Segregation, Desegregation, and Re-segregation

Equal Justice Initiative Report: Segregation in America

Segregation in America is a new report and companion website that documents how millions of white Americans joined a mass movement of committed, unwavering, and often violent opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. EJI believes that understanding this mass opposition to racial equality, integration, and civil rights is central to confronting the continuing challenges of racial inequality today.

The story of the American Civil Rights Movement is familiar: courageous activists waged an epic struggle, faced great risks, and suffered tragic losses to achieve victories that forever changed the nation. Segregation in America tells the lesser-known story of national opposition to civil rights and racial equality. White Americans concentrated in the South and influential throughout the country conducted a widespread, organized, and determined campaign to defend segregation and white supremacy. Racist politicians enjoyed support from the majority of white voters; the Ku Klux Klan claimed many of the South’s most prominent and powerful citizens as members; and perpetrators of vicious attacks on black people were regularly acquitted by all-white juries. School closures, economic reprisals, arrests and harassment, mob violence, bombings, and murder were bold, public acts and influenced thinking about the need for civil rights.

Opposition to civil rights was led by elected officials, journalists, and community leaders who espoused virulently racist ideologies, shut down public schools and parks to prevent integration, and encouraged violence against civil rights activists. Segregation in America profiles dozens of these segregationist leaders, who were not shamed or banished after the passage of civil rights and voting rights laws in the 1960s. Instead, they repeatedly won re-elections to the highest political offices and were accommodated and embraced by political, social, and cultural institutions. Segregation in America makes the case that our failure to repudiate segregationists and their ideologies allowed racial bias to remain unchallenged in many modern institutions.”

I Am Not Your Negro clip – Baldwin on Segregation

 


Table of Contents

Impacts of Racial Segregation and Spatial Racism

History of Segregation

History of Desegregation

White Resistance
Sub categories of White Resistance:
White Resistance to Desegregation – White Citizens’ CouncilsTargeting the NAACP, Bombings and ArsonMob ViolenceSchool Integration Harassment Rise of Segregation Academies and Charter Schools –  Sit InsFreedom RidersSegregation of SwimmingWhite Flight, Busing and Non-Southern ResistanceDecline of Judicial SupportPolitics and Justice System Behind Segregation

Housing Discrimination

Re-segregation

Legacy of Segregation

Racism behind Standardize Testing and Achievement Gap

Stealing Education


Impacts of Racial Segregation and Spatial Racism

OSPIHM: Resources on Spacial Racism

“Today, we live with the legacies of a deliberately segregated past. Where you live usually determines the school your children attend, your degree of neighborhood safety, your access to public transportation or highways, the availability and quality of finance and credit, your employment opportunities, and your social network.

This deliberate segregation is called spatial racism. It affects mainly African Americans, Hispanics, and some newly arrived immigrants, isolating them in deteriorating areas of the cities and older suburbs.”

Overview of the Impact of Racial Segreagtion

“More than 20 years of research has implicated residential segregation in virtually every aspect of racial inequality, from higher unemployment rates for African Americans, to poorer health care, to elevated infant mortality rates and, most of all, to inferior schools.” Nikole Hannah-Jones, Propublica

  • Outcomes of racial segregation
    • Separate and unequal, concentration of black poverty, systemic racism, discrimination
      • Communities of color often
        • Receive less public/private investments
        • Targeted by housing/banking discrimination, predatory banking, gentrification, broken windows policing, etc.
      • Often leads to
        • Less amenities, economic opportunities, education, equity, safety, etc.
        • Can lead to the concentration of poverty in communities of color
  • Racial segregation in a society with past and present systemic oppression leads to spatial concentration of poverty in communities of color
    • Can decrease access to quality education, quality healthcare, quality food, saftey from crime and police, public services, economic opportunities, transportation, etc.
    • Today compared to low income white people:
      • a low-income black person is over 3x more likely to live in a very high poverty neighborhood
      • a low-income Latino person is more than 2x as likely
  • In education
    • Black-white achievement gap persists largely because the poorest pupils are concentrated in racially homogenous schools where instruction is overwhelmed by children’s out-of-school challenges such as:
      • Schools are segregated because their neighborhoods are segregated.
    • “Segregated schools are consistently linked to unequal educational opportunities and outcomes, while desegregated and diverse schools are associated with numerous benefits for students of all races.” Oxford Bibliographies
    • Schools with 90% non-white student spend $733 less per student
  • Growing inequality
    • Due to historic and current housing discrimiantion
      • Middle-class white Americans are more likely to live in neighborhoods with rising home values (and thus, will accrue family equity)
      • Middle-class black Americans are more likely to rent, or live in neighborhoods with stagnant values.
  • Hostile confrontations between police and African American youth
    • Might be rarer if the poorest young people were not concentrated in neighborhoods lacking well-resourced schools, good jobs and transportation to better opportunities.
    • In integrated neighborhoods with substantial middle class populations, police perform as public servants, not as an occupying force.

Urban Institute: The lingering cost of segregation and discrimination

We still live in starkly segregated neighborhoods. A typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is 75 percent white and 8 percent African American, while a typical African American person lives in a neighborhood that is only 35 percent white and 45 percent African American.

And racial segregation has deprived the neighborhoods occupied by people of color of essential public services and private investments. Today, even middle-class black and Latino neighborhoods have lower house price appreciation, fewer neighborhood amenities, lower-performing schools, and higher crime than white neighborhoods with comparable income levels.

The segregation of neighborhoods along racial lines led directly to the geographic concentration of poverty and the severe distress of very high–poverty neighborhoods. Today, a low-income African American person is over three times more likely to live in a neighborhood with very high poverty than a white person is, and a low-income Latino person is more than twice as likely.

Housing discrimination and segregation fuel continued inequality and injustice because neighborhoods shape the well-being of children and families. All parents want their children to grow up in a safe neighborhood, with great schools, a healthy environment, and good role models. But in neighborhoods with high levels of crime and violence, failing schools and other public services, and few places to work, shop, or play, families face challenges finding work, earning a decent living, and raising their children.

And the consequences hurt all of us. Decades of rigorous research have documented the high costs of racial and ethnic segregation—not just for individuals but for the regions in which they live and for our society as a whole.

John Powell: Race, Place, and Opportunity

“Today, we live with the legacies of a deliberately segregated past. Where you live usually determines the school your children attend, your degree of neighborhood safety, your access to public transportation or highways, the availability and quality of finance and credit, your employment opportunities, and your social network.

Today, we live with the legacies of a deliberately segregated past. Where you live usually determines the school your children attend, your degree of neighborhood safety, your access to public transportation or highways, the availability and quality of finance and credit, your employment opportunities, and your social network. These spatial arrangements of opportunity are contoured by our past, and if not changed, they will have serious implications for our future. The geography of opportunity has significant influence on the choices available to us as well as on the shape of the culture we inhabit. Unfortunately, in our society these arrangements continue to carry a footprint of race whether currently intended or not. We can tell much about someone’s life opportunity by his or her zip code.

These differences play out not only in our neighborhoods but also at the city and state levels. At all levels, places with the weakest support for schools, unemployment insurance, and health benefits tend to be geographically and racially concentrated. There is a strong correlation among location, weak economic opportunity, and race. Blacks are generally segregated from opportunity through use of space. Although the majority of the poor are white, most of those living in concentrated poverty are black.

In the U.S., to live in a neighborhood of high-concentrated poverty (defined as the percent of the residents below the poverty level) means that life chances for you and your family will be greatly constrained — even if you yourself are not poor. Conversely, to live in a neighborhood or a state with a solid tax base and good amenities produces a favorable opportunity structure; the life chances of you and your family will be enhanced — even if you are low-income. But if you are black or Latino — even if working- or middle-class — you are much more likely to live in a neighborhood or state with a weak opportunity structure than you would be if you were white.

A myriad of public policies and private practices create these spatial opportunity structures and sort people into them. Where blacks live in large numbers, whether in a particular state or region, or a rural or urban area within a region, those places tend to be underfunded and with weak institutions. Even if someone from one of these stressed areas can get to a job site, there is growing evidence that he or she will face discrimination not just based on race but also based on places or zip codes where blacks are most likely to live.

***Factors such as poor schools, crime, a low fiscal base, a weak job market, and an inadequate social network tend to reinforce each other. A family living in this environment must overcome cumulative factors that expose its members to mutually reinforcing constraints. The interaction of different conditions in the environment cannot be explained by just focusing on individuals. Looking at systems, we can understand that causation is multiple, mutual, cumulative, and reciprocal, and the relationships among different factors are just as important as the factors themselves.

For example, poor schools limit employment options, and limited employment options for parents mean that their children are more likely to wind up in poor schools. So outcomes are not “caused” by a particular input (schools) but are produced by the reciprocal interactions of various inputs (schools, neighborhoods, jobs, crime).

Five decades of social-science research has documented the relationships between racially and economically isolated neighborhoods and employment, health, crime and violence, educational outcomes, and a range of other factors. A systems approach brings into view ways in which outcomes produced within the system spill across societal settings, accumulating across institutional domains and over time.

Racially and economically isolated housing markets and public schools contribute to segregated labor markets, reinforcing the existing economic and racial segregation that is now embedded into many metropolitan regions. Housing location, for example, is one of the primary mechanisms for accessing opportunity in our society. Spatial segregation is opportunity segregation. Americans should not have been surprised or confused as to why so many of the families stranded in New Orleans just happened to be black.

“…this phenomenon of spatial racism helps explain why the ending of anti-miscegenation laws and other old white boundaries did not bring about the destruction of whiteness as a social category. Too often, we tend to focus on particular borders or boundaries, obscuring our understanding of the fluid and relational nature of these boundaries. There is not a singular way to arrange institutions and structures to preserve whiteness and recreate racial hierarchy. Our focus on what was and its demise may obscure what is, and more importantly, what will be. At the same time that Jim Crow laws were being attacked and dismantled, the country was restructuring with new boundaries that would facilitate a new form of racial hierarchy.

Federal Judge Robert Carter has noted that he was mistaken in thinking that the principle problem of racial exclusion was segregation. He now notes that segregation was but a symptom of the more intractable problem of white supremacy. I do not say this in order to be pessimistic, nor to downplay the roles that segregation and white space have in creating whiteness, but simply to urge us to be aware that while we are fighting to change these racial boundaries, new and transformed structures, institutions and arrangements may be emerging to shore up whiteness.”

Urban Institute:How segregated are we today?

Trends in segregation have varied over time. Economic segregation fell in the 1990s but increased in the 2000s, and Latino-white segregation increased in both the 1990s and the 2000s. Black-white segregation declined over this period, but blacks and whites are more segregated from one another than Latinos and whites.

Many US metropolitan areas remain highly segregated by both income and race (the interactive below compares 2010 segregation levels and rankings for the 100 most-populous commuting zones, or CZs).

Click on this link to measure segregation in the 100 largest regions

The Root: Separate and Unequal: The Real Education Scandal Is America’s Affirmative Action Program for White People

How Jim Crow Created the Education Gap

One of the least-discussed aspects of public education is how school funding is tied to the history of segregation and Jim Crow. Even when state and federal governments distribute money equally, black schools still end up at a funding disadvantage.

If you’re wondering why the economics of school funding is framed as black vs. white instead of rich versus poor, the reason is simple: the National Center for Educational Statistics reports that three-fourths black high school students attend schools where most of their classmates are poor, citing that statistic as the number one indicator of an inferior school.

According to the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, about 36 percent of education funding comes from local property taxes. This means that schools in white school districts can allocate more money to education than schools in majority black districts.

Eighty years ago, the government practice of redlining, fueled by segregation laws, determined that it was “risky” for banks to offer mortgages in the areas where black people lived. Today, 41 percent of African American homeowners own property in black neighborhoods and, according to research by the National Association of Homebuilders, home ownership is the primary driver of wealth in the U.S., accounting for 25 percent of the average American’s total assets.

Redlining’s longest lasting effect is that the vast majority of homes in formerly redlined neighborhoods are undervalued. A recent study by the Brookings Institute shows that homes in black neighborhoods are, on average, valued 25 percent lower than homes in white neighborhoods, even if the homes have similar characteristics and the neighborhoods have similar amenities, crime rates and resources. In fact, the average home in a black neighborhood is devalued by $48,000 simply because black people live in the area, leading to a massive $156 billion decrease in property values.

If one’s most important asset is devalued simply because it exists in a black neighborhood, it is no mystery why black neighborhoods are poorer. Because homes in black neighborhoods are systematically undervalued and because home values are the most determinant in school funding, school funding in black neighborhoods can’t be equal.

This is why, according to a 2019 study by Edbuild, schools serving nonwhite students receive $23 billion less in funding than majority-white schools despite serving the same number of students. It’s why the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less per student than a white school district.

It’s also why black schools offer fewer Advanced Placement, STEM and honors courses. About one-quarter of majority-minority high schools don’t even offer a second year of algebra, according to the Education Department, even though two years of algebra are usually required to even apply for college. And even when black students attend majority-white schools, they are still not recommended for college-level courses, are disciplined more harshly, suspended more frequently and feared by white teachers.

It is an undeniable, statistically-proven fact: White students get a better education. It has less to do with income than color. Educators in academic circles have come up with a name for this:

White supremacy.

Affirmative Action for White People

One of the most oft-used arguments against affirmative action is the idea that people should earn their way into college. The opponents of using race as a factor in admission standards perpetuate the narrative that black people and other minorities are accepted into prestigious institutions even though they don’t qualify. But here is a fact that you have probably never heard:

It’s easier to get into a good college if you’re white.

That’s not an opinion. At America’s top universities, whiteness is more important than wealth, minority status or anything that affirmative action can provide. Even though the K-12 education system is designed for their success, wealthy white students get much more of a boost from their Caucasian-friendly admission policies than any other group of students.

In 2017, 6.8 percent of black people who applied to Harvard were accepted. Seven percent of white applicants were accepted into the school. The acceptance rate for Asians was 5.8 percent. However, there was one group of students who had an unusually high acceptance rate at the prestigious Ivy League institution:

Harvard accepted 33 percent of legacy students.

And it’s not just at Harvard. At Notre Dame and Georgetown, the legacy admission rate is twice the rate of regular students, the Wall Street Journal reports. At Princeton, the legacy admission rate is four times the rate of non-legacy admissions. All across America, at schools that have a plurality of white students and whose alumni populations are overwhelmingly white, the legacy admission has become a form of white people’s affirmative action.

This is literally a privilege reserved for white people.

The advantage that whiteness offers is not limited to parents and grandparents at these schools. Another little-known loophole in college admissions is the “admission exception”—a rule that some colleges use to allow students to enroll even though they don’t meet the minimum requirements. While this rule is usually reserved for athletes, low-income and rural students, it is sometimes exploited by wealthy and elite people with inside connections at universities.

There are several other factors that favor white students in the admissions process. Elite colleges base their acceptance on factors like recommendation letters, a process that educators say is tilted against black students and students who live in ethnic communities. The interview process still used by some colleges leads to more implicit bias when they are conducted by white interviewers. White students are also more likely to have at least one parent who attended college, while nonwhite students make up the majority of first-generation students in postsecondary education.

Some will claim the white advantage is solely about money but wealthy black students don’t have these same advantages. White students whose parents are in the top 20 percent of income earners are accepted to elite colleges at higher rates than the top 0.1 percent of wealthy nonwhite Americans. And when the New York Times weighted college attendance by wealth, they found that “about four in 10 rich students from the top 0.1 percent attend an Ivy League or elite university,” which was roughly equal to the percentage of poor students who attend any college.

The reason why white students are overrepresented at top-tier colleges is not that they are smarter or better test takers. In fact, white students made up 33 percent of the top scorers on the SAT in 2015 but were 48 percent of Ivy League admissions; 62 percent of students admitted to the top liberal arts colleges and 49 percent of the people selected for flagship public universities, according to the New York Times.

There is a reason behind this racist madness and it is this:

It is all a scam.

For black children, education and money can’t overcome racism. Black students who graduate from elite college are less likely to find a job than a white graduate from any college. White high school dropouts earn more money than black college graduates. Black boys who grew up with wealthy parents are as likely to earn a high income as a white kid who grew up poor. Black men raised by millionaires are as likely to be incarcerated as white men raised by families earning $36,000 per year.

Whiteness is its own affirmative action. Poor white kids who go to elite colleges eventually earn incomes that are equivalent to the incomes of the wealthiest children in America. White college graduates are eight times wealthier than black college graduates. The children of white high school graduates are more likely to go to college than black children whose parents have PhDs.

None of these advantages has anything to do with hard work, determination or a belief in the American dream. It is not about wealth, morality or merit. Education, drive and even circumstance can never outpace the hustle of white supremacy.

In America, whiteness is its own reward.

NPR: Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools are unconstitutional.

In 2018, on the 64th anniversary of that ruling, a lawsuit filed in New Jersey claimed that state’s schools are some of the most segregated in the nation. That’s because, the lawsuit alleged, New Jersey school district borders are drawn along municipality lines that reflect years of residential segregation.

The idea that school district borders carry years of history is the premise of a new report from the nonprofit EdBuild, which studies the ways schools are funded in the U.S.

The report starts with a number: $23 billion. According to EdBuild, that’s how much more funding predominantly white school districts receive compared with districts that serve mostly students of color.

“For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district,” the report says.

EdBuild singles out 21 states — including California, New Jersey and New York — in which mostly white districts get more funding than districts composed primarily of students of color.

More than half of students in the U.S. go to segregated or “racially concentrated” schools, according to the report. Those are schools in which more than three-quarters of students are white, or more than three-quarters are nonwhite

Researchers found that high-poverty districts serving mostly students of color receive about $1,600 less per student than the national average. That’s while school districts that are predominately white and poor receive about $130 less.

What’s causing the disparity?

As Rebecca Sibilia, founder and CEO of EdBuild, explains, a school district’s resources often come down to how wealthy an area is and how much residents pay in taxes.

“We have built a school funding system that is reliant on geography, and therefore the school funding system has inherited all of the historical ills of where we have forced and incentivized people to live,” she says.

Public schools are primarily funded by local and state sources — the federal government pays for less than 10 percent, on average, of K-12 education. States sometimes step in to provide extra funding for districts that need it most. But not all states have been able to keep up with that demand.

The relationship between funding and teacher strikes

In some of the states with the worst funding disparities, teachers have gone on strike in the past year. In Arizona, poor, primarily white school districts get about $19,000 per student — while high-poverty, nonwhite districts get about $8,000, according to EdBuild.

That means high-poverty districts made up of mostly students of color — about a third of the school districts in the state — receive almost $11,000 less per student than the state’s high-poverty, predominantly white districts.

Sibilia also points to the #RedForEd movements in Oklahoma and Colorado. Because those states have placed limits on their taxes, she says, they simply don’t have the income to step in and fund the school districts that need it most

Why funding in Southern states looks more equal

According to EdBuild researchers, predominantly white districts are often smaller than districts with mostly students of color: The former serves an average of just over 1,500 students, and the latter over 10,000, or three times the national average.

That size disparity matters. Sibilia says districts serving mostly students of color “rely more on the decisions that are being made at the state level, but there are fewer voices representing them. And that’s where you really start to see the shift in power.”

This power dynamic looks different in the South, where school district lines are often drawn along county lines, making districts larger across the board. Researchers found that funding looks more equal in states like Georgia and Alabama.

“This confirms a theory that we’ve had, which is that the larger the tax base — the larger the actual geography of the school districts — the more you can actually balance out the difference between a wealthy white suburb and a less wealthy rural or urban area,” Sibilia says.

EdBuild researchers looked at data from a variety of sources — including the Education Department and the U.S. Census Bureau — to find school system demographics and district funding levels. They compared the funding across districts after taking cost of living into account.

TCF: Attacking the Black–White Opportunity Gap That Comes from Residential Segregation

Residential segregation between black and white Americans remains both strikingly high and deeply troubling. Black–white residential segregation is a major source of unequal opportunity for African Americans: among other things, it perpetuates an enormous wealth gap and excludes black students from many high-performing schools. While some see residential segregation as “natural”—an outgrowth of the belief that birds of a feather flock together—black–white segregation in America is mostly a result of deliberate public policies that were designed to subjugate black people and promote white supremacy.

Because the federal, state, and local policy arenas were the laboratory for engineering black–white residential segregation, that is where people must work to help undo it. In order for these heinous differences to be reversed, people in government at all levels have to be proactive in eliminating policy that supports segregation and in creating anti-segregation policies.

It is time for bold action. The first part of this report outlines why all Americans should care about black–white residential segregation: the perpetuation of an opportunity gap between blacks and whites. The second part delineates the ways in which black–white segregation is rooted primarily in deliberate government policies enacted over generations. And the last part of the report sketches a four-prong strategy for undoing this horrible creation.

First, policymakers should address the legacy of generations of racial discrimination in housing by implementing the “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” provision of the Fair Housing Act and providing new mortgage assistance to buy homes in formerly “redlined” areas. Second, government should seek to reduce contemporary residential racial discrimination by increasing resources allocated to fair housing testers and reestablishing the federal interagency task force to combat lending discrimination. Third, officials should counter contemporary residential economic discrimination that disproportionately hurts African Americans by curbing exclusionary zoning, funding “disparate impact” litigation, adopting “inclusionary zoning” policies, banning source of income discrimination, and beefing up housing mobility programs. Fourth, policy officials should respond to the re-segregating effects of displacement that can come with gentrification by revising tax abatement policies that promote gentrification, implementing longtime owner occupancy programs, and investing in people, not powerbrokers.

How Black–White Segregation Perpetuates an Opportunity Gap

Residential segregation between black and white Americans remains very high more than fifty years after passage of the 1968 Fair Housing Act. An analysis of U.S. Census Data from 2013–17 found that the “dissimilarity index” between blacks and non-Hispanic whites for metropolitan areas was 0.526 for the median area—meaning that 52.6 percent of African Americans or whites would have to move for the area to be fully integrated. (A dissimilarity index of 0 represents complete integration between two groups, while 100 represents absolute apartheid.) The index for black–white segregation was higher than it was for segregation between non-Hispanic whites and Asians (0.467), and segregation between non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics (0.407).1 And while the nation is also seeing increasing residential segregation by income, racial segregation today remains starker and more pervasive than economic segregation.2 Analyzing data over time, Paul Jargowsky of Rutgers University writes of African Americans: “Few groups in American history have ever experienced such high levels of segregation, let alone sustained them over decades.”3

Residential segregation matters immensely, because where people live affects so much of their lives, such as their access to transportation, education, employment opportunities, and good health care. In the case of black–white segregation in particular, the separateness of African-American families and white families has contributed significantly to two entrenched inequalities that are especially glaring: the enormous wealth gap between these races, and their grossly unequal access to strong public educational opportunities.

It is well established that historical and contemporary racial discrimination has given rise to a substantial income gap between black and white Americans. African Americans make, on average, about 60 percent of what whites make.4 But housing segregation helps explain the ways in which African-American families are further disadvantaged compared to white families who have the same income and education levels. Typically, higher levels of education and income translate into higher levels of wealth and less exposure to concentrated poverty. In the case of African Americans, however, residential segregation by race imposes a penalty that interrupts these positive patterns. Stunningly, African-American households headed by an individual with a bachelor’s degree have just two-thirds of the wealth, on average, of white households headed by an individual who lacks a high school degree.5 Equally astonishingly, middle-class blacks live in neighborhoods with higher poverty rates than low-income whites.6 As the following sections will show, these negative outcomes are largely a result of residential segregation; furthermore, when black–white segregation is reduced, outcomes for black families are shown to improve.

How Residential Segregation Affects Wealth Accumulation

Racial residential segregation inhibits home value appreciation in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Research finds that some white families remain distressingly resistant to buying homes in predominantly African-American neighborhoods; for example, even when all other characteristics of homes and neighborhoods are identical, white respondents view predominantly black neighborhoods as less safe and less desirable than predominantly white neighborhoods.7 Fewer potential buyers—particularly among the whiter and thus usually wealthier segment of the market—means significantly lower rates of home appreciation.

Because homes are typically the largest financial asset for most Americans, segregated markets significantly reduce the accumulated wealth of blacks. This phenomenon—on top of the penalties endured during the historical legacy of slavery and Jim Crow—helps explain why the black–white wealth gap is so much larger than the black–white income gap. While median income for black households is 59 percent that of white households, black median household net worth is just 8 percent of white median household net worth.8 (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1

The segregation-driven wealth gap imposes enormous burdens on African Americans. Having or lacking wealth influences many of life’s big decisions—from financing a child’s education to saving for retirement.

How Residential Segregation Affects Exposure to Concentrated Poverty, Particularly in Schools

Racial residential segregation also means that African Americans are more likely to be steered toward high-poverty neighborhoods, further contributing to the opportunity gap. Typically, families with higher levels of income have access to more-affluent neighborhoods, which tend to have more amenities, and, in particular, higher-performing public schools. Yet persistent racial residential segregation (and the wealth gap it creates) means even middle-class black families are more likely to live in concentrated poverty, and thus are more likely to send their children to high-poverty schools than are low-income whites. In fact, sociologist Patrick Sharkey finds that middle-class African Americans earning $100,000 or more per year live in neighborhoods with the same disadvantages as the average white household earning less than $30,000 per year.9 Living in a neighborhood with concentrated poverty is associated with a variety of learning disadvantages, including lower scores on cognitive tests. One study by Harvard University’s Robert Sampson and colleagues on African-American children in Chicago found that living in a high-poverty neighborhood was associated with lower scores on vocabulary and reading tests that were roughly the equivalent of a full grade of school learning.10

Even middle-class black families are more likely to live in concentrated poverty, and thus are more likely to send their children to high-poverty schools than are low-income whites.

Some students can use public school choice policies to circumvent residential segregation to attend integrated magnet or charter schools outside their neighborhood, but most cannot. Seventy-five percent of American students attend a neighborhood public school—that is, they are simply assigned to the school nearest their homes.11 This inability of most students to attend schools beyond their neighborhood is troubling, because low-income students who are given the chance to attend socioeconomically integrated schools are shown to achieve at much higher levels than do low-income students in high-poverty schools. On the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) given to fourth graders in math, for example, low-income students attending schools that are more affluent scored roughly two years of learning ahead of low-income students in high-poverty schools.12 Controlling carefully for students’ family background, another study found that students in mixed-income schools showed 30 percent more growth in test scores over their four years in high school than peers with similar socioeconomic backgrounds in schools with concentrated poverty.13

Because of racial residential segregation, low-income African Americans are much less likely to be afforded the opportunity to attend socioeconomically integrated schools. According to a 2017 analysis by Emma Garcia of the Economic Policy Institute, 81.1 percent of poor black children attended high poverty schools in 2013, compared with just 53.5 percent of poor white children.14 (See Figure 2.) That is to say, less than one in five poor black children had access to a predominantly middle-class school, compared to almost half of poor white children.

Figure 2
chart

When Racial Segregation Is Reduced, African Americans Have Better Outcomes

Would outcomes for African Americans improve if residential racial segregation were reduced? Because levels of black–white segregation vary across the country, it is possible for researchers to examine different outcome levels for African Americans in communities with higher or lower levels of black–white segregation.

Scholars have found that African Americans in moderately segregated metropolitan areas have much better employment levels, earnings, and mortality rates than do African Americans in metropolitan areas with very high segregation levels. The University of California at Los Angeles’s Richard H. Sander and Jonathan M. Zazloff, along with Yana A. Kucheva of the City College of New York, looked at outcomes for African Americans in metropolitan areas where the black–white dissimilarity index was below 0.60 outcomes and compared them with outcomes for African Americans living in areas with a dissimilarity index above 0.80. The outcomes were consistently better for African Americans living in moderately segregated areas than highly segregated areas, both in absolute terms and when compared with non-Hispanic whites living in the same regions.15

The unemployment rate for black men ages 25–34, for example, was 17.4 percent in highly segregated areas, compared with 10.1 percent in moderately segregated areas. Unemployment was 3.48 times the level of non-Hispanic whites in highly segregated areas, but 1.44 times the level of non-Hispanic whites in moderately segregated areas. Earnings for black men aged 25–34 were $4,000 higher in moderately segregated areas than in highly segregated areas, and, relative to non-Hispanic whites, the earnings were higher—68 percent in moderately segregated areas compared with 47.6 percent in highly segregated areas. (See Figure 3.) Likewise, for all blacks, age-adjusted mortality (relative to non-Hispanic whites) was better in moderately segregated regions (1.14) than in highly segregated areas (1.42).16

Figure 3

Part of the reason for better outcomes, the authors of the study suggest, is that blacks are more likely to live in concentrated poverty in metropolitan areas with high levels of racial segregation than those with moderate levels of racial segregation. The researchers found, for example, that 17 percent of low-income blacks living in moderately segregated metro areas reside in concentrated poverty, compared with 33 percent of low-income blacks living in highly segregated areas.17

The Deliberate Social Engineering of Black–White Residential Segregation

Both currently and historically, segregation is best understood as a tool used to promote and preserve white supremacy, deployed to make it easier to isolate, divest from, surveil, and police black (and brown) people concentrated in certain communities. The ingenuity of this racist tool is that its evil use creates its own justification—that is, once employed, it creates perspectives and data that seem to support its further use. As communities of color suffer under the deprivations that come with segregation—economic disinvestment, political disenfranchisement, educational inequity, and unfair, ineffective policing practices—those who build and install resilient and enduring racist systems that sustain segregation explain their decisions in terms of protecting and promoting safety, strong schools, and stable housing markets. These indeed are desirable neighborhood attributes—but they are the very same attributes that the conditions of segregation disrupted for blacks.

The ingenuity of this racist tool is that its evil use creates its own justification—that is, once employed, it creates perspectives and data that seem to support its further use.

In fact, regarding neighborhood characteristics, African Americans express the same values and desires as most Americans, even though they have much more difficulty in realizing them. According to a study of black Long Islanders, residents considered the most important neighborhood characteristics to be a low crime rate (89 percent), landlords/homeowners who maintain their property (81 percent), high quality public schools (80 percent), and good public services (78 percent). Yet only 16 percent rated their local public schools as excellent, and 43 percent of residents reported feeling that their local government services were not a good value for the taxes that they pay.18

Extensive evidence suggests that black residents in many segregated communities do not believe that their needs and desires are met in their current environments. Survey results indicate that most Americans prefer integrated neighborhoods, but white and black Americans define “integrated” differently. For African Americans, an integrated community is one where between 20 to 50 percent of residents are African American. White definitions of integration indicate that they accept diversity only when they can continue to dominate, defining integration as a scenario where only 10 percent of neighborhood residents are black.19 A recent Pew Survey found that blacks are much more supportive of integrated schools than are whites, particularly when that integration necessitates children going to schools outside of their neighborhoods. Sixty-eight percent of blacks say that “students should go to schools that are racially and ethnically mixed, even if it means some students don’t go to school in their local community,” compared to just 35 percent of whites.20 Given the close relationship between housing and school integration, such data exposes how the African-American value of integrated school options is crushed by the reality of racially isolated neighborhoods.

Certainly, integration is not a panacea for past and present injustices. In fact, pro-integration advocates should respect the ways that integration might lead to new hardships for black folks—increased discomfort and fear of police encounters, elevated levels of surveillance and suspicion from neighbors, disproportionate discipline of black children in predominantly white schools, and so on.21 In large part due to the very attitudes that sustain segregation, communities of color have a reasonable desire to live in a safe and affirming space when living in a discriminatory society; and despite typically having fewer resources to work with, black and brown people so often foster loving, culturally rich, and affirming communities for themselves. And so one challenge of contemporary housing integration efforts becomes how to dismantle the racist system of policies that created and continue to sustain residential segregation without simultaneously destroying valuable cultural and economic institutions that black and brown communities have created in response to it.

Integration best functions (and is best incentivized) when public policies and private citizens tackle the myriad of inequities and indignities that complicate, and sometimes limit, the lives of African Americans. Despite this caveat, it remains true that (1) both historically and currently, black people have risked their comfort, livelihoods, and sometimes lives to gain access to integrated spaces; and, most importantly, that (2) segregation itself is a white supremacist practice that has proven both durable and highly effective at limiting black wealth and opportunity.

Racial housing segregation, residential poverty concentration, and diminished housing access did not emerge accidentally. Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law, contends that this enduring segregation results from “a century of social engineering on the part of federal, state, and local governments that enacted policies to keep African Americans separate and subordinate.”22 Those engineers were both liberal and conservative, dwelling in multiple branches and levels of government—as the following sections will show.

Further Readings

Back to Top

 


History of Segregation

  • What is Racial segregation?
    • Physical separation of racial groups
    • Separation of access to resources, facilities, services, politics, economic opportunities, wealth, housing, medical care, education, employment, transportation, etc.
  • White supremacy beliefs behind racial segregation
    • Racial hierarchy
      • white people are superior and deserve more access to opportunities and resources
      • people of color are inferior and deserve less access to opportunities and resources
    • Myth of black criminality and black stereotypes
      • Beliefs that black people were prone to being criminals, savages, brutes, rapists, etc.
    • Guarding the purity of the white race
      • Often through guarding white women’s sexual purity
    • Anti-miscegenation
      • Beliefs against marriage, cohabitation, sex between members of different races
      • Often enforced by anti-miscegenation laws or lynching mobs
        • Anti-miscegenation laws outlawed in 1967

Slave Era Segregation

  • Slave Segregation (1619-1865)
    • Slave Codes
      • Gave slave owners permission to segregate their slaves however they want
      • Outlawed free black people from employing white people
      • White women who married a slave must become a slave to her husband’s master
    • Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857)
      • Dred Scott, a slave who had lived with his owner in a free state before returning to the slave state of Missouri, sued for his freedom arguing that time spent in a free state entitled him to emancipation.
      • Court decided that no black, free or slave, could claim U.S. citizenship, and therefore blacks were unable to petition the court for their freedom.
      • Established that no black person, free or enslaved, could be a US citizen with rights
      • “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations” Chief Justice Roger Taney
      • Infamously, the Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford established that no black person, free or enslaved, could be a citizen of the United States.61 The Court reasoned that black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations,” and therefore, it is “absolutely certain that the African race were not included under the name of citizens of a State” and not entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship.” Equal Justice Initiative

“I will say then, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, of having them to marry with white people. I will say in addition, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I suppose, will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality, and inasmuch, as they cannot so live, that while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, that I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man.” Abraham Lincoln (1858)

Jim Crow Era Segregation

“White Southerners of all economic classes, on the other hand, thanks in significant part to the progressive policies and laws black people had championed, experienced substantial improvement in their lives even as they forced black people back into a quasi slavery. As Waters McIntosh, who had been enslaved in South Carolina, lamented, “It was the poor white man who was freed by the war, not the Negroes…

…part of a wave of systemic violence deployed against black Americans after Reconstruction, in both the North and the South. As the egalitarian spirit of post-Civil War America evaporated under the desire for national reunification, black Americans, simply by existing, served as a problematic reminder of this nation’s failings. White America dealt with this inconvenience by constructing a savagely enforced system of racial apartheid that excluded black people almost entirely from mainstream American life — a system so grotesque that Nazi Germany would later take inspiration from it for its own racist policies.

Despite the guarantees of equality in the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court’s landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896 declared that the racial segregation of black Americans was constitutional. With the blessing of the nation’s highest court and no federal will to vindicate black rights, starting in the late 1800s, Southern states passed a series of laws and codes meant to make slavery’s racial caste system permanent by denying black people political power, social equality and basic dignity. They passed literacy tests to keep black people from voting and created all-white primaries for elections. Black people were prohibited from serving on juries or testifying in court against a white person. South Carolina prohibited white and black textile workers from using the same doors. Oklahoma forced phone companies to segregate phone booths. Memphis had separate parking spaces for black and white drivers. Baltimore passed an ordinance outlawing black people from moving onto a block more than half white and white people from moving onto a block more than half black. Georgia made it illegal for black and white people to be buried next to one another in the same cemetery. Alabama barred black people from using public libraries that their own tax dollars were paying for. Black people were expected to jump off the sidewalk to let white people pass and call all white people by an honorific, though they received none no matter how old they were. In the North, white politicians implemented policies that segregated black people into slum neighborhoods and into inferior all-black schools, operated whites-only public pools and held white and “colored” days at the country fair, and white businesses regularly denied black people service, placing “Whites Only” signs in their windows. States like California joined Southern states in barring black people from marrying white people, while local school boards in Illinois and New Jersey mandated segregated schools for black and white children.” Nikole Hannah-Jones “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true.”

  • Black Codes (enacted 1865-66)
    • Indirect segregation
      • Prohibited black people from
        • Certain businesses or from the skilled trades
        • Types of property African Americans could own
        • Testifying in court, except in cases concerning other blacks
        • Interracial marriage

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 9.52.52 AMAlabama Black Code

Right: Jim Crow Caricature, Left: Jim Crow Waiting Room

Wikipedia: Jim Crow laws

Jim Crow laws were Southern state and local laws enforcing racial segregation in public schools, public facilities, water fountains, toilets, and public transportation. Enacted shortly after slavery after the Reconstruction period, these laws continued to be enforce until 1965, but in many situations these laws still continue today. This created a separated and unequal system where white services (such as schools) were funded much better than black services.

EJI: JIM CROW

Jim Crow laws proscribed the lives and possibilities of black people throughout the South. The term “Jim Crow” initially referred to a style of minstrel show in which white performers caricatured black life for the entertainment of white audiences.102 By 1890, the term was used to describe the “subordination and separation of black people in the South, much of it codified and much of it still enforced by custom, habit, and violence.”103 Under Jim Crow rule, all aspects of life were governed by a strict color line, from the most central and important—public education was segregated throughout the South and interracial marriage was criminalized—to the most mundane and tedious.

In South Carolina, a 1917 law required that all circuses and other tent events maintain separate entrances and ticket booths for black and white attendees and imposed a maximum $500 fine for noncompliance.104 A 1915 law required that black and white employees of cotton textile mills be segregated at every stage of employment and restricted them from using the same entry/exit, occupying the same stairwell, or using the same tools.105 A 1924 law effectively outlawed interracial pool rooms by declaring that no license would be issued to a billiard room owner who intended his establishment to be patronized by customers of another race.106 And a 1910 law prohibited placing a white child in the permanent custody of a black adult.107 Similarly, Florida law required separation of the races on streetcars;108 Mississippi law mandated separate hospital entrances for white and black patients;109 North Carolina law authorized librarians to create separate reading areas for black patrons;110 and Alabama law prohibited white nurses from treating black male patients.111

In March 1901, a white woman and black man were arrested in Atlanta, Georgia, after two police officers claimed to have seen them talking and walking together on the street.112 Interviewed following her arrest, the white woman was indignant—not at the law, but at the suggestion that she would ever share the company of a black man in public. “I stopped and [a police officer] asked why I talked to a negro,” she told the press. “I told him I was a southern born woman, and his insinuations were an insult. He then said he would have to arrest me, and I was ridden to police barracks in a patrol wagon. It is the first ride I have ever taken of the kind, and I have been humiliated and disgraced. But somebody will suffer for this before it is done with.”113

Racial segregation often translated to the total exclusion of black people from public facilities, institutions, and opportunities. This separation plainly disadvantaged black people and served as a constant symbol of their inferior position in Southern society.

“Black southerners were left to brood over the message imparted by the Jim Crow laws and the spirit in which they were enforced. For all African Americans, Jim Crow was a daily affront, a reminder of the distinctive place “white folks” had marked out for them—a confirmation of their inferiority and baseness in the eyes of the dominant population. The laws made no exception based on class or education; indeed, the laws functioned on one level to remind African Americans that no matter how educated, wealthy, or respectable they might be, it did nothing to entitle them to equal treatment with the poorest and most degraded whites. What the white South insisted upon was not so much separation of the races as subordination, a system of controls in which whites prescribed the rules of racial conduct and contact and meted out the punishments.”114

Though legally emancipated from slavery and endowed with constitutional rights to participate in society as full citizens, black people soon learned that those rights were unenforceable in a white-controlled political system hostile to their exercise. This message was communicated through an intricate and complex system of racial subordination built after the Civil War to maintain and reinforce white supremacy in a world without chattel slavery. Constructed of law and custom, force and fear, disenfrachisement, convict leasing, and Jim Crow segregation, the system was fragile and fiercely guarded.

USC Gould: A Brief history of Jim Crow Laws

“Jim Crow” has long been a derogatory slang term for a black man, making it a fitting name for the laws that were in force in the South and some border states from 1877 through the mid-1960s. These laws were in place to maintain racial segregation after the Civil War ended. Initially, Jim Crow laws required the separation of white people and people of color on all forms of public transportation and in schools. Eventually, the segregation expanded to include interaction and commingling in schools, cemeteries, parks, theaters, and restaurants. Often, anyone who was suspected of having a black ancestor, even just one in the very distant past, was considered to be a person of color and therefore subject to the Jim Crow laws. The overarching purpose of Jim Crow laws was to prevent contact between black people and white people as equals, establishing white people as above black people.

Jim Crow laws began in 1877 when the Supreme Court ruled that states couldn’t prohibit segregation on common modes of transportation such as trains, streetcars, and riverboats. Later, in 1883, the Supreme Court overturned specific parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, confirming the “separate but equal” concept. During the ensuing years, states passed laws instituting requirements for separate and equal accommodations for blacks on public modes of transportation. Black people also had separate schools, hospitals, churches, cemeteries, restrooms, and prisons, and these facilities were usually inferior to facilities for white people, although the laws called for the separate facilities to be of equal quality. Jim Crow laws also influenced social interactions between blacks and whites. Failure to enforce these laws resulted in fines or imprisonment.

Into the 20th century, Jim Crow laws continued to govern everyday life in America, prohibiting black and white interaction. For instance, in the state of Georgia, blacks and whites had to use separate parks. Blacks and whites could not play checkers together in Birmingham, Alabama, under a 1930 law. And in 1935, blacks and whites were forbidden from boating together in Oklahoma. Blacks who violated these laws could be physically beaten by whites without reprisal; lynchings occurred with startling frequency when blacks violated Jim Crow laws.

When World War II erupted and the United States entered the conflict, Jim Crow laws were still in force. Racial segregation was an integral part of society in some parts of the country, and so black men who served in the military were assigned to segregated divisions. Black servicemen were given lesser support positions such as grave-digging or cooking, and they were served food in separate lines from white servicemen. At first, black servicemen did not engage in combat, but as the war went on, increasing numbers were placed in front-line positions, where they served with distinction.

After World War II ended, America’s segregation policies were put under the microscope. President Harry Truman created a committee to investigate the issue, and in 1948, Truman issued an executive order that eliminated racial discrimination in all of the military branches. The tide began to turn noticeably toward equality in the following years with a series of Supreme Court victories for civil rights. Black people finally began breaking down racial barriers and challenging segregation with success, and the pinnacle of this effort was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which abolished the Jim Crow laws. This law outlawed discrimination in any type of public accommodation. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act followed, which protected black people’s right to vote by barring discriminatory voting laws.

Recommended Reading:

Learn more about Jim Crow laws and how they have affected people by visiting these websites:

VICE: Being Black in America Is a Health Risk. It’s Time for Reparations.

From the Middle Passage to slave labor camps to Jim Crow to the present, at the root of these disparities is segregation, which, as a matter of public policy, sorted Black people into places that incubate illness. The effect, according to Rodney Hood, the former president of the National Medical Association, in a 2001 column on reparations, has been to repeatedly lock Black people into “contagious, cruel, and stressful” environments while also locking them out of healthcare.

Mary Anne Adams is a 64-year-old Black woman who was born during the reign of Jim Crow in Oxford, Mississippi. The South that Mary Anne was born into by law restricted Black people from receiving healthcare. Jim Crow laws segregated hospitals in Mississippi and made it illegal for nurses to treat Black men in Alabama. One out of three hospitals in the South would not treat Black people even in emergencies, according to a study published the year after Mary Anne was born.

Though Mary Anne was one of 10 children, none were born in hospitals—indeed, fewer than 10 percent of all Black infants were born in hospitals in Mississippi at that time. “I have no recollection of Black women going to a hospital to give birth,” Adams said.

The outcome is what you would expect: Before the federal government forced desegregation in hospitals, more than six times as many Black babies were dying of diarrhea and pneumonia than white infants in Mississippi.

Meanwhile, in St. Louis, Missouri, a series of conscious policy decisions segregated the city, ultimately creating an 18-year Black-white disparity in life expectancy. As VICE has previously reported, the real estate industry put an enormous amount of blood, sweat, and white tears into this effort, starting with a 1916 racial zoning ordinance, which kept Black people from moving onto blocks that were mostly white. When the Supreme Court ended the ordinance, industry leaders turned to racial deed covenants, which said white home buyers couldn’t rent to Black people. When the courts stopped them from using those covenants, they created residential security maps, which allowed lenders to deny Black people mortgages on the basis of “undesirability” or other less overtly racist-sounding euphemisms. This practice, known as redlining because of the red color applied to the “undesirable” areas on maps, resulted in only 3.3 percent of Black people in St. Louis having mortgages by the early 1960s.

The result of these and other practices, such as designing highways that cut off Black neighborhoods, has been to trap Black people in places with greater exposure to environmental threats like air pollution and lead poisoning, while cutting off access to social goods like quality food and pharmacies.

Not only do these environments lead to Black communities facing higher rates of health problems, but at every step of the healthcare-seeking process, Black people run into man-made barriers: There are often fewer choices of providers in their communities, transportation barriers to seeing those providers, and higher costs to get the care needed. Even if people can clear those hurdles, there’s a risk of not receiving the same quality treatment as white patients for the same conditions, too often with deadly consequences.

For example, people with aggressive prostate cancer need surgery or a combination of radiation and hormone therapy. “Our data show that Black men with this form of prostate cancer are less likely to get any treatment in such circumstances,” said Quoc-Dien Trinh, an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. “If Black men don’t get treated when they have lethal cancer, then obviously they will appear to die more often from this form of cancer.”

Wikipedia: Plessy v Ferguson

“Was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court issued in 1896. It upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws for public facilities as long as the segregated facilities were equal in quality – a doctrine that came to be known as “separate but equal“.[3][4] The decision legitimized the many state laws re-establishing racial segregation that had been passed in the American South after the end of the Reconstruction Era (1865–1877).

The decision was handed down by a vote of 7 to 1, with the majority opinion written by Justice Henry Billings Brown and the lone dissent written by Justice John Marshall Harlan. The Court ruled that the Louisiana law did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, stating that although the Fourteenth Amendment established the legal equality of white and black Americans, it did not and could not require the elimination of all social or other “distinctions based upon color”. The Court rejected Plessy’s lawyers’ arguments that the Louisiana law inherently implied that black people were inferior, and gave great deference to American state legislatures’ inherent power to make laws regulating health, safety, and morals—the “police power”—and to determine the reasonableness of the laws they passed.

Plessy is widely regarded as one of the worst decisions in U.S. Supreme Court history.[5] Despite its infamy, the decision itself has never been explicitly overruled.[6] However, a series of subsequent decisions beginning with the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education—which held that the “separate but equal” doctrine is unconstitutional in the context of public schools and educational facilities—have severely weakened Plessy to the point that it is generally considered to have been de facto overruled.[1]

The New Yorker: The Supreme Court Case That Enshrined White Supremacy in Law

“After Dred Scott, Plessy is probably the most notorious decision involving race in the history of the United States Supreme Court. It is the case identified with the principle of “separate but equal”—the theory that segregation is not per se discrimination. Plessy is the decision the Supreme Court had to overturn, in Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, to declare that school segregation violated the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

From our perspective, therefore, Plessy looks huge. So it’s revealing that, as the journalist Steve Luxenberg tells us in “Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation,” little note was taken of the decision at the time. Even when principal figures in the case died, years later, their obituaries made no mention of it. It’s revealing because it suggests that Plessy should never have been brought in the first place. The decision did not create a new justification for racial segregation; it locked an old one into place.

Plessy was a test case. It challenged a law that Louisiana passed in 1890, the Separate Car Act, requiring railroads to maintain separate cars for white and “colored” riders—in order, according to the act, “to promote the comfort of passengers.” The penalty for breaking the law was a fine or a short prison sentence. Transportation had been segregated in parts of the country, both North and South, since long before the Civil War, and many cases had been brought by passengers complaining of discrimination, with mixed success. But in those cases segregation was a matter of company policy. In the Louisiana case, the constitutionality of a state law was at issue.

When the South began instituting Jim Crow, after the end of Reconstruction, laws mandating separate cars on trains appeared across the region. One of the first was passed in Florida, in 1887, followed by Mississippi, in 1888, and Texas, in 1889. When Louisiana passed its separate-cars law, a New Orleans lawyer and newspaper editor named Louis Martinet—his mother was born a slave; his father, a Belgian, bought her freedom—formed the Citizens’ Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law, and set about building a case.

First, Martinet approached the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which agreed to act as a silent partner. It did not do so out of altruism. From a business point of view, segregation represented a cost—the cost of providing separate facilities for black customers. It would have been cheaper for the railroads if the state had mandated integration instead.

Then Martinet recruited a plaintiff, Daniel Desdunes, a young mixed-race musician whose father was on the Committee. On February 24, 1892, Desdunes boarded a train in New Orleans with a ticket for Mobile, Alabama, and sat in a car reserved for whites. He was duly arrested and charged, his case set to be heard by the criminal-court judge in New Orleans, John Ferguson. All had gone as planned, but then, in another case, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the Separate Car Act did not apply to interstate passengers. Because Desdunes had been going to another state, he could not be required to use a separate car, and the prosecution dropped the case.

The interstate-travel issue was a persistent wrinkle in the Jim Crow era, and it inspired some impressive judicial contortions. In 1878, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Reconstruction-era Louisiana statute requiring integrated facilities on steamboats. Under the Constitution, only Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce. Because riverboats stopped in many states, the Court said, they could not be bound by the regulations of one state.

You might assume that a state law requiring segregated facilities on interstate carriers would be subject to the same prohibition. In 1890, however, the Supreme Court held otherwise. It declared that an interstate train was subject to a Mississippi law requiring separate cars for “colored” and white passengers for as long as the train was in Mississippi. The Court somehow parsed its way around its own earlier decision.

But now, because of the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling, Martinet needed another volunteer scofflaw. Fortunately, he had one at hand: Homer Plessy. Like Desdunes, Plessy was light-skinned—“fair-skinned enough to cause confusion,” as Luxenberg puts it, suggesting that Plessy might have been accustomed to passing, as many nominally “colored” people in New Orleans did. He was twenty-nine years old, married, and in the shoemaking business. Like Desdunes, he followed the script. On June 7, 1892, he boarded a train, one travelling only within the state of Louisiana, and sat in the car for white passengers. When the conductor asked if Plessy was colored, he said yes, and was removed from the train and booked. (Train conductors were in a ridiculous position: even if the law required trains to have separate cars, riders could still sue the conductor for misclassifying them.)

Plessy came before the same Judge Ferguson, who ruled that, since there had been no claim that the cars for white and black passengers were not “equal,” there was no constitutional issue. The Louisiana Supreme Court agreed, adding that, if the Separate Cars Act were declared unconstitutional, many other state laws—on separate schools, intermarriage, and so forth—would be affected. The U.S. Supreme Court finally heard the case four years later, and on May 18, 1896, it issued its opinion.

As Luxenberg points out, the concept “separate but equal” (the phrase the Court used in Plessy was actually “equal but separate”) was hardly a novelty. It had been a customary way to throw out complaints about segregation since before the Civil War. In Plessy, the Court added a gloss that became almost as famous as the phrase itself: “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority,” it said. “If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” As Charles Black, a Yale law professor, wrote of these sentences many years later, “The curves of callousness and stupidity intersect at their respective maxima.”

The assumption that separate facilities for blacks—railroad cars, steamboat berths, schools—were not inferior is a good example of the Supreme Court’s formalism in that period of American law. Everyone knew the assumption was false. The Jim Crow train car was sometimes called “the dirt car,” and “colored” schools were often shacks. It was also absurd to claim that the “badge of inferiority” was a black person’s construction. In Dred Scott, the Chief Justice, Roger Taney, had said that, constitutionally, black people were “a subordinate and inferior class of beings,” with “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Warren Court would cite psychological studies showing that black children are harmed by segregation. That’s not something a nineteenth-century court would have considered appropriate (and some people did not consider it appropriate in Brown). In cases like Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court looked to the text of the statute. If the statute did not prescribe unequal conditions, then, legally, conditions were not unequal.”

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow | PBS | ep 1 of 4 Promises Betrayed

Watch the Other 3 Episodes Here

De Jure vs De Facto Segregation

  • De Jure vs De Facto
    • De jure (in law) segregation happened more in the South
      • Segregation laws, voting restrictions, etc.
    • De facto (unofficial but widely accepted) segregation happened more in the North
      • Banking discrimination, housing discrimination, etc.
  • Local and state laws (De jure) that
    • Legalized segregation across all aspects of life
      • Segregation of public schools, public places, recreational facilities, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, drinking fountains, sports, government, military, marriage, prisons, elections, political parties, housing, juries, etc.
    • Legalize black voter suppression
      • Literary tests, poll taxes, “White only” primaries, grandfather clauses, protection for violent voter intimidation
        • 1890s there were some 100,000 African-American voters in Texas
          • By 1906 that number had fallen to fewer than 5,000.
        • Majority U.S. states banned interracial marriage up till 1967 Loving v. Virginia
        • In 1912 President Woodrow Wilson ordered federal government segregated
        • Politically, economically, socially, educationally, residentially, marginalized black people
  • Plessey v. Ferguson (1896)
    • Upheld constitutionality of racial segregation and introduced “separate but equal” doctrine
      • If the facilities provided to each race were equal, state and local govs could require that services be segregated by race
    • In reality Jim Crow created separate and unequal systems where white services were funded better than black services
  • Residential Segregation (De facto and De jure)
    • De Facto
      • Sundown Towns, Intimidation/white terrorism, Predatory Selling and Renting, Banking discrimination, Urban renewal projects
    • De Jure
      • Racially Biased Zoning Ordinances, Racial Covenants, Public Housing discrimination, Federal Housing Administration (FHA) program of Redlining

Equal Justice Initiative Report: Segregation in America

FROM SLAVERY TO SEGREGATION

“White Americans concentrated in the South and influential throughout the country conducted a widespread, organized, and determined campaign to defend their “way of life” against the “burden of integration.” Racist politicians enjoyed support from the majority of white voters; the Ku Klux Klan claimed many of the South’s mos tprominent and powerful citizens as members; and white perpetrators of vicious attacks on black people were regularly acquitted by all-white juries…White Americans committed to the myth of black inferiority used the law and violent terrorism to establish an apartheid society that relegated black Americans to second-class citizenship and economic exploitation. ”

Sundown Towns

Image result for sundown towns

  • Sundown towns (1890s– 1960s)
    • Thousands of all-white towns harshly enforcing segregation
      • Restricted people of color from living or visiting
        • With discriminatory local laws, intimidation, violence
      • Named after signs saying black people must leave by sundown
        • Many signs were still up in the 1970s
      • Occurred all over country
        • Largely in opposition to Great Migration and de-segregation efforts
          • By 1970 70% of Illinois towns were sundown towns
        • Sundown also included suburbs, neighborhoods, villages, counties
          • Chevy Chase Maryland one of the first Sundown Suburb
            • 1909: Chevy Chase Land Company successfully sued developer to prevent Black housing
              • By 2000 its 6,183 residents included just 18 African Americans
  • Many Sundown towns ethnically cleansed black people
    • “whites in about 50 towns used mob violence to expel and keep out African Americans, and many more relied on the threat of violence. Some towns passed “legal” ordinances banning hiring blacks or renting or selling them homes; others relied on citizens to pay informal visits to warn visiting African Americans that they “must not remain in town.”” James Loewen – Sundown Towns: Hidden Dimension of American Racism
  • Sundown communities continue to exist today
    • Most white people in US live in majority white communities, schools churches
      • Lack any serious connections with a person of color

Map of Sundown Towns

Vox: The guide book that helped black Americans travel during segregation

EJI: Segregation in America

SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL: THE COURT’S ROLE

“For more than a century before its groundbreaking decision to desegregate public schools in 1954, the Supreme Court protected slavery, undermined equal rights, immunized lynch mobs from punishment, and embraced Jim Crow. Brown v. Board of Education was a striking departure from the Court’s longstanding role shielding the South from challenges to its racial caste system.

The Supreme Court vigorously defended the property rights of slave owners and enshrined the narrative of racial difference in its precedent by holding that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” whether they were enslaved or not.58

The Court struck down state laws to prevent slave traders from kidnapping free black people and selling them into slavery59 and defended slave owners’ property rights by vacating the Missouri Compromise, which limited slavery in new United States territories.60

Infamously, the Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford established that no black person, free or enslaved, could be a citizen of the United States.61 The Court reasoned that black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations,” and therefore, it is “absolutely certain that the African race were not included under the name of citizens of a State” and not entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship.62

Undermining Reconstruction

During Reconstruction — the period immediately following the Civil War when an effort was made to defend the rights of formerly enslaved black people — Congress passed three constitutional amendments: the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude; the Fourteenth Amendment overturned Dred Scott, declared all people born in the United States to be citizens, and guaranteed citizens due process and equal protection of the laws; and the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denying a man the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Supreme Court swiftly and systematically gutted all three.

