Searching for the Third R: An Exploration of the Mathematics Experiences of African Americans Born in, and Before 1933
The early desire for and the pursuit of literacy are often mentioned in the teeming volumes devoted to African-American history. However, stories, facts, and figures about the acquisition of numeracy by African Americans have not been equally documented.
The focus of this study was to search for the third R, this is the numeracy and mathematics experiences of African Americans who were born in, and before, 1933. The investigation of this generational cadre was pursued in order to develop oral histories and narratives going back to the early 1900s. This study examined formal and informal education and other relevant mathematics-related, lived experiences of unacknowledged and unheralded African Americans, as opposed to the American anomalies of African descent who are most often acknowledged, such as the Benjamin Bannekers, the George Washington Carvers, and other notables.
Quantitative and qualitative data were collected through the use of a survey and interviews. Quantitative results and qualitative findings were blended to present a nuanced perspective of African Americans learning mathematics during a period of Jim Crow, segregation, and discrimination. Their hopes, their fears, their challenges, their aspirations, their successes, and their failures are all tangential to their overall goal of seeking education, including mathematics education, in the early twentieth century. Both formal and informal experiences revealed a picture of life during those times to further enhance the literature regarding the mathematics experiences of African Americans.
Key words: Black students, historical, senior citizens, mathematics education, oral history, narrative, narrative inquiry, socio-cultural theory, Jim Crow