.
Bachelor of Arts, National-Louis University
Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. Minor in psychology.
Skills & Qualities
Though I have learned a lot from being in the professional world of education, many of my skills have been built from research and the interactions with my students. I value the importance of collaboration, life long learning, mentorship, communication, and the importance of listening to the stories and perspectives of others.
Listening & Collaboration
The ability to listen and collaborate are skills that transcend to various work environments and my role in both education and diversity/equity/inclusion.
My compassion for others, makes mentoring an important skill and quality that has been a thread throughout my career. Mentoring students throughout their educational careers is one of the most important accomplishments.
"Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."