The Fourteenth Amendment was designed to prevent states from violating the rights of formerly enslaved people. In 1872, in the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Court nullified the amendment by holding that it could not limit the power of states to deny basic rights to their own citizens.63

In 1875, in United States v. Reese, the Court held that the Fifteenth Amendment did not grant African Americans a federal right to vote, 64 struck down the statute Congress passed to protect African Americans’ voting rights, and overturned the convictions of two election officials who had refused to count a black man’s vote. 65

Complicity in Racial Terrorism

As racial terror lynching raged throughout the South following the abolition of slavery, the Supreme Court repeatedly rendered the federal government powerless to protect African Americans from racial violence.

After killing as many as 150 black people peacefully protesting at the courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana, in 1873, white defendants were convicted under a federal law designed to combat the Ku Klux Klan. 66 The Court overturned their convictions in United States v. Cruikshank and struck down the statute, holding that Congress was empowered to regulate only state action, not the acts of private citizens — even if they committed murder.67

The conceit of this private/state actor distinction was laid bare in Screws v. United States, when the Court overturned the conviction of a sheriff who, along with two other law enforcement officers, beat a handcuffed black man to death.68

The Court not only shut down federal attempts to protect black citizens, but also permitted state courts to deny justice to black victims. While the Court struck down a law that excluded black men from jury service solely based on race in 1879, it permitted states to create property and educational requirements for jury service and gave local officials nearly unfettered discretion to use those requirements to exclude African Americans. 69

The Court made it so difficult to prove racial discrimination in jury selection that between 1904 and 1935, not a single conviction of a black defendant was reversed because of racial discrimination in jury selection, even though African Americans were universally excluded from Southern juries.70 Meanwhile, all-white juries reliably acquitted white perpetrators of lynchings and other racial violence.

Authorizing Jim Crow

In 1898, in Williams v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court upheld Mississippi’s poll tax and other voting qualifications, even though the Court acknowledged they were adopted explicitly to disenfranchise African Americans, because the provisions on their face were “not limited by their language or effect to one race.”71
And even though registrars used the qualifications to deny registration to all black voters, the Court found “it has not been shown that their actual administration was evil; only that evil was possible under them.”72

Alabama voting laws were more explicitly discriminatory, but in Giles v. Harris, the Court found no constitutional problem with Alabama’s scheme, even when shown that black men who met all qualifications were still refused registration.73 The Court concluded there was nothing it could do if Alabama was truly determined to prevent African Americans from voting, and so it denied all relief.74

While the Court struck down an undeniably unconstitutional grandfather clause in Guinn v. United States in 1915, it upheld the use of literacy tests75 and poll taxes — tactics used to effectively deny voting rights to generations of African Americans for another 50 years.76

The Court struck down anti-segregation laws and upheld state laws that required segregation. In 1877, the Court in Hall v. DeCuir struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited segregation on all public conveyances within the state, 77 holding that it unconstitutionally regulated interstate commerce. 78 But a few years later the Court allowed a Mississippi segregation law to mandate racial separation on interstate railroad cars. 79

Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court’s most well-known decision upholding segregation, considered a Louisiana law requiring racial segregation of railroad passengers and found no constitutional violation where facilities were “separate but equal.” Writing in 1896, the Court found that Louisiana’s law could not “abolish distinctions based upon color, or [] enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” 80 The Court rejected Mr. Plessy’s argument that forced racial separation branded black people as inferior, and countered, “If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” 81

Even when enforcing its own “separate but equal” doctrine, the Court showed little commitment to the “equal” requirement. In Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education, 55 years before Brown, the Court upheld the school board’s decision to close the black high school but keep open the white high school because, it concluded, “it is impracticable to distribute taxes equally.” 82 The Court absolved itself of responsibility for ensuring equality in education, writing that “the education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective states.” 83

The Court’s embrace of Jim Crow extended even to voluntary associations between white and black people. In Berea College v. Kentucky, in 1908, the Court upheld a Kentucky law that prohibited private colleges from teaching black and white students together, reasoning that the college, although private, was nonetheless dependent on a state charter, and so was subject to virtually any conditions that Kentucky chose to impose. 84

In 1875, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which barred racial discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, conveyances, and places of amusement. In the Civil Rights Cases, the Court struck down the law, holding that Congress had no authority to prohibit discrimination by private parties.

The Court rejected the argument that the law was meant to eradicate the effects of slavery, writing that formerly enslaved people had already been given enough time and assistance and could not expect to forever be “the special favorite of the laws.”

Washington University of St. Louis: Segregation in St. Louis-Dismantling the Divide

Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 7.59.05 PM  Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 7.59.18 PM

Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 7.59.26 PM  Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 7.59.43 PM

Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 7.59.57 PM   Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 8.00.04 PM

 
On 5 June 1934, about a year and half after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich, the leading lawyers of Nazi Germany gathered at a meeting to plan what would become the Nuremberg Laws, the centrepiece anti-Jewish legislation of the Nazi race regime.The meeting was an important one, and a stenographer was present to take down a verbatim transcript, to be preserved by the ever-diligent Nazi bureaucracy as a record of a crucial moment in the creation of the new race regime.

 

That transcript reveals a startling fact: the meeting involved lengthy discussions of the law of the United States of America. At its very opening, the Minister of Justice presented a memorandum on US race law and, as the meeting progressed, the participants turned to the US example repeatedly.

They debated whether they should bring Jim Crow segregation to the Third Reich. They engaged in detailed discussion of the statutes from the 30 US states that criminalised racially mixed marriages. They reviewed how the various US states determined who counted as a ‘Negro’ or a ‘Mongol’, and weighed whether they should adopt US techniques in their own approach to determining who counted as a Jew. Throughout the meeting the most ardent supporters of the US model were the most radical Nazis in the room.

The record of that meeting is only one piece of evidence in an unexamined history that is sure to make Americans cringe. Throughout the early 1930s, the years of the making of the Nuremberg Laws, Nazi policymakers looked to US law for inspiration. Hitler himself, in Mein Kampf (1925), described the US as ‘the one state’ that had made progress toward the creation of a healthy racist society, and after the Nazis seized power in 1933 they continued to cite and ponder US models regularly.

They saw many things to despise in US constitutional values, to be sure. But they also saw many things to admire in US white supremacy, and when the Nuremberg Laws were promulgated in 1935, it is almost certainly the case that they reflected direct US influence

This story might seem incredible. Why would the Nazis have felt the need to take lessons in racism from anybody? Why, most especially, would they have looked to the US?

Whatever its failings, after all, the US is the home of a great liberal and democratic tradition. Moreover, the Jews of the US – however many obstacles they might have confronted in the early 20th century – never faced state-sponsored persecution. And, in the end, Americans made immense sacrifices in the struggle to defeat Hitler.

But the reality is that, in the early 20th century, the US, with its vigorous and creative legal culture, led the world in racist lawmaking. That was not only true of the Jim Crow South. It was true on the national level as well.

The US had race-based immigration law, admired by racists all over the world; and the Nazis, like their Right-wing European successors today (and so many US voters) were obsessed with the dangers posed by immigration.

The US stood alone in the world for the harshness of its anti-miscegenation laws, which not only prohibited racially mixed marriages, but also threatened mixed-race couples with severe criminal punishment. Again, this was not law confined to the South. It was found all over the US: Nazi lawyers carefully studied the statutes, not only of states such as Virginia, but also states such as Montana.

It is true that the US did not persecute the Jews – or at least, as one Nazi lawyer remarked in 1936, it had not persecuted the Jews ‘so far’ – but it had created a host of forms of second-class citizenship for other minority groups, including Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Puerto Ricans and Native Americans, scattered all over the Union and its colonies. American forms of second-class citizenship were of great interest to Nazi policymakers as they set out to craft their own forms of second-class citizenship for the German Jewry.

Not least, the US was the greatest economic and cultural power in the world after 1918 – dynamic, modern, wealthy. Hitler and other Nazis envied the US, and wanted to learn how the Americans did it; it’s no great surprise that they believed that what had made America great was American racism

Of course, however ugly American race law might have been, there was no American model for Nazi extermination camps, even if the Nazis often expressed their admiration for the American conquest of the West, when, as Hitler declared, the settlers had ‘shot down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand’.In any case extermination camps were not the issue during the early 1930s, when the Nuremberg Laws were framed. The Nazis were not yet contemplating mass murder. Their aim at the time was to compel the Jews by whatever means possible to flee Germany, in order to preserve the Third Reich as a pure ‘Aryan’ country.

And here they were indeed convinced that they could identify American models – and some strange American heroes. For a young Nazi lawyer named Heinrich Krieger, for example, who had studied at the University of Arkansas as an exchange student, and whose diligent research on US race law formed the basis for the work of the Nazi Ministry of Justice, the great American heroes were Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.

Did not Jefferson say, in 1821, that it is certain ‘that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government’? Did not Lincoln often declare, before 1864, that the only real hope of America lay in the resettlement of the black population somewhere else? For a Nazi who believed that Germany’s only hope lay in the forced emigration of the Jews, these could seem like shining examples.

None of this is entirely easy to talk about. It is hard to overcome our sense that if we influenced Nazism we have polluted ourselves in ways that can never be cleansed. Nevertheless the evidence is there, and we cannot read it out of either German or American history.

Further Readings

Back to Top


History of Desegregation

Timeline for Outlawing Segregation

  • WW2 helped expose internationally racial discrimination in the US
    • Feds became more responsive when the issue threatened national political interests, not just black lives
  • At the same time, grassroots activism against segregation was on the rise
    • Between 1940 and 1946, NAACP membership grew from less than 50,000 to nearly a half million
  • Desegregation victories
    • 1942 – FDR signed Executive Order 8802 prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense industry
    • 1944 – Smith v. Allwright ends segregated primaries in all Southern states
    • 1946 – Supreme Court declared state segregation laws unconstitutional as applied to interstate bus travel
    • 1947 – Mendez v. Westminster School District – segregating Latino students in California unconstitutional
    • 1948 – Truman signed Executive Order 9981 abolished racial discrimination and segregation in military
    • 1954 – Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregation was unconstitutional.
    • 1955 – “Brown II” the Supreme Court required that desegregation occur with “all deliberate speed.”
    • 1956 – After Montgomery Bus Boycott – Supreme Court declared Alabama bus laws unconstitutional
    • 1960 – Boynton v. Virginia ruled segregated buses were unconstitutional – launched Freedom Riders
    • 1964 – Civil Rights Act – outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
    • 1965 – Voting Rights Act – outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states
    • 1968 – Fair Housing Act – prohibited discrimination in the sale and rental of housing
  • By 1968 all forms of federal racial segregation/discrimination declared unconstitutional
    • Racial discrimination became illegal in school systems, housing, businesses, voting, the American military, immigration, other civil services and the government
  • 1968-1973 the Supreme Court continued to rule in support of desegregation efforts

Civil Rights Movement

“In three difficult years, the southern struggle had grown from a modest group of black students demonstrating at one lunch-counter to the largest mass movement for racial reform and civil rights in the 20th century” Manning Marable, Malcolm X

  • Focused on
    • desegregation, civil rights protections, voting protections, fair housing, etc
  • Height of the Civil Rights Movement (1961-1963)
    • Over 20,000 people arrested protesting Jim Crow laws
    • 1963 alone
      • Over 15,000 arrested
      • Over 1000 desegregation protests in more than 100 cities
    • According to DOJ, the 10 weeks before King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech
      • There were 758 demonstrations in 186 cities resulting in 14,733 arrests.
  • 1963 Birmingham Campaign
    • Mainly protesting Alabama’s racial segregation laws
    • Considered one of the major turning points in the Civil Rights Movement
    • Sit-ins, marches, protests, boycotts, Children’s Crusade
    • Met with police brutality, dogs, fire hoses, bombings, arrests, etc.
    • Much of it was captured on TV and in news
      • Before Campaign, only 4% of Americans thought civil rights was a pressing issue
        • Afterwards it was 52%
      • “The events in Birmingham… have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.” President Kennedy

The Birmingham Children’s Crusade

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

The Civil Rights Movement was so much more than Rosa Part refusing to give up her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall before 250,000 people. The movement was a series of hard. fought, locally organized campaigns, supported at times by national organizations such as King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), shining the klieg lights of the press on gross inequities in employment, accommodations, and the right to vote. Adopting the strategy of nonviolence, African Americans skillfully used the media to expose the horrors of Jim Crow to the world from snarling dogs lunging at unarmed demonstrators in Birmingham, to schoolteachers yanked onto the concrete for trying to register to vote in Selma, to four little girls in Birmingham dynamited in church right after a Sunday-school lesson on “A Love That Forgives.”1

This was a battle, as the SCLC noted, “to redeem the soul of America.” It was obvious that a series of congressionally neutered Civil Rights Acts, one in 1957 and another in 1960, was so ineffectual that the conditions of mass disfranchisement and overt discrimination remained virtually untouched. African Americans and their white allies would, therefore, put their bodies on the line to shake the American public and the U.S. government out of a fog of moral and legal lethargy. Thus, a triple murder of civil rights workers in Mississippi led eventually to the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and the killings in Selma and the horrific spectacle of Bloody Sundy where nonviolent protestors were tear=gassed, whipped, and trampled by horse-bound troopers-resulted in the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965

Equal Justice Intitiative: Segregation in America

FROM SLAVERY TO SEGREGATION

During World War II, American leaders resented the way that German and Japanese propagandists “made the most of the anti-Negro discrimination in this country.”30 And after the war, “[t]he Cold War focus on the ideals of democracy and freedom assured that racial exceptions to the American practice of those principals would receive careful attention,” one historian observed. “Acts of racial violence in obscure rural parts of Dixie changed almost overnight from events of mostly local interest to headlines splashed across newspapers around the world.”31 Federal officials and Northern elites who had been indifferent to generations of racial violence and discrimination became more responsive when the issue threatened national political interests and not just black lives.

In 1942, in response to black leaders’ threat to stage a march on Washington, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination in the national defense industry.32 Six years later, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981, which abolished racial discrimination in the military and ended segregation in the armed forces.33

In 1944, a NAACP lawsuit challenging the Democratic Party’s all-white primaries led to a decision striking down the practice in Texas34 that ultimately ended segregated primaries in all Southern states.35 In 1946, the Supreme Court declared state segregation laws unconstitutional as applied to interstate bus travel.

At the same time, grassroots activism against segregation was on the rise.

Between 1940 and 1946, NAACP membership grew from less than 50,000 to nearly a half million, and a third of these were based in the South. 37 A black veteran named Medgar Evers helped the organization sprout branches throughout Mississippi in the 1940s and to charter a statewide conference in 1945. 38 In 1942, 2000 people attended a mass meeting in Harlem, New York, at which speakers called on President Roosevelt to condemn lynching. 39

“I reject the widespread view that an action is not unconstitutional until the Supreme Court says so. Few Americans think that racial segregation in schools was constitutional before 1954, when the Supreme Court prohibited it. Rather, segregation was always unconstitutional, although a misguided Supreme Court majority mistakenly failed to recognize this” Richard Rothstein, Color of Law

Desegregation vs Integration

Oxford: Desegregation and Integration

“In the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, the Supreme Court unanimously decided that racial segregation was unconstitutional and “inherently unequal.” At that time, desegregation efforts focused primarily on the South and the desegregation of black and white students. The South received attention because most of the seventeen states that had de jure, or legally sanctioned, segregation were located in the South; efforts were concentrated on black and white students because they comprised the majority of public school students at that time…

…Since the 1950s, school districts across the nation have implemented desegregation efforts in various ways, both voluntary and mandatory, with varying levels of success. However, creating and maintaining desegregation is not sufficient for truly achieving integration, which can occur through a comprehensive and deliberate structuring of classrooms and learning environments. “Desegregation” refers to a legal or political process of ending the separation and isolation of different racial and ethnic groups. Desegregation is achieved through court order or voluntary means. “Integration” refers to a social process in which members of different racial and ethnic groups experience fair and equal treatment within a desegregated environment. Integration requires further action beyond desegregation.”

  • Desegregation
    • A legal or political process of ending the separation and isolation of different racial and ethnic groups achieved through court order or voluntary means
  • Integration
    • A social process in which members of different racial and ethnic groups experience fair and equal treatment within a desegregated environment.
    • Integration requires further action beyond desegregation

“Segregation (by now generally recognized as an evil thing) is the arbitrary separation of people on the basis of their race…Desegregation is simply the ending of that practice. Integration is the reverse of segregation…The legitimate goal is an end to discrimination, not some arbitrary admixture of salt and pepper” William Raspberry – Washington Post

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 10.04.27 AM.pngSource: Paul Kuttner

“In recent years many historians have come to distinguish between these like-sounding words.. The movement toward desegregation, breaking down the nation’s Jim Crow system, became increasingly popular in the decade after World War II. Integration, on the other hand, Professor Oscar Handlin maintains, implies several things not yet necessarily accepted in all areas of American society. In one sense it refers to the “levelling of all barriers to association other than those based on ability, taste, and personal preference”;[1] in other words, providing equal opportunity. But in another sense integration calls for the random distribution of a minority throughout society. Here, according to Handlin, the emphasis is on racial balance in areas of occupation, education, residency, and the like.”  Morris J. MacGregor, Jr. in his paper “Integration of the Armed Forces 1940-1969”

“The term ‘desegregation’ is normally reserved to the legal/legislative domain, and it was the legalization of discrimination in public institutions based on race that many fought against in the 1960s. The term ‘integration,’ on the other hand, pertains to a social domain; it does and should refer to individuals of different background who opt to interact.” Henry Organ

Rise of “Race Neutral” Racism

  • 1960s Civil Rights Acts
    • Outlawed future explicit and intentional public discrimination, like Jim Crow
      • Didn’t address head start white people have from discrimination
      • Nor “non-explicit” race neutral racism
        • Especially in the private sector
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965
    • Prohibits racial discrimination in voting
    • Allowed other race neutral discrimination
      • Voter ID laws, political gerrymandering, felon disenfranchisement, eliminating early voting, etc.
  • Fair Housing Act of 1968
    • Outlawed Housing Discrimination
    • Allowed race neutral discrimination
      • Exclusionary zoning laws (single family units), credit scoring, and unaffordability

“And so, as much as the Civil Rights Act served to erect a dam against Jim Crow policies, it also opened the floodgates for new racist ideas to pour in, including the most racist idea to date: it was an idea that ignored the White head-start, presumed that discrimination had been eliminated, presumed that equal opportunity had taken over, and figured that since Blacks were still losing the race, the racial disparities and their continued losses must be their fault. Black people must be inferior, and equalizing policies — like eliminating or reducing White seniority, or instituting affirmative action policies — would be unjust and ineffective. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 managed to bring on racial progress and progression of racism at the same time.” Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

RRTR-Tree-SM.jpgSource: Roosvelt Institute: Spread the Word: New Rules for the New Deal

Back to Top


White Resistance

LR9-Protest-4-small-min
Crowd protests the admission of black students to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1959

Table of Contents

White Resistance to Desegregation
White Citizens’ Councils
Targeting the NAACP
Bombings and Arson
Mob Violence
School Integration Harassment
Rise of Segregation Academies and Charter Schools
Sit Ins
Freedom Riders
Segregation of Swimming
White Flight, Busing and Non-Southern Resistance
Decline of Judicial Support
Politics and Justice System Behind Segregation



 

White Resistance to Desegregation

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

MASSIVE RESISTANCE

“White Americans implemented a strategy of “massive resistance” to desegregation by deploying a range of tactics and weapons against the growing movement for civil rights. Some of these tools, such as bombing and murdering civil rights activists, continued the tradition of maintaining white supremacy through lethal violence. Other methods, such as criminalizing, arresting, and imprisoning peaceful protestors, foreshadowed the modern mass incarceration era. Opposition to civil rights and racial equality was a mass movement. Most white Americans, especially in the South, supported segregation…In the wake of Brown, up to a quarter of white Southerners admitted to pollsters that they “favored violence, if necessary, to prevent school desegregation. In 1956, Ku Klux Klan rallies drew hundreds, even thousands, in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida — states where the group had been considered extinct…

Opposition to civil rights and racial equality cannot be dismissed as the extremism of a few marginalized vigilantes. Like the lynchings prevalent in generations past, school closures, economic reprisals, arrests and harassment, mob violence, bombings, and murder were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community…Hundreds, if not thousands, of white jurors refused to hold white people accountable for crimes committed against black activists. Thousands of law enforcement officials and officers failed to protect black citizens from harassment, attacks, shootings, and bombings, and many police violently abused and even killed black activists. Public officials who spouted racist rhetoric from their campaign podiums, shut down public schools and parks to prevent integration and encouraged violence against civil rights activists, represented white citizens who applauded their speeches, endorsed their actions, and repeatedly re-elected them to local, state, and national office.“

Virginia Muesum of History and Culture: Massive Resistance

In 1954, the political organization of U.S. senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., controlled Virginia politics. Senator Byrd promoted the “Southern Manifesto” opposing integrated schools, which was signed in 1956 by more than one hundred southern congressmen. On February 25, 1956, he called for what became known as Massive Resistance. This was a group of laws, passed in 1956, intended to prevent integration of the schools. A Pupil Placement Board was created with the power to assign specific students to particular schools. Tuition grants were to be provided to students who opposed integrated schools. The linchpin of Massive Resistance was a law that cut off state funds and closed any public school that attempted to integrate.

In September 1958 several schools in Warren County, Charlottesville, and Norfolk were about to integrate under court order. They were seized and closed, but the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the school-closing law. Simultaneously, a federal court issued a verdict against the law based on the “equal protection” clause of the 14th Amendment. Speaking to the General Assembly a few weeks later, Gov. J. Lindsay Almond conceded defeat. Beginning on February 2, 1959, a few courageous black students integrated the schools that had been closed. Still, hardly any African American students in Virginia attended integrated schools.

 

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

BEYOND BROWN: OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

“In response, segregationist forces comprised of activist politicians, cultural commentators, and grassroots community groups used the same infrastructure and identity developed in the fight against school desegregation to oppose the broader civil rights progress that followed.

The full compilation of civil rights heroes and martyrs — including many names we know and remember — is too long to include here, but another group of actors has remained largely anonymous and unacknowledged. That roster includes white elected officials who proudly targeted civil rights activists with violence and intimidation; white community leaders, clergy, and educators who chose to remain silent while their friends, relatives, and neighbors harassed, beat, bombed, and murdered black people; white law enforcement officials who protected white supremacy; and Southern lawmakers who weakly condemned the most infamous attacks while obstructing federal civil rights legislation and fanning the flames of segregationist outrage….

Dozens of people died in anti-civil rights violence between 1954 and 1968,223 and countless more were injured and traumatized while fighting for equal rights. A study of violent civil rights-related incidents in the South documented more than 100 attacks between January 1, 1955, and May 1, 1958.224 “Although [demonstrators] won several victories,” one scholar observed, “the U.S., particularly the South, became a war zone…

Opposition to civil rights and racial equality cannot be dismissed as the extremism of a few marginalized vigilantes. Like the lynchings prevalent in generations past, school closures, economic reprisals, arrests and harassment, mob violence, bombings, and murder were bold, public acts that implicated the entire community.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of white jurors refused to hold white people accountable for crimes committed against black activists. Thousands of law enforcement officials and officers failed to protect black citizens from harassment, attacks, shootings, and bombings, and many police violently abused and even killed black activists. Public officials who spouted racist rhetoric from their campaign podiums, shut down public schools and parks to prevent integration, and encouraged violence against civil rights activists represented white citizens who applauded their speeches, endorsed their actions, and repeatedly re-elected them to local, state, and national office.

People like James Eastland, Strom Thurmond, and George Wallace portrayed white Southerners as patriots rather than racists; as brave protectors of their culture rather than perpetrators of violent attacks against men, women, and children; and as defenders of state sovereignty against an overreaching federal government intent on destroying their way of life rather than violators of constitutional right.

Opponents of racial equality embraced this identity, which empowered them to cast their immoral behavior as moral and to feel pride rather than shame as they used economic intimidation, criminalization, bombings, beatings, and even murder to defend white supremacy. This identity became the civil rights era’s most enduring legacy.”

PBS Short Video on White Resistance to Desegregation

White Resistance

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Traditionally, white Southern resistance to Brown has been captured by the visual images of violence that followed the Supreme Court decision: the horribly mutilated body of Emmett Till; the angry mob of housewives surrounding traumatized Elizabeth Eckford on the first day of school at Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas; and the disturbing Norman Rockwell painting of little, pigtailed six-year-old Ruby Bridges surrounded by towering National Guardsmen and racial epithets scrawled on the wall as she walked up the steps to desegregate her elementary school in New Orleans. None of that violence would have happened, however, and certainly would not have been given the broader societal stamp of approval, if the respected elements in white society-governors, legislators, U.S. senators, congressmen, and even, more tepidly, the president of the United States-had not condoned complete defiance of and contempt for the Supreme Court and the constitutional provision that its decisions are the law of the land.

By 1963, not one black child attended a public school with a white in South Carolina, Alabama, or Mississippi. In Virginia, the wholace of Massive Resistance, a full decade after Brown, only 163 percent of blacks were attending desegregated schools.65 In North Carolina, generally billed as having a “more genteel” Jim Crow, fewer than 1 percent of black pupils in the state attended schools with whites. 66 African American students who once saw in Brown their “opportunity to step forward and prove to the world that the Negro is as capable as any human being,” now saw the lives and futures of nearly 2.7 million black children hanging precariously in legal purgatory in the old Confederacy.67 African Americans faced a Hobson’s choice: back down and accept the inferior, unequal, and unconstitutional education that states insisted black children deserved, or call the South’s bluff and risk no public schools at all.

Delaware had witnessed the first act of Massive Resistance Brown in the town of Milford, where approximately 1,500 people descended on the high school shouting “Keep our schools white and “Dynamite the schools!” A subsequent district court ruling snubbed both the landmark 1954 decision and Cooper v. Aaron by authorizing a twelve-year delay in implementing Brown-or, essentially, another complete era of black children in the swamp of Jim Crow education, despite the well-stated law of the land. “At least implicitly,” the federal judges “conceded … that white people’s prejudices and lack of self-restraint were justification for continuing to deny blacks their constitutional protections.”76

In Virginia, when local school boards in Charlottesville, Norfolk, and Front Royal were under federal court orders to admit black students, Governor James Lindsay Almond closed, in his words, every “school threatened with desegregation.” Ironically, because the white, well-funded schools in those cities matched that description (no one was clamoring to integrate overcrowded Moton High in Prince Edward County), he had shut out nearly thirteen thousand white children from getting an education.77 But despite their own actions in bringing Virginia to this point, Governor Almond and his supporters” placed full blame for education disruption at the feet of the ‘NAACP agitators.'”

School closures spread now to besieged Prince Edward County. a time. black children were in the crosshairs, where they would remain for nearly a generation. With Brown looming over their heads, Virginia’s political officials passed a series of laws to close the public schools, siphon tax dollars into private academies, and pay tuition for white students, while ensuring that there was nothing in place for African American children to continue their education. On November 11, 1955, the Gray Commission (named after State Senator Garland Gray) rolled out a phalanx of recommendations to keep Virginia’s schools separate and unequal. Gray first cherry picked the commission’s members, providing disproportionate representation to those in Black Belt counties, and then narrowed discussion even further by tapping only the most ardent segregationists to sit on the all-important executive council.79 Another, more “moderate” alternative, the Perrow Plan (named for State Senator Mosby Perrow), would have at least saved the public schools, but just barely. This plan developed a formula to divert the lion’s share of tax dollars into a private school system while cutting public schools’ funding and operational abilities to the bone. The governor shelved that one and eventually chose Gray’s.80 The state of Virginia was hurtling toward an educational apocalypse. Since 1954, nearly 20 percent of the state’s public schools had closed in response to Brown. Moreover the Gray Plan required Virginia to spend one million dollars for every 1 percent of the student population that chose the private school system. Savoring this Pyrrhic victory, State Senator Gray proudly boasted, “I guess we won the Civil War.”

The Gray Commission’s plan was put into action after a 1959 Fourth Circuit decision reversed a district court ruling that had giving Prince Edward County a full seven years to comply with Brown. With the Fourth Circuit now ordering the schools to integrate by the fall of 1959. county supervisors immediately abolished the property tax that funded public schools and diverted the money into a cache for tuition grants to support the all-white Prince Edward Academy. 2 The supervisors added their county funds to grants offered by the state to ensure that the costs for this private education were covered with public dollars. In addition, sixty-seven of the sixty-nine teachers at Prince Edward Academy were all from the now-closed public schools.

While white children were educated, 2,700 black children were locked out. The defiance of Prince Edward County was singular no other school system in the nation remained closed for five years (1959 to 1964) rather than comply with Brown.84 The impoverished but determined African American community managed to send some children away to relatives, but only thirty-five black students were able to attend those out-of-state schools on a full-time basis. 85 During those five long years, critical in terms of child development, most African American students spent their formative education time in activity centers that the black community cobbled together.86 The Baltimore Afro-American reported that these makeshift centers, some in basements, some in churches, others in abandoned shacks, staffed overwhelmingly by housewives and those with only a high school diploma, could not provide anything approximating an adequate education. The resources were simply not available to be open more than three days a week, for half a day and have a curriculum of “little more than a scant program of reading, singing and discussion.987 These years had taken a great toll on the children.

Once again, black parents, with the determined Reverend L. Francis Griffin as the plaintiff, had to haul Virginia back to cou But as the Washington Post reported, when the lawsuits hit, Edward County supervisors simply “denied that the Virginia constitution requires the operation of public schools in any county.

Finally, cutting through that absurdity, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two unequivocal decisions that forced the schools to reopen.89 Even then local and state authorities “employed every weapon in their arsenal to ensure that the newly reopened system remained segregated, impoverished and academically substandard.”90 The most popular method of foot-dragging was the school board’s freedom-of-choice plan, which ensured that white parents could move their children away from any school “threatened” with desegregation. 91 The result was that by 1969, Prince Edward County Schools were now 98 percent black, and, once again, starved of resources. 92 Stall and defy had transformed into stall and undermine, but the results were the same: devastating93

During the series of court cases swirling around Prince Edward County, a judge had noted that “an interrupted education of one year or even six months at that age places a serious handicap upon a child, which the average one may not overcome.”94 The federal government agreed and in 1963 backed the privately funded Free School to serve as an educational bridge to get the black children of Prince Edward County academically ready for when the public schools finally reopened. 95 But it was too late. One black teen, Skip Griffin, spoke of how “embarrassing” it was to sit in a classroom and look at an assignment, unable to do anything more than write his name at the top of the page. He had two crippling words to describe himself: “very dumb.” His mother had tried to help him, but the schools she herself had attended in Prince Edward County were nothing but shanties and hovels with the equipment to match.9 The psychological devastation was equally debilitating. Henry Cabarrus recalled one of Prince Edward County’s white officials declaring that he would “rather his children be baked in the oven” than go to an integrated school. Cabarrus was taken aback. “When you have such strong white resistance against you as a person such that they can take away the most fundamental thing-education- if someone can take that away from you, your esteem is so small that … you’re always looking over your shoulder for who is going to attack or criticize. ”97 The damage had been done. Eventually Skip Griffin, along with legions of African American children became discouraged and simply dropped out.”

Prince Edward County is emblematic of the way that systematized racism not only destroys black lives but also undermines the very strength of the United States. Even as thousands of African American children were left behind educationally, the economy was beginning a seismic transformation that would require even more of its citizens. Factory jobs, the ones that President Franklin Roosevelt had once called “the arsenal of democracy”—the living-wage-with. barely-a-high-school-diploma jobs were rapidly disappearing. 99 wasn’t quite perceptible then that a sector that at one time had accounted for some 25 percent of all paid employment in the United States would be near collapse by the 1970s.100 But the first cracks in the armor of industrial America were already there in the 1950s.101 By the time Prince Edward County finally decided to implement at least parts of Brown in the 1970s, the heyday of industrial America, where gainful employment had not required a strong education just a strong back-was already well over, with the knowledge-based economy taking hold.102 That economy was primed for those who had had the benefit of years of good schools and, in particular, for whites who had a well-funded public school system that went all the way through the twelfth grade and graduated the lion’s share of them as college-ready.

By contrast, an entire generation of black children who had fought long and hard to receive a quality education was now forced to face this cold, hard new economy with neither the necessary education nor work skills. It was not just black America, however, that suffered the cost of this waste of human lives and tale The brutally relentless tactics of stall and defy, then stam undermine-tactics that went on for at least four decades United States with millions of citizens who lacked the education needed to be competitive in a global, technology-driven economy. This, in turn, left the United States lagging far behind other developed countries and placed the nation at enormous economic risk…

…The refusal to implement Brown throughout the South even in the face of Sputnik-not only as the law or as simple humanity might have dictated but also as demanded by national interest and patriotism-compromised and undermined American strength. Now, in the twenty-first century, the sector of the U.S. economy that accounts for more than 50 percent of our sustained economic expansion, science and engineering, is relying on an ever-dwindling skilled and educated workforce. Whereas at one point, “about 40% of the world’s scientists and engineers resided in the U.S.,” according to Rodney C. Adkins, senior vice president of IBM, “that number shad) shrunk to about 15%” by 2012.

Since the days of enslavement, African Americans have fought to gain access to quality education. Education can be transformative. It reshapes the health outcomes of a people; it breaks the cycle of poverty; it improves housing conditions; it raises the living. Perhaps, most meaningfully, educational attainment significantly increases voter participation.135 In strengthens a democracy.

As if sensing this threat, white opposition careened from Massive Resistance of disfranchisement, interposition, sch closures, and harassment of the NAACP to the passive resistance of pupil placement laws, residential segregation, token integration and “neighborhood schools. “136 In Little Rock, when the schools were forced to reopen, the most liberal member of the school board, sounding eerily similar to Georgia attorney general Eugene Cook, proposed using the law to undercut Brown and limit how integrated Little Rock schools would be. He argued that pupil-assignment plans, using the same factors that Mississippi had considered “ability,” “whether a good fit or not” could ensure that most African Americans stayed right where they were in their “well segregated neighborhoods.” Meanwhile, a handful of blacks could be enrolled in white schools; just enough, he explained, to satisfy the federal courts,” but at the same time, “small enough to satisfy the reluctant and vocal whites in the community.”137 This tactical shift from stall and defy to stall and undermine effectively “clogged” court dockets for more than forty years, as African Americans struggled to nail down a moving target whose goal had not changed: Stop black advancement.138

African Americans weren’t the only ones who took a bit. The states of the Deep South, which fought Brown tooth and nail, today all fall in the bottom quartile of state rankings for educational attainment, per capita income, and quality of health. Prince Edward County, in particular, bears the scars of a place that saw fit to to fight the Civil War right into the middle of the twentieth century.   Certainly it is no accident that, in 2013, despite a knowledge base, technology-driven global economy, the number one occupation in the county seat of Farmville was “cook and food preparation worker.” Nor is it any accident that in 2013, while 9.9 percent of white households in the county made less than ten thousand dollars in annual income, fully 32.9 percent of black households fell below that threshold. 140 The insistence on destroying Brown, and thus the viability of America’s schools and the quality of education children receive regardless of where they live, has resulted in the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession” for wide swaths of the American public.”

Back to White Resistance Top


White Citizens’ Councils

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

MASSIVE RESISTANCE

“White Citizens’ Councils spread rapidly throughout the South. Within two years (after 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision), more than 250,000 determined members 116 were working together to delay school desegregation through political action, economic intimidation, and even violence. “

  • White Citizens’ Councils
    • Orgs of white segregationists/supremacists opposing integration & black voters
    • First council formed in July, 1954, 2 months after Brown v Board of Education
  • Members used intimidation, violence, economic boycotts, job firings, evictions
    • Capitalized on whites’ dominance over financial capital, land ownership, industries
      • To punish civil rights participation
        • Within 2 weeks after 17 black parents signed pro-integration petition in Elloree, South Carolina
          • All had lost their jobs or been evicted from their farms
        • 53 black residents of Yazoo County, Miss. signed a desegregation petition launched by the NAACP
          • Council published ad naming them causing harassment, firings, bank accounts cancellations
            • Ultimately, all signers removed their names and the Yazoo County NAACP was disbanded
  • After the 1954 Brown v Board White Citizens’ Councils spread across the South
    • Within 2 years, 250,000 members were working to delay school desegregation
    • In South Carolina, the councils had 55 chapters totaling 40,000 members by July 1956
    • Mississippi had 60,000 members by October 1955

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 11.05.42 AM.png

citizens_councils_logo.jpgChattanooga-Revilo-Oliver-500x406.jpg

PBS Video on Mississippi Citizens’ Council

The State of Mississippi in 1964

Back to White Resistance Top


Targeting the NAACP

“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, formed in 1909 as a bi-racial organization to advance justice for African Americans, faced retaliation from segregationists long before the civil rights era. But its role in Brown made the NAACP a target of white politicians, lawmakers, and angry community members 120 who blamed it for the crisis of desegregation and declared war on its members. White Citizens’ Councils throughout the South capitalized on whites’ dominance over financial capital, land ownership, and industry to punish civil rights participation. After the local council circulated the roster of NAACP members in Clarendon County, South Carolina, those listed promptly lost their jobs, credit, and suppliersZ. Alexander Looby and Arthur Shores, black NAACP lawyers who actively filed desegregation lawsuits after Brown, both survived bombings of their homes in the early 1960s. 

But other bombings claimed the lives of NAACP activists, including Harry and Harriette Moore, teachers and founders of the NAACP chapter in Brevard County, Florida. Their deaths in an explosion at their home on Christmas Day in 1951 led to protests across the nation but no immediate arrests.In Mississippi alone, the list of murdered NAACP activists included Reverend George Lee (1955), Medgar Evers (1963), Louis Allen (1964), and Vernon Dahmer (1966). “A jury would not dare convict a white man for killing a nigger in Mississippi,” boasted Klansman Sam Bowers after he was indicted for Mr. Dahmer’s murder. He was not convicted.” EJI

  • NAACP helped organized Brown vs Board of Education case
    • Became targets of white politicians, lawmakers, Councils
      • Councils circulated rosters of NAACP members
        • Causing them to lose their jobs, credit, and suppliers
        • Targets of homes bombings
  • 1956-60, states pass 230 laws targeting activists and NAACP
    • Barred NAACP members from public employment (teachers)
    • State courts granted injunctions restraining NAACP operations
    • Harassed with criminal prosecutions, disciplinary proceedings
    • Some states outlawed the organization entirely
  • Courts eventually invalidated most anti-NAACP statutes
    • But caused lengthy and expense litigation
  • Harassment and violence contributed to drops in participation:
    • 1955-57 Southern membership fell from 128,000 to 80,000
      • Nearly 250 branches dissolved

Desegregationist such as NAACP were often accuse of being Communist

tumblr_pg3mwmAh1J1txdeaio1_1280.jpg

egerton-010-communists.jpg
Fred Stroud leads protest against desegregation, Nashville, TN, 1957

Screen Shot 2020-12-17 at 3.03.24 PM

People: BLM & CRT are a false gospel, threatens the unity of the church, a Marxist atheist plot.

Also people: I mean, slavery wasn’t that bad, black souls were saved, Xtian slaveholders just had blind spots, Jim Crow was unfortunate, why don’t you believe in the infallible Word?

Most white evangelicals don’t seem to actually know what either Black Lives Matter or Critical Race Theory (CRT) are. We live in a world full of disinformation. Many white evangelical leaders are working overtime to convince their flocks that BLM is Marxist, and that Critical Race Theory is—well, they never actually say what it is, only that it is bad, bad, bad. And anti-Christian, of course.

But as Martinez points out, these same people often hesitate to full throatily condemn slavery. Sure, they’ll say slavery wasn’t right—but because the Bible sends mixed messages on slavery, many white evangelicals are loath to speak more authoritatively on the evils of slavery.

Besides, many white evangelicals feel that Black people in America today are better off than they would have been if their ancestors had stayed in Africa—so why are they people always whining or asking for reparations? This view is rooted in racism. And actually, the more I think about it, the more it seems to be rooted in the “deepest darkest Africa” missionary stories evangelical children grow up hearing, as well as racist understandings of modern Africa and Africans today.

Many Americans, including white evangelicals, are profoundly ignorant about modern Africa, including the fact that it is composed of many very different countries with many very different circumstances. They’re also unaware that, had European countries not engaged in colonization, African nations and peoples would have faced far fewer challenges than they have.

Look, for centuries, European nations sent their merchants and armies into thriving African empires and nation-states and intentionally destabilized and plundered them. It’s actually worse than that, because this went on past these countries gaining independence. During the Cold War, the U.S. and other European nations set up petty dictatorships in many African nations, overthrowing democratically elected governments and creating cultures of corruption and nepotism.

Many Americans, including white evangelicals, also underestimate the trauma created by living with daily racism and discrimination. I recently heard a Black family share about their search for a home to buy, and was startled to hear the role scouting out the level of racism of white neighbors played in their search. The family explained that they have an autistic son, and can’t risk the danger a white neighbor willing to call the police on Black children for the smallest thing could pose to him.

But then, for white evangelicals, all of this—from the discussion of how European colonization affected Africa to the impact living with racism has on the house-hunting Black family—verges dangerously close to Critical Race Theory. The important thing, white evangelicals maintain, is the gospel. If we focus on the gospel, they argue, there’s no need to talk about all these other things. People need God, and that’s it.

With his tweet, Martinez illustrates white evangelicals’ race problem. And of course, this isn’t new. White evangelicals have had a race problem for a very long time. They and their parents and grandparents are the ones who fought against the civil rights movement, who screamed at Black children entering their children’s schools, who argued that God himself had intended for the races to remain separate.

“Racial Inter-Marriage Begins with Holding Hands in the First Grade,” reads one sign. This was actually a very common argument against desegregating public schools. But notice the other sign, toward the back: “THE LORD Made us Different For a REASON,” it reads. White evangelical pastors across the U.S. South, but not only in the South, preached on this in sermon after sermon.

White evangelicals can’t pretend themselves out of this puzzle. They were not on the right side of history. And frankly, that makes their current disinterest in talking about race all the more problematic.

Oh, and the whole line about BLM being Marxist? Those sorts of claims aren’t new either. During the 1960s, white evangelicals argued that the civil rights movement was engineered by Communists. Have a look at the image below. “Race Mixing is Communism,” the signs read. You know. Kind of like Marxism. 

So there’s that. 

What makes all of this perhaps worse is that white evangelicals have access to theological structures that ought to give them tools to work through these things. For example, white evangelicals believe in human depravity—it shouldn’t be that hard for them to see racism as a result of human depravity. There are verses in the New Testament to the extent that all are one in Jesus, regardless of race or other feature. And there absolutely are Christians who have done all of this, and lean into it—whole Christian denominations that promote social justice, equity, and poverty alleviation.

Just not white evangelicals. And that, friends, is at least partly because white evangelicals have decided to yoke themselves to the Republican Party. Their theology isn’t shaping their politics. Their politics is dictating their theology.

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

MASSIVE RESISTANCE

“A threatening poster circulated by the KKK in Birmingham, Alabama (1933). (Alabama Department of Archives and History.) Opponents also used legislation to undermine NAACP activities. Between 1956 and 1960, states passed some 230 laws targeting desegregation activists, and most specifically targeted the NAACP.  Some laws explicitly barred NAACP members from public employment, especially as school teachers;  the NAACP and its members were harassed with criminal prosecutions and bar association disciplinary proceedings; and some states outlawed the organization entirely. 

In 1956, Alabama Attorney General John Patterson filed suit to enjoin the NAACP’s activities in the state and demanded access to its membership lists and other records. “The NAACP is no credit to the Negro race and has set the Negro’s cause back 100 years in Alabama,” remarked Patterson, who was later elected governor.  The state court granted an injunction restraining the NAACP from operating in Alabama that lasted for several years until it was overturned by the Supreme Court.  Other states employed the same strategy.Courts eventually invalidated most anti-NAACP statutes, but the lengthy litigation diverted already strained resources from civil rights efforts. Harassment and violence also contributed to drops in participation: Southern membership fell from 128,000 in 1955 to 80,000 in 1957 and nearly 250 branches dissolved; NAACP activities briefly shut down statewide in Louisiana and Texas; and Alabama’s NAACP ceased operations from 1956 to 1964.  “At stake in the long run,” read an official NAACP press statement in 1958, “is the continued existence of NAACP in Alabama and in other Southern states which have taken similar action to ban NAACP in the belief that the civil rights movement and desegregation of public schools can be halted if NAACP is suppressed.”

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

Congressman Ezekiel Gathings combined two of their favorite NAACP and the Communist Party, USA-into one behemoth, which they unveiled during a series of congressional and state hearings.” Senator Eastland, for example, ignoring that in his own Mississippi, Amite County officials spent 3.51 per black student while providing $30.24 for every white one, claimed that Brown “was the result of communist manipulation.” Drawing on questionable records from the infamous House American Activities Committee (HUAC), the Mississippi senator insisted that the scholars the Association had relied on in Brown, such as sociologist E. Franklin Frazier, had “no less than 18 citations” before HUAC. It “is evident,” Eastland roared, “that the decision of the Supreme Court in the school segregation cases was based upon the writings and teachings of pro-communist agitators and other enemies of the American form of government.” Gathings, to give an air of legitimacy to the charges, filled more than eighty pages in the Congressional Record with assertions that the NAACP’s effort to destroy Jim Crow was actually an “Anti-White Plot Hatched in Moscow.” Cook similarly sounded the alarm that the NAACP seized the racial issue “as a convenient front for their more nefarious activities” including “delivering this nation into the hands of international Communism.”112

Sensitivity to such arguments, no matter how specious, only increased when a Cold War crisis hit in 1957. On Friday, October 4, of that year, America’s sense of nuclear invincibility was shattered by the faint beep, beep, beep sound heard over a radio receiver. The Soviets had successfully launched a satellite, Sputnik, that circled Earth every ninety-six minutes. Until then, the threat of the Kremlin’s nuclear arsenal had been mitigated by the USSR’s seeming inability to send a payload of destruction across the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. Suddenly, though, with that ominous beeping, traveling thousands of miles had been reduced to the equivalent or crossing the street.

Criminalization of Civil Rights Activists

  • Changing stereotypes of black people
    • During slavery – docile, uncivilized, needed to be enslaved by white supremacy
    • Post slavery/Lynching era – criminals, rapists, needed to be lynched by white supremacy
    • Civil Rights Era – criminals, communists inciting violence, needed to be suppressed by “Law and Order”

“The law protected white supremacy rather than racial equality, and persecuted those who opposed the racial status quo” Equal Justice Initiative

  • During civil rights and desegregation efforts, segregationist elected officials:
    • Denounced desegregation and blamed black people for the white violence that followed
    • Demonized peaceful civil rights protestors as “criminals” and “law breakers”
    • Used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison activists.
      • bus boycott, police arrested black activists, carpool drivers and 89 leaders on phony charges
        • From start of the Montgomery bus boycott to 1968 assassination, MLK jr. was arrested more than 25 times

“For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

Criminalization of Civil Rights Activists

  • Changing stereotypes of black people
    • During slavery – docile, uncivilized, needed to be enslaved by white supremacy
    • Post slavery/Lynching era – criminals, rapists, needed to be lynched by white supremacy
    • Civil Rights Era – criminals, communists inciting violence, needed to be suppressed by “Law and Order”

“The law protected white supremacy rather than racial equality, and persecuted those who opposed the racial status quo” Equal Justice Initiative

  • During civil rights and desegregation efforts, segregationist elected officials:
    • Denounced desegregation and blamed black people for the white violence that followed
    • Demonized peaceful civil rights protestors as “criminals” and “law breakers”
    • Used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison activists.
      • bus boycott, police arrested black activists, carpool drivers and 89 leaders on phony charges
        • From start of the Montgomery bus boycott to 1968 assassination, MLK jr. was arrested more than 25 times

“For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

EJI: Race and the Criminal Justice System

“After slavery was abolished in 1865, Southern states, where more than 90 percent of black Americans lived, embraced criminal justice as a means of racial control. Discriminatory “Black Codes” led to the imprisonment of unprecedented numbers of black men, women, and children, who were returned to slavery-like conditions through forced labor and convict leasing systems that lasted well into the 20th century.

Criminal laws also were used against Civil Rights protestors, who were denounced as “law breakers” and faced arrest, incarceration, and police brutality. These courageous campaigns earned many victories, but policies to combat racial inequality, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, have not targeted criminal justice, where outcomes are still impacted by the same racial bias and inequality that pervade American society. Mass incarceration today stands as a legacy of past abuses and continues to limit opportunities in our nation’s most vulnerable communities.

The United States has the world’s highest incarceration rate; 2.3 million Americans are in prison today. Fueled by the “war on drugs” and “tough on crime” mandatory sentencing policies, mass incarceration has a clear racial impact: 70 percent of American prisoners are non-white. The average American has a 1 in 20 chance of being imprisoned at some point in his life, but that rate is much higher for Latino men (1 in 6) and African American men (more than 1 in 3) than for white men (1 in 23). Strikingly, 1 in 9 black men under age 25 lives under some form of restrained liberty: in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole.”

EJI: Violence Against Civil Rights Workers

For a century following the Civil War, African Americans were the targets of a campaign of terror consisting of brutality and violence which served to maintain and bolster segregation in the South. This campaign of terror persisted during the Civil Rights Movement. Courageous activists were subjected to threats, mass arrests, beatings, church bombings, and murder. The criminal justice system turned a blind eye to the terrorism, often refusing to protect activists or prosecute perpetrators.

In 1955, Lamar Smith, a farmer and World War I veteran, was shot and murdered on a crowded courthouse lawn in Brookhaven, Mississippi, for urging blacks to vote. That same year, Reverend George Lee, a grocery store owner, was shot and murdered for organizing black voters in the Mississippi Delta.

On “Bloody Sunday,” March 7, 1965, several hundred civil rights marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, were met by an angry mob of state and local lawmen who brutally attacked the marchers. Months later, Jonathan Daniels, a white seminary student from Boston who traveled to Alabama to help with black voter registration in Lowndes County, was murdered by a deputy sheriff.

Though the intensity of racial violence decreased following the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it created a legacy that has deeply scarred many communities.

EJI: Segregation in America

Criminal law has been used to maintain racial control since the end of the Civil War.252 In the 1960s, nearly a century after Emancipation, elected officials denounced peaceful civil rights protestors as “criminals” and “law breakers” and used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison activists.253 The law protected white supremacy rather than racial equality, and persecuted those who opposed the racial status quo. “The Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Justice Department, established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, reported police brutality and other violence against black people that went unpunished throughout the 1970s,” wrote historian Mary Frances Berry, “while the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division spent their time in surveillance of black individuals and groups.”254

A week after 17-year-old Deborah Bracy and several other black students integrated the high school in Wetumpka, Alabama, she was arrested, charged with assault, and jailed overnight for poking a white classmate with a pencil.255

Clyde Kennard, a black veteran, was targeted by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission after he applied to all-white Mississippi Southern College in Hattiesburg in 1955. When surveillance and investigations failed to discredit him, officials charged him with minor allegations of theft and alcohol possession. An all-white jury convicted Mr. Kennard of stealing $25 worth of chicken feed and he was sentenced to seven years in prison, where he died from undiagnosed colon cancer in 1963. He was 36 years old.256

In response to the Montgomery bus boycott, police arrested scores of black activists and carpool drivers on phony traffic charges and tried to disbar the black lawyer who filed the lawsuit challenging bus segregation.257

Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and boycott organizer Jo Ann Robinson were among 89 leaders arrested and charged with organizing an illegal boycott.258 The grand jury wrote: “In this state we are committed to segregation by custom and law. We intend to maintain it.”259

As a movement leader, Dr. King was routinely targeted by Southern law enforcement. Between the start of the Montgomery bus boycott and his 1968 assassination, Dr. King was arrested, jailed, and fined more than 25 times, in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 and 1958; Atlanta in 1960; Albany, Georgia, in 1961 and 1962; Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and 1967; St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964; and Selma, Alabama, in 1965. 260 He was not alone.

After two Florida A&M students were arrested for sitting in the “white section” of a bus in Tallahassee, the black community launched a boycott modeled after the Montgomery effort. Boycott organizers and participants faced similar harassment. In October 1956, 21 carpool drivers and nine boycott leaders were arrested for allegedly not having proper car tags. After a three-day trial, they were convicted; some were sentenced to pay fines and some were sent to jail.261

“For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s,” wrote Michelle Alexander, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as “calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.”294 Some segregationists even claimed that integration caused crime, and found their rhetoric bolstered by suspect but highly publicized FBI reports of dramatic increases in the national crime rate.295

By criminalizing civil rights activists, opponents of civil rights shifted the public debate from segregation to crime.296

In the 1968 presidential election, both Richard Nixon and former Alabama Governor George Wallace made “law and order” a central theme of their campaigns; combined, they won 57 percent of the vote.297 Nixon ran one ad that “explicitly called on voters to reject the lawlessness of civil rights activists and embrace ‘order’ in the United States.” 298

It was a popular message. By 1968, 81 percent of Americans agreed that “law and order has broken down in this country” and the majority blamed “Negroes who start riots” and “Communists.” EJI

“In 1961, an interracial group of civil rights activists set out on a Freedom Ride from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans, Louisiana, to test a recent Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in interstate bus travel.314

In Anniston, Alabama, segregationists hurled a fire bomb into a Freedom Rider bus on May 14, 1961. (AP Photo)

When the Freedom Riders’ bus arrived in Anniston, Alabama, on May 14, 1961, it was met by a mob of white men armed with pipes, chains, and bats, who smashed windows, slashed tires, and dented the sides of the bus. 315 Police arrived 20 minutes after the attack began and made no arrests. They escorted the crippled bus to the city limits and then abandoned it. 316 When flat tires forced the driver to stop at a service station shortly after, another armed white mob trapped the riders in the bus and threw a firebomb inside, then viciously beat the riders who escaped.317 Two days later in Birmingham, police chief Eugene “Bull” Connor allowed a white mob of several hundred people to attack the riders with baseball bats, hammers, and pipes, leaving several seriously injured.318

The next day, a new group of riders continued on to Montgomery, where they were abandoned by police and attacked by a white mob of 200 people at the downtown Greyhound bus station. About 20 people were injured in the attack, including reporters and photographers covering the Freedom Rides for national media.319

That evening, civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth organized an evening service at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church in support of the riders. While more than 1000 people sang and listened to sermons inside the church, white men surrounded the building, vandalized parked cars, and threatened to set the church on fire. When federal marshals tried to intervene, they were pelted with bricks and bottles by white rioters, who then overturned cars, fired bullets and firebombs at local black residents, and attacked black people in the street.320

Alabama Governor John Patterson refused to condemn the white rioters, and instead blamed the Freedom Riders for the violence they suffered in Alabama. During his 1958 campaign, Patterson had warned that integration would cause “violence, disorder, and bloodshed” and had refused to repudiate an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan.321

“If the Federal Government really wants to help in this unfortunate situation,” Patterson told reporters in Montgomery, “they will encourage these outside agitators to go home. We have the means and the ability to keep the peace in Alabama without any outside help.”

Back to White Resistance Top


Bombings and Arson

  • Bombings and arson by white segregationist/terrorists common during Jim Crow
    • Homes, churches, integrating schools
  • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing
    • Birmingham, Alabama (1963)
      • The city had no black police officers or firefighters
        • Few of the city’s black residents were registered to vote
      • 21 bombings in last 8 years
        • Giving the city the nickname “Bombingham”
      • In response to an integration campaign
        • 4 white Supremacist bombed a black church
          • Killing 4 young black girls
        • 1965 – FBI identified the 4 KKK members responsible
        • 1994 – 1 of the terrorist dies in a car wreak
        • 1997 – First prosecutions of for murdering just 1 girl
        • 2001 – Last 2 members convicted of murder

Image result for 16th Street Baptist Church BombingScreen Shot 2019-05-23 at 11.33.09 AM.png

Vox: The long history of attacks against civil rights organizations

Ever since the NAACP’s founding in 1909, the organization has been a recurring victim to attacks.

On Christmas Day 1951, Harry Moore, who founded an NAACP branch in Brevard County, Florida, was killed by a bomb placed under his bed. He was the first NAACP official killed in the civil rights struggle, according to PBS. Several KKK members were suspected in the incident, but the case remains unsolved.

These kind of attacks against the NAACP would continue throughout the decades, as Time magazine reported. In 1963, a white supremacist shot and killed Medgar Evers, a field secretary for the NAACP, outside his home. In 1989, a package containing a bomb killed Robert Robinson, legal counsel for the NAACP in Savannah, Georgia; other packages were sent to the NAACP branch in Jacksonville, Florida, but authorities caught the packages before they did harm.

These types of attacks extended to other civil rights groups as well. Freedom Riders who traveled to the Deep South to purposely defy segregation laws were regularly attacked. When the first Freedom Riders arrived in Alabama in 1961, a mob chased down the bus and threw a bomb into it, causing the vehicle to burst into flames. The riders escaped the bus, but the mob brutally beat them.

 
 
 


Mob Violence

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

MASSIVE RESISTANCE

“In the wake of Brown, up to a quarter of white Southerners admitted to pollsters that they “favored violence, if necessary, to prevent school desegregation.”  In 1956, Ku Klux Klan rallies drew hundreds, even thousands, in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida — states where the group had been considered extinct. In 1957, six Birmingham, Alabama, Klansmen castrated a black man after taunting him for “think[ing] nigger kids should go to school with [white] kids…Virtually every year after Brown, school desegregation generated violent opposition somewhere: Milford, Delaware, in 1954;  Hoxie, Arkansas, in 1955; Tuscaloosa, Alabama,  Clinton, Tennessee, Mansfield, Texas,  and Clay and Sturgis communities in Kentucky in 1956;  Little Rock and Nashville in 1957;  Clinton (again) in 1958;  New Orleans in 1960;  Athens, Georgia, in 1961;  Oxford, Mississippi, in 1962;  and Birmingham in 1963.

In Mansfield, Texas, the local citizens’ council organized white residents armed with guns and other weapons to block black children from entering school. The mobs also hanged an effigy of a black man with signs attached to each pant leg that read, “This Negro tried to enter a white school. This would be a terrible way to die” and “Stay Away, Niggers.” Texas Governor Allan Shivers commended the “orderly protests against a situation instigated and agitated by the [NAACP],” and sent Texas Rangers to remove any students “white or colored, whose attendance or attempts to attend Mansfield High School would be reasonably calculated to incite violence.”  Local residents and state officials prevented Mansfield’s public schools from officially desegregating until 1965.

Mob violence waged by white segregationists throughout the South drew national attention and brought school desegregation to a halt across the region. ”

  • After Brown school violent pogroms against desegregation
    • Milford, Delaware (1954), Hoxie, Arkansas (1955), Tuscaloosa, Alabama,  Clinton, Tennessee, Mansfield, Texas,  Clay and Sturgis Kentucky (1956), Little Rock and Nashville (1957);  Clinton (again) (1958);  New Orleans (1960),  Athens, Georgia (1961), Oxford, Mississippi (1962),  Birmingham (1963), etc.
  • Grenada, Mississippi (1966)
    • 450 black students enrolled in public schools after desegregation order
      • Local white leaders threatened to fire/evict black parents
      • First day white mob attacked black students with chains, pipes, clubs
      • Mob violence continued for days without intervention from police

“In 1966, when 450 black students enrolled in Grenada, Mississippi, public schools following a court order to desegregate, local white leaders threatened to fire or evict black parents who allowed their children to participate, and black students withdrew.The black students who arrived for the first day of school faced a white mob that chased them through the streets and beat them with chains, pipes, and clubs so severely that some had to be hospitalized. The mob violence continued for days without intervention from law enforcement.In 1967, 13 years after Brown, a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that “violence against Negroes continues to be a deterrent to school desegregation.”” EJI

Image result for Grenada, Mississippi (1966) mob violence Image result for Grenada, Mississippi (1966) mob violence

Left: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. escorts 7-year-old Eva Lemon and other black school children to formerly all-white schools in Grenada, Mississippi, Sept.
Right: Black desegregation demonstration attacked by white mob
 
  • University of Alabama (1956)
    • 1956, fed court ordered segregated UA to admit black woman
    • White mob of 1200, burned crosses/terrorized black people
      • Confronted Ms. Lucy on third day shouting “Lynch the nigger!”
        • She was pelted with rotten eggs, gravel, and mud balls containing rocks
        • Had to hide in the back of a police car to escape
      • UA suspended woman citing safety concerns
        • then expelled her when she challenge it

Image result for University of Alabama (1956) mob violenceWhite Mob at UA in 1956 protesting de-segregation

 

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

MASSIVE RESISTANCE

““After Brown, a federal judge ordered the local high school in Clinton, Tennessee, to integrate by the start of the 1956-57 school year, and a small group of black students dubbed the “Clinton Twelve” registered to attend class with 800 white students.  John Kasper of the Seaboard White Citizens’ Council quickly arrived in Clinton, where he urged white students to boycott classes and community members to protest integration.  A few days after students began classes, the crowd of pro-segregation protestors had grown to between 500 and 1000 people and the local sheriff sent the black students home “for their own safety.” 

That evening, Kasper led 800 people in an anti-integration rally on the lawn of the Anderson County courthouse. The next day, more than 200 white students boycotted class and the mob outside the school grew increasingly violent, assaulting a black woman as she passed on the street and breaking a window at the local police station.  “We need all the rabble rousers we can get,” Kasper told a crowd of white supporters in Birmingham a few weeks later. “We want trouble and we want it everywhere we can get it — a collapse of law and order is near at hand.”

Kasper was jailed for contempt of court, and Asa Carter of the North Alabama White Citizens’ Council took over leadership of the Clinton opposition. Clinton had just 4000 residents, but Carter rallied a mob of more than 1000 people for several nights, giving speeches attacking the Supreme Court and the NAACP as agents of “mongrelization” through “race mixing.” His enraged audience assaulted black motorists and pedestrians,  burned a cross on the Clinton High School lawn, and faced off with local police until, at the mayor’s request, the governor sent in the state highway patrol and national guard.

White violence escalated even after troops arrived. Segregationists shot into a home occupied by the father of one of the Clinton Twelve, threw dynamite into the black community of a nearby town, and attempted to lynch two black men held in the local jail. Seventy miles away, a mob of five white men confronted two white national guardsmen near the town of Dayton and asked if they would go to Clinton to enforce integration if ordered; when one of the guardsman answered that he would, one of the men attacked him with a knife. 

School resumed in Clinton after Labor Day. Troops departed and white student attendance gradually increased, but tensions remained. On September 26, 1956, dynamite exploded in a field next to the home of one of the Clinton Twelve.  On December 4, a white minister who escorted the black students to classes was beaten by enraged whites as he returned home.  On February 14, the black section of Clinton suffered at least eight dynamite explosions and, a week later, only seven of the original Clinton Twelve remained at Clinton High School, where they experienced attacks and harassment throughout the year.  On October 5, 1958, two years after black students first integrated Clinton High School, the school was heavily damaged in a pre-dawn bombing.”

Image result for Clinton, Tennessee bombingImage result for Clinton, Tennessee desegregation mobImage result for Clinton, Tennessee bombing

Clinton, Tennesse White Mobs and School after bombing
 
 
 
 
 


 

 

School Integration Harassment

 
Screen Shot 2020-12-14 at 3.26.58 PMScreen Shot 2020-12-14 at 3.27.06 PM

“White parents nationwide acted to deny black children equal education by voting to close and defund public schools, transferring their children to private, white-only schools, and harassing and violently attacking black students while their own children watched or participated. ” Equal Justice Initiative

New Orleans School Integration

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

MASSIVE RESISTANCE

“In November 1960, after the state legislature’s attempt to block a federal court’s order to desegregate New Orleans schools failed, mobs organized outside two elementary schools where four black students enrolled. Escorted by federal marshals, six-year-old Ruby Bridges started first grade at all-white William Frantz Elementary School and was greeted by “hundreds of vicious protestors, their faces contorted by hate, spitting, snarling, and yelling obscenities—such as ‘kill them niggers’—at first-graders walking to school in their Sunday best.”A group of white mothers gathered daily to scream invectives at children, using profanity that writer John Steinbeck described as “bestial and filthy and degenerate.”

When Ruby arrived in her assigned classroom, she and the teacher were the only two people present; nearly all the white children were withdrawn from school and Ruby remained the only student in her class for the entire school year. Despite Ruby’s young age, a woman threatened to poison her on the second day of school, and another woman confronted her with a black doll in a wooden coffin.Ruby’s family members also faced threats and retaliation: the local grocery story banned the family from entering, Ruby’s father was fired from his job, and her grandparents were evicted from the Mississippi farm where they worked as sharecroppers.”

  • 1960 federal court order to desegregate New Orleans Schools
    • Mobs organized outside two elementary schools where 4 black students enrolled
    • Escorted by fed marshals, 6 year old Ruby Bridges started first grade at all-white School
    • When Ruby arrived in her assigned classroom, she was only student present
      • Nearly all white children were withdrawn from school
      • Ruby remained the only student in her class for the entire school year
  • Despite Ruby’s young age
    • A woman threatened to poison her
    • Woman confronted her with a black doll in a wooden coffin
    • A group of white mothers gathered daily to scream invectives at children, using profanity that writer John Steinbeck described as “bestial and filthy and degenerate.”
  • Ruby’s family members also faced threats and retaliation
    • Local grocery story banned the family from entering
    • Ruby’s father was fired from his job
    • Her grandparents were evicted from Mississippi farm where they were sharecroppers

“(black children) was greeted by “hundreds of vicious protestors, their faces contorted by hate, spitting, snarling, and yelling obscenities—such as ‘kill them niggers’—at first-graders walking to school in their Sunday best.” Michael J. Klarman – From Jim Crow to Civil Rights

Image result for Ruby BridgesImage result for Ruby BridgesImage result for Ruby Bridges white parents

Ruby being escorted by federal Marshalls through crowds of angry racist parents

 

Britanica: Little Rock Nine

Little Rock Nine, group of African American high-school students who challenged racial segregation in the public schools of Little Rock, Arkansas. The group—consisting of Melba Pattillo, Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Minnijean Brown, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Jefferson Thomas, Gloria Ray, and Thelma Mothershed—became the centre of the struggle to desegregate public schools in the United States, especially in the South. The events that followed their enrollment in Little Rock Central High School provoked intense national debate about racial segregation and civil rights.

During the summer of 1957, the Little Rock Nine enrolled at Little Rock Central High School, which until then had been all white. The students’ effort to enroll was supported by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which had declared segregated schooling to be unconstitutional.

Warned by the Little Rock board of education not to attend the first day of school, the nine African American students arrived on the second day accompanied by a small interracial group of ministers. They encountered a large white mob in front of the school, who began shouting, throwing stones, and threatening to kill the students. In addition, about 270 soldiers of the Arkansas National Guard, sent by Arkansas Gov. Orval Eugene Faubus, blocked the school’s entrance. Faubus had declared his opposition to integration and his intention to defy a federal court order requiring desegregation.

 

history-283-elizabeth-eckford-little-rock_corbis.jpgElizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, attempting to enter Little Rock School. 4 Sept 1957

“Nine black students attempting to enroll at all-white Little Rock Central High School that September were confronted by angry white crowds of students and adults and blocked by Arkansas National Guard troops commanded by Governor Orval Faubus. When President Dwight Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort the Little Rock Nine into school, hundreds of white people attacked black residents and reporters, causing nationally publicized “chaos, bedlam, and turmoil” that led a federal court to halt desegregation. The Supreme Court overturned that decision and ordered immediate integration, but in a move voters later approved in a referendum, Faubus closed all public high schools in Little Rock for the 1958-1959 school year.” EJI

—-

Southern Space: Walking into History: The Beginning of School Desegregation in Nashville

In September 1957, three years after the US Supreme Court declared school segregation laws unconstitutional, the public schools of Nashville, Tennessee, implemented a “stairstep plan” that began with a select group of first-graders and added one grade a year until all twelve grades were desegregated. Nineteen black first-graders enrolled in eight previously all-white schools. Organized white protesters, led by John Kasper, appeared at most of the schools, but there was no violence. The night after desegregation began, a dynamite explosion destroyed a wing of Hattie Cotton Elementary School, where one black child had enrolled. The violent incident broke the back of the protest movement, and no further demonstrations marked the ensuing days as desegregation proceeded.

Screen-Shot-2016-08-02-at-12.44.41-PM.pngGrace McKinley escorts her daughter Linda Gail and a friend to Fehr Elementary School in Nashville in September 1957 amid Nashvillians protesting desegregation of the city’s schools

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

MASSIVE RESISTANCE

“Hundreds of white students protest at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, on September 20, 1962, in response to James Meredith’s enrollment as the school’s first black student. (AP) In 1962, after a federal court ordered the University of Mississippi to enroll 29-year-old black veteran and Mississippi native James Meredith, Governor and White Citizens’ Council member Ross Barnett personally blocked Mr. Meredith from entering the Ole Miss campus. On September 30, 1962, pro-segregation mobs gathered on campus and waged violent riots that left two people dead and many injured. When a federal marshal escorted Mr. Meredith on campus to enroll, Mississippi Attorney General Joe Patterson told students they could refuse “to socialize or fraternize with an undesirable student.”

Mr. Meredith suffered ongoing isolation, harassment, and violence. As he ate in the cafeteria one night in October, a rock was thrown through a window near his table, and on another occasion, a dead raccoon was left on his car.James Meredith persisted and graduated on August 18, 1963, but that did not end his activism or the violence against him. In 1966, while staging a one-man protest march across Mississippi, Mr. Meredith was shot and wounded.

In 1956, after a federal court ordered the segregated University of Alabama to admit a black woman named Autherine Lucy, a white mob gathered on campus, burned a cross, and marched through town singing Dixie. Chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Autherine has got to go,” the mobs terrorized any African Americans it encountered, broke car windows, and smashed roofs.The mob of students and older community members grew to 1200 people and confronted Ms. Lucy on her third day of class, shouting “Lynch the nigger!” and “Keep Bama white!” She was pelted with rotten eggs, gravel, and mud balls containing rocks and had to hide in the back of a police car to escape. In response, the university suspended Ms. Lucy citing safety concerns, and then expelled her when she tried to challenge the suspension in court. This major segregationist victory spurred a surge of support for the citizens’ councils” EJI

Back to White Resistance Top


Rise of Segregation Academies and Charter Schools

Wikipedia: Segregation academy

“Segregation academies were private schools in the Southern United States founded in the mid-20th century by white parents to avoid having their children in desegregated public schools. Often dubbed freedom of choice schools by their proponents,[2] they were founded between 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were unconstitutional,[3][4] and 1976, when the court ruled similarly about private schools

The first segregation academies were created by white parents in the late 1950s in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which required public school boards to eliminate segregation “with all deliberate speed” (Brown II). Because the ruling did not apply to private schools, founding new academies provided parents a way to continue to educate their children separately from blacks. At that time, most adult blacks were still disfranchised in the South, excluded from politics and oppressed under Jim Crow laws.[5][6] Private academies operated outside the scope of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling and could therefore have racial segregation.[7] Virginia’s massive resistance to integration resulted in Prince Edward County, Virginia closing all public schools from 1959 to 1964; the only education in the county was a segregation academy, funded by state “tuition grants.”

A 1972 report on school desegregation noted that segregation academies could usually be identified by the word “Christian” or “church” in the school’s name.[8] The report observed that while individual Protestant churches were often deeply involved in the establishment of segregation academies, Catholic dioceses usually indicated that their schools were not meant to be havens from desegregation.[8] Many segregation academies claimed they were established to provide a “Christian education” but the sociologist Jennifer Dyer has argued that such claims were simply a “guise” for the schools’ actual objective of allowing parents to avoid enrolling their children in racially integrated public schools.[9]

Reasons why whites pulled their children out of public schools have been debated: whites insisted that “quality fueled their exodus”, and blacks said “white parents refused to allow their children to be schooled alongside blacks”.[10] Scholars estimate that, across the nation, at least half a million white students were withdrawn from public schools between 1964 and 1975 to avoid mandatory desegregation.[5] In the 21st century, Archie Douglas, the headmaster of Montgomery Academy (founded as a segregation academy), said that he is sure “that those who resented the Civil Rights Movement or sought to get away from it took refuge in the academy”.[11] But in the 21st century, the school no longer practiced any type of discrimination.

In 1969, parents of Mississippi black children brought suit to revoke tax-exemption status for non-profit segregation academies (Green v. Connally). They won a temporary injunction in the D.C. Circuit in early 1970 and the suit in June 1971. The United States government appealed to the Supreme Court, where the lower court’s decision was summarily affirmed in Coit v. Green (1971). Meanwhile, on July 10, 1970, the Internal Revenue Service announced it could “no longer legally justify allowing tax-exempt status to private schools which practice racial discrimination.”[12] For a school to get or keep its tax-exempt status, it would have to publish a policy of non-discrimination and not practice overt discrimination. Many schools simply refused. A decade later, similarly aggrieved appellees argued again in Allen v. Wright (1983) that the standards were too low. The appellees had asserted that “there are more than 3,500 racially segregated private academies operating in the country having a total enrollment of more than 750,000 children.”[13] The court considered whether the parents standing to sue, and concluded not, because they did not allege that they or their children had applied to, been discouraged from applying to, or been denied admission to any private school or schools.[14] Specifically, it ruled that citizens do not have standing to sue a federal government agency based on the influence that the agency’s determinations might have on third parties (such as private schools). The judges noted the parents were in the posture of disappointed observers of the governmental process. The IRS would continue to enforce the regulations it had promulgated in 1970. Any school that was not tax-exempt in this period was likely a segregation academy, the standard for non-discrimination being low.[15] Not many of the 3,500 appear in lists, if there were 3,500. After 1983, any school named in a judgement or IRS document in this period absolutely was.[16] Many schools did not regain tax-exempt status until the 1990s.

MIC: 64 years after Brown: How private religious schools are taking America backwards on segregation

newer anti-integration elements include the maneuverings of some religious private schools and voucher programs — two of the more insidious but lesser-known institutions driving school resegregation today.

School vouchers are certificates of government funding designed for low-income K-12 students that allow them to take the government money that would have paid for them to attend a public school and use it to attend a charter or private school instead. The ACLU has routinely sued states across the U.S. for implementing voucher programs that defund public schools in favor of sending students to private ones.

“One of the sad consequences of a lot of voucher programs has been the increasing of segregation,” Parker said. “Having a voucher is not always enough to get you into a private school. It ends up being a way to give tax breaks to middle-class families to have kids go to private schools. The overall effect is public education funding is used by private and religious schools.”

It’s a problem decades in the making. White communities in the South began establishing non-Catholic Christian private schools in the 1960s to keep segregation alive after Brown forced integration. And today, the fallout is not just a Southern phenomenon. Private religious schools in the Midwest and elsewhere have high tuition rates that disproportionately poor parents of color often can’t afford to pay. As a result, these schools are nearly as segregated today as public schools were in the South during Jim Crow, according to Parker…

…More and more public school districts across the country are using private school voucher programs as an education reform method, rewarding schools and students who are already performing well at the expense of schools and students who are struggling.

Religious private schools often benefit from these policies by receiving public money — even though they are the most segregated in the nation. (Some states, like Michigan, have banned this practice, much to the chagrin of “school choice” cheerleaders like U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

A 2016 Columbus Dispatch report found that Ohio’s EdChoice school voucher system disproportionately benefited white students, who made up 56% of the state’s qualifying impoverished population but 64.3% of EdChoice recipients during the 2014-2015 school year. Qualifying black students made up 29% of the state’s school-age population, but received just 18.4% of expansion vouchers granted over the same period.

Parker said statistics like these are typical for voucher programs throughout the U.S., which often are sold to the public as a benefit to poor kids of color, yet ultimately have been shown to exacerbate racial inequality.

When vouchers are successful, they benefit the few students who receive them, but the failing schools they leave behind lose associated tax revenue and scholastic high-achievers to boost their test score averages. The struggling schools’ remaining students also lose the benefit of attending classes with academic role models, Parker said.

While Catholic schools have existed throughout U.S. history, private Christian schools emerged en masse in the aftermath of the civil-rights movement. The Supreme Court declared public-school segregation unconstitutional in its unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Many school systems, particularly across the South, resisted compliance while some families saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to act.

Fearful at the thought of their children mingling with black students, many white Christian families founded private “segregation academies” to skirt the law. Many were “Christian” institutions, and fundamentalist evangelicals founded several of the most prominent ones. Non-Catholic Christian schools doubled their enrollments between 1961 and ’71.

Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, for example, started Lynchburg Christian Academy in 1967, when his town’s public schools integrated. Because Brown did not apply to private schools, institutions like Falwell’s could practice segregation while still receiving federal tax benefits. But all of this changed with the series of Supreme Court decisions in the late ’60s and early ’70s that forced public schools to integrate and declared racially discriminatory private schools ineligible for tax-exempt status.

Despite pressure from the government, these private Christian schools refused to go quietly into the night. Some refused to cooperate with IRS inquiries, hiding their internal operations behind the banner of “religious freedom.” Others, such as Bob Jones University, proudly declared their racist policies. But most knew they needed to change their rhetoric in order to survive.

“During this period, private Christian schools had to construct a bigger rationale for their existence than wanting an all-white classroom,” says Seth Dowland, a religion professor and author of Family Values and the Rise of the Religious Right. “Leaders outside the South helped construct the rationale as combating secular humanism and their inculcating secularism and liberalism, even though the racial component was a huge part of the story as well.”

This ‘anti-liberalism’ line was enough to provide cover for these private Christian schools. Only a few actually incurred penalties from the IRS. And similar institutions flooded the American marketplace, positioning themselves as viable alternatives to public education for white families.

Between 1970 and 1980, enrollment in non-Catholic religious schools more than doubled, to 1.3 million from 561,000. And by the early 1980s, religious right leaders like Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye, bragged that evangelical Christians were opening new schools at a rate of three per day. While they figured out how to win the culture wars, these white Christian leaders figured they could retreat to private schools where they could teach children as they pleased.

These schools thrived throughout the following decades with predominately white student bodies and leadership. In a sweeping survey of Christian schools, journalist Paul Parsons estimated that minorities constituted less than 3 percent of the student population in most of these schools during the mid-1980s. In 1987, the Association for Christian Schools International’s executive board included 29 white people and exactly zero racial minorities.

That history has proven difficult to shake for today’s private Christian schools. The institutions are still overwhelmingly attended by children from wealthy white families. Forty-three percent of these private schools have student bodies that are at least 90 percent white. In many Southern Christian schools, not a single black person can be found. At others, only a handful of minority children attend.

These students are shaped by Christian schools curricula that purport to teach “traditional values.” Randall Balmer, a historian of religion at Dartmouth College and author of The Making of Evangelicalism, said many popular textbooks used in Christian schools teach American history in ways that privilege white culture. For example, the books often downplay the displacement of Native Americans or minimize slavery by noting its “positive effects,” such as introducing slaves to Christianity.

“Ideas matter, and they have consequences,” Balmer says. “If children are taught to heroicize European settlement in North America, it is inevitable that you’re going to have a particular view of people who are not a part of that wave of settlement.”

Dowland also surveyed major Christian school curriculum publishers and found “complaints about multiculturalism as a goal of public education.” As the University of New Hampshire historian Jason Sokol noted, “[Christian school] supporters wanted to create a world where racial tensions did not exist, so they built schools where racial differences had no place.”

While the civil-rights movement forced most Americans to deal with our distinctions and tensions, the advent of private Christian schools often allowed children to avoid confronting it. This doesn’t mean that Christian schools today teach racism or overtly try to promote white privilege, but their homogenous classroom and curricula often incubate these attitudes.

We assume that a racist is a bad, old bigot. That’s not how racism operates. It happens because whiteness is the unnamed water we sit in,” says Dowland. “So you have these largely homogenous student bodies where you don’t get defiant segregation like you might have in the 1960s, but whiteness is still quietly privileged in these settings.”

The Religous Right and their Tax Exempt Segregated Schools

How The Religious Right Became A Political Force | AJ+

The Rise of the Religious Right

  • What is the Religious Right?
    • “Christian right or religious right is a term used mainly in the US to label conservative Christian political factions that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies.” Wikipedia
    • Informal coalition of evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics
      • Some conservative mainline Protestants, Jews, and Mormons.

Birth of the Religious Right

  • 1940-60s – Pasters began mixing religion, patriotism, neo-liberalism
    • James W. Fifield Jr – combined anti-new deal and capitalism with religion
    • Billy Graham – combined anti-communism and patriotism with religion
    • 1950s “Under God” inserted on currency, pledge of allegiance, gov buildings
  • 1950-60s – Private religious “white only” schools spread across nation
    • Way to escape desegregation
      • Also a growing source of recruitment and revenue
    • Tax-exempt status remained a matter of contention for many years

Jerry Falwel

  • Segregationist
    • “The true Negro does not want integration…. He realizes his potential is far better among his own race…integration will destroy our race eventually” Falwel about the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision
  • Anti-civil rights
    • Publicly denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act as “civil wrongs”
    • Enlisted with J. Edgar Hoover to distribute FBI propaganda against MLK Jr.
      • “[I question] the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations. It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed…” Jerry Falwel
  • Began many white only church academies
    • including Liberty University

“The most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structure. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned. As our movement unfolded, and direct appeals were made to white ministers, most folded their hands — and some even took stands against us.Martin Luther King Jr., 1965

Nation: Agent of Intolerance

“Decades before the forces that now make up the Christian right declared their culture war, Falwell was a rabid segregationist who railed against the civil rights movement from the pulpit of the abandoned backwater bottling plant he converted into Thomas Road Baptist Church. This opening episode of Falwell’s life, studiously overlooked by his friends, naïvely unacknowledged by many of his chroniclers, and puzzlingly and glaringly omitted in the obituaries of the Washington Post and New York Times, is essential to understanding his historical significance in galvanizing the Christian right. Indeed, it was race–not abortion or the attendant suite of so-called “values” issues–that propelled Falwell and his evangelical allies into political activism.

As with his positions on abortion and homosexuality, the basso profondo preacher’s own words on race stand as vivid documents of his legacy. Falwell launched on the warpath against civil rights four years after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools with a sermon titled “Segregation or Integration: Which?”

“If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God’s word and had desired to do the Lord’s will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made,” Falwell boomed from above his congregation in Lynchburg. “The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn a line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line.”

Falwell’s jeremiad continued: “The true Negro does not want integration…. He realizes his potential is far better among his own race.” Falwell went on to announce that integration “will destroy our race eventually. In one northern city,” he warned, “a pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife.”

As pressure from the civil rights movement built during the early 1960s, and President Lyndon Johnson introduced sweeping civil rights legislation, Falwell grew increasingly conspiratorial. He enlisted with J. Edgar Hoover to distribute FBI manufactured propaganda against the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and publicly denounced the 1964 Civil Rights Act as “civil wrongs.”

In a 1964 sermon, “Ministers and Marchers,” Falwell attacked King as a Communist subversive. After questioning “the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations,” Falwell declared, “It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed.”

Falwell concluded, “Preachers are not called to be politicians, but soul winners.”

Then, for a time, Falwell appeared to follow his own advice. He retreated from massive resistance and founded the Lynchburg Christian Academy, an institution described by the Lynchburg News in 1966 as “a private school for white students.” It was one among many so-called “seg academies” created in the South to avoid integrated public schools.

For Falwell and his brethren, private Christian schools were the last redoubt. Rather than continue a hopeless struggle against the inevitable, through their schools they could circumvent the integration entirely. Five years later, Falwell christened Liberty University, a college that today funnels a steady stream of dedicated young cadres into Republican Congressional offices and conservative think tanks. (Tony Perkins is among Falwell’s Christian soldiers.)

In a recent interview broadcast on CNN the day of his death, Falwell offered his version of the Christian right’s genesis: “We were simply driven into the process by Roe v. Wade and earlier than that, the expulsion of God from the public square.” But his account was fuzzy revisionism at best. By 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled on Roe, the antiabortion movement was almost exclusively Catholic. While various Catholic cardinals condemned the Court’s ruling, W.A. Criswell, the fundamentalist former president of America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, casually endorsed it. (Falwell, an independent Baptist for forty years, joined the SBC in 1996.) “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” Criswell exclaimed, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” A year before Roe, the SBC had resolved to press for legislation allowing for abortion in limited cases.

While abortion clinics sprung up across the United States during the early 1970s, evangelicals did little. No pastors invoked the Dred Scott decision to undermine the legal justification for abortion. There were no clinic blockades, no passionate cries to liberate the “pre-born.” For Falwell and his allies, the true impetus for political action came when the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools in 1971. At about the same time, the Internal Revenue Service moved to revoke the tax-exempt status of Bob Jones University, which forbade interracial dating. (Blacks were denied entry until 1971.) Falwell was furious, complaining, “In some states it’s easier to open a massage parlor than to open a Christian school.”

Seeking to capitalize on mounting evangelical discontent, a right-wing Washington operative and anti-Vatican II Catholic named Paul Weyrich took a series of trips down South to meet with Falwell and other evangelical leaders. Weyrich hoped to produce a well-funded evangelical lobbying outfit that could lend grassroots muscle to the top-heavy Republican Party and effectively mobilize the vanquished forces of massive resistance into a new political bloc. In discussions with Falwell, Weyrich cited various social ills that necessitated evangelical involvement in politics, particularly abortion, school prayer and the rise of feminism. His pleas initially fell on deaf ears.

“I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled in an interview in the early 1990s. “What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation.”

In 1979, at Weyrich’s behest, Falwell founded a group that he called the Moral Majority. Along with a vanguard of evangelical icons including D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye, Falwell’s organization hoisted the banner of the “pro-family” movement, declaring war on abortion and homosexuality. But were it not for the federal government’s attempts to enable little black boys and black girls to go to school with little white boys and white girls, the Christian right’s culture war would likely never have come into being. “The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion,” former Falwell ally Ed Dobson told author Randall Balmer in 1990. “I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something.”

As the Christian right gradually transmuted its racial resentment into sexual politics, Liberty University began enrolling nonwhite students and Thomas Road Baptist Church integrated. In the irony of ironies in 2006, at Justice Sunday III, a rally for the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, a man who belonged to a white-only “eating club” at Princeton University, Falwell haltingly rose to sing “We Shall Overcome.” Beside him stood Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, Alveda King, an evangelical antiabortion activist.”

The Rise of the Religious Right

1970s – Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, Pat Robertson, James Robison join Religious Right

  • Myth that Roe vs Wade (1973) cause it all
    • Few Evangelicals (outside of Catholics) cared about the subject in the 70’s.
      • The Southern Baptist Convention expressed support for laws liberalizing abortion access in 1971
      • Criswell supported Roe vs Wade , believed life began at birth, not conception
      • The denomination did not adopt a firm pro-life stance until 1980
    • Many Catholic leaders failed to recruit Evangelical leaders to Religious Right before 1978
  • Motivation came from protecting tax emption status for segregated private church schools
    • Jerry Falwell preached adamantly against desegregation early in his church
      • Started white only Christian schools as a way to continue segregated schools
    • 1971 Supreme Court Green v. Connally revoked tax-exemption of segregated schools
      • A federal court forced the Carter administration to propose tougher enforcement rules in 1978
    • Falwell first sermon against abortion was 1978 (months after Carter enforcement and 5 years after Roe v Wade)
  • Abortion as a political strategy
    • The issue of racial segregation wasn’t a motivating issue for evangelicals
    • Religious Right leaders used the issue of “abortion” and later “family values” instead
      • Rallied Evangelicals to vote for Reagan to overturn Roe vs Wade and protect family values
        • Reagan wasn’t very religious or prolife, but believed in tax exemption and talked a “religious good game”
      • Evangelical ministers launched a massive wave of activism in Southern pews in support of the Reagan campaign
    • 1982 Reagan banned the IRS from denying schools tax exemption based on racial discrimination
      • He never took outlawing abortion seriously despite this campaign promises
      • 1983, the Supreme Court overruled Reagan and banned tax exemptions for schools that racially discriminate
  • Motivated by 1980 success, Religious Right movement worked to get GOP elected on all levels
    • Late 80’s religious activists like Stephen Hotze spread nationally propaganda like 1990, “Restoring America” video
      • which included instructions for taking control of Republican precinct and county organizations
    • Religious nationalists began to purge traditional Republicans from the region’s few GOP institutions

Politico: The Real Origins of the Religious Right

One of the most durable myths in recent history is that the religious right, the coalition of conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, emerged as a political movement in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. The tale goes something like this: Evangelicals, who had been politically quiescent for decades, were so morally outraged by Roe that they resolved to organize in order to overturn it.

This myth of origins is oft repeated by the movement’s leaders. In his 2005 book, Jerry Falwell, the firebrand fundamentalist preacher, recounts his distress upon reading about the ruling in the Jan. 23, 1973, edition of the Lynchburg News: “I sat there staring at the Roe v. Wade story,” Falwell writes, “growing more and more fearful of the consequences of the Supreme Court’s act and wondering why so few voices had been raised against it.” Evangelicals, he decided, needed to organize.

Some of these anti- Roe crusaders even went so far as to call themselves “new abolitionists,” invoking their antebellum predecessors who had fought to eradicate slavery.

But the abortion myth quickly collapses under historical scrutiny. In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools. So much for the new abolitionism.

***

Today, evangelicals make up the backbone of the pro-life movement, but it hasn’t always been so. Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

When the Roe decision was handed down, W. A. Criswell, the Southern Baptist Convention’s former president and pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas—also one of the most famous fundamentalists of the 20th century—was pleased: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person,” he said, “and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

Although a few evangelical voices, including Christianity Today magazine, mildly criticized the ruling, the overwhelming response was silence, even approval. Baptists, in particular, applauded the decision as an appropriate articulation of the division between church and state, between personal morality and state regulation of individual behavior. “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision,” wrote W. Barry Garrett of Baptist Press.

***

So what then were the real origins of the religious right? It turns out that the movement can trace its political roots back to a court ruling, but not Roe v. Wade.

In May 1969, a group of African-American parents in Holmes County, Mississippi, sued the Treasury Department to prevent three new whites-only K-12 private academies from securing full tax-exempt status, arguing that their discriminatory policies prevented them from being considered “charitable” institutions. The schools had been founded in the mid-1960s in response to the desegregation of public schools set in motion by the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. In 1969, the first year of desegregation, the number of white students enrolled in public schools in Holmes County dropped from 771 to 28; the following year, that number fell to zero.

In Green v. Kennedy (David Kennedy was secretary of the treasury at the time), decided in January 1970, the plaintiffs won a preliminary injunction, which denied the “segregation academies” tax-exempt status until further review. In the meantime, the government was solidifying its position on such schools. Later that year, President Richard Nixon ordered the Internal Revenue Service to enact a new policy denying tax exemptions to all segregated schools in the United States. Under the provisions of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which forbade racial segregation and discrimination, discriminatory schools were not—by definition—“charitable” educational organizations, and therefore they had no claims to tax-exempt status; similarly, donations to such organizations would no longer qualify as tax-deductible contributions.

On June 30, 1971, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued its ruling in the case, now  Green v. Connally (John Connally had replaced David Kennedy as secretary of the Treasury). The decision upheld the new IRS policy: “Under the Internal Revenue Code, properly construed, racially discriminatory private schools are not entitled to the Federal tax exemption provided for charitable, educational institutions, and persons making gifts to such schools are not entitled to the deductions provided in case of gifts to charitable, educational institutions.”

***

Paul Weyrich, the late religious conservative political activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, saw his opening.

In the decades following World War II, evangelicals, especially white evangelicals in the North, had drifted toward the Republican Party—inclined in that direction by general Cold War anxieties, vestigial suspicions of Catholicism and well-known evangelist Billy Graham’s very public friendship with Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Despite these predilections, though, evangelicals had largely stayed out of the political arena, at least in any organized way. If he could change that, Weyrich reasoned, their large numbers would constitute a formidable voting bloc—one that he could easily marshal behind conservative causes.

“The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.” Weyrich believed that the political possibilities of such a coalition were unlimited. “The leadership, moral philosophy, and workable vehicle are at hand just waiting to be blended and activated,” he wrote. “If the moral majority acts, results could well exceed our wildest dreams.”

But this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. For nearly two decades, Weyrich, by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.

The Green v. Connally ruling provided a necessary first step: It captured the attention of evangelical leaders especially as the IRS began sending questionnaires to church-related “segregation academies,” including Falwell’s own Lynchburg Christian School, inquiring about their racial policies. Falwell was furious. “In some states,” he famously complained, “It’s easier to open a massage parlor than a Christian school.”

One such school, Bob Jones University—a fundamentalist college in Greenville, South Carolina—was especially obdurate. The IRS had sent its first letter to Bob Jones University in November 1970 to ascertain whether or not it discriminated on the basis of race. The school responded defiantly: It did not admit African Americans.

Although Bob Jones Jr., the school’s founder, argued that racial segregation was mandated by the Bible, Falwell and Weyrich quickly sought to shift the grounds of the debate, framing their opposition in terms of religious freedom rather than in defense of racial segregation. For decades, evangelical leaders had boasted that because their educational institutions accepted no federal money (except for, of course, not having to pay taxes) the government could not tell them how to run their shops—whom to hire or not, whom to admit or reject. The Civil Rights Act, however, changed that calculus.

Bob Jones University did, in fact, try to placate the IRS—in its own way. Following initial inquiries into the school’s racial policies, Bob Jones admitted one African-American, a worker in its radio station, as a part-time student; he dropped out a month later. In 1975, again in an attempt to forestall IRS action, the school admitted blacks to the student body, but, out of fears of miscegenation, refused to admit  unmarried African-Americans. The school also stipulated that any students who engaged in interracial dating, or who were even associated with organizations that advocated interracial dating, would be expelled.

The IRS was not placated. On January 19, 1976, after years of warnings—integrate or pay taxes—the agency rescinded the school’s tax exemption.

For many evangelical leaders, who had been following the issue since  Green v. Connally, Bob Jones University was the final straw. As Elmer L. Rumminger, longtime administrator at Bob Jones University, told me in an interview, the IRS actions against his school “alerted the Christian school community about what could happen with government interference” in the affairs of evangelical institutions. “That was really the major issue that got us all involved.”

***

Weyrich saw that he had the beginnings of a conservative political movement, which is why, several years into President Jimmy Carter’s term, he and other leaders of the nascent religious right blamed the Democratic president for the IRS actions against segregated schools—even though the policy was mandated by Nixon, and Bob Jones University had lost its tax exemption a year and a day before Carter was inaugurated as president. Falwell, Weyrich and others were undeterred by the niceties of facts. In their determination to elect a conservative, they would do anything to deny a Democrat, even a fellow evangelical like Carter, another term in the White House.

But Falwell and Weyrich, having tapped into the ire of evangelical leaders, were also savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination would be a challenge. It had worked to rally the leaders, but they needed a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.

By the late 1970s, many Americans—not just Roman Catholics—were beginning to feel uneasy about the spike in legal abortions following the 1973  Roe decision. The 1978 Senate races demonstrated to Weyrich and others that abortion might motivate conservatives where it hadn’t in the past. That year in Minnesota, pro-life Republicans captured both Senate seats (one for the unexpired term of Hubert Humphrey) as well as the governor’s mansion. In Iowa, Sen. Dick Clark, the Democratic incumbent, was thought to be a shoo-in: Every poll heading into the election showed him ahead by at least 10 percentage points. On the final weekend of the campaign, however, pro-life activists, primarily Roman Catholics, leafleted church parking lots (as they did in Minnesota), and on Election Day Clark lost to his Republican pro-life challenger.

In the course of my research into Falwell’s archives at Liberty University and Weyrich’s papers at the University of Wyoming, it became very clear that the 1978 election represented a formative step toward galvanizing everyday evangelical voters. Correspondence between Weyrich and evangelical leaders fairly crackles with excitement. In a letter to fellow conservative Daniel B. Hales, Weyrich characterized the triumph of pro-life candidates as “true cause for celebration,” and Robert Billings, a cobelligerent, predicted that opposition to abortion would “pull together many of our ‘fringe’ Christian friends.”  Roe v. Wade had been law for more than five years.

Weyrich, Falwell and leaders of the emerging religious right enlisted an unlikely ally in their quest to advance abortion as a political issue: Francis A. Schaeffer—a goateed, knickers-wearing theologian who was warning about the eclipse of Christian values and the advance of something he called “secular humanism.” Schaeffer, considered by many the intellectual godfather of the religious right, was not known for his political activism, but by the late 1970s he decided that legalized abortion would lead inevitably to infanticide and euthanasia, and he was eager to sound the alarm. Schaeffer teamed with a pediatric surgeon, C. Everett Koop, to produce a series of films entitled  Whatever Happened to the Human Race? In the early months of 1979, Schaeffer and Koop, targeting an evangelical audience, toured the country with these films, which depicted the scourge of abortion in graphic terms—most memorably with a scene of plastic baby dolls strewn along the shores of the Dead Sea. Schaeffer and Koop argued that any society that countenanced abortion was captive to “secular humanism” and therefore caught in a vortex of moral decay.

Between Weyrich’s machinations and Schaeffer’s jeremiad, evangelicals were slowly coming around on the abortion issue. At the conclusion of the film tour in March 1979, Schaeffer reported that Protestants, especially evangelicals, “have been so sluggish on this issue of human life, and  Whatever Happened to the Human Race? is causing real waves, among church people and governmental people too.”

By 1980, even though Carter had sought, both as governor of Georgia and as president, to reduce the incidence of abortion, his refusal to seek a constitutional amendment outlawing it was viewed by politically conservative evangelicals as an unpardonable sin. Never mind the fact that his Republican opponent that year, Ronald Reagan, had signed into law, as governor of California in 1967, the most liberal abortion bill in the country. When Reagan addressed a rally of 10,000 evangelicals at Reunion Arena in Dallas in August 1980, he excoriated the “unconstitutional regulatory agenda” directed by the IRS “against independent schools,” but he made no mention of abortion. Nevertheless, leaders of the religious right hammered away at the issue, persuading many evangelicals to make support for a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion a litmus test for their votes.

Carter lost the 1980 election for a variety of reasons, not merely the opposition of the religious right. He faced a spirited challenge from within his own party; Edward M. Kennedy’s failed quest for the Democratic nomination undermined Carter’s support among liberals. And because Election Day fell on the anniversary of the Iran Hostage Crisis, the media played up the story, highlighting Carter’s inability to secure the hostages’ freedom. The electorate, once enamored of Carter’s evangelical probity, had tired of a sour economy, chronic energy shortages and the Soviet Union’s renewed imperial ambitions.

After the election results came in, Falwell, never shy to claim credit, was fond of quoting a Harris poll that suggested Carter would have won the popular vote by a margin of 1 percent had it not been for the machinations of the religious right. “I knew that we would have some impact on the national elections,” Falwell said, “but I had no idea that it would be this great.”

Given Carter’s political troubles, the defection of evangelicals may or may not have been decisive. But it is certainly true that evangelicals, having helped propel Carter to the White House four years earlier, turned dramatically against him, their fellow evangelical, during the course of his presidency. And the catalyst for their political activism was not, as often claimed, opposition to abortion. Although abortion had emerged as a rallying cry by 1980, the real roots of the religious right lie not the defense of a fetus but in the defense of racial segregation.

***

The Bob Jones University case merits a postscript. When the school’s appeal finally reached the Supreme Court in 1982, the Reagan administration announced that it planned to argue in defense of Bob Jones University and its racial policies. A public outcry forced the administration to reconsider; Reagan backpedaled by saying that the legislature should determine such matters, not the courts. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case, handed down on May 24, 1983, ruled against Bob Jones University in an 8-to-1 decision. Three years later Reagan elevated the sole dissenter, William Rehnquist, to chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Allie Blosser: Better For Whom? The Problem With Increased Taxpayer Funding for Christian Schools

In 2013 and 2018, I collected ethnographic data in a predominantly white, conservative, Christian K-12 school. It was there that I discovered a robust hidden curriculum about what “diversity” means to these conservative Christians. The school communicated through its policies and practices that there is only one right way of being in the world: unapologetically white, heterosexual, conservative, and Christian. Such messaging was hard for some of its students, like Black women, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, who told me about their experiences of being “different” at that school and their desire for something more. Their experiences helped me to realize how strongly I believe schools — especially Christian schools — should be inclusive spaces that cultivate in students a love for neighbor. But now, due to a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, religious schools, like the ones I observed, are eligible for more state funding from taxpayers.

On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state of Montana to exclude private religious schools from a taxpayer-funded scholarship program. Like many other states, Montana’s constitution prohibits public aid — either directly or indirectly — from being distributed to any religious organization, and it specifically restricts funds from going to religious schools.

But in its 5-4 decision on the case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the Court found such prohibitions to be in violation of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts explained the rationale in his majority opinion:

“To be eligible for government aid under the Montana Constitution, a school must divorce itself from any religious control or affiliation. Placing such a condition on benefits or privileges ‘inevitably deters or discourages the exercise of First Amendment rights.’”

This ruling has far-reaching implications: Religious schools gain increased access to state taxpayer funding, while state taxpayers may see their tax dollars at work in school classrooms whose teachings and beliefs do not reflect their own. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, a proponent of religious schools and vouchers (taxpayer-funded sums of money families may choose to spend at a school of their choice) declared the ruling “a historic victory.”

As a Cooperative Baptist deacon, a former teacher in Christian high schools, and an educator at a private Christian university, I believe faith-based education matters because it allows students to realize that we are called to be in community and that knowledge can and should be used for the greater good. At its best, Christian education celebrates the diversity of Christ’s body through broadening students’ perspectives and teaching them to appreciate the unique ways each individual contributes to that body and is responsible for its care. And yet, I am deeply troubled about the way the Espinoza ruling will expand access to Christian schools. These schools often have little accountability when it comes to their curriculums, the values they teach, and the learning environment they create for students.

I started my research because I wanted to understand what conservative Christian schools taught students about diversity. I selected a school to study that already had a commitment to expanding the racial and economic diversity of its students and staff, and one that wanted to cultivate a climate of appreciation for difference. Simultaneously, the school was also trying to generate public support for the state’s adoption of a voucher program, which administrators hoped would diversify their student population.

And the administrators were right. Several years later, after the state began its voucher program, the school was more economically and racially diverse. While an increasingly diverse student body may sound good, in my time at the school, I observed that the school wasn’t actually integrating diverse students; it was trying to assimilate them. Instead of affirming students’ backgrounds through intentionally choosing materials and activities where diverse backgrounds were represented, this school took students — particularly low-income students, students who were in the racial, ethnic, or religious minority, and even some LGBTQ students — and expected them to conform to middle class, heterosexual, and white norms.

Here’s an example: Though the school claimed to be committed to cultivating unity in diversity, and a few staff were genuinely trying to do so, the school normalized white supremacy. It hung a Confederate flag in one of its classrooms. It didn’t celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And teachers were not intentional in choosing texts that featured non-white voices or accomplishments; doing so, the faculty and administration rationalized, would go against their theological belief in colorblindness, a belief they justified with Colossians 3:11 (“There is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all”).

The school’s first Black teacher was dismissed after only a year. When I asked why, I was given several examples, including her choice to wear an Obama shirt and her decision to assign students to reflect on an image of a slave. I was particularly troubled by this last example, which struck me as a culturally responsive assignment. Instead of cultivating true unity in diversity by affirming students’ unique contributions to Christ’s body, the school attempted to curate the kind of superficially diverse community they wanted through admitting and hiring Black students and teachers who wouldn’t try to change the normative whiteness of the school. Some school leaders spoke openly about wanting to only appear to be “doing diversity” without actually doing it.

Black students weren’t the only students impacted by the school’s marginalizing norms. The school had a policy specifying which behaviors and sexual orientations reflected Christ-like living and which did not. From the school’s perspective, being anything other than heterosexual is incompatible with Christian living. I was not surprised, then, when staff and students told me how school administrators had recently counseled a gay student to withdraw.

Similarly, I noticed how the school reinforced traditional gender roles: The school instructed male students to recite a chant about being strong men during P.E., and women were seldom invited to speak at the school’s weekly chapel.

The school upheld conservative Christianity as the one true religion by presenting other faith traditions in opposition to conservative Christianity. It advocated political conservatism through hosting conservative politicians on campus. And it taught creationism in AP biology.

While I personally disagree with the school’s practices, I understand why some parents choose to pay tuition to send their kids there — and those parents are free to spend their money where they want. But when the state adopted its voucher program, it troubled me that my tax dollars were being used to support the kinds of teaching and discriminatory admissions practices I witnessed. In some states, the top recipients of public taxpayer dollars available through voucher programs are Christian schools, many of which have policies similar to the school I studied.

Families will argue that vouchers offer them access to “better” schools. And in some cases, they may be right. But as an education researcher, I must ask: What does “better” really mean? How do we know they’re better? And are they better for every student?

Some states do not require schools accepting vouchers be accredited or hire licensed teachers. Some schools accepting vouchers use curriculums that are not recognized by public universities. Essentially, some states offer religious schools little accountability for what students are learning or experiencing in their publicly funded classrooms.

While the school I studied was accredited and regularly sent kids to state universities — something that appealed to many of the parents I spoke with — I also spoke with Black students who desired a curriculum that recognized Black history, leaders, and experiences. Black parents desired more Black teachers. Two white students I spoke with, who identified as mainline Protestant and Catholic, resented being told what to think, and formed a debate club to learn the nuances of controversial positions. In other words, these students wanted and needed more from their school — they didn’t want to settle for assimilation. Without more accountability, neither taxpayers nor parents can know if these schools are actually better places for students to be.

So, in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, which is likely to increase the taxpayer funding available to Christian schools without much accountability, families and taxpayers need to ask more questions. Because even Christian schools with explicit commitments to addressing diversity might not be practicing the neighbor-love that Christ calls us to do. We need to ask whether the schools are cultivating equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist environments. We need to ask about what they are teaching. We need to ask about the kinds of citizens they hope to produce. We need to ask if they’re discriminating against LGBTQ students, non-Christians, English-language learners, and students with disabilities. We need to ask if they are really better schools.

Screen Shot 2020-12-17 at 4.59.43 PM

Further Readings

Rise of Charter Schools

Center for American Progress: The Racist Origins of Private School Vouchers

About three and a half hours southwest of Washington, D.C., nestled in the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont is Prince Edward County, a rural community that was thrust into the history books more than 60 years ago when county officials chose to close its segregated public schools rather than comply with court-mandated desegregation following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision.1 Like many public school districts in the South during the Jim Crow era, Prince Edward County operated a segregated school system—a system white officials and citizens were determined to keep by any means necessary. The scheme they hatched was to close public schools and provide white students with private school vouchers.

Fast forward to 2017: President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have championed a plan to provide federal funding for private school voucher systems nationwide, which would funnel millions of taxpayer dollars out of public schools and into unaccountable private schools—a school reform policy that they say would provide better options for low-income students trapped in failing schools. Their budget proposal would slash the Education Department’s budget by more than 13 percent, or $9 billion, while providing $1.25 billion for school choice, including $250 million for private school vouchers.2

When pressed on the risks and unintended consequences of potential exclusionary policies in voucher programs, Secretary DeVos refused to commit to aggressively enforce civil rights protections. In May of 2017 in her testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, Betsy DeVos declined to say whether she would protect students against discriminatory policies in private schools that receive federal funding through vouchers.3

As Americans debate this issue on the national level, they must consider both the historical context and the actual impact of voucher programs.

Sordid history of school vouchers

During Jim Crow—when state and local laws enforced racial segregation—Prince Edward County operated two high schools: the well-funded Farmville High School for white children and the severely underfunded Robert Russa Moton High School for black children. The latter was not only overcrowded but also lacked a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a locker room, and a proper heating system.4 The alarming differences between the schools and the anger the situation engendered in the black community reached a boiling point when black students, led by upperclassman Barbara Johns, organized a strike at Moton to demand equal facilities.5 Their strike attracted the attention of the state’s NAACP lawyers, who filed suit in 1951 against the County in Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. The plaintiffs in Davis, along with others in NAACP school desegregation suits filed in Clarendon County, South Carolina; New Castle County, Delaware; and in Washington, D.C., would eventually be added under the umbrella of a larger desegregation case headlined by Topeka, Kansas’ Brown v. Board of Education.6

When the U.S. Supreme Court gave its initial ruling for Brown in May 1954, the court deemed separate but equal unacceptable in public education. The negative reaction to the Brown ruling by many white residents in Prince Edward County, in Virginia, and in much of the rest of the South, coalesced in what became known as “massive resistance.”7 Led by Harry Byrd, the U.S. senator representing Virginia, massive resistance was a movement against federally mandated integration, particularly in public schools. Byrd’s plan allowed for Virginia to flex the power of the purse in deciding who could receive a quality public education. The state Legislature passed a law allowing it to revoke funds from and even close districts and schools that integrated black and white students, leading to school closures in Charlottesville and Norfolk.8

White citizens in Prince Edward County were committed to operating a segregated school system and took even more aggressive measures. First, the county board of supervisors slashed funds for its public schools to $150,000, the minimum amount legally required in 1955—$550,000 less than the nearly $700,000 requested by the county school board.9 Along with allocating fewer funds for the County’s schools, supervisors also voted to switch how often they would distribute those funds, changing the schedule from an annual basis to a monthly basis.

When school funds were distributed annually, the district was committed to keeping the school open for the length of the school year. In contrast, a monthly distribution schedule gave the County greater flexibility to close schools abruptly and minimize the financial loss. Threatened with having to integrate their schools, the County could simply choose not to give out the remaining funds, close the schools, and subsequently save tax dollars and achieve their goal of not paying for integrated schools. Ultimately, Prince Edward County chose to close its entire public school system in 1959 rather than operate integrated schools.10

The original 1954 Brown ruling, as definitive as it was for civil rights, simply did not have the teeth to force unwilling communities to desegregate their schools. The Brown II ruling, which came just a year later, called for districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”11 While the ruling called for more urgent action from districts to desegregate their schools, the ambiguity of the phrase provided ample leeway for officials such as those in Prince Edward County to implement delaying tactics.12 In fact, in the years following the Brown rulings, Virginia’s NAACP chapter continuously fought county officials in court as they refused to set a start date for integrating the public schools.

Finally, in September 1959, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the County to “take immediate steps” toward integrating its schools, bringing the situation in the County to a breaking point.13 The county board of supervisors, with assistance from the Virginia General Assembly, took additional measures to undermine funding for integrated public schools. The board decided not to levy local taxes for the 1959-60 school year, eliminating a major source of funding for its schools. Meanwhile, the state adopted a new voucher system called a “tuition grant program,” offering students vouchers of $125 for elementary school students and $150 for high schoolers to attend a nonsectarian private school or a public school in nearby localities.14 During this same period, private citizens began raising funds to build and operate a private school to educate the County’s white children in the event the public schools were closed.15

The final measure taken by the county board of supervisors was to close public schools in Prince Edward County. The magnitude of the decision was unprecedented. While the state Legislature had the authority to close individual schools, it had only done so on three occasions at individual schools in Charlottesville, Norfolk, and Warren County.16 By closing its entire public school system, Prince Edward County had taken Harry Byrd’s massive resistance plan to the extreme.

When the County locked and chained its schools’ doors in September 1959, defying the court’s mandate to integrate them, white children continued their education at the private Prince Edward Academy, a “segregation academy” that would serve as a model for other communities in the South.17 The County’s black students, however, were not permitted to attend Prince Edward Academy nor granted tuition grants to attend other private schools. Ultimately, their options for continued education were stymied by several factors, including state laws that still permitted segregation of public schools; tuition grants from the state that they could not use; and the state’s Pupil Placement Board, which effectively prevented black students from attending white schools in other communities.18

Thus, black parents were forced to go to incredible lengths to educate their children. Those who could do so moved their children across state lines to North Carolina, where Kittrell Junior College accommodated about 60 students.19 Others relocated their children northward to the homes of relatives, to states with integrated schools, or into the homes of Quakers who were a part of the American Friends Service Committee.20 Some community members cobbled together informal educational opportunities, particularly for younger children. The worst-case scenario, of course, was leaving the education system altogether—the path followed by many older children on the cusp of adulthood.

The situation in Prince Edward County finally reached the attention of the Kennedy administration by the summer of 1963. Then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy would dispatch officials from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to the County in order to assess how the federal government could help.21 In a summer of student protests against the continued closures, black and white leaders in the County finally landed on a plan to temporarily operate free private schools for black students. White students, should they wish to, were also permitted to attend the school. Private donations helped fund the million-dollar price tag need to operate the Prince Edward Free Schools, with donations coming from the Ford Foundation, the Field Foundation, and the National Education Association.22

In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County that the County had to reopen its public schools on the grounds that it was still in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.23 By closing its public schools and subsequently subsidizing private academies that only admitted white students, the County, along with the state board of education and state superintendent, continued to deny black students the rights their white peers were provided. Even with the reopening of the County’s public schools following the Griffin ruling, segregation supported by a voucher system and inequitable funding persisted.24 The County’s board of supervisors devoted only $189,000 in funding for integrated public schools.25 At the same time, they allocated $375,000 that could effectively only be used by white students for “tuition grants to students attending either private nonsectarian schools in the County or public schools charging tuition outside the County.”26

In 1965, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Virginia found in Griffin v. State Board of Education that vouchers from the state’s tuition grant program could not lawfully be used to fund schools that discriminate based on race.27 While not citing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as a legal basis for its ruling, the court nonetheless relied on the law’s definition of a public school—any institution that was “operated wholly or predominantly from or through the use of governmental funds or property.”28

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which barred federal funds from going to segregated schools, made it clear that Prince Edward County could not continue their practices legally and receive federal funding.29 This law, as well as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, was instrumental in elevating the role of the federal government in protecting students from discrimination in the nation’s public schools. From a legal perspective, these rulings and federal laws put an end to the legitimacy of massive resistance, but the effects of the County’s practices throughout the 1950s would continue to affect the student population for decades.

Echoes of segregated past

Despite legal segregation being outlawed, Prince Edward County’s students still faced de facto segregation in the years following massive resistance and the decision to close the public schools. The County and state’s support of policies that facilitated white flight to private academies allowed for a disproportionate number of black and white students to be enrolled in the County’s schools compared to the County’s population.30 In the 1971-72 school year, only 5 percent of students in the County’s K-12 public schools were white.31

That demographic mismatch between the County and its public school system persists today. According to data from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia, demographics for Prince Edward County show that in 2015, white residents comprised 64 percent of the County’s approximately 23,000 residents, while black residents comprised only 32 percent.32 However, in the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year with available data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the County’s public schools enrolled 2,282 students, 37 percent of whom were white and 56 percent of whom were black.33

Despite the 1965 ruling that ended the voucher program in the County and state, de facto segregation also persisted for decades at the private Prince Edward Academy—now named the Fuqua School—the original “segregation academy” founded in the County in 1959.34 In 1980, the school decided to admit black students to keep their tax-exempt status but kept the black student population to a mere 1 percent—or seven out of 640 students.35 The school would not graduate a black student until the 1989-90 school year, and its black enrollment was still under 5 percent in 2013 with only 17 black students among its enrollment of 362.36

Prince Edward County’s actions following Brown in 1954 provided the blueprint for many Southern communities as they devised plans to divert and use public money to establish private schools that catered exclusively to white families. Segregationists in the County, many of whom occupied positions of power, believed their cause to be courageous and knew that it could set a precedent for other communities unwilling to desegregate their public schools.37

By 1969, more than 200 private segregation academies were set up in states across the South.38 Seven of those states—Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana—maintained tuition grant programs that offered vouchers to students in an effort to incentivize white students to leave desegregated public school districts.39 Between the 1969-70 and the 1970-71 school years, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi saw tens of thousands of students flee to newly opened segregation academies.40 In a single school year, Mississippi led the trio with almost 41,000 students having left the state’s public schools. Alabama saw 21,565 students unenroll from its public schools, while Louisiana had more than 11,000 students.41

The rise of private schools in the South and the diversion of public funds to those private schools through vouchers was a direct response of white communities to desegregation requirements.42 In Louisiana, the state established the Louisiana Financial Assistance Commission, which offered vouchers of $360 for students attending private school but only provided $257 per student to those attending public schools.43 Over the commission’s lifespan, the state devoted more than $15 million in vouchers through its tuition grant program, with the initial $2.5 million coming from Louisiana’s Public Welfare Fund. A 1958 state law also allowed school districts to close their public schools and sell or lease their resources for considerably less than their value for use by private schools.44

Vouchers used from Mississippi’s tuition grant program followed a similar path and pattern. In 1969, the U.S. DOJ intervened for the plaintiffs who sued the state of Mississippi in Coffey v. State Educational Finance Commission.45 In the five years before the case made it to the Supreme Court, the state offered vouchers for students to exercise “individual freedom in choosing public or private school,” which provided them with the opportunity to choose to attend racially segregated schools.46 Originally only offering $180 per student in 1964, the state Legislature increased the amount of each voucher to be $240 per student in 1968.47

In detailing the program’s existence, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi found that segregation academies in the state were consistently established in public school districts that had either recently been forced to desegregate by the courts or had recently submitted desegregation plans.48 Appendix B of the court’s ruling reveals the percentage of tuition that was covered by the vouchers offered to students at a number of the state’s segregation academies. On the low end of the spectrum, the state’s $240 voucher only covered 17 percent of Gulf Coast Mill Academy’s $1,395 tuition. On the high end, however, 96 percent of tuition was covered at schools such as Adams County Private School and Deer-Creek Educational Institute.

Not only did the court find that the state was subsidizing large portions of these school’s budgets, it also found that the state’s payment of the grants frequently coincided with dates on which tuition was due at the schools. Ultimately, as was the case in Griffin for Prince Edward County and Virginia, the court found Mississippi’s tuition grant scheme to be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, as it “significantly encourage[d] and involve[d] the State in private discriminations.”49

Alabama also enacted tuition grant state laws permitting students to use vouchers at private schools in the mid-1950s, while also enacting nullification statutes against court desegregation mandates and altering its teacher tenure laws to allow the firing of teachers who supported desegregation.50 Alabama’s tuition grant laws would also come before the court, with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama declaring in Lee v. Macon County Board of Education vouchers to be “nothing more than a sham established for the purpose of financing with state funds a white school system.”51

White flight from public schools to segregation academies in Alabama had devastating effects on districts’ abilities to raise funds. As more white students left the public system, white taxpayers became reluctant to raise property taxes to fund their public schools. Authors of a study looking at the effects of Alabama’s mid-century school choice policies found that when communities have dual school systems—that is to say, a public and a private system—taxpayers are significantly less inclined to fund the public system.52

Efforts to remedy Alabama’s funding inequities, which disproportionately affected black students and students with disabilities, showed promise in the early 1990s as state courts declared that conditions in Alabama’s poorest schools violated the state constitution by failing to provide all children with an adequate education.53 Those remedies would fall short of being realized when Jeff Sessions, the then-Alabama attorney general—now the current U.S. attorney general—led a campaign against the state judiciary. Despite the courts having played an integral role in serving as a check against states not acting in the interests of all students for nearly four decades, Sessions’ campaign against judicial oversight of legislative actions prevented the judiciary from resolving inequities in the Alabama education system.54

School funding inequities and growing segregation a trend of vouchers

The trend of increasing racial and economic segregation is a nationwide trend—not just in Alabama and other Southern states.55 The South, however, was the only region in the country to see a net increase in private school enrollment between 1960 and 2000, and where private school enrollment is higher, support for spending in public schools tends to be lower.56 A growing body of rigorous research shows that money absolutely matters for public schools, especially for the students from low-income families who attend them.57 What’s more, private schools in the South tend to have the largest overrepresentation of white students.58 In fact, research has shown that the strongest predictor of white private school enrollment is the proportion of black students in the local public schools.59

Modern-day voucher advocates often cite economist Milton Friedman as the visionary of today’s programs. Friedman published “The Role of Government in Education” in 1955, an essay in which he argued that—while governments have a vested interest in educating the nation’s children to ensure an informed and engaged citizenry and functioning democracy—they should not necessarily be directly involved in providing such an education.60 He believed that a privatized system in which the government provides funds for all children to receive a basic education at a school of choice would better meet the needs of parents and students. Friedman even posited that “mixed schools” in this system could grow at the expense of racially segregated private schools.

Today, voucher programs vary greatly in design and eligibility criteria. Almost all prioritize access for low-income students though some are eligible to all students regardless of their financial means. And even contemporary race-neutral voucher programs can have the effect of exacerbating racial and socio-economic segregation. A recent analysis by The Century Foundation demonstrated that voucher programs tend to benefit the most advantaged students eligible for the programs.61 Widespread enactment of private school choice in other nations such as Sweden and Chile has led to increasingly economically segregated schools.62

Chile’s voucher program has led to widespread socio-economic stratification and a decline in public school enrollment, all while making little to no impact on student achievement.63 The program’s design essentially creates three school systems: public schools attended mostly by the lowest-income students; voucher-subsidized private schools attended by more middle-class students, as they can charge additional fees or tuition; and nonsubsidized private schools attended by the wealthiest students. This design—and the relatively small number of private schools in rural communities—has greatly contributed to this socio-economic segregation.64 Such policies, if adopted nationally in the United States, could have similar consequences for economic and racial segregation considering the strong correlation between race and income in many places.

Indiana’s voucher program provides a case study for how voucher programs may benefit one group of students over another. Recently, NPR reported that Indiana’s statewide voucher program increasingly benefits white, suburban, middle-class families more than the low-income students in underperforming schools whom the program was originally intended to serve.65 Today, around 60 percent of voucher recipients come from white families, an increase of 14 percent since the program’s inception in 2013. The percentage of black students receiving vouchers has dropped to 12 percent, down from 24 percent in 2013. Furthermore, NPR’s investigative report notes that more than 50 percent of the students enrolled in the voucher program have never attended a public school.66

While there is no indication of racial motivation among the Indiana lawmakers who created the voucher program, the effects are clear: Indiana’s voucher program increasingly benefits higher-income white students, many of whom are already in private schools, and diverts funding from all other students who remain in the public school system.

Conclusion

The impacts of the first private school voucher programs in the South still reverberate today in battles for adequate and equitable funding of public education. And when President Trump nominated Betsy DeVos—a longtime Republican donor with a passion for private school vouchers—to become the next secretary of education, he elevated vouchers to the forefront of the national policy conversation.67 Swiftly thereafter, Trump and DeVos proposed to cut billions in funding for public schools while creating the first nationwide federal private school vouchers program.68 What’s more, in May 2017, while defending the Trump budget before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, DeVos refused to say that the Department of Education, under her leadership, would protect students against all forms of discrimination in private schools that receive federal taxpayer dollars through vouchers.69

Moreover, both Trump and DeVos have a worrying pattern of denying or ignoring history. In February, DeVos referred to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as “real pioneers when it comes to school choice,” failing to mention that these institutions emerged to serve black students who were being shut out of institutions of higher education that were discriminating against them.70 And President Trump has also shown a lack of appreciation for the history of racism in the country.71

Voucher schemes—such as those backed by President Trump and Secretary DeVos—are fundamentally positioned to funnel taxpayers’ dollars into private schools while draining much-needed resources from public schools and the vulnerable students who attend them. Policymakers must consider the origins of vouchers and their impact on segregation and support for public education. No matter how well intentioned, widespread voucher programs risk exacerbating segregation in schools and leaving the most vulnerable students and the public schools they attend behind.

Christopher Bonastia: Why the racist history of the charter school movement is never discussed

As a parent I find it easy to understand the appeal of charter schools, especially for parents and students who feel that traditional public schools have failed them. As a historical sociologist who studies race and politics, however, I am disturbed both by the significant challenges that plague the contemporary charter school movement, and by the ugly history of segregationist tactics that link past educational practices to the troubling present. 

The now-popular idea of offering public education dollars to private entrepreneurs has historical roots in white resistance to school desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The desired outcome was few or, better yet, no black students in white schools. In Prince Edward County, Virginia, one of the five cases decided in Brown, segregationist whites sought to outwit integration by directing taxpayer funds to segregated private schools.

Two years before a federal court set a final desegregation deadline for fall 1959, local newspaper publisher J. Barrye Wall shared white county leaders’ strategy of resistance with Congressman Watkins Abbitt: “We are working [on] a scheme in which we will abandon public schools, sell the buildings to our corporation, reopen as privately operated schools with tuition grants from [Virginia] and P.E. county as the basic financial program,” he wrote. “Those wishing to go to integrated schools can take their tuition grants and operate their own schools. To hell with ’em.”

Though the county ultimately refused to sell the public school buildings, public education in Prince Edward County was nevertheless abandoned for five years (1959-1964), as taxpayer dollars were funneled to the segregated white academies, which were housed in privately owned facilities such as churches and the local Moose Lodge. Federal courts struck down this use of taxpayer funds after a year. Still, whites won and blacks lost. Because there were no local taxes assessed to operate public schools during those years, whites could invest in private schools for their children, while blacks in the county — unable and unwilling to finance their own private, segregated schools — were left to fend for themselves, with many black children shut out of school for multiple years. 

Meanwhile, in less blatant attempts to avoid desegregation, states and localities also enacted “freedom of choice” plans that typically allowed white students to transfer out of desegregated schools, but forced black students to clear numerous administrative hurdles and, not infrequently, withstand harassment from teachers and students if they entered formerly all-white schools. When some segregationists began to acknowledge that separate black and white schools were no longer viable legally, they sought other means to eliminate “undesirables.”

Attorney David Mays, who advised high-ranking Virginia politicians on school strategy, reasoned, “Negroes could be let in [to white schools] and then chased out by setting high academic standards they could not maintain, by hazing if necessary, by economic pressures in some cases, etc. This should leave few Negroes in the white schools. The federal courts can easily force Negroes into our white schools, but they can’t possibly administer them and listen to the merits of thousands of bellyaches.” (Mays vastly underestimated the determination of individual black families and federal officials.)

These nefarious motives may seem a far cry from the desire of many charter school operators to “reinvent” public education for students whom traditional public schools have failed. In theory, these committed bands of reformers come with good intentions: they purport to bring in dedicated teachers who have not been pummeled into complacency; energize their students by creating by a caring, rigorous school environment; and build a parent body that is inspired (in some cases compelled) to become more involved in their children’s education both inside and outside the school. And in some cases, charter schools deliver what they promise. In others, however, this sparkling veneer masks less attractive realities that are too often dismissed, or ignored, as the complaints of reactionaries with a vested interest in propping up our failed system of public education.

The driving assumption for the pro-charter side, of course, is that market competition in education will be like that for toothpaste — providing an array of appealing options. But education, like healthcare, is not a typical consumer market. Providers in these fields have a disincentive to accept or retain “clients” who require intensive interventions to maintain desired outcomes — in the case of education, high standardized test scores that will allow charters to stay in business. The result? A segmented marketplace in which providers compete for the “good risks,” while the undesirables get triage. By design, markets produce winners, losers and unintended or hidden consequences. 

Charter school operators (like health insurers who exclude potentially costly applicants) have developed methods to screen out applicants who are likely to depress overall test scores. Sifting mechanisms may include interviews with parents (since parents of low-performing students are less likely to show up for the interview), essays by students, letters of recommendation and scrutiny of attendance records. Low-achieving students enrolled in charters can, for example, be recommended for special education programs that the school lacks, thus forcing their transfer to a traditional public school. (More brazenly, some schools have experienced, and perhaps even encouraged, rampant cheating on standardized tests.)

Operators have clear motives to avoid students who require special services (i.e., English-language learners, “special needs” children and so on) and those who are unlikely to produce the high achievement test scores that form the basis of school evaluations. Whether intended or otherwise, these sifting mechanisms have the ultimate effect of reinscribing racial and economic segregation among the students they educate — as the research on this topic is increasingly bearing out.

A 2010 report by the UCLA-based Civil Rights Project, “Choice without Equity: Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards,” uncovers some troublesome facts in this regard. “While segregation for blacks among all public schools has been increasing for nearly two decades, black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.”

In the first decade of the 2000s, charter school enrollment nearly tripled; today around 2.5 percent of public school students are enrolled in charters. Blacks are overrepresented in charter schools (32 percent vs. 16 percent in the entire public-school population), whites are underrepresented (39 percent versus 56 percent), and Latinos, Asians and American Indians are enrolled in roughly equal proportions in charters and traditional public schools. These snapshots mask considerable variation. In the West and some areas of the South, it appears that charter schools “serve as havens for white flight from public schools,” according to the Civil Rights Project.  

There are also preliminary indications that some charter schools under-enroll students qualifying for free lunch and English-language learners, thereby reducing the enrollment of low-income and Latino students, but data is limited in these areas, as it is on non-test-related factors such as graduation rates and college enrollment. How can we compare the performance of charters versus traditional public schools if we don’t know whether they are enrolling the same types of students? At the national and state levels, policymakers are pushing for the rapid expansion of charter schools on the basis of hope rather than evidence. 

This points to a larger historical issue. The widespread enthusiasm for and rapid proliferation of charter schools also appears to mirror a persistent issue in American education: expanding new programs before we know if they work, and how successes might be replicated on a larger scale. As the historian Charles M. Payne observed, “Perhaps the safest generalization one can make about urban schools or school districts is that most of them are trying to do too much too fast, initiating programs on the basis of what’s needed rather than on the basis of what they are capable of.” As charter schools face the uncertainty of contract renewal (which occurs typically at the three- to five-year mark), they may be tempted to overlay a multitude of seemingly innovative instructional strategies without sufficient monitoring of effectiveness.

Some schools do adopt approaches that seem to help students make demonstrable gains in achievement tests. (There are ongoing debates about the extent to which increases in test scores reflect authentic hikes in skills and knowledge, as opposed to a mastery of test-taking techniques.) But even when we identify charter schools that appear to improve performance in relation to students with similar characteristics in the public schools, the question becomes one of scaling up. The concept of charter schools is that they will all be distinctive, with different mixes of students, teaching philosophies, school environments and so on. In theory, other schools — traditional public and other charters — will learn what works, and replicate these innovations.

This has proven terribly difficult to do with successful public schools; doing so with a small, idiosyncratic charter school geared toward students who love the cello poses even greater hurdles. When researchers from the RAND Corporation studied charter schools in Philadelphia, they noted that “with so many interventions under way simultaneously…there is no way to determine exactly which components of the reform plan are responsible for [any] improvement” — though ultimately they found that privately operated schools produced no more successful outcomes than their traditional public counterparts. 

As important as applying successful techniques to other schools is an issue at the other end of the spectrum: when to conclude that a charter has failed. Policymakers such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who have sold charters as the route to educational salvation may be reluctant to pull the plug on failures. The Big Apple has closed roughly 4 percent of charters since its first one opened in 1999, well below the national closing rate of 15 percent. The appropriate rate of charter revocation is anyone’s guess.

By all appearances, charters will remain on the educational landscape for the foreseeable future. While charter skeptics can’t merely wish them away, they can push for greater accountability — after all, isn’t this the whole point of charters? Anyone who blindly accepts that competition will improve education for students in charters and traditional public schools alike should remember that other articles of faith about the market — like cutting taxes on the rich will make all of our yachts and rafts rise — have proven illusory.

The market is not a self-regulating mechanism: players need rules to guide their behavior. Educational history offers some valuable lessons to keep in mind. First, when public schools have great influence in selecting their student body, this can either lead to greater diversity and opportunity while retaining choice (as in some magnet schools), or it can exacerbate persistent problems of racial and economic segregation. Businesspeople respond to incentives, and the impetus for charter-school operators is to “skim the cream” and avoid undesirables. Tangible rewards for charter schools to offer free transportation and lunches, and to craft racially and economically diverse student bodies, could be a step in the right direction.

Educational history also teaches us to be wary of the deep and authentic desire to find the “secret sauce” that produces hard-working, high-achieving students and committed teachers. It is not easy to identify the factors that make a school great, and it is even harder to disseminate these reforms widely. If, for example, we discover that Charter School X produces exemplary outcomes because of exceptionally talented, committed teachers and unusually industrious students, how do we go about replicating that — and at what cost? Are all teachers and students capable of reaching these heights, or is there a limited pool? It would be nice to think the former, but evidence for such optimism is scarce.

There is no magic elixir that will fix our educational system. Of course, we should continue to be open to fresh ideas about improving school organization, teaching and learning. But if we continue to ignore important historical lessons about the dangerous consequences of educational privatization and fail to harness our desire to plunge headlong into unproven reform initiatives, we may discover that the cure we so lovingly embraced has made the patient sicker.

ucommblog: The Racist Origins of Charter Schools

The White House can’t ignore research that charter schools and voucher programs fail to improve students’ work

Trump has proposed cutting after-school programs for young children as well as grants and federal work-study programs for college students. But his most significant attack on public education may be his pledge to spend $20 billion on market-based school choice, including charter schools and vouchers.

Conventional voucher policies exist in 16 states. Taxpayers in those states help pay private-school tuition for about 175,000 students each year. Education savings accounts that let states circumnavigate constitutional language against public funding for private and religious organizations are used in 17 states and generate another 250,000 vouchers annually.

Before the public embraces Trump’s plans to create even more vouchers, there are important things it should know about the voucher concept’s origination.

Milton Friedman, a University of Chicago economist and apostle of free-market fundamentalism, believed corporations should be able to profit from education. In 1997, he wrote an article arguing that vouchers were “a means to make a transition from a government to a market system,” to enable “a private, for-profit industry to develop” and ultimately abolish public schools.

In 1955, Friedman also wrote that he didn’t believe in government-sponsored integration of schools. Southern politicians agreed and used vouchers to create what were called “segregation academies” for whites only.

Proponents of school vouchers overlook this history and frame vouchers as a “limited” approach to help poor children in cities — even claiming they are a civil right.

The political argument that market-based school choice is the answer for long-standing inequalities in the American education system is at odds with the positions of most national civil rights organizations. The NAACP and Urban League agree that vouchers, in the words of a civil rights leadership conference report, “siphon away all-too-limited public education funds and fail to provide protection from discrimination and segregation.”

In fact, there is little evidence that vouchers have a positive effect on student performance. Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University professor of economics and education, concluded in a recent Economic Policy Institute report that the predominance of peer-reviewed research over 25 years shows vouchers don’t improve student success.

Yet vouchers are supported by well-heeled conservative philanthropists and conservatives, including the Koch brothers, American Legislative Executive Council, Walton Foundation and Heritage Foundation. That’s because vouchers purposefully transfer the responsibility for educating students, and the funding that comes with it, away from the traditional democratically controlled public school system.

And vouchers give private schools greater control over the student population through such practices as “creaming” and “cropping.” Creaming occurs when private schools choose to enroll only the best and least costly students. Cropping is when they deny more costly students who are disabled, poor or language learners. Private “choice schools” can legally prevent them from enrolling.

Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos remain committed to privately managed school choice funded by public tax dollars, despite a sordid racial history, opposition from the civil rights community, state constitutional problems and the proven failure of the approach to help students.

—-

How the ‘School Choice’ Movement Has its Roots in Racism

  U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

“We have experimented educationally on children who are poor, who are of color, who go to underfunded schools. We come up with ways of teaching them that are experiments and have absolutely no kind of basis in research.”

Charter schools and the “school choice” movement have become a major part of the fabric of the American education system in recent years, but what are the origins of these institutions and this educational ideology?

In America, there are about 3 million students attending more than 7,000 charter schools around the country, and with the current prevailing political and economic tendencies in the United States, it seems highly likely that this number is only going to continue to grow.

Education and the Trump Administration

During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump promised that if elected, he would be the “nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice,” and has already made many bold moves on this front, including appointing school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as his Secretary of Education. In May 2017, DeVos was quoted as saying that the goal of Trump’s administration is to enact “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.”

DeVos has been one of the most vocal champions of the “school choice” movement, pushing all sorts of legislation on the topic, including most recently a federal tax credit that would provide 5 billion dollars in federal money to fund private school scholarships. The plan has faced opposition from both conservatives and liberals who see it as a voucher program by a different name and a way to siphon public funds away from struggling public schools.

Growth of Charter Schools

Many cities around the country have begun to favor charter schools over traditional public schools, and most of the cities with high rates of enrollment in charter schools are financially strapped areas that are dealing with economic turmoil and a fractured public education system.

According to the Key Facts About Charter Schools publication, in Flint, 55 percent of students in the district attend charter schools, and in Detroit, 53 percent of students are educated at charter institutions. New Orleans has the highest number of students enrolled in charter schools, at a whopping 93 percent.

So, what are the benefits of charter schools? Shaelyn Macedonio, who manages media relations at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, told Citizen Truth that “Charter schools give parents more public-school choices by providing a local high-quality public-school option. Each charter school has a unique charter that can foster a specific school culture, curriculum or focus that may better meet a child’s needs than their local zoned district school.”

However, the origins of the “school choice” movement that led to the creation of charter schools are somewhat troubling, and many experts are concerned that an educational model based on charter schools and vouchers is not good for American students.

The Racist Roots of School Vouchers, Benchmarking and ‘School Choice’

The southern states have more charter schools and school choice programs than any other region of the country, a fact which stems from the area’s past struggles with discrimination and segregation. While desegregation was occurring in public schools from 1954 to 1965, hundreds of laws were passed by southern states in an attempt to keep the practices of segregation in place, even if federal law officially prohibited that these practices be codified in laws. Many of the laws were based around the principle of diverting public funds to finance private schools that would remain segregated.

Laws such as Alabama’s pupil placement bill provided strict criteria for deciding which public schools students would attend. Standardized tests were used to test students’ intellectual capacity and level of knowledge, and factors such as students’ home lives and neighborhoods were also taken into account. This was the beginning of using benchmarks such as standardized tests to relegate certain students to worse schools and zoning school districts in order to disenfranchise lower-income communities.

In 1954, Louisiana passed comprehensive voucher legislation due to the recommendations of the Rainach Committee, headed by state senator William M. Rainach. This legislation initiated a voucher program that white students could use to attend segregated private schools while also giving public schools that wished to remain segregated the option to reestablish themselves as “private education cooperatives.”

As late as April 1956, nearly two years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Pearsall Committee in North Carolina announced its intention to “preserve a segregated school system” and attempted to find clever ways to do this without violating new federal regulations.

The Pearsall Committee’s report included language such as the claim that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education couldn’t prevent school districts from placing students based on “natural racial preference and the administrative determination of what is best for the child.” It also claimed that the Court’s decision could not legally require “mixing of the races.”

In Virginia, reports from the pro-segregation Gray Commission make frequent mention of “freedom of choice” regarding school placement. This began the trajectory that is being continued today with the “school choice” movement.

In January of 1963, then governor of South Carolina Donald Russell unveiled the state’s new voucher program. He claimed that this would foster competition between private and public schools and therefore “stimulate progress in public education.” This rhetoric is echoed in the arguments of school choice advocates like Betsy DeVos to this day.

Federal Courts recognized these ploys as thinly disguised attempts to keep de facto segregation in place, and as a result by the mid-1960s, most state voucher programs had been ruled to be unconstitutional. Despite the racist history of voucher programs and the school choice movement, many conservative education reformers claim that these changes will actually improve educational opportunities for minority students.

Another early advocate of “school choice” and voucher programs was University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, infamous for his extreme libertarian economic principles and support of the murderous Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. His faith in voucher programs and private, for-profit educational institutions stemmed from one of his ideas that is often parroted by modern-day conservative politicians, the belief that “competitive private enterprise is likely to be far more efficient in meeting consumer demands than nationalized enterprises.”

Problems in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has a massive amount of charter schools, and as a result, is facing an equally large problem due to the shortfalls of these educational institutions. One of the biggest charter organizations in Oklahoma is Epic Charter Schools, an online-based learning leviathan that is currently under investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and federal law enforcement authorities.

Former teachers who worked at schools under the Epic umbrella claimed “teacher bonuses were dangled like a carrot” in order to incentivize withdrawing underperforming students, using late student enrollment and employing other tactics in order to manipulate test results and bolster the schools’ standing. Former teachers at Epic Charter Schools have sued the company, claiming that they were fired as a result of speaking up against these practices.

The situation with Epic Charter Schools highlights the murky and convoluted regulations surrounding charter schools, online schools and other alternative education institutions. Following Epic’s standard policy, an online student can be automatically withdrawn if less than 31 online assignments are completed over a nine-week period.

Pssst, while you’re here…

Public schools are subject to more regulation and have more stringent procedures regarding student withdrawal and expulsion. But current Oklahoma state laws allow virtual or online schools a massive amount of leeway with regards to documenting attendance, which allows these institutions to utilize different strategies to make these statistics fit their goals.

Since Epic’s policy centers on the amount of assignments that students complete, teachers are instructed to overload students not expected to pass state standardized tests with extra assignments in order to make it impossible for them to keep up with the course load.

Angie Wren, a former teacher at Epic Charter Schools, told Oklahoma Watch, “My principal would instruct me to give additional remediation assignments and mandatory online homework-help sessions that made it almost impossible for the kids to keep up with. When students couldn’t keep up with the extra things assigned, my principal began pressuring me to withdraw them for truancy.”

Billionaires Funding Charter School Programs

Bill and Melinda Gates during their visit to the Oslo Opera House in June 2009. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the biggest donors and supporters of charter schools across the country. (Photo: Kjetil Ree)

Noliwe Rooks, Ph.D., is a professor of American and Africana studies at Cornell University who has written extensively about educational inequality, most recently in her book Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education. She began to wonder why so many billionaires were interested in funding charter schools and other similar programs in poor and rural communities in the United States and developed a theory that she calls “segrenomics.”

This concept is based on the fact that many “innovations” in education, such as charter schools and online classrooms, have never really been accurately tested to determine their efficacy. Rooks explains, “We have experimented educationally on children who are poor, who are of color, who go to underfunded schools. We come up with ways of teaching them that are experiments and have absolutely no kind of basis in research.”

However, when one remembers all the billionaires pushing for charter school expansion and the huge amount of money these corporations are making as a result of these experiments, the situation seems even more sinister. As Rooks points out, “The underfunding and the experimentation are actually very lucrative for a handful of companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars a year profiting from the undereducation and experimentation.”

In a speech she gave last summer, DeVos told listeners, “My work in education over 30 years has revolved around time invested on the outside,” as The Washington Post reported. “Outside the Department of Education. Outside the system. Outside Washington. I think that’s a good thing. Don’t you?”

This is part of the larger trend of some politicians promoting lack of experience and knowledge as positive attributes, but also highlights the experiments in education that are using poor, underprivileged students as guinea pigs.

Voucher Programs and Charter Schools Defund Public Education

Charter schools are often for-profit institutions and operate with little to no regulations and oversight. Lisa Guisbond, Executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a Massachusetts-based public education advocacy organization, told Citizen Truth how charter schools threaten public education.

“Since charter schools take public funds but are managed by private boards, right away, they go against two of our goals for public education: keeping public funds in public, democratically accountable, inclusive schools and maintaining adequate and equitable funding. Public schools are already being squeezed by a lack of investment of state and local resources. Charter schools worsen the situation by diverting public funding from existing public schools.”

Charter schools and other educational alternatives that are touted as giving parents and students more freedom and options often have a devastating effect on the public-school districts where these programs are put into place.

In a study completed by the watchdog group In the Public Interest investigating the West Contra Public School District in California, investigators found that the school district loses $27.9 million every year due to money being diverted to fund charter schools operating within the boundaries of the school district. As a result of this staggering loss of financial support, the school has been forced to reduce spending on important programs like tutoring services and ESL teachers.

When asked what can be done to fix the problem, Guisbond told Citizen Truth that adequate funding is paramount.

“U.S. public schools that have adequate and equitable resources tend to do a great job of educating their students, so job one is to make sure we are investing enough resources at the federal, state and local level to allow schools to get the job done. We need to tackle the re-segregation and racial isolation that afflicts so many of our student and communities. And we need to invest in our prospective and current teachers, so they can afford to get the training they need and get compensated enough so they don’t need to work two or three jobs to get by,“ Guisbond said.

The history of education in the United States is twisted and marred by a history of segregation, inequality and lack of opportunities. The way that children are educated in America is going to continue to change drastically, and if current trends prevail, the institution of public education is threatened at its very core.

Brookings: How charter schools are prolonging segregation

Charter schools didn’t create segregation, but the charter school movement isn’t helping to end it either.

When Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must never adjust ourselves to racial segregation,” he wasn’t suggesting that black kids need white kids and teachers in the classroom with them to learn. King was acutely aware that segregation sustains racial inequality in schools and other institutions. Education reform without an explicit attempt to dismantle the sources of inequality isn’t a moon shot toward justice; it is simply a maladjustment to injustice.

 

 

 

A recent Associated Press analysis of national school enrollment data found that “as of school year 2014-2015, more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools had minority enrollment of at least 99 percent, and the number has been rising steadily.”

A startling number, but the charter school lobby essentially responded with a version of, “So what?”

“Academics, attorneys, and activists can hold any opinion they want about public charter schools and other families’ school choices,” said a spokesperson for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in an official response to the AP story. “In the end, parents’ and students’ opinions are the only ones that matter. And every year, more parents are choosing charter schools.”

New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait co-signed that dismissal of segregation with a column that essentially argued it’s not really the job of charter schools to change the system of oppression that created schools that perform poorly, “because integrating schools is hard,” and he calls the criticism of increased segregation among charters as merely a “talking point.” For Chait, rising test scores trump segregation concerns.

In the all-charter district of New Orleans — that Chait described at the 2015 anniversary of Hurricane Katrina as “spectacular” in another defense of charters — virtually no (less than one percent) white students attend schools that have earned a “D” or “F” performance rating. But 77 percent of white students are enrolled in “A-” and “B-” rated schools, according to a new report by non-profit advocacy group Urban League of Louisiana. It is unthinkable that this situation would be tolerated if the students’ races were reversed. It is clear that segregation, and who gets a quality choice, matters.

My colleagues Richard V. ReevesNathan Joo, and Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst at the think tank the Brookings Institution compared the racial composition of the country’s public schools to that of the under-18 population of those neighborhoods. They found that schools more or less look like the neighborhoods that host them.

“The average public school is 2.6 percent less white, 1.8 percent more black, 0.9 percent more Hispanic, and 0.3 percent more Asian than its surrounding neighborhood,” according to the study. No surprise there.

The segregated state of our schools helps maintain the inequitable funding that determines families’ educational options. When the government-backed Home Owner’s Loan Corporation developed color-coded maps to sort out who could receive mortgage lending, blacks who lived in the red sections of the map were not given loans. And of course, the most well-resourced schools just happen to be located in the most expensive neighborhoods.

The Brookings team looked closely at district lines, and they found that if you remove them, many schools become more racially imbalanced. It seems to me that wealthy neighborhoods are using district lines to leverage themselves against demographic shifts. According to EdBuild, a non-profit focused on school finance issues, the most egregious cases of segregation are shown by the roughly 36 districts that were formed since 2000 as a result of secession — when a school district splits from a larger one.

U.S. News & World Report explained the study’s results: “In almost all cases, the communities involved were less diverse and had higher property values than those they left behind.”

The Brookings report found that among the racially imbalanced schools, charters stood out as having a much higher representation of black students. Their imbalance rating is roughly four times that of traditional public schools. (You can see how your school compares through this interactive map). Charters didn’t cause segregation, but they sure aren’t helping matters.

In many cases, school district lines are the more potent Confederate monuments that we still need to take down. Proponents of charter schools say that by disrupting school districts that were largely created along discriminatory and segregated lines, charters improve the number of options you have. And sure, giving kids a quality education is an excellent goal. But getting to the source of inequity is real reform.

In a statement in response to the AP story, Shavar Jeffries, national president of Democrats for Education Reform, said sarcastically, “Apparently, the school segregation problem boils down to black and brown parents choosing schools that aren’t white enough, as if the doors of all-white schools would magically open if only they had the good sense to seek to enroll their children in them.”

We shouldn’t conflate insincere calls for diversity (read: making schools whiter) with demands to topple segregated schools. Schools should get the resources they need, whether middle-class white students attend them or not. Our fascination with inclusion is inherently corrupt, because it is born of the misconception that whiter schools are better. Jeffries makes this point. But education reform absent an effort to dismantle segregated schools is equally bad. To blame teachers, parents, and district bureaucracy (especially when they are black) is to ignore the history of how schools became depressed. To dismiss segregation is to accept structural inequality and the status quo.

We’ve simply given up on the radical idea of integrating schools. The last major effort occurred in 2007, in the Supreme Court case Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1. The court ruled that Seattle and Louisville school districts’ efforts to desegregate/integrate schools by using individuals’ race to place students in schools were unconstitutional. The “diverse by design” coalition, a group of deliberately integrated schools that poses more of a threat to structural inequality, offers some hope.

The AP study pointed to the right problem with charter schools: an overrepresentation of black and brown students. As the AP report states, “[L]evels of segregation correspond with low achievement levels at schools of all kinds.” What the AP report, Chait and some charter advocates haven’t said is how willing we are to experiment on the lives of black students and black-majority school districts instead of doing the hard work to eradicate the causes of segregation.

Make no mistake, segregated schools of the past and present are a result of horrible policy choices that most people are willing to accept. There is a reason that after more than 20 years, the research is mixed on charter schools. Schools in black and brown communities were built on broken foundations — i.e., segregation. By not addressing segregation, reformers are turning off the stove when the house is going up in flames.

Brookings: New evidence on school choice and racially segregated schools

The charter school sector is presently on the hot seat because many charter schools are highly segregated by race, and often more segregated than required by the demographics of their catchment areas. Such racial imbalance can happen when the student body of any particular school is based on a lottery among applicants to that school.  This allows for self-sorting on racial, ethnic, and other dimensions. 

 

If the ability of parents to choose schools is a precondition for disproportionate concentrations of students of the same background in some schools, then it is important to examine school segregation in the context of school choice writ large.  In many large school districts, parents are able to choose among traditional public schools, not just among charter or magnet schools.  We know little about the effects of choice in this context.

This report addresses that issue. The principal question is whether the degree of public school choice at the district level is associated with within district racial imbalance between school enrollment and the school-age population of individual schools’ geographical catchment areas.  The analysis focuses on high schools in the 100+ largest U.S. public school districts.

The principal finding is a substantive positive correlation between how friendly districts are to school choice and the degree to which their high schools are racially imbalanced for blacks and whites.  In districts with low school quality, a common application for all schools, and that provide transportation for students to schools of choice, high schools, on average, over enroll black students.  The same conditions of choice are associated with white under enrollment. School district choice policies are not associated with imbalance in the enrollment of Hispanic or Asian students.

To the extent that school choice as presently implemented interferes with the goal of providing students of any particular group with meaningful exposure to students from other backgrounds, choice systems could be redesigned to produce more heterogeneous student bodies.  This could be accomplished by using principles of behavioral economics to nudge applicants towards particular schools at the time of choice, and through school lotteries that provide extra points for applicants from underrepresented groups.

Background

Racial segregation in America’s public schools, a product of the nation’s original sin of slavery, is an enduring stain on the ideals of the republic.  The blatant de jure version that existed in the South during my youth was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1954, but it was well over a decade later before southern school districts shut down their dual systems.[1]

While legally recognized racial segregation is a thing of the past, the de facto form remains very much with us.  As my colleagues and I have reported, public schools have become more racially diverse in recent decades, largely as a product of a significant expansion of the Hispanic school age population.  However, the segregation of white from black students has endured.

As illustrated in the following figure, adapted from that previous report, the average white student’s public school had a black enrollment of about 10 percent in 2010, about the same degree of white exposure to blacks as in 1980.  The average black student’s public school actually afforded less exposure to white students in 2010 than was the case in 1980.[2] Growth in the proportion of Hispanics in the school age population and the related decline in the proportion of whites underlie some of the decline in black-white exposure.

EV1

 

The issue of racially segregated schools is back in the public’s attention as a result, in part, of the controversy that has arisen over charter schools that enroll almost entirely students of one race.  Related to this, the NAACP has called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools.[3] The AP recently reported (to the consternation of many charter school advocates[4]) that more than 1,000 of the nation’s 6,747 charter schools have a minority enrollment of at least 99 percent.[5]

A critical issue with respect to the present prevalence and growth of racially segregated schools is whether education policies can ameliorate some of the impact of patterns of residential segregation that flow through to the public schools that serve segregated neighborhoods. If the demographics of schools are inextricably tied to the demographics of neighborhoods, then the goal of having racially and economically integrated schools will need to be achieved through changes in housing patterns – not quick, easy, or certain work. But to the degree that the public school a student attends can be disconnected from the neighborhood in which the student lives through public policy, there is the possibility of quicker and easier solutions than those that require building demographically diverse residential neighborhoods — further is the promise of a virtuous cycle in which severing the tie between place of residence and school assignment spurs the growth of diverse neighborhoods in areas that, save for the low quality of the local school, would be attractive places to live for families from many different backgrounds.

Creating a new system of schooling that replaces so-called zip code education with school choice has been part and parcel of the modern school reform effort.  But whereas charter schools and voucher programs have drawn most of the attention and political controversy as spearheads of the choice, the dominant form of school choice that severs the connection between place of residence and school assignment is open enrollment in traditional public schools.  In 2014, 31 of the largest school districts in America, serving nearly 8 million students, had provisions for parents to choose the public school their child would attend.[6] There are more students in these 31 choice districts than are served by magnet and charter schools combined in all 13,000+ regular school districts in the U.S.[7] The best designed of these systems are fair to parents and maximize the likelihood that students will be matched with the school that their parents list as most preferred.[8]

In this light, examinations of racial imbalance in public schools would be more revealing if they took the totality of public school choice into account rather than focusing narrowly on charter schools.  The tight connection between the different flavors of school choice is highlighted in those districts that deploy a common application for public schools of all types – charter, magnet, and traditional.  The common application allows families to pick and choose among different types of public schools under the same rules and with the same information.

We know very little empirically about the degree to which public school choice writ large is associated with changes in the racial balance of schools, and if an association exists, through what mechanisms it might operate.

New research

This report addresses that issue. The principal question is whether the degree of public school choice at the school district level is associated with racial imbalance between school enrollment and the school-age population of the geographical catchment areas of the district’s schools.  In other words, compared with districts that still practice zip code assignment of students to schools, are districts with public school choice systems more or less likely to have schools that over represent black students and under represent white students (or vice-versa) relative to the surrounding neighborhoods?

I address this question by combining and exploring relationships among variables in two large datasets that my colleagues and I at Brookings have assembled.  The first is a database on the extent and characteristics of school choice in the nation’s 100+ largest school districts, as reported in the Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI), the most recent version of which is found here.[9] The second is a new database on school racial imbalance (SRI), described in this recent report, which provides measures of the extent to which each public school in the U.S. reflects the racial demographics of its surrounding neighborhood.

For the present analysis, I aggregate to the district level the data on racial imbalance at individual schools from the SRI and link it to the ECCI data on the choice systems of large districts.  Using the SRI, I calculate the mean for each district of the difference for each high school between the percentage of students that is black and the percentage of the school age population in the surrounding two-mile area that is black.[10] The equivalent measure is derived for whites and other racial groups.  For example, if 60 percent of the students in a high school are white whereas the under-18 population in the surrounding two-mile area is 50 percent white, the school receives an imbalance score for whites of +10.  But the same school with 60 percent white enrollment in a surrounding neighborhood that is 70 percent white would receive an imbalance score for whites of -10.

The mean of these school-level values for each district tells us, for example, that a district with an imbalance score for any particular racial group that is positive has, on average, public high schools that over represent that group relative to their neighborhoods.  The size of the imbalance score tells us the severity of this over-representation.

Other approaches to examining school segregation in prior research rely on absolute numbers (e.g., a school is described as segregated because its enrollment is 90 percent black), or characterize a school’s enrollment as imbalanced relative to the demographics of the district or region (e.g., a school is described as segregated because its enrollment is 85 percent black whereas the district’s school age population is only 75 percent black).

Such approaches frequently have no practical meaning.  For example, an 85 percent enrollment for black students is not actionable if the population within reasonable commuting distance of the school is also 85 percent black.  In contrast, the present approach produces measures that define racial imbalance relative to each school’s catchment area: a school that is 85 percent black in a neighborhood that is 65 percent black has a very different status in these measures than a school that is 85 percent black in a catchment area that is also 85 percent black.

The balance between the demographics of a school and its catchment area is critically important notwithstanding the demographics of the district itself or the larger metropolitan area.  For instance, the racial composition of the school age population of the entirety of New York City has little relevance to concerns about and efforts to improve the racial balance of schools on Staten Island, which by virtue of its geography might as well be a part of New Jersey.  We need to know whether it is practically possible to improve the racial balance of a school, and this depends on comparison with local demographics.

The ECCI generates scores at the district level on 13 dimensions of school choice.  The present report incorporates seven of those 13 dimensions that are outward facing for students and families and most likely, conceptually, to play a role in their exercise of school choice: Alternatives to traditional schools, e.g., number of seats in charter schools; Assignment Process, i.e., the extent of school choice and its’ fairness; Common Application for traditional and charter schools; Accessibility of information on the choice process; Understandability of the information provided to parents on which to compare schools; Transportation to schools of choice; and School Quality in the district.

ECCI dimensions that capture administrative processes that are not likely to be known or used by parents are excluded from the present research, e.g., whether the district has a policy for closing schools with declining enrollments.  The complete list of ECCI scoring dimensions with brief explanations of each is available here.  In that link, those used in the present analysis are numbered 1, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, & 13.

The figure below reveals a substantial and statistically significant correlation of 0.53 between district scores on the seven dimensions of school choice from the ECCI and district scores for high school racial imbalance for blacks and whites.[11,12]  In other words, districts with friendlier choice policies have high schools that are more racially imbalanced in terms of their white and black enrollments.

EV2

The first table below describes the characteristics of the high schools in districts represented in the graph.  Notice, first, that the 106 large districts in the sample are roughly evenly split in terms of white, black, and Hispanic enrollment.  Second, schools are imbalanced with respect to their catchment areas only for whites and blacks (average of 5 points underrepresented and overrepresented, respectively).[13]

EV

The next table unpacks the omnibus measures of choice and racial imbalance represented in the graph by presenting the simple correlations between the district imbalance scores for each of four racial/ethnic groups and for each of the seven measures of district choice.  The statistically significant correlations are marked in red and bold. EV3

There are several interesting takeaways from this matrix of correlations:

1. The associations between dimensions of school choice and racial imbalance are mirror images of each other for whites and for blacks in terms of the sign of the correlation. For example, districts that allow school choice through a common application have high schools with higher black concentrations than their catchment areas, but lower white concentrations than their catchment areas.  A common application is a marker for districts with very choice friendly policies because the common app presupposes both open enrollment in traditional public schools and the presence of an appreciable number of charter schools.

One interpretation of this pattern of correlations — opposite signs for whites and blacks — is that policies that favor school choice afford both the opportunity for families to send their children to schools outside their neighborhoods and to select schools that serve students of the same background and racial group as their own children.  The result is voluntary school segregation by race for whites and blacks, which is entirely consistent with a large literature demonstrating that Americans prefer to live among co-ethnics, and that this preference is particular strong for blacks.[14]

There are, of course, valid historical and contemporary reasons for black families to prefer neighborhoods and schools in which families like them predominate.  For instance, the well-publicized positive impact on student outcomes of some charter schools that have an overwhelmingly black student body provides a rational and positive basis for a black family to prefer such a school for their children.[15]

2. The lack of a statistically significant association between racial imbalance scores for any group and the availability of alternatives to traditional public schools is consistent with the hypothesis that charter schools and affordable private schools are not a necessary component of choice-based racial imbalance in public schools.

3. Hispanic and Asian families with school age children do not appear to be much affected by district school choice policies whereas school choice generates a powerful dynamic for blacks and whites.

4. The information components of school choice systems, e.g., the ability to compare schools online and to see side-by-side information on school performance, do not appear to have much influence on school choices that generate racial imbalance.

This should be a troublesome finding for designers of and advocates for school choice architectures that presume that families will tend to choose the best performing schools for their children if the relevant information on school performance is accessible and clear.  In this regard, there is a body of evidence indicating that information on racial composition dominates school choice searches.[16]

5. District-level school quality, measured by how well students in each district perform on state tests, is a powerful correlate of racial imbalance in high schools for blacks.

discussion

Every introductory course in research and statistics, as well as much popular science writing, includes the admonition that “correlation is not causation”.   Even if it seems trite, it is worth repeating that warning here.

The present analysis is based on observational data and correlational analysis.  It does not support strong causal conclusions about the impact of district choice policies on racial segregation of schools.  Rather, it explores associations among the variables that affect the ease of choosing schools, on the one hand, and the degree of racial imbalance in schools, on the other.  This type of exercise can be useful as a first step in the examination of phenomena about which little is known.  Much more work will need to be done, starting with additional correlational analyses and moving towards research designs that support causal conclusions, before the associations in the present support can be verified and interpreted with confidence.

That said, the pattern of associations reported here is consistent with the hypothesis that school district policies that allow parents to easily choose a school for their children can lead to schools that are more segregated than would be the case if school assignment were based entirely on zip code.

The present demonstration of an association between school choice and school segregation also aligns with the recent report by my colleagues and I that charter schools, which are always schools of choice, have a substantially higher racial imbalance relative to their catchment area than traditional schools, which typically serve students assigned to them based on their families place of residence.[17]  In this regard, the mean racial imbalance score in traditional public schools for black students is +1.6 percent whereas in charters it is +5.7 percent.

The Atlatnic: Do Private-School Vouchers Promote Segregation?

With school-choice booster Betsy DeVos at the helm of the Department of Education, private-school vouchers are getting new life and plenty of renewed attention. Last Thursday, the Trump administration cemented vouchers’ official return by releasing its “America First” budget, which allocates $20 billion in annual funds, or about a third of the new education budget, to school-choice programs, including private-school vouchers.

DeVos has championed vouchers throughout her career, and she indicated they will remain her priority as education secretary. “Vouchers in the K-12 arena sometimes fall short but still provide meaningful support to enable students to attend the institution of their choice,” she said at her confirmation hearing.

One of the areas in which vouchers often fall short, of course, is in their ability to integrate private schools along racial, religious, and socioeconomic lines. But DeVos argues that integration and voucher programs go hand in hand. At her hearing, she told Senator Patty Murray: “I do not support programs that would lead to increased segregation. Empirical evidence finds school-choice programs lead to more integrated schools than their public-school counterparts.”

A new report from the Century Foundation’s Halley Potter tackles this claim, examining the empirical effects of private-school vouchers on different forms of segregation. According to Potter, “The academic results of private-school voucher programs thus far have been disappointing.” In all likelihood, vouchers will lead to more racial, religious, and socioeconomic segregation in schools. Potter’s report finds that many voucher programs fail to deliberately target low-income students, which can increase the concentration of wealthier students in private schools. In addition, religious students on vouchers often transfer to private parochial schools, contributing to religious homogeneity at these institutions and limiting opportunities for religious diversity at others.

A larger focus of the report is the impact of voucher programs on racial integration. In particular, Potter examines two U.S. studies, one in Louisiana and the other in Milwaukee, which each tracked students who moved from public to private schools. The first study, published in 2016, looked at the Louisiana Scholarship Program, a statewide voucher program that targets low-income students at low-performing public schools. The study originally reported that while public-school segregation decreased significantly, private-school segregation was somewhat higher. Potter found these results misleading for two reasons: First, the loss of a few students from overrepresented groups at public schools had a small effect on overall demographics. Second, the study reported the effects of voucher transfers on public and private schools separately. After crunching the numbers herself, using metropolitan demographics as a benchmark for integration, Potter’s results were quite different: Two-thirds of the school transfers had negative or mixed effects, resulting in overall increased segregation.

The second study, conducted in 2010, examined the transfer of students using the oldest school-voucher program in the country, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. As of the 2008-2009 school year, around 80 percent of students using these vouchers were black. According to Potter’s analysis, nearly 90 percent of the program’s students transferred from a public school where they were in the majority to a private school where they were still in the majority. This meant that although schools did not become more segregated, they also did not become significantly integrated.

Together, these studies indicate that private-school vouchers do not promote racial integration. In fact, contrary to DeVos, Potter finds that school diversity and voucher programs are often incompatible, primarily because students are moving in a one-way direction from public to private schools. “If you’re taking a commitment to school integration seriously, then private-school vouchers are not an effective way to achieve that goal,” Potter says.

Of course, there are exceptions. Research shows that vouchers could promote integration by facilitating the movement of black, Latino, or American Indian students from public schools where they make up the majority to more diverse private schools. But the larger pattern, Potter finds, is one of segregation and white flight—that is, when white families use vouchers to move their children to predominantly white private schools. Many programs with broader eligibility criteria, like Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program, tend to divert a majority of white students to private schools.

Still, she argues, there are ways to expand school choice while also providing opportunities for diversity. The main solution, as outlined in the report, is to expand magnet and charter schools that are designed for integration.

In cases where private-school voucher programs already exist, Potter says, students could benefit from safeguards that prevent segregation. “Many conversations around private-school vouchers open with the premise of expanding choice for the most disadvantaged families, especially low-income families and families of color,” she says. But the reality doesn’t always match the premise. “We need to look at the ways in which students using vouchers do not always fit that profile.”

This means restricting vouchers to schools that meet a minimum threshold of diversity, or eliminating vouchers in private schools with discriminatory admissions policies—a situation Potter finds is all too common. (The education-news website The 74, an Atlantic partner, has chronicled a handful of voucher programs with policies that discriminate against students on the basis of faith, sexual orientation, or special needs.) In districts that insist on using voucher programs, Potter also suggests moving away from universal programs toward those that specifically target low-income students in low-performing public schools. While she estimates this could make programs “less likely to exacerbate segregation,” the programs remain an unlikely method of integration.

Because only 400,000 students in the United States are currently enrolled in voucher programs, the impacts of these policy changes are difficult to predict. “The research is definitely limited, in part, by the fact that voucher programs are currently limited,” Potter says. But she also finds that programs in other nations “offer a window” into how an expanded voucher program might look in America. In places like Chile or Sweden, for instance, large-scale voucher programs are often tied to increased segregation. It’s not a big leap then to predict that additional programs in the United States would do the same.

Truthout: How the Large-Scale Privatization of New Orleans’ Schools Upholds Inequality

It’s the steamy first week of August in New Orleans, and a number of charter elementary schools are already welcoming students back from a brief summer vacation. I’ve volunteered to help make lunch. At 8 a.m. I arrive at a kitchen located in a revamped warehouse along the Mississippi River that once housed a cotton press dating back to the 19th century. I sign my name on a volunteer list, don a hair net and get to work. One of the women I’m working with adds a dash of seasoning to a mound of green beans, and we begin scooping servings into little trays already full of shepherd’s pie. The meals are then trucked to school cafeterias, heated and served.

The school lunch service is called Fresh Food Factor, and pictures of children holding vegetables in a garden hang in its brightly lit office. The brochure says school administrators are under “increasing pressure” to cut costs, so the program provides a “viable alternative to the quick fix of processed foods” offered by other vendors. Some lower-income neighborhoods in New Orleans are considered food deserts due to a lack of affordable grocers, so serving healthy food in schools can provide kids with options that they may not always have at home.

Fresh Food Factor is run by the local chapter of Volunteers of America, a multimillion-dollar Christian ministry that runs halfway houses, shelters, food banks, drug treatment programs and housing projects nationwide, often with government funding. For right-wing champions of charter schools, such as Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s controversial education secretary, Fresh Food Factor would be a shining example for the rest of the country: a religious group serving healthy meals at charter schools that chose to partner with a civic-minded contractor. Democrats would be happy to know that the food service helps schools comply with nutrition standards established by Michelle Obama — standards that the Trump administration recently scaled back.

Despite its parent organization’s name, most Fresh Food Factor workers are not volunteers like me. Employees who cook in the warehouse kitchen or serve students in schools receive wages that start at $9 per hour. Some work full-time, but the food service relies on part-time workers and a smattering of volunteers to fill the gaps. Besides managers and truck drivers, most employees are women of color, the workers commonly called “lunch ladies” who are inseparable from mealtime in public schools. As we wrap dozens of veggie eggrolls in sheets of shiny foil, one part-time kitchen employee tells me that she is not scheduled for enough hours to make ends meet and is looking for additional work, a common story in a local economy built on tourism and low-wage service industry jobs.

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ school cafeteria workers and janitors were unionized and enjoyed the same benefits as teachers, including paid vacation and time off during the summers, according to LaTanja Silvester, president of the local Service Employees International Union (SEIU) office. After the storm devastated the city, the state took over the school board and began an unprecedented experiment in school privatization, dismantling the teachers union and firing 7,000 school employees in the process, many of them Black women. Cafeteria workers now work for competing contractors that offer varying pay scales and benefits. Sometimes, benefits like paid sick days aren’t offered at all.

“Volunteers of America advocates for alleviating poverty, when in fact the jobs they are providing at the Fresh Food Factor are actually poverty-wage jobs,” Silvester told Truthout, adding that SEIU is currently working with employees seeking union representation despite “pushback” from Volunteers of America.

Pamela Bourgois and Damita Hall, Fresh Food Factor employees who serve lunch at Encore Academy, a local charter elementary school, told Truthout they were regularly expected to work off the clock for no additional pay until they began organizing a union and standing up for their rights on the job. Proper safety supplies such as arm-length oven mitts are not provided, leaving some workers to choose between paying for their own safety gear or burning themselves on hot trays. Only full-time managers and lead workers are offered health care benefits, and Bourgois says she has only received one raise in three years. Spokespeople for the New Orleans chapter did not provide a response to several inquiries from Truthout.

Encore Academy is the charter elementary school in New Orleans where Damita Hall and Pamela Bourgois work in the cafeteria. Under the charter system, students are not assigned to a school based on where they live. Instead, parents submit applications with a list of schools ranked from their top choice on down, aware that their child may not be admitted to the school they like best. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)
Encore Academy is the charter elementary school in New Orleans where Damita Hall and Pamela Bourgois work in the cafeteria. Under the charter system, students are not assigned to a school based on where they live. Instead, parents submit applications with a list of schools ranked from their top choice on down, aware that their child may not be admitted to the school they like best. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

New Orleans charter schools hire food service contractors like Volunteers of America with money from state and federal school lunch programs because so many students qualify for the subsidies. In 2016, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans received 59 percent of its $32 million in revenue from state and federal grants and contracts, according to an annual report released by the group. Nationally, Volunteers of America brought in nearly $312 million in total revenue last year.

New Orleans cafeteria workers meet at the local union office. Some school employees work multiple jobs to make ends meet and have children and grandchildren attending charter schools. (Photo: Julie Dermanksy)
New Orleans cafeteria workers meet at the local union office. Some school employees work multiple jobs to make ends meet and have children and grandchildren attending charter schools. (Photo: Julie Dermanksy)

Hall says Volunteers of America has responded to their push for union representation with SEIU by hiring a lawyer and deploying other “intimidation tactics.” She received a disciplinary write-up for “petty stuff” on the first day of school this year. Still, the women see their jobs as crucial for making sure students are able to learn in class — something that’s hard to do if you’re feeling hungry. After all, their own children attended public schools in New Orleans, and now their grandchildren attend charter elementary schools.

“In our position, we know that we are very instrumental in the kids’ daily process … we should be treated better than this, more fairly and justly than what we are,” Bourgois says.

***

Betsy DeVos, the wealthy charter school advocate who survived a razor-thin Senate confirmation vote to become US secretary of education earlier this year, has reignited a fierce national debate over school privatization. Now, all eyes are on New Orleans, where critics say the nation’s most complete charter experiment is steeped in structural racism.

After the floods of Katrina were finally cleared, the state legislature and a state board elected by Louisiana’s white majority took over the New Orleans school system from the local board elected by the city’s Black majority. In the decade since, schools have closed, consolidated and been handed over to private companies and nonprofits. Now, 92 percent of New Orleans students are enrolled in schools run by charter boards, more than any other urban district in the country.

Test scores and graduation rates have markedly improved over the past decade in one of the nation’s lowest-performing districts. However, rates of student achievement had nowhere to go but up, and researchers are hesitant to give school privatization full credit for improvements in performance. They say other factors, such as strong incentives to “teach to the test,” a $1,000 increase in per pupil spending relative to other districts and the fact that some lower-income students did not return after being displaced by Katrina, must be considered before New Orleans schools are held up as a model for other systems.

At the same time, a federal lawsuit and a list of civil rights complaints have been filed on behalf of immigrant students, students of color and students with disabilities who were denied access to public education because schools had discriminatory enrollment and disciplinary policies, or were simply inaccessible. Many students travel across town to attend class, and schools buy ads on billboards and buses all over the city, while neighborhood schools are often neglected or abandoned. Schools in working-class Black areas are shuttered when students fail to perform on high-stakes standardized tests, leaving empty buildings where neighborhood institutions once stood.

“You label our schools as failing, when in fact it is the system that has failed us, because we never addressed [Brown v. Board of Education], we never made education equal,” says Jitu Brown, national director of Journey4Justice Alliance, a coalition of groups from Black and Brown communities impacted by charter schools, including New Orleans.

Fencing blocks access to John McDonogh High School in New Orleans, which has been closed since 2014. Charter schools are shuttered when students fail to perform on high-stakes standardized tests, leaving empty buildings where neighborhood institutions once stood. Many students commute across town to attend class. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)
Fencing blocks access to John McDonogh High School in New Orleans, which has been closed since 2014. Charter schools are shuttered when students fail to perform on high-stakes standardized tests, leaving empty buildings where neighborhood institutions once stood. Many students commute across town to attend class. (Photo: Mike Ludwig)

Brown says the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision may have ended the “separate but equal” doctrine of school segregation, but equality has yet to be realized. After convincing two Republican senators to flip and oppose DeVos, who was only confirmed after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tie-breaking vote, Brown and other organizers realized what was missing from the progressive education movement: multiracial coalitions led by the people of color who are impacted most. Activists are currently conducting an “equity assessment” of public schools nationwide to prove just that. The assessment is part of the #WeChoose campaign, a nationwide push for racial justice and sustainable community schools that grew out of efforts to block DeVos’s nomination.

“Equity is not just funding,” Brown tells Truthout. “It’s about expectations, it’s about curriculums and how discipline is administered, and we will demonstrate through this assessment that the issue is inequity. It’s not bad teachers, it’s not bad students from the inner city, it’s not disinterested ghetto parents.”

Brown says the movement is not railing against individual charter schools, unless they have discriminatory enrollment and disciplinary policies. Some charter schools do embrace progressive policies; for example, one New Orleans elementary school is committed to enrolling a student body that reflects the neighborhood around it, a working-class area with a mix of Black, white and Latino families. However, this diversity policy does not come without controversy and has made the school highly coveted among parents jostling for enrollment spots in a system based on market competition, making it difficult to get into.

“We don’t have a problem with charter schools, we have a problem with the charter movement and charter market, which is concentrated in our communities,” Brown says. “If charters were so great, white folks would have them, but they don’t get charters. They get magnet schools and well-funded neighborhood schools.”

Before Katrina, New Orleans schools were heavily segregated by wealth and income, and a recent Tulane University study found that the demographic breakdown of the city’s elementary schools has not changed. There have been some changes in high schools, with segregation increasing for low-income students but decreasing for those with special needs. In New Orleans, students are not assigned to a school based on where they live. Instead, parents submit applications with a list of schools ranked from their top choice on down, aware that their child may not be admitted to the school they like best. Black students and activists criticize some charters for enrollment schemes and zero-tolerance disciplinary policies that favor white, abled and wealthier students while keeping — or kicking — others out. They say the idea of “school choice” promoted by DeVos is a myth.

Researchers have found that zero-tolerance discipline disproportionately impacts students on the margins, particularly children of color and children with “non-apparent” psychiatric and intellectual disabilities. Charters in cities like New Orleans are incentivized to enroll students who will improve the school’s overall performance. Lower-performing students can become targets for punishments that ultimately do not correct behavior, but “reinforce toxic interactions and reproduce cycles of perceived misbehavior,” according to the Ruderman Family Foundation. As punishment escalates, students are pushed out of school, where they are more likely to fall into the juvenile legal system and the school-to-prison pipeline.

The New Orleans system is now working toward “reunification” under one local board and says it is addressing concerns about admissions, suspensions and expulsions by centralizing procedures for some schools, but emotions remain raw. In June, the NAACP held a listening session in New Orleans that became increasingly heated as Black students and parents aired their frustrations about living in the petri dish of an unprecedented charter experiment. They lamented the inconsistent stream of teachers from other parts of the country brought in by Teach for America, the organization that has long been criticized for replacing local teachers with lightly trained outsiders who are disconnected from local culture. They questioned how working parents are supposed to stay involved in education when the schools their kids are admitted to are miles from home.

In an especially powerful moment, a group of young students took the microphone despite protests from moderators, declaring themselves experts in the subject of education because they attend school day in and day out. Their school is one of the last remaining traditional public schools in the city, and they are worried about their futures as it faces privatization. “You don’t attend the school, you’re not there every day,” one student said. “The Teach for America teachers don’t care about us, charter schools don’t care about us, and our futures are at stake.”

The students were members of Rethink, a local group that empowers young people to have a voice in changing schools and other institutions. Rethink member Big Sister Love Rush, who recently graduated from a New Orleans high school at the top of her class, got involved after learning that her alma mater would be shutting down this year. After attending public meetings on charter controversies, Love Rush penned a blog post explaining how pro-charter forces take education “out of the hands of parents, like my mother” and give power to outsiders who “act like [students] have no expertise”:

Through all these meetings I keep thinking, who is profiting? Who wins when my school is closed? Who succeeds when conversations about education don’t include and aren’t centered around students, families and teachers? Who benefits when groups are examining the damage of privatized schools on students without any plan on how to stop that damage? Who is aided when discussions become pep rallies? Who makes the money when schools become sites to make a profit?

The disconnect between students and school administrators can be traced back to the firing of 7,000 school employees after Katrina, a move that ripped members of the local community out of their educational institutions at a time when thousands of families had been displaced by a natural disaster. LaTanja Silvester at SEIU says that many food service workers and janitors eventually returned to their jobs, but wages and benefits now vary widely depending on where they work. Many teachers, however, were replaced by a younger, whiter set brought in from out of town through programs such as Teach for America.

Of the roughly 4,300 teachers dismissed after Katrina, 78 percent were woman and 71 percent were Black, according to the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University. About half of this workforce returned to education in the years following the storm, with 37 percent finding jobs in New Orleans and 18 percent working in surrounding areas. These numbers had dropped dramatically by 2013, when only 22 percent of pre-Katrina teachers were still employed in the city’s public schools.

“It’s the colonizing of our communities, where we have people running the quality-of-life institutions in our communities through the way they see us, through their lens,” Brown says.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, the state dismissed thousands of New Orleans school employees and consolidated schools as it launched an unprecedented experiment in privatization. This school in New Orleans' Mid-City neighborhood has sat empty since the storm. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, the state dismissed thousands of New Orleans school employees and consolidated schools as it launched an unprecedented experiment in privatization. This school in New Orleans’ Mid-City neighborhood has sat empty since the storm. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

New Orleans is at the forefront of a troubling national trend. Brown points to the Albert Shanker Institute, which recently studied nine cities with charter schools in their systems and found that the share of Black teachers in the workforce had declined in every single one over the past decade. Rates varied widely, with Boston and Cleveland losing 1 percent of their Black teachers, while New Orleans and Washington, DC, lost 24 and 28 percent, respectively. Losses in the total numbers of Black teachers in the population were even greater, ranging from 15 percent in New York City to an alarming 62 percent in New Orleans. Seniority-based layoffs had little to do with these declines. Nationally, minority teachers are hired at higher rates than others, but they exit the profession at much higher rates as well.

“The lesson that is being taught all over the United States is that we are not fit to lead, and that is a result of policy,” Brown says.

Black and Brown teachers are more motivated to work with disadvantaged students and hold higher academic expectations for them, which results in better grades and social growth among students, according to the Albert Shanker Institute’s study. Students benefit from teachers of their own race or ethnicity, who can serve as role models and share knowledge about their heritage and culture, the study says.

Love Rush adds that the curriculum itself should also reflect the schools’ populations. She writes that many students want curriculums that “represent us and people like us,” and “that teaches us our true history and the role that it plays in our current lives.” Rethink youth activists are currently campaigning to lower the voting age in New Orleans to 14 so students can have a voice in shaping local politics and the schools they attend.

“We can and will do it,” Love Rush writes. “We will take our education in our own hands because we are the experts of our experience.”

***

The mass teacher dismissal in New Orleans was reflective of a trend that reached far beyond the classroom. Thousands of jobs that supported Black middle-class people vanished at a time when residents were recovering from an unprecedented natural disaster. Some displaced families have still not returned. In the years since, property values in New Orleans have skyrocketed and working-class neighborhoods have become hipster hotspots, putting increasing pressure on lower-income renters in a gentrifying city.

Brown says the gutting of the Black middle class — and the deliberate minimizing of its political power — is not germane to New Orleans, and many of the same cities that have seen a decline in Black teachers have also seen declines in the general Black population. When authorities divest from Black neighborhoods by shutting down their schools and busing children somewhere else, it could be a sign that property in the area may soon become a hot commodity. At a time when the nation is facing a resurgence of overt white supremacy, Brown points out the importance of simultaneously confronting more subtle manifestations of white supremacy.

“I’m a lot more concerned about the white supremacists that are sabotaging our children’s education, that’s white supremacy too,” Brown says. “I’m concerned about the white supremacists that are sabotaging our housing so that we can’t live in our neighborhoods, that’s white supremacy too.”

Back at the Fresh Food Factor kitchen, Volunteers of America’s local “neighborhood development” corporation has established another project in a historic building adjacent to the warehouse where school lunches are prepared: 52 furnished loft apartments complete with a rooftop patio offering a view of the Mississippi River. With help from state and federal tax credits and community block grants, Volunteers of America built these lofts to serve “working households” by creating housing in “emerging neighborhoods” near employers and public transportation, according to the project’s website.

A number of businesses and shops have sprung up in old warehouses and around a nearby Wal-Mart, and public transportation can deliver residents to the downtown business district within minutes. Volunteers of America offers half of the units at lower prices for residents making under $35,000 a year, but rent still ranges from $886 to $950 a month for those who qualify for the discount. With wages ranging from $9 to $14 an hour, kitchen staff would have to spend about 40 to 60 percent of their income to live in their employer’s lofts next door to where they work. Even workers making as much as $34,000 would spend about 30 percent for a single-bedroom apartment, the threshold at which federal authorities consider a household “overburdened.”

Volunteers of America has long been in the “affordable housing” business, using federal housing grants to construct residential buildings for lower-income, disabled and elderly people. The group’s neighborhood development subsidiary in New Orleans, which was created specifically to replace housing post-Katrina, is a nonprofit that has its own for-profit subsidiary for building residences to rent out. Robert Silverman, a professor of urban planning at the University at Buffalo who focuses on the nonprofit sector, said for-profit spinoffs of nonprofit housing initiatives are becoming more common, but profit incentives also raise concerns about “mission drift.”

Volunteers of America is considered a church, so it does not have to file federal tax returns, and it remains unclear how top administrators and property developers are paid for their work.

“It’s kind of a new trend that has been bubbling up over the past six or seven years, where a nonprofit will have a for-profit subsidiary connected to it,” Silverman told Truthout. “Different rules and tax laws apply to each, but they use it as another way to generate revenue [for the parent organization].”

In 2016, Silverman co-authored a study on affordable housing in several US cities with shrinking populations, including New Orleans. In general, affordable housing is not cited near “opportunity areas” as much as observers would like. Single workers and senior citizens tended to have an advantage, while single mothers with children were less likely to find housing near employers or top-performing schools. Volunteers of America and its subsidiaries run housing projects across New Orleans and southern Louisiana, and Silverman said it appears the group is trying to “hit” different income levels. The riverside lofts next to Fresh Food Factor are probably meant for teachers, police, government workers and others with moderate incomes, rather than the low-wage food service workers employed next door.

“The other side of it is, when the nonprofit starts dabbling in these for-profit ventures, it opens up arguments that can be made for why the people working for the nonprofit themselves should be given living wages,” Silverman said.

Pamela Bourgois and Damita Hall just laugh when I tell them how much it would cost to rent a loft apartment next to the kitchen where their coworkers make the lunches they serve. That’s what their employer considers “affordable housing?” LaTanja Silvester at SEIU, on the other hand, is frustrated. She’s sick of seeing workers employed by one school contractor receiving a living wage under a union contract, while workers doing the exact same job for another school must take on additional work just to feed their kids. School privatization in New Orleans may have created a brutal race to the academic top for students, but Silvester says it also created “a race to the bottom.”

“We have to be the city that revamped education and lifted kids out of poverty and provided a pathway for them to be gainfully employed in this country,” Silvester said. “And we must take into account who is providing those services, and they are the mothers of the kids who attend those charter schools.”

How Charter Schools Won D.C. Politics

Federal intervention, an army of lobbyists, and taxpayer money have helped D.C. charters keep local lawmakers off their backs.

Lobbyists mobilized quickly when they learned the D.C. Council would be proposing legislation to subject the city’s charter schools to freedom-of-information laws. The day before the bill was released in mid-March, charter leaders were armed with a list of talking points divided into two categories: “soft response” and “harder-edge messaging.” 

The “soft response” included points like: “this bill cares more about paperwork than school performance” and “devoting schools’ resources to yet even more compliance will divert from more important student needs, such as mental health counseling.” The “harder-edge messaging” went further, charging the legislation with “bureaucracy-building and political payback masquerading as watchdogging.” 

The legislation is intended to let parents, teachers, and journalists access more information about the schools’ internal operations, and it comes on the heels of a series of scandals that fomented public distrust. But the talking points encouraged charter advocates to tell their councilmembers that it’s insulting to suggest that the schools need additional oversight. “We resent the implication that the hundreds of community and parent volunteers who serve on charter schools’ boards are not putting students’ needs first,” the talking points read. “The real agenda that needs uncovering is the union strategy to force charter schools to behave exactly like the school district bureaucracy.”  

This coordinated pushback didn’t come out of thin air. In fact, D.C. taxpayers might be surprised to learn they helped fund the lobbying themselves. Every year D.C. charter schools collectively funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars from their budgets to private organizations that then lobby government agencies against efforts to regulate the schools. Between 2011 and 2017, for example, local charters paid the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, which calls itself “the collective voice of DC’s Chartered Public School Leaders,” more than $1.2 million in membership dues for its advocacy services, at a rate of $8 per student annually. 

While most D.C. charters contribute to the Association, nearly all also pay $8 per student annually to a second group called Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, better known as FOCUS. Last year all but three charters kicked over FOCUS’ “voluntary student payments,” totaling more than $340,000

In return for their contributions, charters have received dedicated advocates in the halls of city government and in public debate. In practical terms, this has mostly entailed keeping local lawmakers off charters’ backs. A July 2018 invoice that FOCUS sent to one charter leader said that the school’s payments “have already had an impact” in 2018, securing a “reduction in unreasonable monitoring and oversight” by “blocking or fixing five major pieces of legislation.” FOCUS’ executive director thanked the school leader for their annual donation, which ensures “a strong, steady, and committed” voice “to preserve your autonomy, increase your funding and improve your access to facilities and government services.” 

Documents obtained by City Paper show that these two organizations produced the talking points from earlier this year. But they’re not the only players on the charter advocacy stage, and the D.C. Council’s charter transparency bill is not the first to hit a hard wall of lobbying resistance. Under DC Code Section 1-1161.01, lobbying is defined as “communicating directly with any official in the legislative or executive branch of the District government with the purpose of influencing any legislative action or an administrative decision.” And for more than two decades professional charter school advocates have successfully marshalled powerful arguments about limiting government intrusion into charter school operations, so leaders can better focus on teaching and learning.

For those who envision public-school politics as frazzled parents huddled in middle school gymnasiums, the world of D.C. charter advocacy might come as a strange sight. It’s a place where philanthropic money, revolving political doors, high-dollar galas, and a bevy of well heeled organizations have all been deployed to help charter schools shape their own regulations—or, more preferably, keep regulation away. Now, in the face of questions and community frustration, lawmakers are again under pressure to act. But if city leaders are going to bring newfound transparency to the charter world, they’re going to have to overcome a formidable influence machine with a long history of winning fights in D.C. 

***

Many factors have aided the local charter advocacy apparatus over the past two decades—from a struggling traditional school district that drove parents away, to a weakened teachers’ union consumed with its own problems, to a conflict-averse Council that largely welcomed the relinquishment of school oversight duties.

But charter advocates’ biggest asset has been the School Reform Act—federal legislation enacted in 1996 authorizing the creation of charter schools in the District. Since its passage, the law has been used to ward off attempts by local lawmakers who sought more control over the public charter schools they were funding.

Congress’ involvement did not happen overnight. DC Public Schools had been declining for decades, as families left the city or turned to private schools. 149,000 students were enrolled in 1970. That number plummeted to about 80,000 two decades later. Academic performance was also a source of embarrassment, and scandal routinely wracked the District’s school administration. In 1995, a federal body created to help restore local public school finances came to the stunning conclusion that “for each additional year that students stay in DCPS, the less likely they are to succeed.” Half of all students dropped out before graduation.

That same year, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), was elected Speaker of the House and soon announced his goal to improve D.C. schools. He pledged to transform the city into “an urban jewel” and tasked another Republican in his inner-circle, Rep. Steve Gunderson (R-Wisc.), with drafting education policy recommendations.

The bill Gunderson put forth originally included both the creation of charter schools and vouchers for private schools, but it soon became clear that vouchers would never garner enough Democratic support in the Senate, and were ultimately stripped. Charters were an easier sell: The nation’s first charter school had launched in Minnesota in 1992, and plenty of Democrats, including then-president Bill Clinton, were enthusiastic supporters of the idea. 

Many D.C. residents balked at Congress’ actions. When Clinton signed the School Reform Act into law in the spring of 1996, it was over the strong objection of D.C.’s non-voting Congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who protested Congress’ interference in the city’s local affairs.

Josephine Baker, board chair and executive director for the city’s charter authorizer, the DC Public Charter School Board, from 1996 through 2011, reflected on this process in her 2014 memoir: “The way [D.C. charters were established] left a terrible taste in the mouths of many life-long and civically engaged Washingtonians. It also represented a selling out of sorts to some community members who felt Republicans in Congress were acting as political imperialists.”

These misgivings over home rule did not stop charters from claiming legal independence, however. Professional advocates worked for years to convince the public and elected officials that D.C. lawmakers were legally unable to regulate their city’s charter sector if doing so conflicted in any way with the letter or spirit of Congress’ law. As Baker put it, “We used the charter law, deemed one of the best in the nation by the Center for Education Reform, as our shield.”

FOCUS, the charter advocacy group, has been the driving force behind these efforts. FOCUS was founded in 1996 by Malcolm Peabody, a Republican real estate developer who had strong political relationships in Congress and the local business community. A quarter-century earlier, Peabody helped pioneer the very idea of housing vouchers for low-income renters, when he served a stint under his brother, the governor of Massachusetts, and then later at HUD under President Richard Nixon. Peabody’s belief in vouchers for housing paved the way to supporting vouchers for schooling, but he understood the lack of political support for the concept in D.C., so limited FOCUS’ focus to charters.

“We were interested in vouchers before Congress passed the law, but when it became clear that charters were a better way to go, we shifted over,” he tells City Paper.

From 1998 to 2015 FOCUS was led by Robert Cane, a former attorney and school principal from Virginia drawn to the nascent charter movement in D.C. “Robert Cane was a force,” says Kathy Patterson, D.C.’s auditor who served as the Ward 3 representative on the Council and chaired its education committee. “[Cane] and Mike Peabody, they were the ones who convinced everyone that there was no authority locally to legislate charters, and I think that’s been a myth that’s been around since 1996. They convinced councilmembers of that, they convinced people in my office [at the D.C. auditor’s] of that. I guess if you just say it over and over and over again for long enough then people will believe it.”

***

While FOCUS has long advocated on behalf of nearly all charter schools in the District, its leaders are quick to emphasize that it is not, in fact, a membership-based organization. “We asked charter schools to support our advocacy efforts, but we never wanted to be a membership organization because [they] can’t act as quickly and as decisively as non-membership organizations,” Cane tells City Paper. “And we wanted the freedom to disagree with charter schools.”

But a membership-based charter advocacy organization would eventually come on the scene, with the advent of the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools in 2004. Its founders wanted to give black-led charters a more organized voice in city politics, as FOCUS’ leaders were predominantly white. “School founders and school leaders wanted to distance themselves from external advocacy groups that had their own agendas, but they wanted to improve their well-being through democratically arrived at positions,” Ramona Edelin, the group’s executive director, explains.

Still, many charters were active in both groups, and FOCUS and the Association often worked together, sometimes with the assistance of the Public Charter School Board, to fight back on legislative efforts they felt might encroach on charter freedom.

“Autonomy is everything to charter schools, and autonomy is basically nothing to the government, and that’s really the crux of it,” Cane says.

***

From the very start of D.C.’s charter movement there have been concerns about oversight. An inspection of one school in 1999 revealed poor attendance, incomplete student health records, and an “insufficient focus on the core academic subjects.” Another charter provided its students with no textbooks for a full year, with a student explaining that when visitors came in, administrators instructed them to “keep [their] notebooks open” to conceal the lack of books. At another charter closed early for financial mismanagement, officials reported that the principal had “awarded $60,000 in bonuses to himself, his wife and other staff members, and tried to hold student report cards hostage to avoid prosecution.”

In 2001, D.C.’s inspector general and its chief financial officer, Charles Maddox and Natwar Gandhi, respectively, testified before Congress asking for greater authority to oversee local charter school finances. The following year Gandhi turned to the Council to ask for legislative authority over the schools, saying that all charters should be assessed by a single auditing firm, selected by the D.C. government.

“Such legislation is completely unnecessary and is antithetical to the idea of charter schools,” Cane argued at the time. He and other advocates successfully rebuffed the idea.

Politically there were tensions from the get-go, too. During the mayoral election in 1998, one candidate ran on a charter school moratorium, two others ran on platforms to limit the number of new charters issued annually, and a fourth candidate, Anthony Williams, ran on a charter-supportive platform but said there needed to be more careful monitoring. Williams won.

In 2000, the D.C. financial control board authorized Mayor Williams to manage surplus school property, news that charter advocates cheered, as they long suspected D.C. officials had been denying them access to vacant school buildings to stymie their growth. Advocates hoped Williams would be easier to work with.

But it didn’t take long for charter advocates to get frustrated with Williams too, and charge his administration with facility sabotage. “We have a joke we always say [at charter school coalition meetings],” one leader told City Paper in 2001. “You may be paranoid, but that doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” 

FOCUS leaders decided to take matters into their own hands, by leveraging their power on Capitol Hill. In 2004, at the urging of FOCUS, charter supporter Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) slipped an amendment into the D.C. Appropriations Act requiring D.C. officials to give charter schools a “right of first offer”—instead of a “preference”—to purchase or lease vacant D.C. school buildings at a 25 percent discount. Remarkably, Sen. Landrieu did not consult with any D.C. officials before making this change.

Local leaders—again including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton—were outraged by this federal brazenness.

“We’ve now gotten them very angry at us, and I’m sorry about that, but each one of those councilmembers has been advocates themselves—some of them very successful at it—and I think they would have done the very same thing in our position,” Peabody told the Washington Post at the time. Perhaps predictably, the maneuver set up future conflicts. When the city opted to hang on to some empty properties for future use rather than quickly sell or lease them to charters, charter advocates responded by accusing D.C. officials of violating the law that the charter advocates themselves helped re-write behind city leaders’ backs. Such criticisms continue to this day: A video released this past summer by the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools featured Edelin, the group’s director, condemning city leaders for failing to give charters a “right of first offer” to buildings.  

***

D.C. lawmakers have tried to regulate the charter sector over the years but are usually unsuccessful, like in 2006 when the majority of the Council backed legislation to improve open meeting laws. These laws dictate what exactly regular residents can access when it comes to the decision-making of public bodies. 

“In our estimation, the District of Columbia has the most outdated, ineffective open meetings statute in the country,” the head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press testified at the time, urging D.C. “to catch up with the rest of the country.”

Part of the reforms would have subjected charter school boards to the city’s open meetings law. The then-chair of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Government Operations, Vincent Orange, argued that given how much public funding the schools receive, and because they would not exist without government-issued charters, they should not be exempt.

As The Common Denominator, a now-defunct local news organization, reported at the time, advocates like Edelin and Cane were some of the most ardently opposed to the bill, and ultimately succeeded in getting the government to back off open meetings for charter schools.

Charter advocates succeeded again two years later in 2008, when two councilmembers, Chairman Vince Gray and Ward 6 representative Tommy Wells, introduced legislation to increase government oversight over the city’s charters, and add new rules restricting how easily new schools could open or expand. Existing law has grown “outdated and proven ineffective to ensure the Council’s ability to provide effective oversight,” Gray argued back then. Wells stressed that there was too little coordination between the Council and the charter sector, which spends public funds.

FOCUS launched a robust campaign against the proposed legislation, recruiting parents, teachers, and students to lobby local lawmakers and deliver a pro-charter petition signed by nearly 6,000 people. The bill died, and it marked one of FOCUS’ biggest political victories to date.

“It’s hard to say exactly why it failed because so much of this stuff goes on behind closed doors,” says Mary Levy, a longtime independent budget analyst for D.C. schools. “My guess is there were all sorts of big time business people involved.”

***

Whoever killed the 2008 bill, things were only about to ramp up for D.C. charter advocacy. That year, largely thanks to the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation, FOCUS started raising a lot more money. At the turn of the century, FOCUS’ budget stood at $287,000, according to tax filings. A decade later, it would hit $2 million, and it reached nearly $3 million in annual revenue by 2016. Between 2008 and 2017, the Walton Family Foundation gave FOCUS more than $7.7 million. And with the infusion of new funds came greater capacity, with the organization taking on new efforts like data analysis, school support services, and consulting.

As FOCUS’ budget went up, so did its lobbying expenses. In 2008, the organization reported $39,000 in total lobbying expenditures. Two years later,  FOCUS hired Michael Musante to be its new director of government relations. According to city ethics disclosures, FOCUS reported $120,000 in lobbying expenses in 2013, $130,000 in 2014, $145,000 in 2017, and $165,000 in 2018.

In addition, according to congressional disclosures, Musante also spent $206,000 since 2016 lobbying Congress on behalf of American Federation for Children, a national organization that supports private school vouchers.

Another major force aiding D.C’s charter sector has been CityBridge, a foundation headed by local philanthropist Katherine Bradley. A 2015 City Paper cover story detailed Bradley’s unique influence over school policy in Washington, though the full extent of her advocacy is hard to track, as she has never registered lobbying activities with the city. “CityBridge is very familiar with D.C. lobbying laws, and our attorneys have told us that we—like hundreds of other charitable organizations in the District—do not need to register,” Bradley says. 

“The threshold for registering is quite low. If you’re aware of anyone making lobbying contacts the odds are very high that they should be registered,” says Craig Holman, a registered lobbyist with Public Citizen, a nonprofit that advocates for consumer protections.

Yet another player entered the charter advocacy scene in 2015, with the founding of Democrats for Education Reform DC, or DFER-DC. Democrats for Education Reform, a major national backer of charter schools, is actually a constellation of different entities: a political action committee, a 501(c)3 nonprofit called Education Reform Now, and a second 501(c)4 nonprofit—controlled by the same people—called Education Reform Now Advocacy. This split structure enables the group to lobby and spend vast quantities of money in elections. The national organization is further divided into state chapters, of which DFER-DC is one

Most of DFER-DC’s political spending comes in the form of independent expenditures—hiring paid canvassers, sending political mailings, and running TV, radio, and digital ads. In 2018 alone, DFER-DC raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in such funds, including nearly $200,000 from Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress tied to the Walton Family Foundation. By the time the June 2018 primary rolled around, the group had already spent $300,000, and would go on to spend at least $150,000 more during the general election.

The Washington Teachers’ Union, by contrast, spent just $2,100 in direct campaign contributions in 2018, and nothing in independent expenditures.

A woman named Catharine Bellinger directed both DC Education Reform Now, and its PAC, DFER-DC, for its first three-and-a-half years. Despite frequently engaging lawmakers both in and outside the Wilson Building, she never registered as a local lobbyist.

In one email dated May 2016 with the subject-line “DFER’s top priority this budget cycle,” Bellinger wrote to At-Large Councilmember and education committee Chairman David Grosso asking him to press Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on increasing funds for charter school facilities. “I’d like to ask you to consider personally urging Chairman Mendelson to make this [2.2%] increase,” Bellinger wrote. “My sense is that a call from you, as Ed Committee chair, would really make the difference. Is that something you might consider?” In another email sent in June 2018, a month before moving to Texas, Bellinger wrote Grosso to say, “I’d love to get together with you for breakfast or a coffee to hear about your priorities as Ed Committee chair for the next session as well as share some thoughts we have on the proposed education research entity”—referring to legislation the Council was considering at that time. 

“All of my advocacy efforts on behalf of ERN [referring to Education Reform Now] were in compliance with DC Code for nonprofit organizations,” Bellinger tells City Paper

Josh Henderson, a political consultant and the former government relations liaison for the public charter school board, then took over as acting DFER-DC director. Despite also engaging lawmakers over legislative issues, he too never registered as a city lobbyist. When asked about this, Henderson cited a provision of the DC Code—noting a lobbying exemption applicable to nonprofit social welfare organizations—to explain why DFER’s (c)3 activities would not need to be registered. 

Yet it’s not clear this provision is meant to exempt DC Education Reform Now from disclosure. “This is an obviously inaccurate reading of the law,” says Public Citizen’s Holman. “All of us regular nonprofits who spend $250 or more on lobbying the D.C. government must register and disclose our activities.” Other (c)3 organizations that register their lobbying include Jews United for Justice, the Nature Conservancy, and even FOCUS. “As nonprofits, we are given a break in the lobbyist registration fee,” Holman adds.

Henderson tells City Paper that their (c)4 arm, Education Reform Now Advocacy, is a registered lobbying entity in D.C. and they hire the firm Arent Fox to lobby on specific legislation. Records show that the registration occurred in 2018, and between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2018, Education Reform Now Advocacy paid Arent Fox $72,919.00 for the “promotion of policies benefiting public education, particularly charter schools.” Arent Fox earned an additional $63,150.00 during the first three months of 2019.

In July, DFER-DC hired Jessica Giles to serve as its next deputy director. Giles came directly from Grosso’s office, serving the last four years on the education committee.

Outside of Wilson building lobbying and campaign expenditures, DFER works to cultivate relationships with political leaders by hosting them at upscale private events. For example, public records requests made by City Paper reveal that DFER invited Grosso and his wife to sit at one of its two “VIP tables” at a Howard Theatre gala in 2016. “[We] are assembling a small group of education, civic, and philanthropic leaders to join us,” Bellinger wrote in her invitation.

The next year DFER invited Grosso and his wife to another gala, this time at the Ritz-Carlton, where they had a table sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation. Bellinger likewise invited Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to join her for a dinner event in 2016 at the Ritz-Carlton, again at a table sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation. And in April 2018 she extended yet another invitation to Mendelson for a Walton-sponsored table, this time at a gala hosted at the Newseum.

***

In D.C., the entity that directly oversees charters is the Public Charter School Board. Publicly funded through administrative fees charged to each school’s annual budget, the agency is the sole authorizer for D.C. charters—meaning it’s tasked with opening, closing, and monitoring the schools. But the board has also embraced a significant advocacy role, fighting back against regulatory efforts it thinks may hurt charter school operations. 

Sometimes this means D.C.’s charter school board coordinates with private advocacy groups in unusual ways. In 2015, for example, according to a public records request, the board’s general counsel emailed Irene Holtzman—who had recently taken over for Cane as FOCUS’ executive director—to strategize about securing changes in a language access bill the Council was considering. “Since we still have two bites at this, in my opinion, what would be helpful now is for the Council to hear from FOCUS and more charter schools,” the general counsel wrote. She encouraged FOCUS to submit testimony, “citing its position on autonomy as it has in the past on issues such as this that try to loop charter schools in with DCPS.” 

A subsequent fight over school discipline reform reveals a more extraordinary example of charter board advocacy. In the fall of 2017 Grosso was gearing up to introduce legislation that would set legal limits on how schools could discipline students. Among other things, the bill would ban most suspensions through eighth grade and cap the number of days a child could be suspended in a year.

In October 2017, according to an email obtained by City Paper, charter board executive director Scott Pearson emailed representatives from every charter school with an urgent warning to protest this forthcoming bill. Pearson also copied his director of government relations, Drew Snyder, and Holtzman from FOCUS.

“As drafted, this bill would substantially interfere with your exclusive control over school operations, and would create major reporting burdens for your school,” Pearson wrote. “We hope you can join the discipline discussion so that we can protect the foundations of the School Reform Act.” (Bold lettering matches Pearson’s original email.)

He urged charter leaders to contact Grosso’s office. “Many of you are busy with the day-to-day operations of your school but we need you to share your perspective during any and all meetings or in writing if necessary,” he wrote, adding that Snyder and Holtzman are both available to provide “information, or assistance in preparing testimony, talking points, or written submissions.”

If the call to action were not explicit enough, Pearson ended his email by requesting charter leaders “let Drew or Irene know” if they can submit testimony or attend the next Council meeting on the legislation.

Pearson acknowledges that as the city’s sole charter school authorizer, making such requests could place undue pressure on the schools he’s charged with regulating. He also notes that not all charter schools opposed Grosso’s legislation like he did.

“I don’t think I’ve ever button-holed a single school and said, ‘You need to do this,’” he tells City Paper. “Because to me that would go beyond what’s appropriate given I’m the authorizer and I know schools might feel like they need to do that to please me.” It would cross a line, he says, if he asked an individual school leader to testify, or “if I was somehow showing that we were keeping track, like here’s a list of the leaders who signed up [to speak].”

While Pearson says there have been in-person meetings where he’s encouraged school leaders to “make their voices heard” on other legislative matters, the school discipline bill is the only example he can think of where he sent an email out like that. He thought the bill represented a “five-alarm fire.”

When City Paper asked Holtzman why she didn’t just send that advocacy blast herself, she explained she felt charter leaders would be more likely to open the email and act if it was sent by Pearson. “I think Scott’s intent was to amplify my message because the truth is … I’m their friend, maybe a critical friend, but I’m not their auth[orizer],” she said. “And I said to Scott… I didn’t think at the time we were going to get a ton of traction, I think Scott was like, ‘If I send out an email, they open emails that come from Scott Pearson.’”

The lines between the two organizations have been close in other ways. The charter board’s  second-in-command from January 2012 up until this past June, Naomi DeVeaux, had come from FOCUS. “She was my right-hand person,” Cane says. Other FOCUS alums would go on to lead different parts of D.C.’s educational establishment, like Erika Wadlington, who led advocacy and outreach at FOCUS and later went on to direct the Council’s education committee.

Cane emphasizes that there were times when the charter authorizer took positions that FOCUS felt encroached on charter autonomy, and FOCUS would make their concerns known. Still, Cane “was very close” with Pearson. “I would say there’s an attempt on both sides to cooperate, a close working relationship, because both PCSB and FOCUS are interested in the survival of the public charter school movement,” he says.

Holtzman agrees there have been times when FOCUS and the charter school board were not perfectly aligned, but says she thinks “Scott and the PCSB are like the authoritarian dad … and I might be like the cool aunt … But we’re all part of one family and we all play really different roles.” (Holtzman abruptly left FOCUS at the end of June.)

Pearson recognizes that his predecessor, Josephine Baker, was less engaged in advocacy, but suggests that was easier to do when the charter sector’s market-share was smaller. Today nearly half of all public schools students in D.C. attend charters.

Pearson says he personally sees political advocacy as an essential part of his job. “To be an effective authorizer doesn’t just mean doing a great job of oversight of schools, it also means being an advocate so the schools are operating in an environment that allows them to thrive,” he explains. And unlike the DC Public Schools chancellor, who works for the mayor, Pearson and his colleagues can publicly criticize the executive branch.

 ***

Traditional public schools have advocates too, but they’ve struggled and have very little money. 

“I remember the charter board as kind of a non-entity,” says Gina Arlotto, who in the mid-2000s led an advocacy group for D.C.’s traditional public schools, called Save Our Schools Southeast/Northeast. “They left the heavy lifting to FOCUS.” Arlotto’s now-defunct organization took a critical stance on charters. It formed around 2003, and Arlotto says many community members were not receptive to their efforts. “It was sad we couldn’t get more people to just see what we were trying to do,” she says. “We wanted people to look at charters and be a little skeptical to protect the public investment.”

In the fall of 2004, their group filed a lawsuit alleging that top city officials had neglected their duty to the traditional public schools and were violating their constitutional obligations by spending so much money to advance school choice. “Robert Cane hated us, we got into it with him a bunch of times,” recalls Arlotto. “He’d call us ‘losers,’ ‘racist,’ tell us we’re never going to win.”

They didn’t win, as their case was dismissed in 2006 for lack of standing, and the group stopped organizing in 2009. And unlike in other cities, where teacher unions have played an active role in slowing charter school growth, the Washington Teachers’ Union has been politically weakened for years, following an embezzlement scandal where union leaders diverted more than $2.5 million in membership dues.

“They had scandals, they were in disarray, we were lucky in that sense that we didn’t have to spend time on them,” says Cane.

These groups form a stark contrast with education reform-backed parent advocacy. One of the newest groups to emerge on the charter advocacy side is Parents Amplifying Voices in  Education, or PAVE, which trains local parents to advocate for school reform. It has quickly grown into a powerful force with deep pockets in the city.

PAVE was founded in 2016 by Maya Martin Cadogan, through an education reform-backed “entrepreneur-in-residence” program. She had previously worked at two local charter schools, and served on the DFER-DC advisory board.

With a first-year budget of $450,000, PAVE had the early financial backing of groups like CityBridge, the Walton Family Foundation, and DFER. By 2018, its budget had increased to $1.2 million, and today has 11 full-time staffers. While charter parents were its sole focus in year one, it’s since expanded to parents in both sectors.

Last December, the group held its inaugural PAVE Parent Power Gala at District Winery in the Navy Yard, where Grosso was awarded the “Parent PowerED Policymaker Award.” The event had many high-dollar sponsors, including Katherine Bradley and her husband who contributed $25,000, the Walton Family Foundation, which gave $10,000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave $5,000, and Pearson of the charter school board, who donated $2,500.

Since its founding, PAVE has also organized an annual “Parent Voice and Choice Week” where it hosts catered meetings between advocates and lawmakers at the Council. This past year parent leaders met with 11 elected officials and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn. Advocates ended the week with a reception co-sponsored by PAVE, DFER, FOCUS, and the Bradleys.

In June 2018, Valerie Jablow, a DC Public Schools parent and charter critic, filed a complaint with the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, raising concerns that PAVE staff were engaged in unregistered lobbying; she noted they join parents in their meetings with lawmakers. “My complaint is not to indict the work of PAVE or anyone else for that matter, but to ensure that our laws are followed for lobbyists,” she wrote in a subsequent email to the agency. “In this case, pretending PAVE is just a group of parent volunteers specifically disadvantages actual volunteer parents like me, who approach elected officials on their own or as the unpaid representatives of groups, like PTAs, that are also unpaid and 100 percent volunteer. This is why, in fact, we have lobbying laws that define who a lobbyist is—to level the playing field to ensure those with money do not have disproportionate power.”

Holman, of Public Citizen, explains that one of the more difficult aspects of enforcing lobbying laws—both in Congress and on the local level—is monitoring who should be registered in the first place. “If you don’t register no one is going to know what you’re up to, and the way this is policed is often through self-policing,” he says. “So when I realize that I’m in a lobbying meeting with other people who aren’t registered, it’s up to me to file a complaint so the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability can pursue an investigation and even levy fines for violating the law.” 

This past April, the agency’s director Brent Wolfingbarger wrote Jablow to say they had conducted a preliminary investigation and were dismissing her complaint as they found insufficient evidence to support the claim that PAVE staff should register as lobbyists. Wolfingbarger emphasized that all PAVE staffers did was set up meetings between parents and lawmakers, but never communicated with lawmakers about legislative issues themselves.

Yet emails unearthed from a public records request paint a different picture—one in which PAVE staff also meet and converse with lawmakers and their staffers alone. In one email dated Aug. 6, 2018, Kerry Savage, PAVE’s associate director of policy and advocacy wrote to the Council’s education committee director, Akeem Anderson, to say, “As we discussed, I’d love to grab coffee to learn more about you and your work. I know Councilmember Grosso shares many of PAVE’s policy priorities, including mental health supports and transparent funding, and I’d love to discuss potential opportunities to partner together.” Emails show Savage and Anderson scheduled a meeting at the Wilson Building on Aug. 8.

About two months later, Anderson emailed Savage to say, “We should grab [sic] catch up soon. Are you available Friday or sometime next week?” The next month Savage emailed Anderson asking him to “let me know if there are any good days for you to chat in the next couple weeks and I’ll compare with my schedule.” Roughly a month after that, Anderson sent an email connecting Savage with Katrina Forrest, the deputy chief of staff in Grosso’s office. “I want to connect you with Katrina in our office to discuss School Based Mental Health and our budget priorities as we move into the next Council Period,” he wrote. “Hopefully you two can find time to connect soon.” Savage wrote back to both staffers and said, “Katrina, I’d love to talk soon about our shared priorities. Is there a good time for you this week? Otherwise happy to connect after the holidays.”

“No PAVE staff have discussed specific legislative priorities one-on-one with [council] staff, and our staff, myself included, do not engage in lobbying,” Cadogan tells City Paper over email. 

City Paper asked Anderson if he ever discussed specific legislative priorities one-on-one during his meetings and conversations with Savage. “Councilmember Grosso and staff met with and provided all relevant information about our meetings with parent advocates and staff of PAVE to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, which has concluded its report,” spokesperson Matthew Nocella wrote in response. 

In July, Jablow attended BEGA’s monthly board meeting to raise her concerns, and call for a continued investigation. Wolfingbarger insisted again that all PAVE staff has done is schedule meetings for parents—nothing more. “PAVE does the organizing of the meetings, but doesn’t actually present arguments or try to persuade,” he said, in an audio recording of the meeting.

Wolfingbarger tells City Paper his team found no evidence that PAVE met one-on-one with councilmembers or their staff. He did not respond to a voicemail and three follow-up emails with City Paper’s questions regarding details about their investigation, including the time period BEGA’s team studied, and whether their search involved a review of Council communications, like email.  

 ***

The School Reform Act has protected charter schools against city interference for years, but signs are emerging that this legal armor is starting to corrode.

That’s in part due to a failed federal lawsuit brought in 2014 alleging D.C. had illegally underfunded charter schools by hundreds of millions of dollars, in violation of the School Reform Act. The Association and two local charter schools were named plaintiffs, and FOCUS helped finance the litigation.

D.C.’s then-Attorney General Irvin Nathan argued the case should be dismissed on the basis that “these are distinctively local decisions.” He emphasized that the School Reform Act does not “relieve the Council of its Home Rule Act authority” to determine school funding.

A federal judge denied Nathan’s dismissal request, but in 2017, she ruled against the plaintiffs. The charter groups appealed, and this past July, the D.C. Circuit dismissed the case for lack of federal jurisdiction.

“I think the winds have changed,” says Patterson, the auditor. “I think the litigation is informing sitting policymakers that they can do what they think is right and not run into legal problems because Congress enacted it.”

“I think for a long time the Council just really drank the Kool-Aid about charters being self-regulating and the market taking care of problems,” adds Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund, an advocacy group for school facilities.  

Aside from the lawsuit, Grosso has also been more willing than past lawmakers to test the limits of the School Reform Act. In 2014, before he was committee chairman, Grosso introduced legislation to restrict the number of suspensions and expulsions for preschool students. The charter sector fought the bill, leveraging their federal supremacy arguments, but Grosso went forward anyway. It passed in 2015, the year he was named committee chair. In 2017, again over the strong objections of most charter advocates, Grosso introduced his next school discipline bill to restrict suspensions and expulsions for all public school students.

“I focus the work of the Committee on Education from a perspective of what is best for students and how can I put every student in D.C in the position to succeed in school,” Grosso tells City Paper. “We always set out from that framework. When we have a priority—like [the school discipline bill]—I do a legal analysis with my office and general counsel to make sure that it’s something we can move forward with.” Since becoming committee chair, Grosso says he’s been “able to get my priorities through.”

 ***

Gathered on the fourth floor of the Wilson building this past June, at a Council hearing for bills to track the flow of funds to the city’s most vulnerable students, dozens of public witnesses turned out to testify about a different matter: increasing transparency in D.C.’s public charter schools.

Unlike most other cities and states, D.C.’s charter schools are not subject to public records requests, and a proposed piece of legislation, not due for a hearing until Oct. 2, seeks to change that. Supporters of that bill feared the late date was selected to neutralize their momentum, and so they came out earlier to make their case.

This local political battle comes on the heels of a recent fight in California, where advocates had also long sought to bring charters under the state’s sunshine statutes. At the end of 2018, California’s attorney general issued a sweeping opinion around charter transparency, rejecting the idea that nonprofit charters should be exempt from public record requests, and this past March the state’s governor signed a bill bringing all California charter schools under the same open meetings, public records, and conflict-of-interest laws as traditional public schools.

Grosso has already stated his interest in subjecting charters to open meeting laws, something he and other councilmembers rejected back in 2015 when government watchdogs last pushed for it.

With reform chatter in the air, D.C.’s network of charter advocates is gearing up to go to battle once again.   

They call the push for public records and other transparency rules an effort by unions and charter opponents to undermine the schools, by draining charter resources and hobbling them with bureaucracy. They say that just because other states successfully apply sunshine laws to their charters does not mean D.C. would see similar success. 

This past spring, Education Reform Now, DFER-DC’s affiliate, funded a text-message campaign against the proposed transparency bill, using the same internal talking points endorsed by FOCUS and the Association. “The D.C Council is considering legislation that would divert resources in quality public charter schools away from helping students achieve to completing onerous paperwork and bureaucracy,” one text read. Another encouraged recipients to click on a link, which provided them with a pre-drafted email to send to their local representatives opposing the legislation. “I am writing to express disappointment in your recently introduced bill to unfairly target public charter schools,” the form email read. “Our kids need teachers and resources not more legal burdens.” DFER-DC did not answer City Paper’s inquiries regarding how many residents received the texts.

At the June hearing some charter leaders made similar points against additional oversight.

“I see this Council and others moving in a direction that troubles me, treating public charter schools as public agencies,” testified Shannon Hodge, the executive director of Kingsman Academy, a charter located in Ward 6. “We are not public agencies and we are not intended to be.”

Royston Lyttle, an Eagle Academy principal, agreed. “We don’t need more bureaucracy and red tape.”

“We have seen the playbook of the [National Education Association] for how to act against charters, and unfortunately some of what is happening right now, it’s coming straight out of the playbook,” says Edelin, executive director of the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools. Peabody echoes her comments, saying the transparency bill is “part of what the national union is proposing to improve the charter schools, but what they’re really saying is if you weaken, surround them by red tape, then they won’t be as good as they are now.”

About three hours into June’s eight-hour hearing, At-Large Councilmember Robert White suggested that charter advocates try another approach going forward. “The biggest opposition to the FOIA piece from charter schools that I’ve heard is that it’s this huge burden. I don’t have a position on this right now, it’s something I’m still listening to, but if the strongest argument from the charter schools is that this is a burden—I don’t think that’s a strong enough argument,” he said. White invited advocates to share “more reasons, other reasons” as to why charter schools believe they should be exempt.

“Yeah it’s a burden, but is it an insurmountable burden?” he asked. “No, it’s not.”

Further Readings


Sit Ins

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

BEYOND BROWN: OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

“The movement to challenge segregated lunch counters started when black students staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February 1960. The sit-ins spread and attracted violent responses.242 In 1960, protestors from Tougaloo College staging a sit-in at a Woolworth’s in Jackson, Mississippi, were attacked by white men who kicked one student in the face until he lost consciousness and clubbed a teacher to the floor.243 That same year, white Americans armed with sticks, clubs, pipes, and whips attacked African Americans staging a “wade-in” to protest racial segregation of a public beach in Biloxi, Mississippi.244

When students at Alabama State College, a traditionally black college in Montgomery, Alabama, staged a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in the county courthouse in 1960, Governor John Patterson threatened to terminate the college’s funding unless it expelled the student organizers and warned that “someone [was] likely to be killed” if the protests continued.245 The college expelled nine students.246

In August 1960, Florida activists organized several days of sit-in protests at the segregated Woolworth’s in Jacksonville. On August 27, several thousand white men armed with ax handles and baseball bats and waving Confederate flags attacked African Americans as they walked through a park to join the demonstration. Charlie Davis, a 27-year-old black man, was killed in the violence that erupted that day; more than 70 people were severely injured and 150 were arrested. 247 Mayor W. Haydon Burns told the press: “We regret there were irresponsible elements of the citizenry who would take the law into their own hands, and this includes members of both races.”248

When activists renewed the sit-ins in October, the Klan kidnapped a black 16-year-old, drove him outside town, stripped him naked, and beat him with a belt and a pistol.249 In 1961, SNCC field secretary Bob Moses was taking two black residents to the Amite County, Mississippi, courthouse to register to vote when he was attacked and severely beaten by a white man. Mr. Moses pressed charges and after he testified at trial against his attacker — Bill Caston, a cousin of the local sheriff — he was advised to leave the county to avoid further violence. Caston was acquitted by an all-white jury”

  • Sit Ins
    • 1963 civil rights strategy to challenge segregated lunch counters
    • Started with a sit-in at Woolworths in Greensboro, NC
  • 1963 sit-ins spread and attracted violent responses.  Below are a few examples:

     

    • Jackson, Mississippi
      • Tougaloo College students staging a Woolworth sit-in were attacked by white men who kicked one student in the face until he lost consciousness and clubbed a teacher to floor

Image result for Jacksonville, Florida Woolworth’s  sit in

  • Montgomery, Alabama county courthouse
    • Alabama State College students sit-in at county courthouse lunch counter
    • Governor threatened to terminate college funding unless students expelled
      • The college expelled nine students
  • Jacksonville, Florida Woolworth’s
    • Several thousand white men armed with ax handles and baseball bats and waving Confederate flags attacked black people as they walked through a park to join a sit-in
    • Charlie Davis (27 yr black man) killed in the violence that erupted that day
      • More than 70 people were severely injured and 150 were arrested.
Image result for Jacksonville, Florida Woolworth’s  sit in

“We regret there were irresponsible elements of the citizenry who would take the law into their own hands, and this includes members of both races” Jacksonville Mayor Burns after white mob attack

Studies Weekly: Sit-ins

Further Readings

Heated: From Sit-ins to Soul Food

Back to White Resistance Top


Freedom Riders

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

BEYOND BROWN: OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

“In Anniston, Alabama, segregationists hurled a fire bomb into a Freedom Rider bus on
When the Freedom Riders’ bus arrived in Anniston, Alabama, on May 14, 1961, it was met by a mob of white men armed with pipes, chains, and bats, who smashed windows, slashed tires, and dented the sides of the bus. 315 Police arrived 20 minutes after the attack began and made no arrests. They escorted the crippled bus to the city limits and then abandoned it. 316 When flat tires forced the driver to stop at a service station shortly after, another armed white mob trapped the riders in the bus and threw a firebomb inside, then viciously beat the riders who escaped.317 Two days later in Birmingham, police chief Eugene “Bull” Connor allowed a white mob of several hundred people to attack the riders with baseball bats, hammers, and pipes, leaving several seriously injured.318

The next day, a new group of riders continued on to Montgomery, where they were abandoned by police and attacked by a white mob of 200 people at the downtown Greyhound bus station. About 20 people were injured in the attack, including reporters and photographers covering the Freedom Rides for national media.319

That evening, civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth organized an evening service at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church in support of the riders. While more than 1000 people sang and listened to sermons inside the church, white men surrounded the building, vandalized parked cars, and threatened to set the church on fire. When federal marshals tried to intervene, they were pelted with bricks and bottles by white rioters, who then overturned cars, fired bullets and firebombs at local black residents, and attacked black people in the street.320

Alabama Governor John Patterson refused to condemn the white rioters, and instead blamed the Freedom Riders for the violence they suffered in Alabama. During his 1958 campaign, Patterson had warned that integration would cause “violence, disorder, and bloodshed” and had refused to repudiate an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan.321

“If the Federal Government really wants to help in this unfortunate situation,” Patterson told reporters in Montgomery, “they will encourage these outside agitators to go home. We have the means and the ability to keep the peace in Alabama without any outside help.”

  • Freedom Riders (1961)
    • Interracial civil rights activists start Freedom Rides from DC – New Orleans, Louisiana
      • To test Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in interstate bus travel
  • Anniston, Alabama
    • Freedom Riders attacked by a mob of white men armed with pipes, chains, bats
      • Police arrived 20 minutes after the attack began and made no arrests
    • When flat tires forced the driver to stop at a service station shortly after
      • Another white mob threw firebomb in bus and viciously beat the riders who escaped
Image result for freedom riders
  • Birmingham, Alabama
    • Police chief Eugene “Bull” Connor allowed a white mob of several hundred people to attack the riders with baseball bats, hammers, and pipes

Image result for freedom ridersRelated image

 
  • Montgomery, Alabama
    • Another group abandoned by police and attacked by a white mob of 200 people
      • About 20 people were injured in the attack, including reporters
    • That evening, civil rights leaders organized at Montgomery’s First Baptist Church
      • White men surrounded church, vandalized cars, attack fed marshals and black residents
    • Alabama Governor John Patterson refused to condemn the white rioters
      • Instead blamed the Freedom Riders for the violence they suffered in Alabama
  • Attorney General Kennedy sent 600 fed marshals to stop the violence
    • The rides continued over the next several months
    • In the fall of 1961, under pressure from the Kennedy administration
      • ICC issued regs prohibiting segregation in interstate transit terminals

Image result for freedom riders

Smithsonian Magazine: The Freedom Riders History

 


 

Segregation of Swimming

Vice: Most black kids can’t swim, and segregation is to blame

In 2014, the CDC found that an 11-year-old black child is 10 times more likely to drown than a white child the same age. The notion that “black people can’t swim” may sound like a stereotype, but it’s a real disparity and it’s rooted in a history of discriminatory access to swimming pools…

“It was socially normal for blacks and whites to swim together at these public pools during the late 19th and early 20th century, but that all changed during the 1920s and 1930s when cities opened up large resort-like pools,” Wiltse said. “That permitted males and females to use them together.”

Wiltse said that it was at that point that white swimmers and public officials imposed racial segregation, largely because most whites did not want to allow black men to interact with white women at such intimate public spaces.

Pools were desegregated after World War II, frequently by court order, but like America’s public schools, integration in the water was more of a legal concept than a cultural one. In fact, racial desegregation of public pools rarely led to any meaningful sort of interracial use, said Wiltse.

“In general, whites abandoned public pools that black swimmers started to use,” he explained. But even as white flight increased, black participation dropped.

“Swimming became broadly popular within white communities and was passed down from generation to generation. Because of African-Americans’ more restricted access, swimming did not become a broadly popular activity among black families.”

In 2017, USA Swimming, the governing body for the sport of swimming in the U.S., found that 64 percent of African-American children have low or no swimming ability.

And according to their data, black children and their parents are three times more fearful of drowning than white children and their parents. That’s something Dezria Holmes hopes will stop with her generation.

Jeff Wiltse: Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America”

Wade Ins

St. Augustine, Florida (1964)

The St. Augustine Movement was part of the wider Civil Rights Movement in 1963–1964. It was a major event in St. Augustine’s long history and had a role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 1964, then 17-year-old Mamie Nell Ford jumped into Monson Motor Lodge’s segregated pool. As journalists looked on, the motel’s owner James Brock responded by dumping acid into the pool in an effort to drive the “wade in” protestors out.

Related image
Black Civil rights activist also did wade ins in 1964 in St. Augustine segregated beaches and we’re met with violence from police and white mobs

Image result for St. Augustine, Florida wade in

 
The campaign changed segregation in St. Augustine.
 
 
 
 

Biloxi, Mississippi (1964)

White Americans armed with sticks, clubs, pipes, and whips attacked Black people staging a “wade-in” to protest racial segregation of a public beach

Image result for St. Augustine, Florida wade in

Back to White Resistance Top


White Flight, Busing and Non-Southern Resistance

Vera Justice Institute Report: Unjust Burden: The Disparate Treatment of Black Americans in the Criminal Justice System

“The historical legacy of slavery and racist policymaking and norms in America has a significant and long-lasting effects on racial inequality. Research shows that well after slavery ended, de-industrialization, discriminatory housing practices known as red-lining, and white flight from neighborhoods as black families migrated north pushed large numbers of black people into poverty, perpetuating economic inequalities between white and black people. These neighborhoods are characterized by an extreme concentration of disadvantage where formal employment opportunities and access to quality education are limited, and neighborhood resources are scarce…racial disparities in the justice system are deeply rooted in historical racism that manifests today in structural inequalities—from the differences in the quality of education to unemployment rates to household wealth”

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

BEYOND BROWN: OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

“White opposition to civil rights was largely a Southern movement, but it spread quickly. Between 1941 and the late 1970s, some five million African Americans fled to the North and West, marking the first time in American history that a large proportion of African Americans lived outside the South.350 Southern segregationists saw potential allies in the North and West.

As civil rights gains spread, white residents of major cities outside the South blocked efforts to end racial discrimination in housing, education, and public services. Elected officials used legislation and violence to fight racial equality, deny black people access to public services, and exacerbate the poverty that plagued black neighborhoods.”

  • Great Migration
    • Between 1941-70s, 5 million black people fled to North and West
    • White communities outside South more “de facto” discrimination
      • Housing, education, public/private services, economic exploitation, policing
      • Many black migrants reported discrimination and segregation similar to what they had experienced in the South
        • These policies exacerbated the poverty in new black segregated neighborhoods
  • Residential segregation main caused of school segregation in North
    • 1970, residential segregation in North/West higher than South
      • More than 4 out of 5 black residents lived in segregated neighborhoods
    • Housing segregation shaped urban landscapes in the North
      • Housing shortages/discrimination penned black migrants in overcrowded and overpriced neighborhoods
    • “Racial violence was not restricted to the South. Millions of black Americans fled to the North and West, where they were seen as threats to white jobs and culture…Unchecked racialized violence and disenfranchisement of black voters kept America’s racial hierarchy intact. Public education was legally segregated throughout the South, and residential segregation in the North and West was widespread. Leisure and recreation spaces across the country were segregated by race, and many states banned interracial marriage.” EJI

Screen Shot 2020-12-17 at 3.29.45 PM

Screen Shot 2020-12-17 at 3.30.06 PM

MLK Jr. Talks About Segregation in North

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson

All told the Great Migration moved nearly 10 percent of the black out of the South.

When five hundred thousand moved above the Mason-Di between 1917 and 1918, the South became alarmed.29 As m more fled, the Georgia Bankers Association, citing a figure of than twenty-seven million dollars in losses, described “the exodus as comparable only to Sherman’s march to the sea in its dam agriculture in the state. “30 It is easy to see why. Black labor was the foundation of the region’s economy, and African Americans were also the sine qua non of the South’s social and political structure.31 Chattel slavery had marked blacks at the bottom-economically, politically, socially, culturally, physically, and intellectually. The base. If blacks extricated themselves from the region, as they were clearly doing-and without the approval of whites–then the entire socioeconomic structure of the South dependent on the support of that base was in danger of collapsing.

Thus, while African Americans understood the exodus as grabbing at a chance for freedom and equality, white Southerners saw black advancement and independence as a threat to their culture and, indeed, their economy. For years, political and economic elites had deluded themselves into believing that African Americans were somehow satisfied with the brutal inequality of the status quo; comfortable with having their wages stolen year after year; pleased to be trapped in debt slavery; OK with black women having absolutely no right to their bodies; and happy to have their children illiterate, uneducated, and futureless. They, therefore, had no framework by which to understand the Great Migration, no grasp of what could lead a black man like Shreveport, Louisiana’s Isaac West to assert that he would just as soon be in hell” as remain in that state.

Given African Americans’ supposed contentment with Jim Crow, officials throughout Dixie were initially certain that this flight north could happen only at the instigation of outside agitators. Clearly, “somebody…had to be stirring up local blacks and causing them to leave the South.” One of the most influential newspapers in the region, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, singled out “unscrupulous..labor agens from the North” as the culprit. Sounding the alarm because “the movement has reached immense proptions,” the newspaper declared that “the drain has, of late, become so great…as to call for action.”

White reaction, with its veneer of legality and respectability, answered, rising up to stop African Americans from controlling their own destiny. Soon the South was blanketed with antienticement statutes reminiscent of the Black Codes that again leveled exorbitant licensing fees and chain-gang prison sentences for those “luring” blacks away from their employers. In Macon, Georgia, policymakers “exacted $25,000 for a labor recruiting license,” while also requiring “recommendation by ten ministers, ten manufacturers, and twenty-five other businessmen.”35 Not only was it highly unlikely that forty-five pillars of the community would vouch for a labor agent, but also the mandatory licensing fee the equivalent in 2014 of $2.76 million was pure extortion.36 Jacksonville, Florida’s city council required a thousand-dollar license. Failure to pay while recruiting the town’s black workers to leave could result in a six hundred-dollar fine and sixty days in jail.37 The Georgia legislature considered it a felony punishable by three to seven years in prison for any labor agent who sought to entice blacks out of the state to work elsewhere.38 In September 1916, the Montgomery City Commission enacted a law “that any person who would entice, persuade or influence any laborer or other person to leave the city of Montgomery for the purpose of being employed at any other place as a laborer” would be fined one hundred dollars and face six months’ hard labor, or both…

…The reason Southern officials rose up to try to stop the Great Migration of a people for whom they clearly had such contempt goes far beyond the easy default response of “labor.” Black flight threatened much more than the economic foundation of a feudal society; African Americans’ determination to achieve their full potential endangered the legalistic, biological, and philosophical tenets of a racially oppressive system. Black prosperity and success–indeed, black intelligence–were unimaginable and, thus, justified the disparate funding in education that had led to abysmal schools and made the brutality of the criminal justice system neces. sary. It propped up skewed, racially based pay scales. The whole culture of the white South was erected on the presumption of black inability. And the Great Migration directly challenged that foundation. Black success was the white South’s bogeyman.72 And the fear that this engendered erupted in ticketed passengers being dragged off trains, interstate commerce getting blocked, the wartime needs of the nation going ignored, and labor becoming criminalized for taking its skills to an employer willing to pay.

Still, African Americans continued to leave. As the Chicago Defender crowed in 1922, MORE THOUSANDS KISS THE SOUTH A LAST GOOD-BY: MISSISSIPPI DELTA IS BEING STRIPPED OF LABORERS, EVERY TRAIN BRINGS GUESTS NORTH.” Yet, the land above the Mason-Dixon Line was, as Du Bois remarked, no paradise, and certainly no haven from oppression.” African Americans who went to the North simply stepped into a new articulation of the seething. corrosive hatred underlying so much of the nation’s social compact. Beginning in 1917 and going into the 1920s, so-called race riots which were essentially lynchings on a grander scale, erupted in East St. Louis, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and numerous other cities.75 Though labeled “riots,” these outbursts were more like rampages, where whites went hunting for African Americans to pummel, burn, and torture. Killing was just an added bonus. In some instances, as in Chicago, blacks fought back. But in all instances, they were outnumbered. In Chicago alone, twenty-three African Americans were killed, and one thousand black families were left homeless. 76 During the Red Summer of 1919 there were, in fact, seventy-eight lynchings, including a man burned at the stake in Omaha, Nebraska.77

More than just white fears of black competition for jobs ignited rampant violence against African Americans. Anxieties about housing played a big role. Chicago, for example, had hemmed the black population into tight, confined areas with finite housing possibilities. In 1917, the Chicago Urban League found that real estate agents had so constricted the supply of homes for African Americans that on one day alone, only fifty houses were available for 664 black applicants. Given the basic economics of supply (limited) and demand (great), rents skyrocketed up to 50 percent higher for this decaying housing stock.78 For decades afterward, when it appeared that African Americans were moving into white neighborhoods, race riots became an all-too-familiar drumbeat to drive blacks back to overcrowded, dilapidated slums.”

White Flight

“Migration of middle-class white populations during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s-60s and 70s during forced busing in response to desegregation efforts and actions in white communities” Wikipedia

  • Migration of white populations away from people of color to segregated suburbs
    • In response to desegregation and civil rights efforts
    • Peaked during the Civil Rights Movement (50-60s) and continues to this day
    • Not just about moving people
      • But moving resources, power, jobs, schools etc. with them to preserve white supremacy

 White Flight Never Ended

“In the 1960s, white families moved from cities to suburbs when they saw black neighbors move in next door. Now, they move from suburbs to farther-out fringe areas often not counted in academic studies “hunkering down in all-white neighborhoods, affluent gated communities, or unincorporated housing developments at the exurban fringe,” the researchers write. And more white Americans, drawn by walkable neighborhoods or transit, are moving back into the inner cities that were once shunned. Young whites and baby boomers, for example, are moving to areas of central cities such as Washington, D.C., which was, for years, a majority-minority city. That, in turn, prices out minority residents.”

Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Case for Reparations

“When terrorism ultimately failed, white homeowners simply fled the neighborhood. The traditional terminology, white flight, implies a kind of natural expression of preference. In fact, white flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors. For should any nonracist white families decide that integration might not be so bad as a matter of principle or practicality, they still had to contend with the hard facts of American housing policy: When the mid-20th-century white homeowner claimed that the presence of a Bill and Daisy Myers decreased his property value, he was not merely engaging in racist dogma—he was accurately observing the impact of federal policy on market prices. Redlining destroyed the possibility of investment wherever black people lived…White flight was not an accident—it was a triumph of racist social engineering”

  • Pattern of Hypersegregation
    • Black people migrating/fleeing to large cities often moved to inner-city to gain industrial jobs
      • The influx of new black residents caused many white residents to move to the suburbs or (white flight)
      • “White only” federally funded mortgage subsidies and highway redevelopment encouraged move
    • Industry leaves inner-city often to follow white flight to suburbs
      • Many urban black residents lose their stable jobs that brought them to the area
      • Many were unable to leave the inner-city due to housing discrimination
      • Loss of white tax base, industries, disinvestment policies create large scale poverty in black urban communities
    • Data from the 2000 census shows that 29 metropolitan areas displayed black-white hypersegregation

Five Dimensions of Segregation

  • In a 1988 study, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton identified five dimensions of segregation being applied to African Americans within inner cities:
    • evenness
      • the difference between the percentage of a minority group in a particular part of a city, compared to the city as a whole
    • clustering
      • the gathering of different minority groups into a single space
      • clustering often leads to one big ghetto and the formation of hyperghettoization
    • exposure
      • the likelihood that a minority and a majority party will come in contact with one another.
    • centralization
      • measures the tendency of members of a minority group to be located in the middle of an urban area, often computed as a percentage of a minority group living in the middle of a city (as opposed to the outlying areas)
    • concentration
      • the dimension that relates to the actual amount of land a minority lives on within its particular city
      • The higher segregation is within that particular area, the smaller the amount of land a minority group will control.

Busing

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

BEYOND BROWN: OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

Outside the South, residential segregation was a driving force of school segregation before and after the civil rights era. In 1970, average residential segregation in Northern and Western population centers was even higher than in the South — more than four out of five black residents lived in segregated neighborhoods. 575

Residential segregation was “manufactured by whites through a series of self-conscious actions and purposeful institutional arrangements.” 576 After the Fair Housing Act of 1968 barred white homeowners from explicitly refusing to rent or sell to black people, “[r]ealtors no longer refused outright to rent or sell to blacks . . . but real estate agents continued to practice surreptitious and widespread discrimination,” such as excluding listings from predominately black newspapers and lying to black home seekers about the availability of apartments. 577

Audits revealed such rampant housing discrimination in St. Louis in 1969 that four realty companies were forced to sign a consent decree with the Department of Justice. In Palo Alto, California, a 1971 study found that black people experienced discrimination in 50 percent of apartment complexes, while a 1976 investigation in suburban Baltimore uncovered discrimination in more than 45 percent of cases. 578 Home ownership was no solution, as banks often rejected mortgage applications from qualified black buyers. 579 These practices made it difficult for black families to move into white neighborhoods, which in turn made it difficult to meaningfully integrate schools.

To implement Brown during the 1970s, courts ordered the transportation of black and white students to public schools outside of their neighborhoods. In 1971, the Supreme Court upheld courts’ authority to order busing 580 and many school districts implemented busing plans in the 1970s and 1980s. In response, white families across the country organized opposition to “forced busing” that mirrored Southern opposition to school desegregation.

“I favor segregation,” Orville Hubbard, mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, explained to the New York Times in 1968. “Because if you have integration, first you have kids going to school together, then next thing you know, they’re grab-assing around, then they’re getting married and having half-breed kids. Then you wind up with a mongrel race. And from what I know of history, that’s the end of civilization.” 581 Hubbard’s supporters kept him in office from 1942 to 1978. 582

New York Governor Norman Rockefeller signed a bill to outlaw busing in 1969, but the law was later deemed unconstitutional.583 In Boston in 1974, after a federal court ordered the local school committee. To propose a desegregation plan, the committee chairman, John Kerrigan, voted to defy the order and develop no plan. “This is a vote against those maggots that live outside the city,” he announced. “And it’s the proudest vote I’ve cast in seven years on this committee.” 584

That September, after court-ordered busing began in Boston, white mothers led the opposition. 585 White mobs attacked buses carrying black students to white schools with eggs, bricks, and bottles. Protestors, students, and bystanders alike were stoned, stabbed, and beaten in clashes that continued for weeks until quelled by the National Guard. 586

Northern segregation activists distinguished themselves from “unsophisticated racist Southerners” by focusing on their identities as mothers concerned about school safety, quality, and cohesiveness. 587 In Michigan, anti-busing crusader Irene McCabe declared, “We are not racists. We respect the blacks. Our concern is with education.” 588 Louise Day-Hicks, former Boston mayoral candidate and founder of the anti-busing group Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), staunchly opposed busing but avoided public racism: “I am not a racist. You show me where I have said anything against . . . Negroes.” 589

In Boston in 1974, school committee chairman, John Kerrigan, voted to defy the order and develop no plan. “This is a vote against those maggots that live outside the city,” he announced. “And it’s the proudest vote I’ve cast in seven years on this committee.”

 

White residents rioted when their black neighbors attempted to move in. (Library of Congress) But the racial motivations were barely obscured just below the surface. “White motherhood meant teaching their children lessons in racial distance, in a racially determined place in society, and in white superiority,” wrote historian Elizabeth Gillespie McRae. “Whiteness had so infused definitions of motherhood in the Jim Crow South and a Jim Crow nation that they could hardly be separated.” 590

Mass organizing against busing forced school boards across the country to demand that courts lift or weaken busing mandates. As early as 1977, federal courts agreed to lift a busing order imposed on Oklahoma City schools just five years earlier after concluding that integration had been achieved. 591 Boston’s desegregation plan was ruled successful in 1987. 592

  • To implement Brown during the 1970s
    • Courts ordered transportation to public schools outside of neighborhoods
  • In 1971, the Supreme Court upheld courts’ authority to order busing
    • Many school districts implemented busing plans in the 1970s and 1980s.
    • In response, white families across the country organized opposition to “forced busing”
      • Opposition mirrored Southern opposition to school desegregation.

“After court-ordered busing began in Boston, white mothers led the opposition. White mobs attacked buses carrying black students to white schools with eggs, bricks, and bottles. Protestors, students, and bystanders alike were stoned, stabbed, and beaten in clashes that continued for weeks until quelled by the National Guard.” Equal Justice Initiative

  • Northern segregation activists distinguished themselves from racist Southerners
    • By identifying as mothers concerned about school safety and quality
      • “We are not racists. We respect the blacks. Our concern is with education.” MI anti-busing activist
    • Louise Day-Hicks founder of anti-busing group Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR):
      • “I am not a racist. You show me where I have said anything against . . . Negroes.”

“White motherhood meant teaching their children lessons in racial distance, in a racially determined place in society, and in white superiority,” historian Elizabeth McRae

  • Mass organizing against busing throughout 1980-90s
    • Forced courts to lift/weaken busing mandates
    • 1999 Court order stated busing was no longer needed
    • Huge racial dog whistle for Republican politicians (Nixon & Reagan)

Atlantic: There’s a Generational Shift in the Debate Over Busing

During the second Democratic presidential debate, Senator Kamala Harris of California challenged former Vice President Joe Biden regarding a topic that has received little attention in recent presidential elections: school desegregation. Harris described Biden’s recent remarks in which he fondly recalled his “civil” working relationships with segregationist senators such as James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman E. Talmadge of Georgia as “hurtful.” “It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing,” Harris continued. “And you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

By invoking her own story, Harris highlighted a generational gap between people who lived through school desegregation as students and those, like Biden, for whom the feelings and opinions of white parents and constituents are paramount. As scholars such as Amy Stuart Wells and Rucker Johnson have shown, the generation of students who experienced school desegregation firsthand in the 1970s and 1980s benefited greatly. In public-policy debates and popular memory, though, the perspectives of students have been overshadowed by those of antibusing parents and politicians. As a result, the successes of school desegregation have been drowned out by a chorus of voices insisting busing was an inconvenient, unfair, and failed experiment.

When Harris boarded a school bus in the fall of 1969 to attend Thousand Oaks Elementary School in an affluent part of North Berkeley, busing was already a hot-button political issue. The controversy was driven by white opposition to school desegregation, not by the use of school buses. Students in the United States had long ridden buses to school. Buses made the modern public-school system possible, enabling multigrade elementary schools and comprehensive high schools to replace one-room schools. Buses had long been used in the South—as well as in New York, Boston, and many other northern cities—to maintain segregation. This form of transportation was not controversial for white parents. Put more starkly, school buses were fine for the majority of white families; busing was not.

White parents in New York City organized in the late 1950s to oppose plans to bus black and Puerto Rican students from overcrowded schools to white schools with open seats. The parents used euphemisms such as busing and neighborhood schools to maintain segregated schools without explicitly saying they did not want their children to go to school with black or Latinx students. Similar antibusing protests occurred in Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and other cities in the 1960s.

Northern congressmen responded to the anger expressed by many of their white constituents by writing antibusing provisions into the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These amendments were designed to keep federal civil-rights enforcement of school desegregation focused on the South and away from the North. While the Civil Rights Act finally pushed to the South to comply with Brown v. Board of Education by enabling the withholding of federal funds, cities in the North, Midwest, and West routinely flouted federal authority.

Antibusing rhetoric spiked in 1972, the year Joe Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate. White protesters such as Irene McCabe of Pontiac, Michigan, received massive amounts of media attention for their defiance of court-ordered school desegregation. President Richard Nixon called for Congress to pass a busing moratorium and used televised presidential addresses to signal that he would limit federal oversight to unconstitutional de jure segregation, most commonly associated with the South, to set the terms of the busing debate. Nixon also warned his appointees and the lawyers and officials who worked in the Justice Department and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that they could either support the administration’s evolving school-desegregation policies or lose their jobs. When Biden came to the Senate and began introducing his own antibusing amendments, he was building on more than 15 years of white parents and politicians using busing as a code word to oppose school desegregation.

Berkeley was able to craft a successful school-desegregation plan in this context because of strong local leadership and a sense of civic purpose. Starting in the 1950s, local civil-rights activists pushed the school board to address the overcrowded and unequal schools black students attended. They successfully elected several pro-integration members to the school board, which subsequently established a citizens’ committee to study segregation, implemented a plan to desegregate the city’s junior high schools, and tested a pilot busing program. As in other cities, these steps were controversial in Berkeley. A citizens’ group, the Parents Association for Neighborhood Schools, led an unsuccessful effort to recall the school board in 1964. Public debates and PTA meetings remained heated for the next several years.

Theodore R. Johnson: Kamala Harris knew what she was doing

Berkeley’s school superintendent, Neil Sullivan, was also a vocal supporter of school desegregation. Sullivan took the Berkeley job in 1964, after successfully opening free schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia, which had closed its public schools to avoid court-ordered desegregation, leaving black students without public education for four years.

Sullivan understood the importance of making a strong case for school integration. In his fall 1967 report to the school board, “Integration: A Plan for Berkeley,” he wrote, “School districts cannot now escape the moral obligation to attack this problem … The solution to the problem of segregation is not simple. But the Berkeley Unified School District does not shy away from difficult problems … In solving this problem, we will set an example for all the cities of America.” In January 1968, the school board voted unanimously to desegregate the city’s 14 elementary schools, and Sullivan’s plan was distributed to parents and community members to foster support for integration. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that, upon learning about Berkeley’s bold integration plan, “hope returned to my soul and spirit.”

Berkeley’s plan for elementary-school desegregation started in September 1968, with more than one-third of the district’s 9,000 students riding buses. Unlike many cities that placed the burden of busing on black students, Berkeley implemented a two-way busing plan that involved black, white, Asian American, and Mexican American students. The plan quickly changed the racial demographics of the city’s schools. Thousand Oaks Elementary was 95 percent white and 3 percent black in 1963. When Harris started kindergarten in 1969, Thousand Oaks was 53 percent white and 40 percent black, and in no elementary school in Berkeley did any racial group comprise more than 60 percent of the students.

The Berkeley plan garnered national attention as a model for school desegregation. “Some Berkeley residents thought the roof was going to cave in when the city completely integrated its schools last fall,” the Los Angeles Times reported in July 1969. “Such has not been the case. After a full school year of operation, the ‘Berkeley Plan’ offers reassurance that mixing children racially in schools can work.”

The Berkeley school board has adapted its plan over the past five decades to respond to the changing racial demographics of the city. In 2004, the board adopted an approach that divides the city into more than 400 micro-neighborhoods and asks all families to submit their school choices. Student placements take both school diversity and family preferences into account, without looking at the race or ethnicity of any individual student. Berkeley’s innovative approach received renewed attention after the U.S. Supreme Court, in the 2007 case Parents Involved v. Seattle, ruled against using race as a factor in voluntary school-desegregation plans in Louisville, Kentucky, and Seattle. (Like Berkeley, Louisville has found creative ways to maintain diverse schools, despite the court’s ruling). The scholars Lisa Chavez and Erica Frankenberg argued in 2009, “The Berkeley plan is a proven success that has been very well received by the courts.”

The lesson of the Berkeley plan is that successful school-desegregation efforts require leaders to articulate clearly why integrated education is a civic good, to navigate the inevitable resistance from some parents, and to adapt plans to changing political and demographic realities. No desegregation plan is ever perfect, but innovative efforts that are given the time, resources, and support they need to succeed can make a real and lasting impact on students.

While antibusing politicians and parents dominated public discourse nationally, school officials and parents in Berkeley focused on how school buses could help enable a comprehensive desegregation plan to improve educational opportunities for students of color and low-income students. If school desegregation remains a topic of debate during the primary season, all the candidates would benefit from studying the Berkeley plan rather than rehashing debates over busing.

Atlantic: The Lasting Legacy of the Busing Crisis

“When we would go to white schools, we’d see these lovely classrooms, with a small number of children in each class,” Ruth Batson recalled. As a Boston civil-rights activist and the mother of three, Batson gained personal knowledge of how the city’s public schools shortchanged black youth in the 1950s and 1960s. “The teachers were permanent. We’d see wonderful materials. When we’d go to our schools, we would see overcrowded classrooms, children sitting out in the corridors, and so forth. And so, then we decided that where there were a large number of white students, that’s where the care went. That’s where the books went. That’s where the money went.”

Batson was one of the millions of black parents and citizens in cities like Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York who saw firsthand how school segregation and inferior educational opportunities harmed black students in the decades after Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Like black parents across the country Batson cared deeply about education and fought on behalf of her children and her community. Batson’s three-decade-long struggle for education equality in Boston illuminates both the long history of black civil-rights activism in the North and the resistance from white politicians and parents that thwarted school desegregation. The battles Batson fought are still ongoing and are being discussed today with renewed urgency. Thanks to work by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Richard Kahlenberg, and many others, school integration is being debated publicly in a way not seen in nearly 40 years. The popular understanding of school desegregation, however, is sketchy, and terms like “busing,” “de facto segregation,” and “neighborhood schools” are commonly used but poorly understood. There is a gap between what scholars like Jeanne Theoharis and Ansley Erickson have established about the history of school segregation and how the popular conversation proceeds. In order to think about how school integration can work in 2016 and beyond, it is crucial to reckon with the history of school-desegregation efforts in cities like Boston and to appreciate how people like Batson dedicated their lives to improving educational opportunities for black children.

***

Batson was on the front lines of the school-desegregation battles in Boston. Born and raised in Roxbury, Batson recalled being exposed to politics at an early age by her Jamaican parents, who supported Marcus Garvey. “We heard racial issues constantly being discussed” at regular Sunday community meetings at Toussaint L’Ouverture Hall, Batson remembered. “I knew that there were flaws in the cradle of liberty.” As a former Boston public-schools student herself and the mother of three school-age daughters, Batson knew Boston’s schools were resolutely segregated, with vast differentials in funding, school resources, and teacher quality. Batson ran for the Boston School Committee in 1951, and her campaign fliers urged voters, “For your children’s sake, elect a mother.” Though she lost the election, Batson nonetheless dedicated herself to showing people how Boston school officials used subtle techniques to maintain school segregation. She was dismayed to see Boston’s schools grow more segregated in the decades after Brown, as the district bused white children to white schools with more resources and more experienced teachers.

“What black parents wanted was to get their children to schools where there were the best resources for educational growth—smaller class sizes, up-to-date-books,” Batson recalled. “They wanted their children in a good school building, where there was an allocation of funds which exceeded those in the black schools; where there were sufficient books and equipment for all students.” In short, Batson understood that school integration was about more than having black students sit next to white students. As she knew, more than 80 percent of Boston’s black elementary-school students attended majority-black schools, most of which were overcrowded. Across Boston’s public schools in the 1950s, per-pupil spending averaged $340 for white students compared with only $240 for blacks students. Over the years, data of this sort failed to persuade the Boston School Committee, which steadfastly denied the charge that school segregation even existed in Boston.

In the 1960s, Boston School Committee chairwoman Louise Day Hicks, who became a local and national symbol of the “white backlash” to school desegregation, consistently resisted the demands of civil-rights advocates. Describing a particularly contentious meeting in August 1963, The Boston Globe reported, “Hicks gaveled the last meeting with Negro leaders to a close in something short of three minutes when the speaker mentioned the words, de facto segregation—just mentioned the words.” For Hicks, acknowledging segregation at all might lead to having to do something about it. “We’re not quibbling about a word,” Batson told the Globe. “It is not the word. It is the fact that it exists. Our whole quarrel is with their refusing to admit that the situation exists.”

Ruth Batson, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

Batson and other civil-rights activists, parents, and students in Boston were organized and creative in their protests against school segregation. In June 1963, for example, Batson and other NAACP members met with the Boston School Committee while 300 black Bostonians demonstrated outside of City Hall. “We make this charge: that there is segregation in fact in our Boston public-school system,” Batson told the School Committee. “The injustices present in our school system hurt our pride, rob us of our dignity, and produce results which are injurious not only to our future but to those of the city, state, and nation.” In a hearing room crowded with press, the School Committee did not respond positively to these charges. “We made our presentation and everything broke loose,” Batson recalled. “We were insulted. We were told … our kids were stupid, and this was why they didn’t learn. We were completely rejected that night.” A week later, Batson and other civil-rights advocates organized a “Stay Out for Freedom” protest, with nearly 3,000 black junior and senior high-school students staying away from public school. Organizers preferred “stay out” to “boycott” because students were staying away from public school to attend community-organized “Freedom Schools.” “I feel that the Stay Out for Freedom Day was a success,” Batson told the Globe. “It demonstrated to the Boston community that the Negro community is concerned and that they want action.”

In September 1963, a month after the March on Washington, Batson led more than 6,000 black and white protesters on a march through Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood to protest school segregation. The march concluded at Sherwin School, built in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War. Pointing to the dilapidated 93-year-old building, NAACP Boston executive secretary Thomas Atkins told the crowd: “This is where Negro kids go to school in Boston! What are you going to do about it?” After observing a moment of silence for the four young girls killed a week earlier in the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Burch in Birmingham, Alabama, the crowd joined Susan Batson, Ruth Batson’s teenage daughter, in a chant that clearly outlined the marchers’ demands. Susan Batson shouted, “Jim Crow—” The crowd replied, “Must go!” “The School Committee”—“Must go!” “De Facto”—“Must go!” “Mrs. Hicks”—“Must go!”

As civil-rights pressure continued through the fall of 1963, Hicks and the Boston School Committee only grew stronger in their opposition to school desegregation. When Hicks received the most votes in the November 1963 School Committee election, she saw the victory as a referendum on school desegregation. “The people of Boston have given their answer to the de facto segregation question,” Hicks argued. Having failed to oust Hicks or elect someone to the School Committee who would support school desegregation, the black community organized a second “Stay Out For Freedom” on February 26, 1964. The “stay out” kept more than 20,000 students (more than 20 percent of the city’s public-school students) out of school and connected Boston to similar school boycotts that took place earlier in the month in New York and Chicago. Like her peers in other cities, Batson encountered school officials and politicians who refused to believe that unconstitutional school segregation could exist outside of the South.

***

It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that Boston’s “busing crisis” finally garnered national attention. It was easy to forget that this wasn’t a new phenomenon, that black people in Boston and other cities had been fighting for years to secure equal education, and that powerful local officials and national politicians underwrote school segregation in the North. School desegregation was about the constitutional rights of black students, but in Boston and other Northern cities, the story has been told and retold as a story about the feelings and opinions of white people. The mass protests and violent resistance that greeted school desegregation in mid-1970s Boston engraved that city’s “busing crisis” into school textbooks and cemented the failure of busing and school desegregation in the popular imagination. Contemporary news coverage and historical accounts of Boston’s school desegregation have emphasized the anger that white people in South Boston felt and have rendered Batson and other black Bostonians as bit players in their own civil-rights struggle.

One reason Boston’s “busing crisis” continues to resonate for so many people is that it serves as a convenient end point for the history of civil rights, where it is juxtaposed with Brown v. Board of Education (1954) or the Little Rock school-integration crisis (1957). In this telling, the civil-rights movement, with the support of federal officials and judges, took a wrong turn in the North and encountered “white backlash.” The trouble with the “backlash” story is that the perspectives of white parents who opposed school desegregation figured prominently in the very civil-rights legislation against which they would later rebel. In drafting the 1964 Civil Rights Act, for example, the bill’s Northern sponsors drew a sharp distinction between segregation by law in the South and so-called “racial imbalance” in the North, amending the Act to read:

“Desegregation” means the assignment of students to public schools and within such schools without regard to their race, color, religion, or national origin, but “desegregation” shall not mean the assignment of students to public schools in order to overcome racial imbalance.

This language was directly designed to keep federal civil-rights enforcement of school desegregation focused away from the North. White politicians and parents in cities like Boston, Chicago, and New York regularly pointed to the 1964 Civil Rights Act to justify the maintenance of white schools. This landmark legislation therefore actually allowed school segregation to expand in Northern cities.

Most people today associate busing with Boston in the 1970s, but as Batson knew, organized resistance to school desegregation in the North started in the mid-1950s. As early as 1957, white parents in New York rallied against a proposed plan to transfer 400 black and Puerto Rican students from Brooklyn to schools in Queens. In Detroit in 1960, thousands of white parents organized a school boycott to protest the busing of 300 black students from an overcrowded school to a school in a white neighborhood. In Boston in 1965, Hicks made opposition to busing a centerpiece of her political campaigns. “It was Mrs. Hicks who kept talking against busing children when the NAACP hadn’t even proposed busing,” the Globe noted.

With busing, Northerners had found a palatable way to oppose desegregation without appealing to the explicitly racist sentiments they preferred to associate with Southerners. “I have probably talked before 500 or 600 groups over the last years about busing,” Los Angeles Assemblyman Floyd Wakefield said in 1970. “Almost every time, someone has gotten up and called me a ‘racist’ or a ‘bigot.’ But now, all of the sudden, I am no longer a ‘bigot.’ Now I am called ‘the leader of the antibusing effort.’” White parents and politicians framed their resistance to school desegregation in terms like “busing” and “neighborhood schools,” and this rhetorical shift allowed them to support white schools and neighborhoods without using explicitly racist language.

Describing opposition to busing as something other than resistance to school desegregation was a move that obscured the histories of racial discrimination and legal contexts for desegregation orders. In covering school desegregation in Boston and other Northern cities, contemporary news media took up the busing frame, and most histories of the era have followed suit. Americans’ understanding of school desegregation in the North is skewed as a result, emphasizing innocent or unintended “de facto segregation” over the housing covenants, federal mortgage redlining, public-housing segregation, white homeowners associations, and discriminatory real-estate practices that produced and maintained segregated neighborhoods, as well as the policies regarding school siting, districting, and student transfers that produced and maintained segregated schools.

***

Understanding the history of school desegregation in Boston and other Northern cities makes it clear that so-called “de facto” residential and school segregation in the North were anything but innocent. While civil-rights advocates initially promoted this distinction between “Southern-style” and “Northern-style” segregation to build a political consensus against Jim Crow laws in the South, the de jure/de facto dichotomy ultimately made it possible for public officials, judges, and citizens in the North and South to deny legal responsibility for the visible realities of racial segregation. As black writer James Baldwin observed in 1965, “‘De facto segregation’ means Negroes are segregated, but nobody did it.”

Over the past two decades, scholars like Thomas Sugrue, Beryl Satter, and David Freund have revealed the vast web of governmental policies that produced and maintained racially segregated neighborhoods and schools in the North, as well as the civil-rights activists who fought against these structures of racial discrimination. These studies provide overwhelming evidence that, in every region of the country, neighborhood and school segregation flowed from intentional public policies, not from innocent private actions or free-market forces. Among the most important aspects of this body of scholarship is that it shows that the distinction between de jure segregation and de facto segregation is a false one.

The crisis in Boston and in other cities that faced court-ordered school desegregation was about unconstitutional racial discrimination in the public schools, not about busing. Judge W. Arthur Garrity’s decision in Morgan v. Hennigan (1974) made it clear that the Boston School Committee and superintendent “took many actions in their official capacities with the purpose and intent to segregate the Boston public schools and that such actions caused current conditions of segregation in the Boston public schools.” Judges issued busing orders to school districts—such as Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Pontiac—that were found guilty of intentional de jure segregation in violation of Brown and the Fourteenth Amendment. U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare chief Leon Panetta—who was fired from President Richard Nixon’s administration for advocating for investigations into school segregation in the North—said in late 1969:

It has become clear to me that the old bugaboo of keeping federal hands off Northern school systems because they are only de facto segregated, instead of de jure segregation as the result of some official act, is a fraud … There are few if any pure de facto situations. Lift the rock of de facto, and something ugly and discriminatory crawls out from under it.

The challenge for civil-rights lawyers and activists like Batson was that it was extraordinarily difficult to lift all of the rocks of “de facto” to expose the illegal discrimination underneath.

For over half a century, parents, school officials, politicians, and writers from across the political spectrum have described busing as unrealistic, unnecessary, and unfair, most often citing Boston as evidence that busing and school desegregation failed. The problem is that busing is so routinely described as having failed that Americans have lost sight of what this equation—“busing failed”—asks them to believe about the history of civil rights in the United States. Agreeing that busing and school desegregation failed makes it possible to dismiss the educational goals that were a pillar of the civil-rights movement and to dismiss the constitutional promise of equality endorsed by Brown, though it was never fully realized. This busing narrative is comforting because it authorizes people to accept the continuing racial and socioeconomic segregation of schools in the United States as inevitable and unchangeable. The national resistance to school desegregation was immense but not inevitable. If Americans are indeed ready to think seriously again about school integration, we must start by reckoning with the history of school segregation in the North and remembering the stories of people like Ruth Batson.

“White parents nationwide acted to deny black children equal education by voting to close and defund public schools, transferring their children to private, white-only schools, and harassing and violently attacking black students while their own children watched or participated. ” EJI

Sherrilyn Ifill: The Same Myths That Thwarted Busing Are Keeping School Segregation Alive

A contentious conversation over busing as a tool to desegregate schools began last week during the first debates of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary season and has continued onto the campaign trail this week. That debate has also reignited the most resilient and pernicious myths about busing and school desegregation, myths that continue to thwart this country’s efforts to fully achieve the goal of school desegregation. That busing has long been presented as an independent evil worthy of bipartisan resistance in both white and black communities represents the triumph of a false narrative packaged to excuse one of the ugliest and most destabilizing realities of American society: the extent to which raw racial prejudice and the protection of white supremacy have divided the nation since its founding through today.

It is critical that this renewed contemporary debate deal forthrightly with the hard truths about segregated schools in America. That means confronting the ubiquitous, government-driven residential segregation that forcibly divided communities on the basis of race in virtually every U.S. city and town through much of the 20th century, and which remains a defining characteristic of our nation today. The history of how we became a nation separated geographically by race has been conveniently forgotten. It is this history that made busing essential to the desegregation of our schools.

In the 1970s, when then-Sen. Joe Biden was working with segregationists to defeat busing measures, “forced busing” became a convenient narrative of government overreach. It was particularly exploited by Richard Nixon during the 1972 presidential campaign, gaining wide traction among white moderates and liberals. It allowed whites to excuse themselves and their neighbors for violent opposition to integration that, when caught on camera in cities like Boston, often appeared no different from the widely condemned actions of white parents and students attempting to block the entrance of black students to Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.

Likewise, the contention that white parents resisted busing because they wanted their children to attend neighborhood schools close to home masked the unpleasant truth. In 1972, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which has litigated hundreds of desegregation cases, published a groundbreaking report provocatively titled “It’s Not the Distance, ‘It’s the Niggers.’ ” The title quoted a white Richmond, Virginia, parent who, ironically, had been bused to school as a child herself, but opposed busing aimed to desegregate schools simply because of race.

The report provided a careful and painstaking study and refutation of many of the myths surrounding busing. The titular quote ultimately helped demonstrate a damning conclusion: Most white parents resisted busing because they did not want their children to go to school with black children.

The truth is that racial integration of our public schools failed because far too many white communities, in addition to every branch of government, resisted at every turn the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In 1956, more than 100 members of Congress signed the Southern Manifesto declaring their commitment to resist the court’s mandate by all legal means. “Massive resistance” became a rallying cry in communities throughout the South. White Southerners pulled their children from public schools and formed private white academies, funded with public dollars, until LDF successfully sued them, although many of these academies remain today. Indeed, Virginia’s Prince Edward County school district closed its schools for five years rather than integrate. By the time Biden entered the Senate, congressional resistance had shifted to combating the busing programs that were the principal means of attempting to desegregate the highly de facto segregated Northern schools.

The judiciary was also complicit. In the 1974 case of Milliken v. Bradley, the Supreme Court signaled a strong retreat from Brown. Ignoring the record of governmentally driven residential segregation in Detroit, the Supreme Court decided that a court-ordered integration plan could not compel a metropolitan area–wide remedy that would include suburban schools. This ensured that white flight could effectively insulate white families who moved out of the cities to avoid the reach of integration. More recently, in its 2006 decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle, the court struck down even voluntary efforts by school officials to promote integration in Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky, public schools.

By the 1980s, meanwhile, the Department of Justice under the Reagan and Bush administrations aggressively litigated to end school desegregation orders. This furthered the retreat from the promise of Brown, with many school districts dismantling desegregation plans that often had been in effect for little more than a decade.

The success of white and governmental opponents to desegregation means that, today, schools are more racially segregated than in 1972 when LDF issued its report. The racial achievement gap also widened after the abandonment of desegregation and reductions in school funding beginning in the 1980s. We do not have to continue to live with the consequences of past opposition to desegregation; school districts and government policy both have a role to play. The trend line of increased school segregation can be reversed by school districts using all available means to combat segregation. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of magnet schools, busing, voluntary student transfers, and zoning. The nation must address the extensive residential segregation, created in large measure by governmental policies and practices, through aggressively enforcing fair housing laws, reducing exclusionary zoning, increasing inclusionary zoning, increasing subsidies for affordable housing in high opportunity areas, and providing financial support for efforts to improve the mix of persons by race and economics in communities that are currently segregated on the basis of race and income.

Ultimately, we must recognize that white resistance to school integration then and now is intertwined with the misbegotten belief of white parents that an integrated education provides no benefit for white children. This belief lies at the heart of resistance to affirmative action and other measures of education equity as well. According to this view, integration is a project to aid black and Hispanic children, with no real benefit for whites.

But the record in Brown belied this widely held belief. For example, more than 30 social scientists submitted an appendix to the briefs in Brown concluding that segregation produces a “distorted sense of social reality” in white children. Judge Julius Waties Waring, who dissented from the three-judge trial court ruling upholding segregation in the South Carolina Brown case, was convinced by the evidence that the harms inflicted by segregated education “applies to white as well as Negro children.”

​If anything is evident since the 2016 presidential election and ensuing events, it is that racial division weakens our nation. As our country fractures before our eyes, it is past time that Americans stop embracing faux justifications for racial segregation and recognize that it has devastating consequences for our national security and cohesion—and our integrity as a democracy.

Pacific Standard: How White Parents Stopped School Integration

It Was Never About Busing

When Senator Kamala Harris confronted former Vice President Joe Biden at the second Democratic presidential debate about his support of bills to ban busing for school desegregation during the 1970s and early ’80s, he gave a sort of denial. “I did not oppose busing in America,” he said. “What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed.”

This quickly became one of the most talked-about moments of the debate. Many pundits suggested it was unwise for Ms. Harris to dredge up the racial hurts of a decades-old “failed” policy at a time when the Trump administration is caging children along the border and when Democrats are seeking to retake the White House.

But tellingly, there was little discussion about busing’s efficacy, at least not with facts, or about whether or not busing served its purpose of breaking apart the educational caste system.

That we even use the word “busing” to describe what was in fact court-ordered school desegregation, and that Americans of all stripes believe that the brief period in which we actually tried to desegregate our schools was a failure, speaks to one of the most successful propaganda campaigns of the last half century. Further, it explains how we have come to be largely silent — and accepting — of the fact that 65 years after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, black children are as segregated from white students as they were in the mid-1970s when Mr. Biden was working with Southern white supremacist legislators to curtail court-ordered busing.

The term “busing” is a race-neutral euphemism that allows people to pretend white opposition was not about integration but simply about a desire for their children to attend neighborhood schools. But the fact is that American children have ridden buses to schools since the 1920s. There is a reason the cheery yellow school bus is the most ubiquitous symbol of American education. Buses eased the burden of transportation on families and allowed larger comprehensive schools to replace one-room schoolhouses. Millions of kids still ride school buses every day, and rarely do so for integration.

A crowd in South Boston protested federal court-ordered busing of black students to all-white neighborhood schools in 1975.
Credit…Spencer Grant/Getty Images

Further, while it is true that close-by schools may be convenient, white Americans’ veneration of neighborhood schools has never outweighed their desire to maintain racially homogeneous environments for their children. Few remember that Oliver Brown, a petitioner in Brown v. Board of Education, sued for the right of his daughter, Linda, to attend her neighborhood school. Kansas’ state law allowed school systems to segregate at the behest of white parents, and so the Topeka school board bused Linda and other black children past white schools to preserve segregation. Across the South and in parts of the North, black children were regularly bused long distances across district and county lines, because as late as the 1950s, some local governments valued the education of black children so little and segregation so much that they did not offer a single high school that black students could attend.

[“The Daily” talked to Nikole Hannah-Jones about the myth that busing failed. Listen here. She also answered readers’ questions about this article on Twitter.]

In other communities, school buses were considered a prized luxury reserved for white children. During my reporting, I have heard many stories of black children walking long distances to their assigned schools and being covered in dust by the passing big yellow buses — paid for with the tax dollars of black parents as well — that were shuttling white children to their white schools.

The school bus, treasured when it was serving as a tool of segregation, became reviled only when it transformed into a tool of integration. As the federal judge who ordered busing for desegregation in the landmark case that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court said, according to the 1978 book “Nothing Could Be Finer”: “Heck, I was bused as a child in Robeson County. Everybody who attends school in North Carolina has been bused. Busing isn’t the question, whatever folks say. It’s desegregation.”

When the Supreme Court handed down its radical ruling for racial justice, the white South began a systematic anti-integration campaign known as Massive Resistance. Senator James Eastland of Mississippi joined about one-fifth of the men serving in Congress when he signed the Southern Manifesto, a document sanctioning explicit white Southern resistance to the Supreme Court decision in Brown. Mr. Eastland was one of the segregationists whom Mr. Biden recently praised for practicing “civility” by working across political differences (he has since apologized for that comment). One of the issues Mr. Eastland worked with Mr. Biden on: banning busing for integration.

In 1957, Elizabeth Eckford, 16, withstood the rage of white students and was blocked by National Guardsmen as she attempted to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
Credit…Will Counts/Arkansas Democrat Gazette, via Associated Press

During the late 1950s and early ’60s, white politicians used every possible means to challenge the legitimacy of the Supreme Court and subvert its integration mandate. They siphoned state tax dollars — dollars that black residents also paid — to fund a separate system of all-white private schools that came to be known as segregation academies, paying teacher salaries and offering white children tuition vouchers to attend. All-white legislatures shuttered schools and entire school systems rather than allow a single black child to attend a “white” school.

Starting in 1959, Prince Edward County in Virginia went without a public school system for five years until the Supreme Court finally ordered the schools to reopen. What happened there is perhaps the most glaring example of the absurdity of Mr. Biden arguing on the debate stage that he did not oppose busing, just federal intervention. The federal government got involved precisely because local and state governments had openly rebelled against the Supreme Court, refusing to undertake even token desegregation.

Just a few years before Mr. Biden was attempting to curtail desegregation, white Southerners were bombing schools. They beat children and civil rights activists. They blackballed parents who dared sign their names to lawsuits suing for compliance with Brown, keeping them from employment and evicting them from their homes. Mobs blocked the doors to schoolhouses to keep handfuls of carefully selected black children from entering.

Anti-integration terrorists bombed integrated Clinton High School, destroying eight classrooms, in Clinton, Tenn., in 1958.
Credit…Bettmann Archive, via Getty Images
The principal of Cotton School in Nashville, Margaret Cate, after it was bombed in 1957 for admitting a 6-year-old black girl.
Credit…Don Cravens/The LIFE Images Collection, via Getty Images

Many white Northerners initially applauded the Brown ruling, believing it was about time the South behaved when it came to its black citizens. But that support hinged largely on the belief that Brown v. Board of Education did not apply to them and their communities. When black activists in cities such as Chicago, Detroit and Dayton, Ohio, pushed to dismantle the de jure segregation that existed in their cities, white support for the integration mandate of Brown faded.

In New York, after activists had spent years pushing the public schools to adopt a comprehensive desegregation plan, about 460,000 black and Puerto Rican students staged a walkout in protest in February 1964. With the city’s white population declining, school officials had maintained segregation through racial assignment policies, keeping white schools half empty while black schools in some areas grew so overcrowded that children attended in shifts, half for four hours in the morning, half for four hours in the afternoon, while white children got a full day of instruction.

After the protest, the city agreed to a very small, very limited desegregation plan that would bus children between 30 black and Puerto Rican schools and 30 white ones in a city of nearly one million students. Still, the backlash was swift. A month after the walkout, some 10,000 white parents, mostly women, staged a protest against “busing.” The organizers knew better than to adopt the rhetoric of the white segregationists down South. Instead, they used race-neutral language, saying they were fighting for their own civil rights: the right to keep their kids off buses and in neighborhood schools.

National media converged on the protest, covering it with a sympathetic tone. It was the first known antibusing protest in the country, according to historian Matthew F. Delmont’s 2016 book, “Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation.” While the fears of “busing” in New York and other places “outpaced the numerical reality of students transferred for school desegregation,” Mr. Delmont writes, by focusing on busing, people “gave equal weight to black protests against segregated schools and white protests to maintain these segregated conditions.”

Anti-busing demonstrators shouting at policemen at City Hall in New York, Sept. 24, 1964, as they protested a Board of Education busing program aimed at increasing racial balance in New York City schools.
Credit…Harry Harris/Associated Press

For more than a decade after the Brown decision in 1954, the federal government had done little to stop resistance. But beginning in the mid-1960s, for the briefest and rarest of moments, all three branches of government took the mandate of Brown seriously. The Supreme Court ruled that it was not enough for school districts to merely remove the language requiring segregation; they had to actually move bodies around and integrate their schools. Congress threatened to withhold federal funds from school districts that refused to desegregate, and the Justice Department began suing those districts that continued to resist.

Lower courts began to find segregation intentional and therefore unconstitutional outside of the South, and the fear that school integration would come to their own neighborhoods led white Northern legislators in Congress who were working on the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act to tuck a decidedly anti-civil-rights provision into the law. That provision prohibited “busing” to “overcome racial imbalance.” Mr. Eastland could not contain his glee at the hypocrisy, calling the Northern senators sponsoring the bill “pretty good segregationists.

By the early 1970s, the South had been blanketed in desegregation orders pursued by the Justice Department and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and put in place by federal judges who often faced down death threats and political and social ostracization with stunning courage.

It was a remarkable time.

Historically in this country, the removal of racist legal barriers has often come without any real effort to cure the inequality the now unconstitutional laws and policies had created. This was different. Led by Chief Justice Earl Warren’s Supreme Court, federal judges were mandating desegregation plans that did more than simply strike down segregation on paper the way past courts had. A series of rulings called for a fundamental destruction of caste schools in this country. Segregation had been forced, so integration would have to be forced as well.

To do so, the courts understood that desegregation required an arsenal of tools, the same arsenal that white families, school boards and politicians had deployed for a century and a half to segregate black children. They included assigning students and neighborhoods to schools based on race, selecting sites to build schools based on the racial makeup of neighborhoods, assigning teachers and administrators to schools based on race, allowing children to transfer into schools based on race and using buses to carry students to and from schools for integration.

Busing became the literal vehicle of integration because in most places black and white people did not live in the same neighborhoods. This was not incidental. The courts understood that in both the North and the South, a dragnet of federal, state, local and private policies and actions had protected white neighborhoods and penned black people into all-black areas, and that this made it impossible in most areas to create integrated schools by simply zoning nearby black and white children to the same buildings. To get integrated schools, courts had to overcome entrenched government-sanctioned residential segregation.

In 1971, in a case involving one of the largest school districts in North Carolina, the Supreme Court laid out the necessity of busing with striking clarity:

Absent a constitutional violation, there would be no basis for judicially ordering assignment of students on a racial basis. All things being equal, with no history of discrimination, it might well be desirable to assign pupils to schools nearest their homes. But all things are not equal in a system that has been deliberately constructed and maintained to enforce racial segregation. The remedy for such segregation may be administratively awkward, inconvenient, and even bizarre in some situations, and may impose burdens on some; but all awkwardness and inconvenience cannot be avoided.

And despite the constant assertion that “busing” failed, busing as a tool of desegregation, and court-ordered desegregation in general, was extraordinarily successful in the South.

In 1964, 10 years after the Brown decision, just 2 percent of black children in the South attended schools with white children. By 1972, nearly half were attending predominantly white schools. After a very short period of serious court intervention and federal enforcement, the South had gone from the most segregated region of the country for black children to the most integrated, which it remains 40-some years later. For the first time in the history of American public education, significant numbers of white children were being ordered to attend the schools that had been deemed good enough only for black children, and black children got access to the superior schools this country had always reserved for white children.

But white Northerners, who were watching as mandatory desegregation orders were breaking the back of Jim Crow education, quickly adapted a savvier resistance than their counterparts in the South. As the NAACP Legal Defense Fund repeatedly persuaded courts to order desegregation upon showing that Northern officials had maintained official — if not public — policies to segregate black children, the resistance increasingly took on “busing.” This allowed white communities and politicians to deny the role of racism and therefore give respectable cover to their resistance.

It was the educational version of arguing that the Civil War was about states’ rights rather than slavery — one could uphold racist practices and systems while arguing that race had nothing to do with it.

Resegregation Began Three Decades Ago

American schools were at their most integrated in the late 1980s — except in the Northeast, where they have steadily become more segregated since at least 1968. Percentage of each region’s black students in schools with a student body that is more than 90 percent minority, 1968-2011.

Screen Shot 2020-12-17 at 1.52.39 PM

 

 

The Republican strategist Lee Atwater, in an infamous 1981 interview, made the strategy plain: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, ‘forced busing,’ ‘states’ rights’ and all that stuff.”

It was a hallmark of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” during his presidential campaigns, which relied on unifying white anger about fair housing and school integration to build a successful coalition of white Southerners and white ethnic Northerners.

After Mr. Nixon’s win in 1968, white Democrats were trying to hold on to their white voters. Mr. Biden favored busing for integration when he ran for election in 1972, but changed his mind seemingly because of a Delaware school desegregation case that was working its way through the courts. In his autobiography, Mr. Biden recalled his confrontation with a crowd of white constituents teetering on the brink of violence over the issue.

Mr. Biden flipped. Between 1975 and 1982, he teamed up with ardent segregationists in Congress, including Mr. Eastland, to support no fewer than five antibusing measures. Despite Mr. Biden’s recent claims that he only opposed busing ordered by the Department of Education, the bills tried to curtail the ability of federal courts to order busing and even to limit busing in places where courts had already ordered it.

Between 1975 and 1982, Joe Biden had teamed up with ardent segregationists in Congress to oppose busing students for integration.
Credit…Nancy Shia/Archive Photos, via Getty Images
 
Senator James Eastland of Mississippi.
Credit…Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Picture Collection, via Getty Images

Mr. Biden, echoing a sentiment repeated again and again by progressive and conservative commenters in the past few weeks, says he is not and was not opposed to desegregation, just the tool most likely to achieve it.

The response to integration in places like Boston, where riots broke out and black children who were being bused by federal court orders into white schools were pelted with rocks, beaten and called “niggers,” revealed the lie that the fight was for neighborhood schools and not against integration. These white children were in their neighborhood schools.

But it mattered not. White media specifically and white Americans generally were primed for the message. Support for desegregation dropped in the polls. Media and politicians like Mr. Biden, who called busing a “liberal train wreck,” began promoting the message that busing had failed.

A few studies conducted soon after desegregation began did not show a marked increase in black achievement, and detractors pointed to them as further evidence of the failure. Media and politicians blamed busing for the white flight from many cities, even though cities with large black populations suffered extensive white flight whether they instituted busing or not. They said busing stoked racial tensions, as if race relations had been just fine when black people stayed in their place.

And then in 1974 the Supreme Court, stacked with four Nixon appointees, dealt a lethal blow to Northern desegregation. In Milliken v. Bradley, it struck down a lower court’s order for a metropolitan desegregation plan that attempted to deal with white flight by forcing the all-white suburban school districts ringing Detroit to integrate with the nearly all-black city system. By ruling against a desegregation plan that jumped school district borders, the court sent a clear message to white Northerners that the easiest way to avoid integration was to move to a white town with white schools.

The Segregated North

Only two of the 10 most segregated states are in the South. Percentage of each state’s black students in schools with a student body that is more than 90 percent minority, 2011-12.

Screen Shot 2020-12-17 at 1.54.35 PM

White parents in suburban Detroit had also couched their resistance in antibusing terms. But court documents from the time show that bus times for many white students would actually have decreased under the plan the court struck down, because in many cases a black Detroit school stood just a few blocks across the city line from white suburban neighborhoods.

But by then, facts about desegregation had become largely irrelevant. White Americans opposed busing precisely because it was so immediately effective in desegregating schools. As a result, it was turned into a political boogeyman that gave cover to a majority of white Americans, who did not want their children to share schools with large numbers of black children.

Valerie Banks was the only student to show up for her geography class at South Boston High School in 1974 on the first day of court-ordered busing.
Credit…Associated Press

When people call busing ill conceived or the worst means of ensuring integration, they conveniently obscure that busing was almost always a tool of last resort, mandated by courts only after lengthy battles with school boards and state officials, by black parents and civil rights groups, failed to produce even modest integration for black children. Judges and attorneys and activists were trying to destruct a racist and segregated educational system in the face of enormous resistance, subterfuge and violence, even in the most ostensibly liberal places.

In doing so, of course mistakes were made. Particularly, desegregation too often shuttered black schools and dismissed black educators because they were not considered good enough to teach white children. Many black activists and communities grew weary of chasing white people across the city as they fled integration, and instead they decided to focus on gaining resources for schools that served their own neighborhoods.

By 1988, just two decades after it began in earnest, desegregation in this country had peaked. Our one real effort to bring the promises of Brown to fruition withered amid the belief that we had tried really hard and failed.

But to say busing — or really, mandated desegregation — failed is a lie.

It transformed the South from apartheid to the place where black children are now the most likely to sit in classrooms with white children. It led to increased resources being spent on black and low-income children. There’s a story black people ruefully tell of the day they knew integration was coming to a black high school in Charlotte, N.C.: A crew of workers arrived to fix up the facilities because now white children would be attending. This is how two-way busing worked and why integration was necessary — white people would never allow their children to attend the types of inferior schools to which they relegated black children.

For years, North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, where the community decided to make busing work, were some of the most integrated in the country, and both black and white students saw achievement gains. The district was forced to return to neighborhood schools after a white family brought down the desegregation order, and Charlotte is now the most segregated district in North Carolina. We should question why in the narrative of busing we remember Boston but not Charlotte.

In 1966, a bus captain and a principal checked children on a school bus as part of Operation Exodus, a completely community-led program that self-funded the busing of students from Roxbury to schools around Boston that had open seats.
Credit…Associated Press

Research has shown that the early studies purporting that desegregation did not help black children academically were flawed because they attempted to study the phenomenon too soon. If a child has spent 10 years in segregated, inferior schools and just two in a highly resourced, integrated school, one cannot expect marked achievement gains.

We now know that school desegregation significantly reduced the test-score gap between black and white children — cutting it in half for some black age groups without harming white children. No other reform has reduced the gap on this scale. Rather, the opposite is true: The test-score gap between black and white students reached its narrowest point ever at the peak of desegregation and has widened as schools have resegregated.

An economist and professor of public policy, Rucker C. Johnson at the University of California, Berkeley, studied the life outcomes of black children who got access to the trifecta of quality Head Start, increased school funding and desegregation. He saw the entire trajectory of their lives change. Compared with kids stuck in segregated schools, even their own siblings, they were more likely to graduate from high school and more likely to get out of poverty. As adults, they earned more, were less likely to go to jail and even lived longer. The earlier and longer these children got access to integrated schools, Dr. Johnson found, the stronger the results.

Kamala Harris, left, with her sister, Maya, and mother, Shyamala, outside their apartment in Berkeley, Calif., in 1970.
Credit…Kamala Harris campaign, via Associated Press

Like Kamala Harris, I was one of those kids bused to white schools. Busing was part of a desegregation plan Waterloo, Iowa, adopted using federal desegregation funds after being sued by the NAACP. Starting in second grade and all the way through high school, I rode a bus two hours a day. It was not always easy, but I am perplexed by the audacity of people who argue that the hardship of a long bus ride somehow outweighs the hardship of being deprived of a good education.

No, black kids should not have to leave their neighborhoods to attend a quality school, or sit next to white students to get a quality education. But we cannot be naïve about how this country works. To this day, according to data collected from the Education Department, the whiter the school, the more resources it has. We cannot forget that so many school desegregation lawsuits started with attempts by black parents to simply get equal resources for black schools. Parents demanded integration only after they realized that in a country that does not value black children the same as white ones, black children will never get what white children get unless they sit where white children sit.

I have spent most of my career chronicling the devastating effects of school segregation on black children. I have spent days in all-black schools with no heat and no textbooks. Where mold runs dark beneath the walls and rodents leave droppings on desks for students to clear in the mornings before they sit down. Where children spend an entire school year without an algebra teacher and graduate never having been assigned a single essay. And then I have driven a few miles down the road to a predominately white school, sometimes within the same district, sometimes in an adjacent one, and witnessed the best of American education. This is not to say that no white children attend substandard schools. But if there is a black school nearby, it is almost always worse.

The black students I talk to in schools that are as segregated as the ones their grandparents attended know it is like this because we do not think they deserve the same education as white children.

This is a choice we make.

The same people who claim they are not against integration, just busing as the means, cannot tell you what tactic they would support that would actually lead to wide-scale desegregation. So, it is an incredible sleight of hand to argue that mandatory school desegregation failed, while ignoring that the past three decades of reforms promising to make separate schools equal have produced dismal results for black children, and I would argue, for our democracy.

It is unlikely that we will ever again see an effort to deconstruct our system of caste schools like what we saw between 1968 and 1988. But at the very least, we should tell the truth about what happened.

Busing did not fail. We did.

Vox: School segregation didn’t go away. It just evolved.

How parents are gerrymandering school borders and fencing out poor kids.

Their idea was simple: to create their own school district.

Their stated reason was simple: Schools do better when they’re part of smaller, city-based districts where they can make hyperlocal decisions.

So five years ago, organizers in Gardendale, Alabama, decided it was time to secede from the Jefferson County School District — because of the changing “dynamics.”

But this simple idea has historically caused a contentious debate about race, class, and education in America. And when the courts ruled on this issue, it resulted in the biggest setback to school integration since Brown v. Board of Education: a legal decision that allows parents to use borders to segregate their kids away from their less desirable peers.

The organizers never made overt racial arguments, but they were reacting to a system set up by a 1971 desegregation order to create more racial balance. They said their schools were already overcrowded and underfunded, so why should they bus in other kids who weren’t part of their community?

On a Facebook page to discuss the school district secession, one of the organizers wrote that it would give them “better control over the geographic composition of the student body.” They were hinting at their dismay that students from a mostly black neighborhood were being bused to their mostly white schools.

“Those students do not contribute financially,” one organizer wrote. “They consume the resources of our schools, our teachers and our resident students, then go home.”

The organizer also wrote: “A look around at our community sporting events, our churches are great snapshots of our community. A look into our schools, and you’ll see something totally different.”

Here’s what they hinted at — what everyone knew but was never articulated: They were carving out a more affluent, more white area and starting their own school district with it. Here’s how those demographics broke down:

Eight other communities — yes, eight had previously seceded from the Jefferson County school district, all for very similar reasons. They didn’t want to be subject to racial integration orders that involved busing, and they didn’t want to share tax dollars with people who were less fortunate.

In the South, most school districts are drawn along county borders. But here’s what these secessions did to this district:

“I swear, I thought there was something wrong with the pixelation of borders,” said Rebecca Sibilia, who led a team at EdBuild to study school secession.

And it’s not just Jefferson County. Since 2000, 70 other communities have tried to secede from their district, according to the recent EdBuild report.

Two-thirds of those of those secession attempts have been successful, and most of the other cases are still ongoing. Sibilia points out that some of these secession efforts are logical, like the one in California’s San Fernando Valley. But many of the proposed school borders are along socioeconomic lines, and they would further isolate poor children in segregated schools.

This is perhaps the most brazen modern example of privileged groups using borders to separate themselves from other people.

“It’s a more concrete example of the ‘Make America Great Again’ ethos,” said Erika Wilson, a law professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill who has written extensively on the topic. “I call it a form of destructive localism. People who are fortunate enough to form utopias do so on the backs of other folks who have been excluded.”

But this isn’t just a failure of people — of their unwillingness to honor a social contract with a larger community, regardless of their fortunes.

This is also a failure of the courts and our state legislatures.

They have created a system that incentivizes middle-class people to use their moderate wealth to wall in opportunities for their own kids, while depriving the kids of others. They’ve allowed parents, acting in self-interest, to create school systems that reproduce, or even exacerbate, the structural inequality we see today.

This is built on state-sponsored blueprints for segregation

In the 1940s, the federal government started backing home loans to white people but refused them to black people — and even those who wanted to live around black people.

This created segregated city neighborhoods.

This is commonly repeated when talking about residential segregation. But in his new book The Color of Law, Richard Rothstein points out that the feds also backed development loans for suburban communities — as long as none of the homes were sold to black people.

This created segregated white suburbs.

So by the time the Supreme Court integrated schools in the 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, white families who didn’t want their kids to go to school with black children had a very clear opt-out choice: the suburbs.

And they took the option.

Below is a chart showing how many white students were expected to leave a district — and how many white students actually left, once integration orders were put in place. Even in the years before desegregation started, white families started to leave at alarmingly high rates:

“How might a group deploy boundaries — and the law and policy around that — to remove themselves from having to share their resources from disfavored others?” LSU law professor Chris Tyson said. “That is the story of suburbanization.”

Tyson, who has written on this topic, says we take urban sprawl as a rational choice by individuals who desire bigger houses, car dependence, strip malls, and highways. But that ignores the government policies that prop up these decisions.

Fast-forward a few generations and we now have good schools that tend to be in the suburbs and bad schools that tend to be in central cities, and they track along racial lines. Tyson says it’s easy to think this is the way things are supposed to be, without tracing it back to its racist roots.

And even in the cities, white families were able to segregate themselves using borders.

For example, the Detroit school board split attendance zones into a north and south zone — even though they knew it would further segregate schools.

So in order to tear down these segregating walls, we needed a legal tool to help implement meaningful integration.

This tool needed to make sure white families couldn’t merely move to the other side of a border, or create new borders, to opt out of a social contract with people who are less fortunate.

How the Supreme Court built on the discriminatory blueprint

In 1970, the Detroit school board tried to ameliorate the city’s segregated schools.

Four of the six school board members voted for a plan that would bus high school kids from one zone to the other, and vice versa, to create more racial balance.

This led to bomb threats, protests, and recall elections for the four school board members who voted for this plan. Ultimately, the Michigan state legislature blocked the plan from going forward.

It took a federal judge to nullify the state legislature’s actions and allow the high school busing plans to go further.

Still, there was a problem with this integration plan: Even with busing, white families who didn’t want to integrate could just use the city borders to wall themselves off from black families.

In short, they could move to the suburbs.

So the NAACP pitched a bold plan to remedy the increase in white flight. It wanted to require white students in the surrounding suburbs to be bused into Detroit, and black children in Detroit to be bused out to the suburbs.

This way, it would much be harder for white families to use borders to escape integrated schools.

This plan, which was approved by a federal judge, created a massive uproar and eventually made it to the Supreme Court in the 1974 case Milliken v. Bradley.

On one hand, the Court found that the City of Detroit was responsible for violating the constitutional rights of black children.

But here’s the important part: It blocked the interdistrict busing plan. The Court said that unless the district lines were drawn with racist intent, the suburban districts did not have to integrate among each other or with Detroit.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Warren Burger justified the decision by writing about the importance of local control of schools. He wrote that it gave individuals the power to make decisions and cater their schools to fit local needs.

So if you wanted to keep your kids away from poor black kids, you could just cross the border to a mostly white suburb.

Or you could figure out how to create a new school district and draw the border to wall them out.

In his dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote:

School district lines, however innocently drawn, will surely be perceived as fences to separate the races when, under a Detroit-only decree, white parents withdraw their children from the Detroit city schools and move to the suburbs in order to continue them in all-white schools.

The breach of those fences, and the new ones that went up

In the past few decades, people of color have started passing through some of those barriers and moving to the suburbs — sometimes in large enough numbers to create what sociologists call “ethnoburbs.”

In response, some white families are moving even farther out into exurbs, or withdrawing from the public schools into which they are zoned by using either charter schools or private schools — both of which have helped create more segregated schools.

But many middle-class families don’t have the resources to opt out.

So if you can’t move to the other side of the wall, another option is to put up new walls — to carve out borders with other middle-class families so you don’t need to share with the neediest children, who tend to be more expensive.

And for parents trying to do everything to help their kid get into a better situation, this is an existing road map, formed by the ridges of judicial and legislative decisions.

While Milliken v. Bradley created the legal framework that allows school secession to occur, Sibilia says it’s the structure of school funding that creates the incentive.

A huge chunk of school funding comes from local property taxes, instead of being a centralized pot of money at the state level.

It creates this incentive for homeowners to band together with other better-to-do people, fence in that wealth, and use that money to improve only their schools. That, in turn, could increase their property values.

The counterargument is often the Jeffersonian idea of localism — that we function better in smaller communities that people form with like-minded people. But UNC’s Wilson says this defense is often used destructively to exclude others.

And it ignores the discriminatory policies that forced people into certain geographies.

“Many communities are formed [as] not a result of voluntary choice but exclusion,” she said.

Wilson, who is black, knows firsthand the importance of softening these borders. She grew up in Las Vegas — the “most segregated town west of Mississippi” — and because the city is under a federal desegregation order, she was able to be bused to a magnet school as a kid.

“If it weren’t for being able to escape my school attendance boundary lines,” she said, “I do question what would’ve been my future.”

“These schools are not yours, and you are not welcome here”

Back in Gardendale, Alabama, federal judge Madeline Haikala oversaw the case of whether the city could create its own district — and she didn’t mince words in describing what she saw.

“These citizens prefer a predominantly white city,” she wrote in April, after reviewing the public comments from organizers.

This gave the plaintiffs some hope, despite all the successful secessions from Jefferson County in the past.

In the previous school secession cases, the judge didn’t go as far as to find racial motives, or even dig very far. But in this case, Judge Haikala said the organizers’ rhetoric communicated to black students that “these schools are not yours, and you are not welcome here.”

She hit on a theme that was present in all of these fights over borders: this implication that some people inherently belong in this collective group — to make decisions, share resources, and add value to the community — and that other people hold them back.

“They certainly believe having the black kids in their schools undermines their kids’ education,” Tyson, the LSU professor, said.

But in her ruling, Judge Haikala still allowed Gardendale and its mostly white residents to secede from the Jefferson County District, as long as they followed a three-year desegregation plan.

Later, she justified her decision by saying that denying the secession wasn’t an “appropriate way to resolve this dispute.” She added:

And isn’t it possible that these children and their parents will do more to cure the despicable societal malignancy of racism than an order that drives a wedge in a community and creates new resentments?

The new Gardendale district had initially planned to launch the 2017-’18 school years with two elementary schools within its borders. But in late May, when the plaintiffs said they would appeal the decision to an appellate court, Haikala delayed the formation of the new district.

By that point, the Facebook page to organize the secession had grown mostly quiet. But some people were still unhappy that Haikala had put conditions on secession in Gardendale. In fact, one man on the Facebook page said he was glad he had decided to homeschool his daughter.

The group’s organizer responded: “The less local education becomes, the more sense it will make to folks.”

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

BEYOND BROWN: OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

“White opposition to civil rights was largely a Southern movement, but it spread quickly. Between 1941 and the late 1970s, some five million African Americans fled to the North and West, marking the first time in American history that a large proportion of African Americans lived outside the South.350 Southern segregationists saw potential allies in the North and West.

As civil rights gains spread, white residents of major cities outside the South blocked efforts to end racial discrimination in housing, education, and public services. Elected officials used legislation and violence to fight racial equality, deny black people access to public services, and exacerbate the poverty that plagued black neighborhoods.

Some of the earliest clashes took place in border states like Maryland and Delaware. By 1950, Baltimore had six whites-only swimming pools; the one pool for African Americans was so crowded that children had to swim in shifts.354 Threats of violence delayed implementation of a 1956 court order to integrate the pools, and in 1962, a mob of 1000 white people threw stones and bottles at African American children swimming in a traditionally white pool.355

In 1960, 90 percent of Baltimore restaurants refused to serve African Americans.356 When a group of high school and college students boycotted a segregated lunch counter, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals Robert Bell recounted:

People were spitting and yelling and screaming at us; the epithets were ones you would imagine they would be in the context of that situation. Some people on the picket line were hit, although there was not as much physical violence as I thought there might be. The police were standing about, watching, but they didn’t intervene to protect us from getting hit and they didn’t arrest anyone.357

When 11 black students integrated the white high school in the southern Delaware town of Milford in fall 1954, the local school board president predicted it would “blow the town apart.”358 Plans for a school dance triggered a mass meeting attended by some 1500 white residents, and after 800 people signed a petition opposing an integrated dance,359 school officials canceled the event. 360 The black students were told to stay home for several days, and when they returned to school, police had to escort them through mobs shouting, “The Bible gives authority for segregation!” and “We just don’t want our children to go to school with Negroes!”361 Milford expelled the black students and the NAACP sued, sparking more cross burnings, rallies, and pro-segregation demonstrations. The next year, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that Milford could delay integration while awaiting guidance from the United States Supreme Court. 362 Segregation persisted in Milford for 15 years, until the last segregated school closed in 1970.

Employment discrimination was a major barrier to economic advancement for black people in the North and West. Hiring restrictions that barred black people in Detroit and Chicago from many positions and promotions during the 1940s war boom persisted long after the war ended.364 Many trade unions barred black workers, and non-union employers often offered black applicants lower pay and lesser positions, if they were hired at all.365

From 1960 onward, the unemployment rate for black Americans stayed at double the rate for white Americans.366 Even after the Civil Rights Act outlawed racial discrimination in employment, job advertisements in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune sought “white applicants only.”367

Housing segregation shaped urban landscapes in the North, where housing shortages penned black migrants in overcrowded and overpriced neighborhoods. Housing segregation enabled school segregation, which in many cities remained a vestige of segregated neighborhoods long after segregation laws were struck down.

In Philadelphia, more than 200 African Americans attempting to rent or buy homes at the edges of the city’s segregated residential districts were attacked during the first six months of 1955 alone. Black residents found themselves trapped in the North Philadelphia ghetto for years.368

In Los Angeles, more than 100 African Americans were targeted with violence when they tried to move out of segregated black neighborhoods between 1950 and 1965. 369 These attacks, including dynamite bombings, cross burnings, and rocks thrown through windows, led to only one arrest and prosecution.370

The Chicago Housing Authority invested in segregation by concentrating more than 10,000 public housing units in isolated African American neighborhoods — a policy the Supreme Court found in 1976 violated racial desegregation laws.”371

Slavery and codified racial segregation have come to be thought of as uniquely Southern phenomena, but it is clear that the legacy of white supremacy and racial bigotry was a powerful force in the North and West. Inspired by Southern segregationists, there is a clear and undeniable record of pervasive discrimination based on race that spread across America. The legacy of this history haunts us still.”

Why Racism Isn’t Just a Southern Problem | Decoded | MTV News

Further Readings

Back to White Resistance Top


Decline of Judicial Support

Milliken and the Prospects for Racial Divserity in Schools

“Experts say the backslide (toward resgregation of schools) was the consequence of a series of judicial decisions, beginning with Milliken vs. Bradley in 1974, a relatively unheard of but seminal case in the desegregation saga. Criticized by some as “one of the worst Supreme Court decisions” ever, Milliken dealt with Detroit’s plan to integrate students by busing them from the intercity to the suburbs. The court ruled that such a plan was unconstitutional, arguing that black students had the right to attend integrated schools within their own school district, but were not protected from de facto segregation.”That decision … said the racial disparities across districts would remain outside the reach of policymakers”

Key Court Cases to Dismantle Desegregation

  • 1974 – Milliken v. Bradley
    • Supreme Court ruled de facto racial segregation was acceptable
      • As long as schools were not actively making policies for racial exclusion
  • 1991 – Board of Education of Oklahoma v. Dowell
    • Once district declared “unitary” no longer had to desegregate
  • 1992 – Freeman v. Pitts
    • Allowed school districts released from court order desegregation
      • Even if full desegregation had not been achieved
  • 2007 – Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1
    • SCOTUS ruled school districts could not consider race when assigning students to schools

Politifact: American schools are ‘more segregated than they were in the 1960s,’ says Hillary Clinton

“the South is now the least racially divided region in the United States when it comes to school segregation, and no state in Dixie is among the top five most segregated by any yardstick. For example, a third of black students are isolated in black schools in the South, compared to half of black students in the Northeast and 40 percent on average. How did the South surpass the rest of the nation in diversity? It’s a mixture of the judicial mandates in the 1960s and modern geography.

“The South is really the only place where we seriously enforced desegregation,” said Orfield, the lead author of the UCLA study.

“Large school jurisdictions,” added Clotfelter, the Duke professor. “That means that it’s not possible to slice up into such small bits, like a metropolitan area where the districts dramatically differ.”

In contrast, the densely populated cities of the Northeast and West are becoming more and more segregated. On the Pacific coast, Clinton’s claim is on the money: Latino students are now more isolated than black students and “more segregated than they’ve ever been,” according to Orfield.

“Latinos have increased more than five times over in the number of students since the 1960s,” he said. “Demographics is the largest factor (in their segregation) but there’s a lot of history as well. There was never was much of a desegregation effort for Latinos.”

Two steps forward, one step back

Clinton does have a strong point that American schools have relapsed into monochrome. Classrooms were the most diverse from the 1970s through the early 1990s. At peak integration, four out of 10 black southern students attended a white school, while less than a third of all black students attended black schools.

“We’ve lost a lot of the progress we gained, no doubt about that,” Clotfelter said.

Experts say the backslide was the consequence of a series of judicial decisions, beginning with Milliken vs. Bradley in 1974, a relatively unheard of but seminal case in the desegregation saga. Criticized by some as “one of the worst Supreme Court decisions” ever, Milliken dealt with Detroit’s plan to integrate students by busing them from the intercity to the suburbs. The court ruled that such a plan was unconstitutional, arguing that black students had the right to attend integrated schools within their own school district, but were not protected from de facto segregation.

“That decision … said the racial disparities across districts would remain outside the reach of policymakers,” Clotfelter wrote in piece exploring the impact of Milliken. “The maximum amount of interracial contact one could strive for, then, would be limited by the two remaining factors: balkanization of jurisdictions and household choices about where to live.”

Court-mandated desegregation was dealt its own deadly blow by three rulings from the Supreme Court between 1991 and 1995. According to the court, integration was only a temporary federal policy and after the historical imbalance was righted, school districts should reclaim local control and were released from desegregation orders.

Since then, school segregation has been intrinsically tied to the racial gaps in housing and income, leading to the re-emergence of the color line. Economic segregation, which disproportionately affects black and Latino students, is increasing, pointed out Orfield. He noted that in California, Asian and white students are 10 times more likely to go to a high-quality school than Latinos and therefore dramatically more likely to attend college.”

EJI: Segregation in America

SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL: THE COURT’S ROLE

“For more than a century before its groundbreaking decision to desegregate public schools in 1954, the Supreme Court protected slavery, undermined equal rights, immunized lynch mobs from punishment, and embraced Jim Crow. Brown v. Board of Education was a striking departure from the Court’s longstanding role shielding the South from challenges to its racial caste system.

The Supreme Court vigorously defended the property rights of slave owners and enshrined the narrative of racial difference in its precedent by holding that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” whether they were enslaved or not.58

The Court struck down state laws to prevent slave traders from kidnapping free black people and selling them into slavery59 and defended slave owners’ property rights by vacating the Missouri Compromise, which limited slavery in new United States territories.60

Infamously, the Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford established that no black person, free or enslaved, could be a citizen of the United States.61 The Court reasoned that black people “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations,” and therefore, it is “absolutely certain that the African race were not included under the name of citizens of a State” and not entitled to the “privileges and immunities” of citizenship.62

Undermining Reconstruction

During Reconstruction — the period immediately following the Civil War when an effort was made to defend the rights of formerly enslaved black people — Congress passed three constitutional amendments: the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude; the Fourteenth Amendment overturned Dred Scott, declared all people born in the United States to be citizens, and guaranteed citizens due process and equal protection of the laws; and the Fifteenth Amendment prohibited denying a man the right to vote “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The Supreme Court swiftly and systematically gutted all three.

The Fourteenth Amendment was designed to prevent states from violating the rights of formerly enslaved people. In 1872, in the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Court nullified the amendment by holding that it could not limit the power of states to deny basic rights to their own citizens.63

In 1875, in United States v. Reese, the Court held that the Fifteenth Amendment did not grant African Americans a federal right to vote, 64 struck down the statute Congress passed to protect African Americans’ voting rights, and overturned the convictions of two election officials who had refused to count a black man’s vote. 65

Complicity in Racial Terrorism

As racial terror lynching raged throughout the South following the abolition of slavery, the Supreme Court repeatedly rendered the federal government powerless to protect African Americans from racial violence.

After killing as many as 150 black people peacefully protesting at the courthouse in Colfax, Louisiana, in 1873, white defendants were convicted under a federal law designed to combat the Ku Klux Klan. 66 The Court overturned their convictions in United States v. Cruikshank and struck down the statute, holding that Congress was empowered to regulate only state action, not the acts of private citizens — even if they committed murder.67

The conceit of this private/state actor distinction was laid bare in Screws v. United States, when the Court overturned the conviction of a sheriff who, along with two other law enforcement officers, beat a handcuffed black man to death.68

The Court not only shut down federal attempts to protect black citizens, but also permitted state courts to deny justice to black victims. While the Court struck down a law that excluded black men from jury service solely based on race in 1879, it permitted states to create property and educational requirements for jury service and gave local officials nearly unfettered discretion to use those requirements to exclude African Americans. 69

The Court made it so difficult to prove racial discrimination in jury selection that between 1904 and 1935, not a single conviction of a black defendant was reversed because of racial discrimination in jury selection, even though African Americans were universally excluded from Southern juries.70 Meanwhile, all-white juries reliably acquitted white perpetrators of lynchings and other racial violence.

Authorizing Jim Crow

In 1898, in Williams v. Mississippi, the Supreme Court upheld Mississippi’s poll tax and other voting qualifications, even though the Court acknowledged they were adopted explicitly to disenfranchise African Americans, because the provisions on their face were “not limited by their language or effect to one race.”71
And even though registrars used the qualifications to deny registration to all black voters, the Court found “it has not been shown that their actual administration was evil; only that evil was possible under them.”72

Alabama voting laws were more explicitly discriminatory, but in Giles v. Harris, the Court found no constitutional problem with Alabama’s scheme, even when shown that black men who met all qualifications were still refused registration.73 The Court concluded there was nothing it could do if Alabama was truly determined to prevent African Americans from voting, and so it denied all relief.74

While the Court struck down an undeniably unconstitutional grandfather clause in Guinn v. United States in 1915, it upheld the use of literacy tests75 and poll taxes — tactics used to effectively deny voting rights to generations of African Americans for another 50 years.76

The Court struck down anti-segregation laws and upheld state laws that required segregation. In 1877, the Court in Hall v. DeCuir struck down a Louisiana law that prohibited segregation on all public conveyances within the state, 77 holding that it unconstitutionally regulated interstate commerce. 78 But a few years later the Court allowed a Mississippi segregation law to mandate racial separation on interstate railroad cars. 79

Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court’s most well-known decision upholding segregation, considered a Louisiana law requiring racial segregation of railroad passengers and found no constitutional violation where facilities were “separate but equal.” Writing in 1896, the Court found that Louisiana’s law could not “abolish distinctions based upon color, or [] enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.” 80 The Court rejected Mr. Plessy’s argument that forced racial separation branded black people as inferior, and countered, “If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” 81

Even when enforcing its own “separate but equal” doctrine, the Court showed little commitment to the “equal” requirement. In Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education, 55 years before Brown, the Court upheld the school board’s decision to close the black high school but keep open the white high school because, it concluded, “it is impracticable to distribute taxes equally.” 82 The Court absolved itself of responsibility for ensuring equality in education, writing that “the education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective states.” 83

The Court’s embrace of Jim Crow extended even to voluntary associations between white and black people. In Berea College v. Kentucky, in 1908, the Court upheld a Kentucky law that prohibited private colleges from teaching black and white students together, reasoning that the college, although private, was nonetheless dependent on a state charter, and so was subject to virtually any conditions that Kentucky chose to impose. 84

In 1875, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which barred racial discrimination in public accommodations, facilities, conveyances, and places of amusement. In the Civil Rights Cases, the Court struck down the law, holding that Congress had no authority to prohibit discrimination by private parties.

The Court rejected the argument that the law was meant to eradicate the effects of slavery, writing that formerly enslaved people had already been given enough time and assistance and could not expect to forever be “the special favorite of the laws.”

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: Racism without Racists

Nixon conservative judges tearing down Brown

I (Nixon) consider my 4 appointments to the supreme court to have been among the most constructive and far-reaching actions of my presidency … The men I appointed shared my conservative judicial philosophy and significantly affected the balances of power that had developed in the Warren Court.”56 This was an understatement, even for Richard Nixon. The court’s subsequent decisions shut down access to quality education while allowing blatant racial discrimination to run rampant in criminal procedures.

Two important 5-4 Supreme Court decisions in which Nixon’s appointees were in the slim but decisive majority undercut the possibility that Brown would ever fully be implemented. The first was 1973 San Antonio Independent School District . Rodriguez Parents from an impoverished, overwhelmingly minority neighborhood took Texas to court because the school funding mechanism which relied on property taxes, created such disparate revenues as to make equal educational opportunity impossible. Of course, the value of property, on which school funding was heavily based derived from government enforcement of residential segregation and discriminatory housing laws, as well as a series of public policy and zoning decisions such as where to put landfills, erect sewage treatment plants, allow liquor stores, and approve industrial plants.” Zoning had had a particularly deleterious effect on the Edgewood neighborhood of San Antonio, which was 96 percent Mexican American and black. That section had the lowest property value in the city, as well as the lowest median income.58

So committed were the parents to their children’s education, however, that they voted for school levies that taxed their property at the highest rate in the area, which, even then, generated only $21 per student per academic year. Whereas the affluent, predominately white San Antonio neighborhood of Alamo Heights, whose property tax rate was significantly lower than Edgewood’s still produced enough revenue to expend $307 per pupil. Or, to put it another way, Alamo Heights secured nearly 1,500 percent more in funding with a significantly lower tax rate.”

Seeing the inequity, the parents in Edgewood screamed sued. The U.S. district court, using Brown as the template. In a survey of 110 school districts throughout the state. the found that while the wealthiest districts in Texas taxed their property at 31 cents per $100, the poorest were “burdened” with of 70 cents. Nevertheless, the district court continued, even their low tax rate, the rich districts netted $525 more per pupil the the poor districts did. Clearly, the judges concluded, Texas’s funding scheme “makes education a function of the local property tax base The district court, therefore, ruled that “education is a fundamental right,” that the state’s use of “wealth” was a synonym for race and thus subject to judicial “strict scrutiny,” and that Texas’s funding scheme was irrational and violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. As the case moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas pleaded racial innocence and claimed not only that it was meeting the bare minimum requirements for access to education but also that it could not and should not be held responsible for the differences between what poor districts and wealthy ones amassed.

Nixon’s four appointees to the court, as well as Potter Stewart, who had been tapped by Eisenhower, agreed. In a March 1973 ruling that pulled the rug out from under Brown, they found that “there is no fundamental right to education in the Constitution.” The justices concluded, too, that the state’s funding scheme “did not systematically discriminate against all poor people in Texas.” and, because reliance on property taxes to fund schools was used across the country, the method was not “so irrational as to be invidiously discriminatory.” For the court, then, the funding scheme, in which, for example, Chicago allocated $5,265 for African American pupils while the adjacent suburban school district of Niles appropriate $9,371 per student, was perfectly constitutional. Thus, despite the same kinds of rampant funding disparities that had led to Brow Justice Lewis Powell declared that he saw no discriminatory policy at all. with presidential segregation no longer enforced by the government, whites and minorities alike, he felt, were free to move wherever they wanted in search of better schools. The fact that most minorities-after centuries of government enforced racism in education and employment simply did not have the economic wherewithal to move was overlooked.….The next year, Nixon’s Supreme Court appointees landed yet another powerful blow to Brown. This time the case emerged out of the North, in Detroit, which, by the early 1970s, was a predominately black city surrounded by overwhelmingly white suburbs. The K-12 system mirrored the racial geography, with virtually all the schools in the city more than 90 percent African American. Those schools were overcrowded, sometimes with classrooms holding as many as fifty students, and buildings so decayed and unsafe that classes were taught classes were taught in trailers parked on the schoolgrounds. Vera Bradley a black mother of two sons, Richard and Ronald, wanted more for her her children and turned to the NAACP for help. On August 18, 1970, Association general counsel Nathaniel Jones filed suit in the federal district court on Bradley’s behalf against a number of officials including Governor William Milliken because Jones noted, “these children were kept in schools that the Supreme Court said … were unconstitutional.” City leaders,

hoping to have the case withdrawn, devised a number of plans to integrate the K-12 system, but, as the district court noted, each scheme left the schools overwhelmingly identifiable racially and Detroit even blacker than before. The judge therefore ordered a metropolitan Detroit desegregation plan that spread beyond the city’s borders. The suburbs immediately protested.65

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, calmed their fears. Just as Rodriguez ensured that funding in overwhelmingly white suburbs would never leak into the city schools, Milliken v. Bradley (1974) ensured that whites would not have to attend schools with African Americans. To accomplish this feat, the court had to ignore the role the law had played-in residential segregation; white flight; discriminatory public policy that financed, subsidized, and maintained white suburbs; and legislation that drew and redrew boundaries and curtailed transportation options—in keeping black children trapped in impoverished cities and subpar schools. Five justices held there was no evidence whatsoever that the outlying school districts had discriminated against blacks or been responsible for the racially distinct condition of inner-city Detroit. And if the suburbs were not part of the problem, the court reasoned, they could not be part of the solution. Then, as if to underscore the full retreat from Brown the justices emphasized the importance of “local control” of and chastised the district court for overstepping its bounds. In a final coup de grâce, they added that Brown did not require, “ any racial balance in each school, grade, or classroom.”66

NPR: This Supreme Court Case Made School District Lines A Tool For Segregation

Roughly 9 million children — nearly 1 in 5 public school students in the U.S. — attend schools that are racially isolated and receive far less money than schools just a few miles away. That’s according to a sweeping new review of the nation’s most divisive school district borders from EdBuild, a nonprofit that investigates school funding inequities.

“Inequality is endemic” in America’s public schools, the report says, identifying nearly 1,000 school district borders where schools on one side receive at least 10% less money per student than schools on the other side and where the racial makeup of the two sides’ students varies by 25 percentage points or more. It is the story of segregation, in 2019.

EdBuild says the disadvantaged districts in these cross-district comparisons receive, on average, about $4,200 less per student than their wealthier neighbors, largely because of differences in what they’re able to raise through local property taxes. To put that gap into perspective, schools spent an average of $12,000 per student in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means that disadvantaged districts have about one-third fewer dollars per student than their peers up the street.

Imagine you’re a principal with one-third less funding to pay for teachers, textbooks, buses and counselors.

Now imagine you’re a child living at the center of that inequity.

“You know it as soon as you look at the school. You know it the minute you walk into a classroom,” says Rebecca Sibilia, EdBuild’s founder and CEO, of these funding differences. “There are kids who see this every day, and they understand.”

They understand, Sibilia says, that the scales are tipped against them. Their schools are still segregated and underfunded more than 60 years after the Supreme Court issued one of its most famous rulings, in Brown v. Board of Education, unanimously declaring that separate but equal schools are neither equal nor constitutional. So why are so many U.S. schools still so separate and unequal?

“That’s all thanks to Milliken,” Sibilia says.

“No hope of achieving actual desegregation”

Schoolchildren and NAACP members parade in Washington, D.C., on May 17, 1979, the 25th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that ended racial segregation in American schools.

Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

EdBuild timed the release of its report to coincide with the 45th anniversary of another Supreme Court ruling, one not nearly as well-known as Brown but a case that has had just as much impact: Milliken v. Bradley. This case posed an essential question in 1974: Who should be responsible for desegregating America’s schools?

The case arrived two decades after Brown began the push for school desegregation. In those intervening years, the federal government achieved meaningful progress in the South, and the movement ultimately worked its way north, to cities like Detroit. But many white voters grew anxious, even angry, about these efforts.

A large crowd gathered in South Boston in 1975 to protest federal court-ordered school desegregation.

Spencer Grant/Getty Images

That anger helped propel Richard Nixon to the White House in 1969. In just a few years, he filled not one but four vacancies on the Supreme Court. And it was this new court that would hear oral arguments in Milliken.

Leaders from the state of Michigan and the city of Detroit had been sued for policies that had helped segregate Detroit’s schools. At the time, two-thirds of students there were African American, while growing suburbs were almost exclusively white.

The plaintiffs argued that school policies reinforced racist housing practices that had trapped black families inside the city. It was a story playing out across the United States.

“The story was the story of American apartheid,” says Michelle Adams, a professor at Cardozo School of Law in New York City. She’s writing a book on Milliken and says federal redlining of neighborhoods and race-based restrictions on house sales, known as covenants, had made it nearly impossible for black families to move to the suburbs.

“Over and over and over again, the plaintiffs used this phrase, ‘contained.’ “

While black parents had been contained by racist housing policies, their children were being contained by school district lines. The state was pouring money into new suburban schools but was building them behind district lines that acted like fences. A lower court judge ruled that the only way to meaningfully desegregate Detroit was to tear down those lines — those fences — and to bus students between the city and 53 suburban school districts. The suburbs fought that ruling in the Supreme Court.

“There is no evidence in this case that any school district in the state of Michigan, including Detroit, was established or created for the purpose of fostering racial segregation in the public schools,” said attorney William M. Saxton in oral arguments on Feb. 27, 1974.

The suburban districts did not deny that their schools — and Detroit’s — were segregated. But, they countered, that segregation was not the result of discrimination. It was not intentional.

“[The suburbs were] making this issue a question of white guilt or innocence,” says Elise Boddie, a professor at Rutgers Law School. She says they were essentially saying: “We know there may be a problem of segregation, but it’s not our fault. We’re not responsible for it.”

The fight in Milliken was over who was responsible. Because the state had opposed an earlier desegregation effort, it seemed liable. But what about those dozens of booming, largely white suburbs? Should the federal courts do as they had done in the South for years: step in and force these communities to share their schools with black children?

The suburbs argued that their school district lines had been drawn without malice and that the federal courts had no right to interfere in the local control of schools unless the black parents who brought the case could show that the suburbs were responsible for school segregation in Detroit.

A divided court agreed, finding in a 5-4 ruling that if these suburbs weren’t actively hurting Detroit’s students, then they couldn’t be forced to help them either. Of the five justices in that majority, four had been appointed by Nixon. Ultimately, Detroit was told to somehow desegregate itself.

An unrealistic demand, said the court’s only African American justice:

“The Detroit-only plan simply has no hope of achieving actual desegregation,” said Justice Thurgood Marshall in his dissent. “Under such a plan, white and Negro students will not go to school together. Instead, Negro children will continue to attend all-Negro schools. The very evil that Brown was aimed at will not be cured but will be perpetuated.”

Marshall knew that because schools are funded through local property taxes, these segregated big-city schools weren’t just separate but were also clearly unequal. As an attorney in the early 1950s, Marshall had argued — and won — the historic Brown v. Board case, and he called the Milliken ruling a “giant step backwards.”

“Our nation, I fear, will be ill served by the court’s refusal to remedy separate and unequal education,” Marshall warned, “for unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together and understand each other.”

Nearly half a century later, EdBuild’s new report affirms Marshall’s fear. Milliken established the sacredness of school district lines and severely limited federal courts’ ability to change the status quo. Today, Detroit is even more segregated than it was back in 1974. And that’s the case not just in Detroit.

On the island

On the left, homes in Hempstead Union Free School District on Long Island, N.Y. On the right, a home in nearby Garden City.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

Often called the first modern suburb in America, Long Island stretches out from New York City, north and east toward the sea, with water on both sides. In between the waves, it’s one of the most racially and economically segregated places in the United States.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the school districts that dot the island (there are more than 125 districts). One example of this stark contrast: Hempstead Union Free School District and Garden City Union Free School District. Enrollment in Hempstead’s schools is 2% white, while immediately to the north, the school district in Garden City is 87% white, according to the state. You can drive from the high school in Hempstead to the high school in Garden City in about 15 minutes.

 

Don’t see the graphic above? Click here.

Just south of Hempstead’s district line is Rockville Centre, another village and yet another school district, where enrollment is 76% white, according to the state.

There’s a stark difference in funding too. Compared with schools in Hempstead, Garden City’s schools get almost $5,000 more per student per year, and Rockville Centre’s schools get about $7,000 more.

“What Long Island shows us is how Milliken has been used to reinforce all of these negative and detrimental policies of the past,” explains Sibilia. “What I’m talking about here specifically is housing segregation.”

On a drive through Nassau County, it’s easy to see what Sibilia means.

Left: David Paterson Elementary School in the Hempstead Union Free School District on Long Island, N.Y. Right: Hemlock School, an elementary school in nearby Garden City.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

“You know immediately when you’ve left Garden City and you’re in Hempstead,” explains Elaine Gross, who runs a local nonprofit called Erase Racism. On one side of the line: big houses and tree-lined streets. On the other: laundromats, gas stations and apartment buildings right up against the sidewalks.

Gross says what really astonishes her is the quality of the road between the two communities. On one side, potholes. On the other, “the pavement is just so smooth.”

This division, Gross says, “was baked into the beginning of Long Island.” This area was once potato fields, but then housing developers arrived and started building homes. Many of those communities sold new homes only to white families, and often restrictions, or covenants, in the deeds kept the discrimination going, saying original owners could resell those houses only to other white people.

“The intention was to forever keep out black people,” says Gross. “Talk about a structural impediment. You can’t get more obvious than that.”

Because school funding is largely tied to local wealth — for example, through property taxes — these invisible yet powerful district lines create unequally resourced schools.

“All of this is very connected. The schools. The housing. The government,” says Gross. “All of this is a part of the structural racism which is still very much in place in Long Island.”

In most places, states have not been able to make up the difference in that local money, despite decades of funding formulas designed to do just that.

On Long Island, the state of New York does give more money to Hempstead, but it’s not enough to make it equal to its neighbors. “In essence,” says Sibilia, “states are upholding not just separate school systems but unequal school systems.”

Long Island’s neighborhoods reflect a history of housing segregation.

Elissa Nadworny/NPR

“It takes a lot to change the way people think,” says Daraeno Ekong, a recent graduate of Hempstead High School. She went to Hempstead’s public schools her whole life, and in the fall, she’ll start as a freshman at Yale University. This spring, she visited Yale’s campus, meeting other students from districts across the country, and in conversation, she picked up that many of them had more resources at their high schools. It’s making her a bit nervous, she says, “so I’m kind of finding a way to catch up to them.”

The fact that some of these students were also from Long Island but went to very different schools came as a surprise. Ekong says she has never been to any of the schools in Garden City or ever spent time with any of their students.

It’s a missed opportunity, she says, for all the students. “They could see from our perspective, and we could see from their eyes,” she says. “We might be thinking the same way, or we might do the same thing, you know.”

Ekong’s words echo those of Justice Thurgood Marshall’s dissent in Milliken v. Bradley, 45 years later.

Further Reading

Back to White Resistance Top


Politics and Justice System Behind Segregation

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

MASSIVE RESISTANCE

“Virtually no desegregation occurred in any states of the former Confederacy until 1957, leading one black congressman to concede that the South had won “the first round in the battle for compliance” with Brown...By 1960, only 98 of Arkansas’s 104,000 black students attended desegregated schools; as did 34 of 302,000 in North Carolina; 169 of 146,000 in Tennessee; and 103 of 203,000 in Virginia. In the five Deep South states, every single one of 1.4 million black schoolchildren attended segregated schools until the fall of 1960. By the start of the 1964-65 school year, less than 3 percent of the South’s African American children attended school with white students, and in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina that number remained substantially below 1 percent”

“Over the last 50 years, our political, social, and cultural institutions accommodated and embraced elected officials, journalists, and white leaders who espoused virulently racist ideologies. White segregationists were not banished or shamed; they were respected and elected to some of the highest levels of national authority long after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The accommodation of people who proudly proclaimed racist ideology and white supremacy implicates these institutions and undermines the notion that racial equality has been achieved.” EJI

Political White Supremacy

  • Southern Manifesto
    • 1956, sign by 82 Reps and 19 Senators (1/5 of congress)
    • Manifesto vowed to oppose the Brown decision and any de-segregation attempts
      • No desegregation occurred in the former Confederacy until 1957
      • By 1964 less than 3% of the South’s black children attended school with white students
  • During civil rights and desegregation efforts, segregationist elected officials:
    • Denounced desegregation and blamed black people for the white violence that followed
    • Demonized peaceful civil rights protestors as “criminals” and “law breakers”
    • Used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison activists.
      • bus boycott, police arrested black activists, carpool drivers and 89 leaders on phony charges
        • From start of the Montgomery bus boycott to 1968 assassination, MLK jr. was arrested more than 25 times

“For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.” Michelle Alexander – The New Jim Crow

  • Southern govs and politicians fought desegregation by:
    • Shutting down public schools and parks rather than integrate
      • Defunding desegregated schools/directing funds to schools resisting or private segregated schools
    • Passed laws to delay or stop desegregation
      • Pupal placement laws, freedom-of-choice plans, court injunctions, grants for private schools
      • Southern legislatures passed over 50 new Jim Crow laws after Brown decision
    • Encouraged violence against civil rights activists
    • Utilized local police and national guard to physically stop desegregation

White Resentment Voting Block

  • Southern Bloc (1877-1964)
    • Democrat control of virtually all Southern state legislatures, local and state offices, federal representatives elected between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964

“Southern lawmakers’ strict control over voter registration secured their seats and allowed them to gain seniority that translated to great power in Congress… The South’s outsized political power in Congress depended on preventing black people from voting Because Southern districts included large numbers of black residents, the disenfranchisement of Southern black people translated into the super-enfranchisement of Southern white people: in a 50 percent black Southern district where no black people voted, each white vote carried twice the influence of a Northern vote cast in a fully enfranchised district. In this way, the disenfranchisement of Southern black people empowered Southern white voters at the expense of almost everyone else…

  • Southern Strategy (1950s-present)
    • Created the modern day Republican party as the “white man’s” by appealing to white resentment against civil rights
      • especially against desegregation from the South and suburbs in all directions
      • “Segregationists” turned into “Conservatives”
    • Racism was covered up by “Dog Whistles” such as “Law and Order” and “States’ Rights”
      • “By criminalizing civil rights activists, dropnts of civil rights shifted the public debate from segregation to crime. In the 1968 presidential election, both Richard Nixon and former Alabama Governor George Wallace made “law and order” a central theme of their campaigns; combined, they won 57% of the vote. Nixon ran one ad that “explicitly called on voters to reject the lawlessness of civil rights activists and embrace ‘order’ in the United States. It was a popular message. By 1968, 81 percent of Americans agreed that “law and order has broken down in this country” and the majority blamed “Negroes who start riots” and “Communists.”” Equal Justice Initiative

“Truman’s support for federal legislation to end lynching, poll taxes, and segregation in interstate travel was the last straw for many Southern politicians, who formed the States’ Rights Party in 1948. The so-called Dixiecrats planned to leverage the Southern states’ electoral votes to defend racial segregation and maintain white supremacy.  They nominated first-term South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond for president and Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright as his running mate. At the convention, Thurmond declared, “There is not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” The Dixiecrats carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina in 1948, and won 2.4 percent of the popular vote — more than 1.1 million votes nationwide.Truman won in a landslide, and the States’ Rights Party faded, but the defectors stayed in power. James Eastland, Mississippi’s senior senator by 1948, was a major coordinator of the Dixiecrat campaign but returned to the Senate as a Democrat and became chair of the civil rights subcommittee.

The Dixiecrat revolt began the South’s gradual shift from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party and cemented a white supremacist identity, a states’ rights narrative, and a model of uncompromising segregationist leadership.” EJI

  • The Religious Right (1971- present)
    • Myth that Roe vs Wade (1973) cause it all
      • Reality Protestants weren’t as passionate about abortion as Catholics in the 70s
    • Motivation was to protect tax emption status for segregated private church schools
      • Jerry Falwell preached adamantly against desegregation and started white only Christian schools
      • In 1971 the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. Connally to revoke the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory private schools
        • A federal court forced the Carter administration to propose tougher enforcement rules in 1978
          • Falwell first sermon against abortion was 1978
        • Religious Right leaders used abortion as issue to rally for Reagan who allowed segregated church schools to keep their tax exemption
  • Black Voter Desenfrancishment (1877-present)
    • “Because Southern districts included large numbers of black residents, the disenfranchisement of Southern black people translated into the super-enfranchisement of Southern white people: in a 50% black Southern district where no black people voted, each white vote carried twice the influence of a Northern vote cast in a fully enfranchised district. In this way, the disenfranchisement of Southern black people empowered Southern white voters at the expense of almost everyone else.” Equal Justice Initiative

“Because our nation failed to confront the narrative of racial difference in the decades after the assassinations of national civil rights leaders and the rise of politicians opposed to civil rights signaled the end of the Civil Rights Movement, white opposition rebranded itself while racial inequality grew.” Equal Justice Initiative

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

HOW SEGREGATION SURVIVED

“The Voting Rights Act “literally changed the face of southern politics” by bringing widespread enfranchisement to black communities for the first time since Reconstruction. 542 Just three years after the law passed, black voter registration in the South had increased by 1.3 million people. The greatest changes were in the states most targeted by the new law. In Mississippi, 60 percent of eligible black voters were registered in 1968, up from just 7 percent in 1965…To stay in power as the South gained more than a million black voters, segregationists needed to suppress the black vote, so they began calling themselves “conservatives” and added more sophisticated tools to their repressive repertoire.One tool was the voter fraud allegation, wielded in 1985 by then-United States Attorney Jeff Sessions against black voting rights activists in Alabama. Sessions targeted only black defendants, including civil rights icon Albert Turner, a former aid to Martin Luther King Jr. who was beaten in Selma on Bloody Sunday.”

White Supremacy Justice

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

BEYOND BROWN: OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

“Criminal law has been used to maintain racial control since the end of the Civil War.252 In the 1960s, nearly a century after Emancipation, elected officials denounced peaceful civil rights protestors as “criminals” and “law breakers” and used the legal system to harass, beat, arrest, and imprison activists.253 The law protected white supremacy rather than racial equality, and persecuted those who opposed the racial status quo. “The Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Justice Department, established under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, reported police brutality and other violence against black people that went unpunished throughout the 1970s,” wrote historian Mary Frances Berry, “while the FBI and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division spent their time in surveillance of black individuals and groups.”254

A week after 17-year-old Deborah Bracy and several other black students integrated the high school in Wetumpka, Alabama, she was arrested, charged with assault, and jailed overnight for poking a white classmate with a pencil.255

Clyde Kennard, a black veteran, was targeted by the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission after he applied to all-white Mississippi Southern College in Hattiesburg in 1955. When surveillance and investigations failed to discredit him, officials charged him with minor allegations of theft and alcohol possession. An all-white jury convicted Mr. Kennard of stealing $25 worth of chicken feed and he was sentenced to seven years in prison, where he died from undiagnosed colon cancer in 1963. He was 36 years old.256

In response to the Montgomery bus boycott, police arrested scores of black activists and carpool drivers on phony traffic charges and tried to disbar the black lawyer who filed the lawsuit challenging bus segregation.257

Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Reverend Ralph Abernathy, and boycott organizer Jo Ann Robinson were among 89 leaders arrested and charged with organizing an illegal boycott.258 The grand jury wrote: “In this state we are committed to segregation by custom and law. We intend to maintain it.”259

As a movement leader, Dr. King was routinely targeted by Southern law enforcement. Between the start of the Montgomery bus boycott and his 1968 assassination, Dr. King was arrested, jailed, and fined more than 25 times, in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 and 1958; Atlanta in 1960; Albany, Georgia, in 1961 and 1962; Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 and 1967; St. Augustine, Florida, in 1964; and Selma, Alabama, in 1965. 260 He was not alone.

After two Florida A&M students were arrested for sitting in the “white section” of a bus in Tallahassee, the black community launched a boycott modeled after the Montgomery effort. Boycott organizers and participants faced similar harassment. In October 1956, 21 carpool drivers and nine boycott leaders were arrested for allegedly not having proper car tags. After a three-day trial, they were convicted; some were sentenced to pay fines and some were sent to jail.261

“For more than a decade — from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s,” wrote Michelle Alexander, officials who opposed civil rights systematically and strategically framed their rhetoric as “calls for law and order, arguing that Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of civil disobedience was a leading cause of crime.”294 Some segregationists even claimed that integration caused crime, and found their rhetoric bolstered by suspect but highly publicized FBI reports of dramatic increases in the national crime rate.295

By criminalizing civil rights activists, opponents of civil rights shifted the public debate from segregation to crime.296

In the 1968 presidential election, both Richard Nixon and former Alabama Governor George Wallace made “law and order” a central theme of their campaigns; combined, they won 57 percent of the vote.297 Nixon ran one ad that “explicitly called on voters to reject the lawlessness of civil rights activists and embrace ‘order’ in the United States.” 298

It was a popular message. By 1968, 81 percent of Americans agreed that “law and order has broken down in this country” and the majority blamed “Negroes who start riots” and “Communists.” EJI

Back to Top


Re-segregation

Residential Re-segregation

  • Fair Housing Act overall significantly increased de-segregation
    • While new “race neutral” discrimination preserves segregation for many white communities
      • White Flight, deindustrialization, ghettoization
      • Unaffordability, economic inequalities, credit scoring
      • Exclusionary zoning laws (single family units)
      • Modern housing discrimination
  • Segregation today
    • A typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is 77% white and 8% black
    • A typical black person lives in a neighborhood that is 35% white and 45% black

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 10.16.59 AM.png

Urban Institute: The lingering cost of segregation and discrimination

We still live in starkly segregated neighborhoods. A typical white person lives in a neighborhood that is 75 percent white and 8 percent African American, while a typical African American person lives in a neighborhood that is only 35 percent white and 45 percent African American.

And racial segregation has deprived the neighborhoods occupied by people of color of essential public services and private investments. Today, even middle-class black and Latino neighborhoods have lower house price appreciation, fewer neighborhood amenities, lower-performing schools, and higher crime than white neighborhoods with comparable income levels.

The segregation of neighborhoods along racial lines led directly to the geographic concentration of poverty and the severe distress of very high–poverty neighborhoods. Today, a low-income African American person is over three times more likely to live in a neighborhood with very high poverty than a white person is, and a low-income Latino person is more than twice as likely.

Housing discrimination and segregation fuel continued inequality and injustice because neighborhoods shape the well-being of children and families. All parents want their children to grow up in a safe neighborhood, with great schools, a healthy environment, and good role models. But in neighborhoods with high levels of crime and violence, failing schools and other public services, and few places to work, shop, or play, families face challenges finding work, earning a decent living, and raising their children.

And the consequences hurt all of us. Decades of rigorous research have documented the high costs of racial and ethnic segregation—not just for individuals but for the regions in which they live and for our society as a whole.

Urban Institute:How segregated are we today?

Trends in segregation have varied over time. Economic segregation fell in the 1990s but increased in the 2000s, and Latino-white segregation increased in both the 1990s and the 2000s. Black-white segregation declined over this period, but blacks and whites are more segregated from one another than Latinos and whites.

Many US metropolitan areas remain highly segregated by both income and race (the interactive below compares 2010 segregation levels and rankings for the 100 most-populous commuting zones, or CZs).

Click on this link to measure segregation in the 100 largest regions

“Segregation breakdowns along racial lines in both housing and schools. Affluent black people in this country are more likely to live in low-income black neighborhoods than they are to live along side white affluent people. Low-income white people are more likely to live along side white affluent people. Because that’s the way housing breakdowns, that has huge implications for the kind of schools we have.” Eve Ewing, Ghosts in the Schoolyeard

Cooper Center Racial Demographic Maps

Try to Guess what the green groups are on the right

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 12.59.00 PM.png

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: Racism without Racists

“…metropolitan statistical areas and increased in 19 areas; however, black-white segregation remained high in the older Rust-Belt metropolitan areas and increased during the 1990s in the suburbs. Furthermore, blacks are still more segregated than any other racial or ethnic group–segregation that they have experienced longer than any other group-and are segregated at every income level.27 The black poor, in particular, suffer the greatest degree of “hypersegregation” from the rest of America, and this pattern of extreme isolation has remained the same through the last one-third century. In their book, American Apartheid, Massey and Denton measure the block-level indices of residential segregation of thirty metropolitan areas from 1940 to 1980. The index of residential segregation for the North is around 80 and for the South around 70 (an index of 100 indicates total segregation and one of 0, no segregation at all). Even with a steady decline in most of the metropolitan areas included, levels are still extremely high, especially in the northern cities. In 2010, national black isolation was about 55 percent and remained 70 percent or higher in cities such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago.28

Although many segregation indices are used as if they were sophisticated measures, the reality is otherwise, as these indices essentially rely on “simple numerical and percentage comparisons of the numbers and proportions of persons in each race/ethnicity group in a population.”29 Scholars have pointed to the problem of unmeasured segregation because of the scale of census tracts. More fundamentally, however, I suggest that “racial contacts” do not mean substantive integration, since there are significant forms of racism compatible with “physical closeness.” Indeed, studies show that the apparent “integration” is mostly a result of the restructuring of urban space, including more black people moving to the suburbs and increasing gentrification.30 In turn, gentrification comes with its own set of problems, including decreased black participation and black displacement, at least partially through the destruction of public housing. 31

The costs to blacks of residential segregation are high; they are likely to pay more for housing in a limited market, likely to have lower-quality housing, less likely to own their housing, likely to live in areas where employment is difficult to find, and likely to have to contend with prematurely depreciated housing. 32 Segregation makes it unlikely that poor blacks will be able to escape poverty. For instance, 72 percent of black Americans born into the lowest economic quartile of neighborhoods reside in poor areas as adults, compared with only 40 percent of whites.33 Furthermore, race is also the most salient predictor of intergenerational downward residential mobility, with the odds of downward mobility 3.6 times as large as the odds for whites.”34 The big difference is in how segregation is accomplished today. In the Jim Crow era, the housing industry used overtly discriminatory practices such as real estate agents employing outright refusal or subterfuge to avoid renting or selling to black customers, federal government redlining policies, overtly discriminatory insurance and lending practices, and racially restrictive covenants on housing deeds in order to maintain segregated communities. In contrast, in the post-civil rights era, covert behaviors have replaced these practices and maintained the same outcome-separate communities.

Many studies have detailed the obstacles that minorities face from government agencies, real estate agents, money lenders, and white residents that continue to limit their housing options.35 Housing audits done in many locations reveal that blacks and Latinos are denied available housing from 35 to 75 percent of the time depending on the city in question.36 Turner, Struyk, and Yinger, in reporting the results of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Discrimination Study, found that blacks and Latinos experienced discrimination in approximately half of their efforts to rent or buy housing. Yinger, in a separate article, reported that the average incidence of discrimination for audit studies is 47 percent. These housing studies have shown that when paired with similar white counterparts, blacks are likely to be shown fewer apartments, be quoted higher rents, or offered worse conditions, and be steered to specific neighborhoods. Using a similar procedure in a 2012 audit of housing racial practices in twenty-three U.S. metropolitan areas, Turner and colleagues report that although there was improvement since the 1989 audit, whites continued to be given more information about potential rentals and were shown more available housing units in both the rental and sales markets. The study also showed a significant increase in geographic steering that perpetuated segregation, predominantly through real estate agent editorializing. 37

In one study of lending practices done by the Kentucky Human Rights Commission, black and white testers with equal characteristics requested conventional mortgages for the same housing from ten of the top lending institutions in Louisville, and while there were cases in which discrimination was apparent (blacks having trouble getting appointments, etc.), in the eighty-five visits made to inquire about loans, none of the black testers (with one exception) knew they were being discriminated against, though all of them were. Blacks were given less information, less encouragement to return and apply for the loan, fewer helpful hints as to how to successfully obtain a loan, and differential treatment in prequalifying–sometimes being told they would not qualify when whites of the same profile were told they would. Similar studies done in Chicago and New York revealed discrimination in seven out of ten lending institutions in Chicago and in the one institution studied in New York City.38 National data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act show that black applicants are denied mortgages at least twice as frequently as whites of the same income and gender. Finally, a study by the Federal of Boston found that after controlling for a number of variable average are denied loans 60 percent more times than whites. 39 In of mortgage loan practices during the 1990s, Turner and ski that blacks received less information from loan officers, were interest rates, and suffered higher loan denial rates. Much of the ownership among African Americans in the 1990s was achieve subprime lenders who offer usurious rates, due in large part to the practice of redlining of black neighborhoods by mainstream 1 these same subprime mortgages that have caused the recent me to impact minorities more severely than whites.40

The racial practices of banks did not proceed in color-blinda black neighborhoods were actively targeted for higher-interest in instance, Wells Fargo settled a lawsuit with the NAACP for $175 The suit alleged that customers were steered toward higher-interest suhn.” loans–called “ghetto loans” for “mud people” within the organization. Al though Wells Fargo has been a high-profile fall guy for this racist practice the evidence suggests that banks routinely engage in discriminatory lending Further, this lending is not based upon blacks having worse economic profiles, as higher-income blacks were more likely to be steered toward subprime loans.41″

Alana Semuels: White Flight Never Ended

Nearly 50 years ago, after a string of race-related riots in cities across America, President Lyndon B. Johnson commissioned a panel of civic leaders to investigate the underlying causes of racial tension in the country.

The result was the Kerner Report, a document that castigated white society for fleeing to suburbs, where they excluded blacks from employment, housing, and educational opportunities. The report’s famous conclusion: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

Much of America would like to believe the nation has changed since then. The election of a black President was said to usher in a “post-racial era.” Cheerios commercials now feature interracial couples. As both suburbs and cities grew more diverse, more than one academic study trumpeted the end of segregation in American neighborhoods.

But now, a new report calls into question that much-vaunted progress. In a study published Thursday in the August issue of American Sociological Review, a trio of academics looks into the data and finds that segregation is actually becoming more pronounced in many American neighborhoods. The practices derided by the Kerner Commission, including white flight, exclusionary zoning, and outright prejudice, are continuing to create black areas and white areas, but this time around, those areas exist in both the cities and the suburbs

“We’re more negative than other researchers who see declines in segregation,” Daniel Lichter, the lead author and a sociologist at Cornell, told me. “I have a hard time putting a positive spin on this research.”

Previous data has suggested that segregation between black and white populations is declining. But much of that research looked at entire metropolitan areas, and found more minorities in suburbs, which led researchers to conclude that the nation was no longer divided into black cities and white suburbs. Lichter and his colleagues looked at at smaller communities, and found that while black residents don’t just live in inner cities anymore, the suburbs they’ve moved to are majority black, while other suburbs are majority white“Our substantive point is straightforward,” they write. “Segregation between places (e.g., city-suburb or suburb-suburb) may be increasing, even as overall metro-neighborhood segregation declines.”

In the 1960s, white families moved from cities to suburbs when they saw black neighbors move in next door. Now, they move from suburbs to farther-out fringe areas often not counted in academic studies “hunkering down in all-white neighborhoods, affluent gated communities, or unincorporated housing developments at the exurban fringe,” the researchers write.

And more white Americans, drawn by walkable neighborhoods or transit, are moving back into the inner cities that were once shunned. Young whites and baby boomers, for example, are moving to areas of central cities such as Washington, D.C., which was, for years, a majority-minority city. That, in turn, prices out minority residents.

Segregation isn’t just happening between black and white towns. Hispanic and Asian residents are segregated into their own cities and towns, too. Dover, New Jersey, for instance, a town 30 miles west of New York, was 70 percent Hispanic in the 2010 Census. In 1980, it was only 25 percent Hispanic.

These patterns of segregation are governed by housing practices on individual and municipal levels, like they were 50 years ago. Lenders and real estate agents still steer families to areas with populations of similar races, white families still flee areas with growing minority populations, and family and immigrant networks still attract groups of people similar to themselves.

Over time, communities become known as “black” or “white” or “Asian” or “Latino,” but local policy choices govern some of these categorizations. For example, in Ferguson, Missouri, the percentage of the population that was black increased to 67.4 percent from 25.1 percent between 1990 and 2010. The white population there dropped to 6,206 from 16,454 over the same time period. As whites started to leave, the local government began to allow for the construction of low- and mixed-income housing apartments. Investment firms bought out underwater mortgages and rented the homes to minorities

“Ferguson became recognized as a ‘black suburb’ that could be distinguished from other nearby suburban communities that made different zoning and administrative decisions,” the authors write.

On the flip side, white communities make decisions that keep minorities out. Exclusionary zoning laws make it difficult to build mixed-income housing or apartment buildings in some towns, despite court cases seeking to make cities more diverse. These housing policies mean that cities compete for different types of people, and by banning apartment buildings or affordable housing, cities can better attract affluent white taxpayers.  

Black-white segregation accounted for much of the divide between different communities, but whites seem more amenable to Asian or Hispanic families moving into their neighborhoods, researchers found.

Hispanic-white and Asian-white segregation in metropolitan areas has remained virtually unchanged between 1990 and 2010, while black-white segregation has declined in metropolitan areas. But segregation between suburban places has increased for blacks and whites, Hispanics and whites, and Asians and whites during that period.

“People know what is a white suburb and what is a black suburb,” Lichter says. “Whites are still attracted to those suburbs that are white.”

The study takes on added importance in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that upheld parts of the Fair Housing Act that could help bring further legal challenges to discriminatory practices. A few weeks later, the Obama Administration announced an overhaul of how the federal government distributes housing money. The new rules will require metropolitan areas to use data to measure segregation, and then take steps to address it, at least if they want to receive money from the federal government.

Such new policies could be a start to addressing this new version of an old problem. Even if they do, though, it was a divide that the country had hoped to solve half a century ago.

“Equality cannot be achieved under conditions of nearly complete separation,” the 50-year-old Kerner report concluded. “The primary goal must be a single society, in which every citizen will be free to live and work according to his capabilities and desires, not his color.”

Further Reading

Schools Re-segregation

  • School desegregation peaked in 1970-80s
    • At peak integration, four out of 10 black southern students attended a white school, while less than a third of all black students attended black schools.
    • Then rapidly re-segregated back to pre-1968 levels
      • Schools with 90% non-white student
        • spend $733 less per student

Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 10.16.15 AM.png

  • Re-segregation factors
    • Decline of Judicial and gov support
    • Race Neutral racism
    • Residential segregation
    • White resistance

Oxford: Desegregation and Integration

Today, school segregation is a national issue that reaches across all regions of the country and stratifies what is now a multiracial student population by race, class, and language. School desegregation history in the United States is characterized by several decades of progress, peaking in the 1980s, and a subsequent retreat; this pattern is evident in both the judicial support of desegregation and the trends measuring progress in desegregation. Segregated schools are consistently linked to unequal educational opportunities and outcomes, while desegregated and diverse schools are associated with numerous benefits for students of all races. The causes of school segregation (and the re-segregation of previously desegregated schools) are complicated; they include residential segregation, legal constraints, termination of court orders, student assignment policies that deprioritize diversity, structural features of school and district boundaries, and unregulated forms of school choice. Given this complexity, it is not surprising that the policies for addressing segregation are similarly complex and must be carefully tailored to the local context and demography.”

Frontline: The Return of School Segregation in Eight Charts

In the wake of the Brown decision, the percentage of black students in majority white southern schools went from zero to a peak of 43.5 percent in 1988. But those changes have reversed in recent years, with data from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project showing that by 2011 that figure was back to 23.2 percent, just below where it stood in 1968.

Today’s typical white student attends a school that is nearly 75 percent white, but only one-eighth Latino and one-twelfth black. Put another way, in a classroom of 30 students, the average white student has 21 white classmates, two black classmates, four Latinos, one Asian and one “other.” Conversely, the typical black or Latino student would have eight white classmates and at least 20 minority classmates.

The UCLA research also found strong connections between poverty and segregation, with blacks and Latinos representing more than half of children in schools with the most poverty, and just 11 percent of students in the least impoverished schools. For many black and Latino children, this can often mean less qualified teachers, as well as shoddier facilities and materials. “In many respects, the schools serving white and Asian students and those serving black and Latino students represent two different worlds,” say the researchers.

Equal Justice Initiative: Segregation in America

BEYOND BROWN: OPPOSITION INTENSIFIES

On July 17, 2001, Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project published a study reporting that school districts across the nation — particularly in the South — were re-segregating at an alarming rate.

Residential segregation remained so persistent that sociologists observed, “No group in the history of the United States has ever experienced the sustained high level of residential segregation that has been imposed on blacks in large American cities for the past fifty years.” 593

On January 15, 1991, the Supreme Court nonetheless declared that federal school desegregation injunctions were intended to be temporary and made it easier for schools to end busing and other desegregation policies. 594

A decade later, researchers found that, due to relaxed court oversight, school districts across the nation — particularly in the South — were re-segregating at an alarming rate. 595 The study reported that more than 70 percent of African American students attended predominately minority schools in the 1998-1999 school year — more than in the 1972- 1973 school year. 596

Between 2000 and 2014, the number of schools classified by the United States Government Accountability Office as “high poverty and comprised mostly of Black or Hispanic students” more than doubled, from 7009 to 15,089. 597 Today, across the country, schools with at least 90 percent non-white students spend $733 less per student than schools that are 90 percent white. 598 Exacerbating the inequality, tracking policies funnel white students into magnet programs and advanced courses; 599 as a New Jersey parent observed, “You can . . . look in a classroom and know whether it’s an upper-level class or a lower-level class based on the racial composition of the classroom.” 600

School segregation remains most deeply entrenched in the South. In Georgia, students at “integrated” Turner County High School attended private, segregated proms — one for black students and one for white students — until 2007, and Wilcox County High School did not hold its first integrated prom until 2013. 601

Alabama’s constitution still mandates separate schools for white and black children because voters rejected repeal attempts in 2004 and 2012. 602 Alabama schools remain deeply separate and unequal, with African Americans making up 94 percent of students attending “failing” schools in the state. 603

 

Nikole Hannah-Jones: How The Systemic Segregation Of Schools Is Maintained By ‘Individual Choices’

Interview highlights

On why she chose to send her young daughter to the public school in her neighborhood

One of the things I’ve done in my work is kind of show the hypocrisy of progressive people who say they believe in inequality, but when it comes to their individual choices about where they’re going to live and where they’re going to send their children, they make very different decisions, and I just didn’t want to do that. So for me it was a matter of needing to live my values, and not being someone who contributed to the inequality that I write about.

On the importance of having students from different races and income levels in the public schools

The original mission of public schools … is this understanding that no matter where you come from, you will go into the doors of a school and every child will receive the same education.

And no, my daughter is not going to get an education that she would get if I paid $40,000 a year in private-school tuition, but that’s kind of the whole point of public schools.

And I say this — and it always feels weird when I say it as a parent, because a lot of other parents look at you a little like you’re maybe not as good of a parent — I don’t think she’s deserving of more than other kids. I just don’t. I think that we can’t say “This school is not good enough for my child” and then sustain that system. I think that that’s just morally wrong. If it’s not good enough for my child, then why are we putting any children in those schools?

Brown v. Board happens, and the way that we’re taught it or the myth about it is immediately our nation repented and went into an integrated future together. That’s not what happened. There was massive resistance, and we don’t see real desegregation occurring in this country until 1964, and really most rapidly from 1968 on. …

Then you see pretty rapid desegregation particularly in the South, but then that changes, and in 1988 we start to go backwards. So we reach kind of the peak of schools integrating, of black students attending majority white schools at the highest rates that they ever have in the country, and then we start to see school districts re-segregating, which means black students are starting to go to schools that are more and more segregated. And school districts that had had a degree of integration are losing that integration. …

On American resistance to desegregating schools and housing

When I started what I kind of call the segregation beat about five years ago … I think we had stopped talking about this as a problem. If you look at No Child Left Behind, which comes out of the Bush administration, that was all about giving up on integration in schools and just saying, “We’re going to make these poor black and Latino schools equal to white schools by testing and accountability.”

So no one was discussing integration anymore. I think it’s because … we never really wanted this. … It’s always had to be forced, and as soon as … our elected officials and our courts lost the will to force it, most white Americans were just fine with that. …

One of the things that I really try to do with my work is show how racial segregation and racial inequality was intentionally created with a ton of resources. From the federal government, to the state, to city governments, to private citizens, we put so much effort into creating this segregation and inequality, and we’re willing to put almost no effort in fixing it, and that’s the problem.

Jelani Cobb: The Failure of Desegregation

“What would, in the end, preserve the principle of “separate inequality” was not protests… it was policies like the Interstate Highway Act, whose passage one year earlier (1956) helped spawn American suburbia. In the wake of Brown, private schools, whose implicit mission was to educate white children, cropped up throughout the South. The persistent legacies of redlining, housing discrimination, and wage disparity conspired to produce segregation without Jim Crow—maintaining all the familiar elements of the past in an updated operating system.”

The Atlantic: Can School Integration Make a Comeback?

Why Chicago’s Public Schools Are Broken

Extended Interview: Nikole Hannah-Jones on the Resegregation of American Schools

School Segregation is Still Pretty Bad Today

Jelani Cobb: The Failure of Desegregation

“The meaning of the ongoing resegregation of our public schools becomes clearer if we look back at the campaign to integrate them—which was concerned less with race than with resources. We like to think of the men and women whose struggle led to Brown v. Board of Education as democratic idealists, but their motivations were more complex: if the efforts to upend Jim Crow reflected idealism, it was a cynical idealism. The damning images of Southern resistance to integration, and Northern riots against busing, obscure the fact that the decision to fight segregation was as fraught for African-Americans as the prospect of desegregation was for the whites who most violently opposed it. In the decades prior to Brown, the civil-rights establishment had fought a fierce and futile battle for the equal distribution of resources between black and white schools. It was only after attempting to force school districts to uphold the latter part of “separate but equal” proved to be a failure that the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund changed its tactics, and attacked separation itself. (It was for this reason, incidentally, that the effort to dismantle educational apartheid in the South came to involve Linda Brown, of Topeka, Kansas—a city where there was a parity of resources between black and white schools.) The tactical shift was not universally welcomed by African-Americans: critics like Zora Neale Hurston howled at the implication that black learning could be insured only by proximity to white children. Elijah Muhammad warned, ominously, that “only a fool allows his enemies to educate his children.” But decades of fruitless lawsuits seeking equal resources for black and white students had taught the N.A.A.C.P.’s lawyers that the only way to secure a fair distribution of resources was to literally sit the black children in the same classrooms as the white ones…

The Supreme Court decision on Brown, in 1954, marked a moral high point in American history, but the practice that it dispatched to the graveyard had already begun to mutate into something less tangible and far more durable. What would, in the end, preserve the principle of “separate inequality” was not protests like the one staged by Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, who deployed the National Guard to Little Rock’s Central High School, in 1957, in order to keep black students out. Instead, it was policies like the Interstate Highway Act, whose passage one year earlier helped spawn American suburbia. In the wake of Brown, private schools, whose implicit mission was to educate white children, cropped up throughout the South. The persistent legacies of redlining, housing discrimination, and wage disparity conspired to produce segregation without Jim Crow—maintaining all the familiar elements of the past in an updated operating system.”

Push for School Segregation Rears Its Head Again, in Richmond, Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Loretta Tillman, 60, remembers her first day of fifth grade in 1970, when she and about 50 other black students arrived at a previously all-white school on the Southside of Richmond, Virginia.

“Oh my goodness,” she remembered thinking, getting out of a city bus — not a school bus, because the system hadn’t procured those yet for newly established busing plans — and walking inside her new school.

 

Loretta Tillman. (Brian Palmer/brianpalmer.photos)

“These are white people, and what are we doing in a white school?”

While Tillman’s parents worked to keep the public fight against school integration — a fight for which she was involuntarily on the front lines — out of her line of sight, she was familiar with the battle cry used by segregationists to keep white schools white: Save our neighborhood schools.

So when she found out Republican Virginia state Sen. Glen Sturtevant — who is up for reelection this fall — spent the first day of the 2019 school year distributing fliers with “Save our Neighborhood Schools” printed in big letters, she let out a heavy sigh.

“What is old is new again,” she said.

School segregation in Richmond, and more broadly across Virginia, is among the darkest points in the state’s long and tortured history with race. After the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education made school segregation illegal in 1954, it did not take long for Virginia legislators to create new barriers for black children to get an education.

This was best manifested in what became known as “Mass Resistance,” an effort by several counties that closed their public schools entirely rather than allow black students to attend white schools. While the Virginia General Assembly ended the policy, officially in 1959, some counties continued to “resist” until 1968, when the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in again and forced the last county to reopen.

 

Richmond, Virginia school debate — then and now.

But even when school systems began to integrate, busing systems that brought black students into white schools were decried as harming white students and burdening white neighborhoods.

Woody Holton, a history professor at the University of South Carolina, also was familiar with the struggle: His father was Virginia Gov. Linwood Holton, who spearhead desegregation efforts when he took office in 1970.

To set an example, Gov. Holton sent his children to local, mostly black public schools.

Woody remembered growing up in the governor’s mansion in downtown Richmond, just a stone’s throw from the General Assembly building. He recalled an incident when protesters came to the mansion in a truck with “Impeach Governor Holton” written on the side. They handed Woody, who was playing on the lawn at the time, a box of letters telling his father to abandon his desegregation efforts. A tween-aged Woody asked the protesters what “impeach” meant.

“They said it meant ‘pray for,’” he recalled, in a recent interview.

He dragged the box inside and asked his father the same question. His dad told him it meant to remove him from office. The local paper, which also pushed a desegregation agenda, used a photo of young Woody dragging the box inside on the front page the next day.

Even at such a young age, Woody said, he felt used.

And he too was shocked at Sturtevant’s use of the term “Save our Neighborhood Schools” in 2019.

“That wasn’t a slogan from 1970, that was the slogan,” he said.

Despite the pushback he witnessed from adults, he said his time at a mostly black school was marked with fond memories.

“Kids across time and ethnic lines and time are the same,” he said. “But politicians also seem to be the same.”

Sturtevant, who served on the Richmond School Board before winning his legislative seat in 2015, failed to respond to requests for comment. Nor did he respond to a list of questions asking about the origin of the “Save our Neighborhood Schools” phrase for his campaign.

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said in an email that rezoning efforts today aim to relieve overcrowding at some schools and “increase diversity” at others. Research and local reports show the school system remains “intensely segregated,” with 70% of area schools having fewer than 10% white students.

Kamras said rezoning “can be contentious and emotional,” which has led to dozens of community meetings so far, with more on the way. While more formal plans are expected later this month, he said the district hopes to make the changes in time for the beginning of the 2020 school year.

In a video on his campaign’s Facebook page, Sturtevant said his Save our Neighborhood Schools campaign was inspired by parents who had vocally opposed the proposed rezoning plan at school board meetings. According to the video, he wants to empower parents in the school rezoning process by holding school board elections before rezoning can happen.

According to Facebook posts by parents and school board members, Sturtevant distributed the fliers the first day of school to parents as they were dropping off their kids for class. One flier says the rezoning proposal would undo parents’ efforts to have their children attend schools they explicitly moved to be close to, and would force children to take longer bus rides or burden working families who drop off their kids on the way to work.

“These are some of the best schools in not just Richmond, but in Central Virginia,” Sturtevant said of the majority-white schools in the video. “This rezoning plan would have a major impact on [these schools].”

Tillman, who returned to Richmond public schools as a teacher in the 2000s but has since retired, called the senator’s plan “a bunch of crap.”

And while the senator failed to respond to questions from Courthouse News, Tillman had a few questions of her own in a recent interview.

“Have you read any history? Do (the majority black schools) need saving too? What’s the problem with (black kids) coming? That your kids might end up over a mile from their house? That happens to us all the time. The bus is coming to get your kids. What’s the problem?”

In South Carolina, another state that has its own problems with segregated schools to this day, Woody continues his father’s legacy by sending his children to his local, mixed-race public schools.

“They’re getting to know kids who are different from themselves,” he said.

Both Woody and Tillman participated in an oral history and photo project called “Growing up in Civil rights Richmond: A community remembers.” Organized by University of Richmond Museums and curated by American History Professor Laura Browder and others, the exhibit features photos and short profiles of 30 former and current Richmond residents who shared their experience of living through the city’s painful fight for racial equality.

Many mirrored Tillman’s story, with one subject describing a two-hour bus ride from home to an integrated school.

In a telephone interview, Browder said she was all too familiar with the “Save our Neighborhood Schools” slogan through her research and expressed deep sorrow at the idea of its resurfacing in 2019. She’s long studied racial inequality in the Richmond area and is no stranger to parents’ pushback to rezoning efforts, which she views as a conscious or unconscious form of racism.

“Parents didn’t like to think of themselves as being racist; they thought they were concerned about their kids education,” she said. “Naked racism had been unacceptable in public discourse.”

And while Tillman shared Browder’s disappointment, she said she did see benefits from attending a formerly whites-only school, among them the access to higher level classes like calculus and other AP courses.

“When you went to college it made it harder to be successful, cause you hadn’t had these things other people had,” she said of the segregated school experience.

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams, another subject of the “Growing up in Civil rights Richmond” project, also used his platform to decry Sturtevant’s plan.

“If he wants to help Richmond Public Schools as a state senator, the best thing he can do is secure more funds for the school district,” Williams wrote in a column published the day students returned to class this month. “Otherwise, if he wants to run RPS (Richmond Public Schools), he should have remained on the school board.”

NPR: Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools are unconstitutional.

In 2018, on the 64th anniversary of that ruling, a lawsuit filed in New Jersey claimed that state’s schools are some of the most segregated in the nation. That’s because, the lawsuit alleged, New Jersey school district borders are drawn along municipality lines that reflect years of residential segregation.

The idea that school district borders carry years of history is the premise of a new report from the nonprofit EdBuild, which studies the ways schools are funded in the U.S.

The report starts with a number: $23 billion. According to EdBuild, that’s how much more funding predominantly white school districts receive compared with districts that serve mostly students of color.

“For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district,” the report says.

EdBuild singles out 21 states — including California, New Jersey and New York — in which mostly white districts get more funding than districts composed primarily of students of color.

More than half of students in the U.S. go to segregated or “racially concentrated” schools, according to the report. Those are schools in which more than three-quarters of students are white, or more than three-quarters are nonwhite.

Researchers found that high-poverty districts serving mostly students of color receive about $1,600 less per student than the national average. That’s while school districts that are predominately white and poor receive about $130 less.

What’s causing the disparity?

As Rebecca Sibilia, founder and CEO of EdBuild, explains, a school district’s resources often come down to how wealthy an area is and how much residents pay in taxes.

“We have built a school funding system that is reliant on geography, and therefore the school funding system has inherited all of the historical ills of where we have forced and incentivized people to live,” she says.

Public schools are primarily funded by local and state sources — the federal government pays for less than 10 percent, on average, of K-12 education. States sometimes step in to provide extra funding for districts that need it most. But not all states have been able to keep up with that demand.

The relationship between funding and teacher strikes

In some of the states with the worst funding disparities, teachers have gone on strike in the past year. In Arizona, poor, primarily white school districts get about $19,000 per student — while high-poverty, nonwhite districts get about $8,000, according to EdBuild.

That means high-poverty districts made up of mostly students of color — about a third of the school districts in the state — receive almost $11,000 less per student than the state’s high-poverty, predominantly white districts.

Sibilia also points to the #RedForEd movements in Oklahoma and Colorado. Because those states have placed limits on their taxes, she says, they simply don’t have the income to step in and fund the school districts that need it most.

Why funding in Southern states looks more equal

According to EdBuild researchers, predominantly white districts are often smaller than districts with mostly students of color: The former serves an average of just over 1,500 students, and the latter over 10,000, or three times the national average.

That size disparity matters. Sibilia says districts serving mostly students of color “rely more on the decisions that are being made at the state level, but there are fewer voices representing them. And that’s where you really start to see the shift in power.”

This power dynamic looks different in the South, where school district lines are often drawn along county lines, making districts larger across the board. Researchers found that funding looks more equal in states like Georgia and Alabama.

“This confirms a theory that we’ve had, which is that the larger the tax base — the larger the actual geography of the school districts — the more you can actually balance out the difference between a wealthy white suburb and a less wealthy rural or urban area,” Sibilia says.

EdBuild researchers looked at data from a variety of sources — including the Education Department and the U.S. Census Bureau — to find school system demographics and district funding levels. They compared the funding across districts after taking cost of living into account.

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva: Racism without Racists

“The history of black-white education in this country is one of substantive inequities maintained through public institutions. While today many of the traditional barriers to black advancement have been outlawed, the situation is by no means one of equity. Although scholars have documented the narrowing of the gap in the quantity of education attained by blacks and whites, little has been said about the persisting gap in the quality of education received. Still remaining (and in some cases worsening) high levels of de facto segregation are at least partly to blame for the gap in quality. However, tracking, differential assignment to special education, and other informal school practices are important factors too.

Despite some progress during the period immediately after 1964, the of school segregation for black students remains relatively high in an and has deteriorated in the Northeast and Midwest regions. According to a report by The Civil Rights Project in 2011, the average black student attended a school that was about 50 percent black and about 28 percent was rely the average white student attended a school that was over white and about 8 percent black. Moreover, they report a trend begin 1986 toward resegregation of U.S. schools. As a consequence of resegregation

During the decade of the 1990s, U.S. schools were more segregated in the 2000-2001 school year than in 1970. The relevance of this fact is that, as Gary has noted, “Segregated schools are still profoundly unequal.” Innercity schools, in sharp contrast to white suburban schools, lack decent buildings, are overcrowded, have outdated equipment- if they have equipment at all – do not have enough textbooks for their students, lack library resources, are technologically behind, and pay their teaching and administrative staff less, which produces, despite exceptions, a low level of morale. According to Jonathan Kozol, these “savage inequalities” have been directly related to lower reading achievement and learning attained by black students and their limited computer skills.43

In integrated schools, blacks still have to contend with discriminatory practices. Oakes and her coauthors have found clear evidence of discriminatory practices in tracking within schools. Whites (and Asians) are considerably (and statistically significantly) more likely to be placed in the academic track than comparably achieving African American and Latino students.44 Another study found that of the 1985 students who took the SAT, 65.1 percent of blacks compared to 81.2 percent of whites were enrolled in an academic track. No wonder black students tend to score lower on the SAT than white students. According to Amanda E. Lewis and John B. Diamond, disproportionate placement in lower academic tracks means that black students receive a less rigorous curriculum, less experienced teachers, and miss the benefits of a weighted grading scale. Moreover, black students are punished more often and more severely, a statistic that has been corroborated by numerous other studies.”

Matt Barnum: Racially integrated high schools often conceal segregated classes, new study shows

A truly integrated high school is hard to find.

That’s the conclusion of a new North Carolina study that takes a look at two kinds of integration: whether students of different races and ethnicities attend the same schools, and whether those students actually sit in the same classrooms.

What it finds is troubling, if not surprising. Across the state, even when high schools appear racially integrated, their classrooms are often racially segregated.

This classroom-level division “can be substantial,” wrote the three Duke University researchers who conducted the study. “To ignore this aspect of segregation … can lead to a seriously incomplete picture.”

The research is notable in its scope, and appears to validate longstanding concerns about academic tracking in high schools. Nationwide, black and Hispanic students are less likely to be enrolled in advanced courses — one key reason for the racial divides between classrooms.

The new North Carolina paper measures segregation on a scale of 0 to 1, with 0 meaning every school reflects the county’s racial demographics and 1 meaning each school is entirely segregated. The study was released by CALDER, a foundation-funded research group.

Looking just at the racial makeup of entire schools, the state’s public elementary schools were significantly segregated by race in 2013, while its high schools were somewhat more integrated. Once the researchers consider segregation at the classroom level, though, high school segregation jumps substantially.

Some places where schools appeared quite integrated on the surface, like Raleigh’s Wake County, actually maintain high levels of classroom-based segregation. And overall, counties that had less school segregation actually tended to have more classroom-level segregation.

They researchers can’t show why this is the case. One hypothesis: “White parents, seeking to have their children assigned to predominantly white classrooms, [may] make a stronger push for those children to be included in separate classrooms in racially diverse schools,” they write.

The study is only based on one state, but a separate 2013 paper looking at three unnamed districts found something similar. Two of the three districts had striking degrees of classroom segregation in their high schools.

These findings don’t surprise Kayla Patrick, an analyst with The Education Trust, an education-focused civil rights group. She recently co-authored a report that found large gaps in black and Latino students’ access to advanced courses nationally. For instance, black students made up 15% of high school enrollment, but only 9% of those in Advanced Placement courses.

Consistent with the North Carolina study, these disparities were largest in racially integrated schools.

“If you walk into your average high school, you might see diverse hallways but not diverse classrooms,” said Patrick.

Academic tracking — sorting students into classes based on their academic skills — likely explains some of the EdTrust and North Carolina findings. Critics of the practice have long warned that it leads to racial isolation within schools.

But it’s not clear tracking explains all of this. Using data from one unnamed school district, EdTrust found that black and Hispanic students were less likely to be in advanced courses than white students with similar test scores. A recent study on access to gifted and talented programs found something similar.

Patrick recommends ensuring that counselors don’t serve as gatekeepers to advanced coursework. Instead, students should be automatically enrolled in the most rigorous courses they’re ready for.

A number of studies show that students of color from low-income families tend to do better in more integrated schools. There is less research on how classroom-level segregation affects students’ outcomes, but what exists raises concerns. The 2013 study of three districts, for instance, found that classroom-level segregation meant that black and Hispanic students were slightly more likely than white students in the same school to have an inexperienced teacher.

More broadly, Patrick argues that this sort of segregation can propagate harmful stereotypes.

“Beyond missing out on critical opportunities, Black and Latino students also are being sent a harmful message that advanced courses are not for them, or worse, that they are not smart enough to participate,” she and colleagues wrote in their report. “It’s a dangerous perception that fuels the persistent gaps in opportunities that exist in schools across the country.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones – The Majority of White Americans Want School Segregation

http://www.cc.com/video-clips/1nvm9h/the-opposition-with-jordan-klepper-nikole-hannah-jones—the-majority-of-white-americans-want-school-segregation

Screen Shot 2020-12-14 at 3.21.19 PM

How one school became a battleground over which children benefit from a separate and unequal system.

n the spring of 2014, when our daughter, Najya, was turning 4, my husband and I found ourselves facing our toughest decision since becoming parents. We live in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a low-income, heavily black, rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of brownstones in central Brooklyn. The nearby public schools are named after people intended to evoke black uplift, like Marcus Garvey, a prominent black nationalist in the 1920s, and Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month, but the schools are a disturbing reflection of New York City’s stark racial and socioeconomic divisions. In one of the most diverse cities in the world, the children who attend these schools learn in classrooms where all of their classmates — and I mean, in most cases, every single one — are black and Latino, and nearly every student is poor. Not surprisingly, the test scores of most of Bed-Stuy’s schools reflect the marginalization of their students.

I didn’t know any of our middle-class neighbors, black or white, who sent their children to one of these schools. They had managed to secure seats in the more diverse and economically advantaged magnet schools or gifted-and-talented programs outside our area, or opted to pay hefty tuition to progressive but largely white private institutions. I knew this because from the moment we arrived in New York with our 1-year-old, we had many conversations about where we would, should and definitely should not send our daughter to school when the time came.

My husband, Faraji, and I wanted to send our daughter to public school. Faraji, the oldest child in a military family, went to public schools that served Army bases both in America and abroad. As a result, he had a highly unusual experience for a black American child: He never attended a segregated public school a day of his life. He can now walk into any room and instantly start a conversation with the people there, whether they are young mothers gathered at a housing-project tenants’ meeting or executives eating from small plates at a ritzy cocktail reception.

I grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, on the wrong side of the river that divided white from black, opportunity from struggle, and started my education in a low-income school that my mother says was distressingly chaotic. I don’t recall it being bad, but I do remember just one white child in my first-grade class, though there may have been more. That summer, my mom and dad enrolled my older sister and me in the school district’s voluntary desegregation program, which allowed some black kids to leave their neighborhood schools for whiter, more well off ones on the west side of town. This was 1982, nearly three decades after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate schools for black and white children were unconstitutional, and near the height of desegregation in this country. My parents chose one of the whitest, richest schools, thinking it would provide the best opportunities for us. Starting in second grade, I rode the bus an hour each morning across town to the “best” public school my town had to offer, Kingsley Elementary, where I was among the tiny number of working-class children and the even tinier number of black children. We did not walk to school or get dropped off by our parents on their way to work. We showed up in a yellow bus, visitors in someone else’s neighborhood, and were whisked back across the bridge each day as soon as the bell rang.

I remember those years as emotionally and socially fraught, but also as academically stimulating and world-expanding. Aside from the rigorous classes and quality instruction I received, this was the first time I’d shared dinners in the homes of kids whose parents were doctors and lawyers and scientists. My mom was a probation officer, and my dad drove a bus, and most of my family members on both sides worked in factories or meatpacking plants or did other manual labor. I understood, even then, in a way both intuitive and defensive, that my school friends’ parents weren’t better than my neighborhood friends’ parents, who worked hard every day at hourly jobs. But this exposure helped me imagine possibilities, a course for myself that I had not considered before.

It’s hard to say where any one person would have ended up if a single circumstance were different; our life trajectories are shaped by so many external and internal factors. But I have no doubt my parents’ decision to pull me out of my segregated neighborhood school made the possibility of my getting from there to here — staff writer for The New York Times Magazine — more likely.

Integration was transformative for my husband and me. Yet the idea of placing our daughter in one of the small number of integrated schools troubled me. These schools are disproportionately white and serve the middle and upper middle classes, with a smattering of poor black and Latino students to create “diversity.”

In a city where white children are only 15 percent of the more than one million public-school students, half of them are clustered in just 11 percent of the schools, which not coincidentally include many of the city’s top performers. Part of what makes those schools desirable to white parents, aside from the academics, is that they have some students of color, but not too many. This carefully curated integration, the kind that allows many white parents to boast that their children’s public schools look like the United Nations, comes at a steep cost for the rest of the city’s black and Latino children.

The New York City public-school system is 41 percent Latino, 27 percent black and 16 percent Asian. Three-quarters of all students are low-income. In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, released a report showing that New York City public schools are among the most segregated in the country. Black and Latino children here have become increasingly isolated, with 85 percent of black students and 75 percent of Latino students attending “intensely” segregated schools — schools that are less than 10 percent white.

This is not just New York’s problem. I’ve spent much of my career as a reporter chronicling rampant school segregation in every region of the country, and the ways that segregated schools harm black and Latino children. One study published in 2009 in The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management showed that the academic achievement gap for black children increased as they spent time in segregated schools. Schools with large numbers of black and Latino kids are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, instructional materials and adequate facilities, according to the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Most black and Latino students today are segregated by both race and class, a combination that wreaks havoc on the learning environment. Research stretching back 50 years shows that the socioeconomic makeup of a school can play a larger role in achievement than the poverty of an individual student’s family. Getting Najya into one of the disproportionately white schools in the city felt like accepting the inevitability of this two-tiered system: one set of schools with excellent resources for white kids and some black and Latino middle-class kids, a second set of underresourced schools for the rest of the city’s black and Latino kids.

When the New York City Public Schools catalog arrived in the mail one day that spring, with information about Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new universal prekindergarten program, I told Faraji that I wanted to enroll Najya in a segregated, low-income school. Faraji’s eyes widened as I explained that if we removed Najya, whose name we chose because it means “liberated” and “free” in Swahili, from the experience of most black and Latino children, we would be part of the problem. Saying my child deserved access to “good” public schools felt like implying that children in “bad” schools deserved the schools they got, too. I understood that so much of school segregation is structural — a result of decades of housing discrimination, of political calculations and the machinations of policy makers, of simple inertia. But I also believed that it is the choices of individual parents that uphold the system, and I was determined not to do what I’d seen so many others do when their values about integration collided with the reality of where to send their own children to school.

One family, or even a few families, cannot transform a segregated school, but if none of us were willing to go into them, nothing would change. Putting our child into a segregated school would not integrate it racially, but we are middle-class and would, at least, help to integrate it economically. As a reporter, I’d witnessed how the presence of even a handful of middle-class families made it less likely that a school would be neglected. I also knew that we would be able to make up for Najya anything the school was lacking.

As I told Faraji my plan, he slowly shook his head no. He wanted to look into parochial schools, or one of the “good” public schools, or even private schools. So we argued, pleading our cases from the living room, up the steps to our office lined with books on slavery and civil rights, and back down, before we came to an impasse and retreated to our respective corners. There is nothing harder than navigating our nation’s racial legacy in this country, and the problem was that we each knew the other was right and wrong at the same time. Faraji couldn’t believe that I was asking him to expose our child to the type of education that the two of us had managed to avoid. He worried that we would be hurting Najya if we put her in a high-poverty, all-black school. “Are we experimenting with our child based on our idealism about public schools?” he asked. “Are we putting her at a disadvantage?”

At the heart of Faraji’s concern was a fear that grips black families like ours. We each came from working-class roots, fought our way into the middle class and had no family wealth or safety net to fall back on. Faraji believed that our gains were too tenuous to risk putting our child in anything but a top-notch school. And he was right to be worried. In 2014, the Brookings Institution found that black children are particularly vulnerable to downward mobility — nearly seven of 10 black children born into middle-income families don’t maintain that income level as adults. There was no margin for error, and we had to use our relative status to fight to give Najya every advantage. Hadn’t we worked hard, he asked, frustration building in his voice, precisely so that she would not have to go to the types of schools that trapped so many black children?

Eventually I persuaded him to visit a few schools with me. Before work, we peered into the classrooms of three neighborhood schools, and a fourth, Public School 307, located in the Vinegar Hill section of Brooklyn, near the East River waterfront and a few miles from our home. P.S. 307’s attendance zone was drawn snugly around five of the 10 buildings that make up the Farragut Houses, a public-housing project with 3,200 residents across from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The school’s population was 91 percent black and Latino. Nine of 10 students met federal poverty standards. But what went on inside the school was unlike what goes on in most schools serving the city’s poorest children. This was in large part because of the efforts of a remarkable principal, Roberta Davenport. She grew up in Farragut, and her younger siblings attended P.S. 307. She became principal five decades later in 2003, to a low-performing school. Davenport commuted from Connecticut, but her car was usually the first one in the parking lot each morning, often because she worked so late into the night that, exhausted, she would sleep at a friend’s nearby instead of making the long drive home. Soft of voice but steely in character, she rejected the spare educational orthodoxy often reserved for poor black and brown children that strips away everything that makes school joyous in order to focus solely on improving test scores. These children from the projects learned Mandarin, took violin lessons and played chess. Thanks to her hard work, the school had recently received money from a federal magnet grant, which funded a science, engineering and technology program aimed at drawing middle-class children from outside its attendance zone.

Faraji and I walked the bright halls of P.S. 307, taking in the reptiles in the science room and the students learning piano during music class. The walls were papered with the precocious musings of elementary children. While touring the schools, Faraji later told me, he started feeling guilty about his instinct to keep Najya out of them. Were these children, he asked himself, worthy of any less than his own child? “These are kids who look like you,” he told me. “Kids like the ones you grew up with. I was being very selfish about it, thinking: I am going to get mine for my child, and that’s it. And I am ashamed of that.”

When it was time to submit our school choices to the city, we put down all four of the schools we visited. In May 2014, we learned Najya had gotten into our first choice, P.S. 307. We were excited but also nervous. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel pulled in the way other parents with options feel pulled. I had moments when I couldn’t ignore the nagging fear that in my quest for fairness, I was being unfair to my own daughter. I worried — I worry still — about whether I made the right decision for our little girl. But I knew I made the just one.

For many white Americans, millions of black and Latino children attending segregated schools may seem like a throwback to another era, a problem we solved long ago. And legally, we did. In 1954, the Supreme Court issued its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, striking down laws that forced black and white children to attend separate schools. But while Brown v. Board targeted segregation by state law, we have proved largely unwilling to address segregation that is maintained by other means, resulting from the nation’s long and racist history.

In the Supreme Court’s decision, the justices responded unanimously to a group of five cases, including that of Linda Brown, a black 8-year-old who was not allowed to go to her white neighborhood school in Topeka, Kan., but was made to ride a bus to a black school much farther away. The court determined that separate schools, even if they had similar resources, were “inherently” — by their nature — unequal, causing profound damage to the children who attended them and hobbling their ability to live as full citizens of their country. The court’s decision hinged on sociological research, including a key study by the psychologists Kenneth Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark, a husband-and-wife team who gave black children in segregated schools in the North and the South black and white dolls and asked questions about how they perceived them. Most students described the white dolls as good and smart and the black dolls as bad and stupid. (The Clarks also found that segregation hurt white children’s development.) Chief Justice Earl Warren felt so passionate about the issue that he read the court’s opinion aloud: “Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.” The ruling made clear that because this nation was founded on a racial caste system, black children would never become equals as long as they were separated from white children.

In New York City, home to the largest black population in the country, the decision was celebrated by many liberals as the final strike against school segregation in the “backward” South. But Kenneth Clark, the first black person to earn a doctorate in psychology at Columbia University and to hold a permanent professorship at City College of New York, was quick to dismiss Northern righteousness on race matters. At a meeting of the Urban League around the time of the decision, he charged that though New York had no law requiring segregation, it intentionally separated its students by assigning them to schools based on their race or building schools deep in segregated neighborhoods. In many cases, Clark said, black children were attending schools that were worse than those attended by their black counterparts in the South.

Clark’s words shamed proudly progressive white New Yorkers and embarrassed those overseeing the nation’s largest school system. The New York City Board of Education released a forceful statement promising to integrate its schools: “Segregated, racially homogeneous schools damage the personality of minority-group children. These schools decrease their motivation and thus impair their ability to learn. White children are also damaged. Public education in a racially homogeneous setting is socially unrealistic and blocks the attainment of the goals of democratic education, whether this segregation occurs by law or by fact.” The head of the Board of Education undertook an investigation in 1955 that confirmed the widespread separation of black and Puerto Rican children in dilapidated buildings with the least-experienced and least-qualified teachers. Their schools were so overcrowded that some black children went to school for only part of the day to give others a turn.

The Board of Education appointed a commission to develop a citywide integration plan. But when school officials took some token steps, they faced a wave of white opposition. “It was most intense in the white neighborhoods closest to African-American neighborhoods, because they were the ones most likely to be affected by desegregation plans,” says Thomas Sugrue, a historian at New York University and the author of “Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North.” By the mid-’60s, there were few signs of integration in New York’s schools. In fact, the number of segregated junior-high schools in the city had quadrupled by 1964. That February, civil rights leaders called for a major one-day boycott of the New York City schools. Some 460,000 black and Puerto Rican students stayed home to protest their segregation. It was the largest demonstration for civil rights in the nation’s history. But the boycott upset many white liberals, who thought it was too aggressive, and as thousands of white families fled to the suburbs, the integration campaign collapsed.

Even as New York City was ending its only significant effort to desegregate, the Supreme Court was expanding the Brown ruling. Beginning in the mid-’60s, the court handed down a series of decisions that determined that not only did Brown v. Board allow the use of race to remedy the effects of long-segregated schools, it also required it. Assigning black students to white schools and vice versa was necessary to destroy a system built on racism — even if white families didn’t like it. “All things being equal, with no history of discrimination, it might well be desirable to assign pupils to schools nearest their homes,” the court wrote in its 1971 ruling in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, which upheld busing to desegregate schools in Charlotte, N.C. “But all things are not equal in a system that has been deliberately constructed and maintained to enforce racial segregation. The remedy for such segregation may be administratively awkward, inconvenient and even bizarre in some situations, and may impose burdens on some; but all awkwardness and inconvenience cannot be avoided.”

In what would be an extremely rare and fleeting moment in American history, all three branches of the federal government aligned on the issue. Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, pushed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which prohibited segregated lunch counters, buses and parks and allowed the Department of Justice for the first time to sue school districts to force integration. It also gave the government the power to withhold federal funds if the districts did not comply. By 1973, 91 percent of black children in the former Confederate and border states attended school with white children.

 

But while Northern congressmen embraced efforts to force integration in the South, some balked at efforts to desegregate their own schools. They tucked a passage into the 1964 Civil Rights Act aiming to limit school desegregation in the North by prohibiting school systems from assigning students to schools in order to integrate them unless ordered to do so by a court. Because Northern officials often practiced segregation without the cover of law, it was far less likely that judges would find them in violation of the Constitution.

Not long after, the nation began its retreat from integration. Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, with the help of a coalition of white voters who opposed integration in housing and schools. He appointed four conservative justices to the Supreme Court and set the stage for a profound legal shift. Since 1974, when the Milliken v. Bradley decision struck down a lower court’s order for a metro-area-wide desegregation program between nearly all-black Detroit city schools and the white suburbs surrounding the city, a series of major Supreme Court rulings on school desegregation have limited the reach of Brown.

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he promoted the notion that using race to integrate schools was just as bad as using race to segregate them. He urged the nation to focus on improving segregated schools by holding them to strict standards, a tacit return to the “separate but equal” doctrine that was roundly rejected in Brown. His administration emphasized that busing and other desegregation programs discriminated against white students. Reagan eliminated federal dollars earmarked to help desegregation and pushed to end hundreds of school-desegregation court orders.

Yet this was the very period when the benefits of integration were becoming most apparent. By 1988, a year after Faraji and I entered middle school, school integration in the United States had reached its peak and the achievement gap between black and white students was at its lowest point since the government began collecting data. The difference in black and white reading scores fell to half what it was in 1971, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. (As schools have since resegregated, the test-score gap has only grown.) The improvements for black children did not come at the cost of white children. As black test scores rose, so did white ones.

Decades of studies have affirmed integration’s power. A 2010 study released by the Century Foundation found that when children in public housing in Montgomery County, Md., enrolled in middle-class schools, the differences between their scores and those of their wealthier classmates decreased by half in math and a third in reading, and they pulled significantly ahead of their counterparts in poor schools. In fact, integration changes the entire trajectory of black students’ lives. A 2015 longitudinal study by the economist Rucker Johnson at the University of California, Berkeley, followed black adults who had attended desegregated schools and showed that these adults, when compared with their counterparts or even their own siblings in segregated schools, were less likely to be poor, suffer health problems and go to jail, and more likely to go to college and reside in integrated neighborhoods. They even lived longer. Critically, these benefits were passed on to their children, while the children of adults who went to segregated schools were more likely to perform poorly in school or drop out.

But integration as a constitutional mandate, as justice for black and Latino children, as a moral righting of past wrongs, is no longer our country’s stated goal. The Supreme Court has effectively sided with Reagan, requiring strict legal colorblindness even if it leaves segregation intact, and even striking down desegregation programs that ensured integration for thousands of black students if a single white child did not get into her school of choice. The most recent example was a 2007 case that came to be known as Parents Involved. White parents in Seattle and Jefferson County, Kentucky, challenged voluntary integration programs, claiming the districts discriminated against white children by considering race as a factor in apportioning students among schools in order to keep them racially balanced. Five conservative justices struck down these integration plans. In 1968, the court ruled in Green v. County School Board of New Kent County that we should no longer look across a city and see a “ ‘white’ school and a ‘Negro’ school, but just schools.” In 2007, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. wrote: “Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin. The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again — even for very different reasons. … The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

Legally and culturally, we’ve come to accept segregation once again. Today, across the country, black children are more segregated than they have been at any point in nearly half a century. Except for a few remaining court-ordered desegregation programs, intentional integration almost never occurs unless it’s in the interests of white students. This is even the case in New York City, under the stewardship of Mayor de Blasio, who campaigned by highlighting the city’s racial and economic inequality. De Blasio and his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, have acknowledged that they don’t believe their job is to force school integration. “I want to see diversity in schools organically,” Fariña said at a town-hall meeting in Lower Manhattan in February. “I don’t want to see mandates.” The shift in language that trades the word “integration” for “diversity” is critical. Here in this city, as in many, diversity functions as a boutique offering for the children of the privileged but does little to ensure quality education for poor black and Latino children.

“The moral vision behind Brown v. Board of Education is dead,” Ritchie Torres, a city councilman who represents the Bronx and has been pushing the city to address school segregation, told me. Integration, he says, is seen as “something that would be nice to have but not something we need to create a more equitable society. At the same time, we have an intensely segregated school system that is denying a generation of kids of color a fighting chance at a decent life”

Najya, of course, had no idea about any of this. She just knew she loved P.S. 307, waking up each morning excited to head to her pre-K class, where her two best friends were a little black girl named Imani from Farragut and a little white boy named Sam, one of a handful of white pre-K students at the school, with whom we car-pooled from our neighborhood. Four excellent teachers, all of them of color, guided Najya and her classmates with a professionalism and affection that belied the school’s dismal test scores. Faraji and I threw ourselves into the school, joining the parent-teacher association and the school’s leadership team, attending assemblies and chaperoning field trips. We found ourselves relieved at how well things were going. Internally, I started to exhale.

 

But in the spring of 2015, as Najya’s first year was nearing its end, we read in the news that another elementary school, P.S. 8, less than a mile from P.S. 307 in affluent Brooklyn Heights, was plagued by overcrowding. Some students zoned for that school might be rerouted to ours. This made geographic sense. P.S. 8’s zone was expansive, stretching across Brooklyn Heights under the Manhattan bridge to the Dumbo neighborhood and Vinegar Hill, the neighborhood around P.S. 307. P.S. 8’s lines were drawn when most of the development there consisted of factories and warehouses. But gentrification overtook Dumbo, which hugs the East River and provides breathtaking views of the skyline and a quick commute to Manhattan. The largely upper-middle-class and white and Asian children living directly across the street from P.S. 307 were zoned to the heavily white P.S. 8.

To accommodate the surging population, P.S. 8 had turned its drama and dance rooms into general classrooms and cut its pre-K, but it still had to place up to 28 kids in each class. Meanwhile, P.S. 307 sat at the center of the neighborhood population boom, half empty. Its attendance zone included only the Farragut Houses and was one of the tiniest in the city. Because Farragut residents were aging, with dwindling numbers of school-age children, P.S. 307 was underenrolled.

In early spring 2015, the city’s Department of Education sent out notices telling 50 families that had applied to kindergarten at P.S. 8 that their children would be placed on the waiting list and instead guaranteed admission to P.S. 307. Distraught parents dashed off letters to school administrators and to their elected officials. They pleaded their case to the press. “We bought a home here, and one of the main reasons was because it was known that kindergarten admissions [at P.S. 8] were pretty much guaranteed,” one parent told The New York Post, adding that he wouldn’t send his child to P.S. 307. Another parent whose twins had secured coveted spots made the objections to P.S. 307 more plain: “I would be concerned about safety,” he said. “I don’t hear good things about that school.”

That May, as I sat at a meeting that P.S. 8 parents arranged with school officials, I was struck by the sheer power these parents had drawn into that auditorium. This meeting about the overcrowding at P.S. 8, which involved 50 children in a system of more than one million, had summoned a state senator, a state assemblywoman, a City Council member, the city comptroller and the staff members of several other elected officials. It had rarely been clearer to me how segregation and integration, at their core, are about power and who gets access to it. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in 1967: “I cannot see how the Negro will totally be liberated from the crushing weight of poor education, squalid housing and economic strangulation until he is integrated, with power, into every level of American life.”

As the politicians looked on, two white fathers gave an impassioned PowerPoint presentation in which they asked the Department of Education to place more children into already-teeming classrooms rather than send kids zoned to P.S. 8 to P.S. 307. Another speaker, whose child had been wait-listed, choked up as he talked about having to break it to his kindergarten-age son that he would not be able to go to school with the children with whom he’d shared play dates and Sunday dinners. “We haven’t told him yet” that he didn’t get into P.S. 8, the father said, as eyes in the crowd grew misty. “We hope to never have to tell him.”

The meeting was emotional and at times angry, with parents shouting out their anxieties about safety and low test scores at P.S. 307. But the concerns they voiced may have also masked something else. While suburban parents, who are mostly white, say they are selecting schools based on test scores, the racial makeup of a school actually plays a larger role in their school decisions, according to a 2009 study published in The American Journal of Education. Amy Stuart Wells, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, found the same thing when she studied how white parents choose schools in New York City. “In a post-racial era, we don’t have to say it’s about race or the color of the kids in the building,” Wells told me. “We can concentrate poverty and kids of color and then fail to provide the resources to support and sustain those schools, and then we can see a school full of black kids and then say, ‘Oh, look at their test scores.’ It’s all very tidy now, this whole system.”

I left that meeting upset about how P.S. 307 had been characterized, but I didn’t give it much thought again until the end of summer, when Najya was about to start kindergarten. I heard that the community education council was holding a meeting to discuss a potential rezoning of P.S. 8 and P.S. 307. The council, an elected group that oversees 28 public schools in District 13, including P.S. 8 and P.S. 307, is responsible for approving zoning decisions. School was still out for the summer, and almost no P.S. 307 parents knew plans were underway that could affect them. At the meeting, two men from the school system’s Office of District Planning projected a rezoning map onto a screen. The plan would split the P.S. 8 zone roughly in half, divided by the Brooklyn Bridge. It would turn P.S. 8 into the exclusive neighborhood school for Brooklyn Heights and reroute Dumbo and Vinegar Hill students to P.S. 307. A tall, white man with brown hair that flopped over his forehead said he was from Concord Village, a complex that should have fallen on the 307 side of the line. He thanked the council for producing a plan that reflected his neighbors’ concerns by keeping his complex in the P.S. 8 zone. It became clear that while parents in Farragut, Dumbo and Vinegar Hill had not even known about the rezoning plan, some residents had organized and lobbied to influence how the lines were drawn.

The officials presented the rezoning plan, which would affect incoming kindergartners, as beneficial to everyone. If the children in the part of the zone newly assigned to P.S. 307 enrolled at the school, P.S. 8’s overcrowding would be relieved at least temporarily. And P.S. 307, the officials’ presentation showed, would fill its empty seats with white children and give all the school’s students that most elusive thing: integration.

It was hard not to be skeptical about the department’s plan. New York, like many deeply segregated cities, has a terrible track record of maintaining racial balance in formerly underenrolled segregated schools once white families come in. Schools like P.S. 321 in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood and the Academy of Arts and Letters in Fort Greene tend to go through a brief period of transitional integration, in which significant numbers of white students enroll, and then the numbers of Latino and black students dwindle. In fact, that’s exactly what happened at P.S. 8.

A decade ago, P.S. 8 was P.S. 307’s mirror image. Predominantly filled with low-income black and Latino students from surrounding neighborhoods, P.S. 8, with its low test scores and low enrollment, languished amid a community of affluence because white parents in the neighborhood refused to send their children there. A group of parents worked hard with school administrators to turn the school around, writing grants to start programs for art and other enrichment activities. Then more white and Asian parents started to enroll their children. One of them was David Goldsmith, who later became president of the community education council tasked with considering the rezoning of P.S. 8 and P.S. 307. Goldsmith is white and, at the time, lived in Vinegar Hill with his Filipino wife and their daughter.

As P.S. 8 improved, more and more white families from Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo and Vinegar Hill enrolled their children, and the classrooms in the lower grades became majority white. The whitening of the school had unintended consequences. Some of the black and Latino parents whose children had been in the school from the beginning felt as if they were being marginalized. The white parents were able to raise large sums at fund-raisers and could be dismissive of the much smaller fund-raising efforts that had come before. Then, Goldsmith says, the new parents started seeking to separate their children from their poorer classmates. “There were kids in the school that were really high-risk kids, kids who were homeless, living in temporary shelters, you know, poverty can be really brutal,” Goldsmith says. “The school was really committed to helping all children, but we had white middle-class parents saying, ‘I don’t want my child in the same class with the kid who has emotional issues.’ ”

The parents who had helped build P.S. 8, black, Latino, white and Asian, feared they were losing something important, a truly diverse school that nurtured its neediest students, where families held equal value no matter the size of their paychecks. They asked for a plan to help the school maintain its black and Latino population by setting aside a percentage of seats for low-income children, but they didn’t get approval.

P.S. 8’s transformation to a school where only one in four students are black or Latino and only 14 percent are low-income began during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, known for its indifference toward efforts to integrate schools. But integration advocates say that they’ve also been deeply disappointed by the de Blasio administration’s stance on the issue. In October 2014, after the release of the U.C.L.A. study pointing to the extreme segregation in the city’s schools, and nearly a year after de Blasio was elected, Councilmen Ritchie Torres and Brad Lander moved to force the administration to address segregation, introducing what became the School Diversity Accountability Act, which would require the Department of Education to release school-segregation figures and report what it was doing to alleviate the problem. “It was always right in front of our faces,” says Lander, a representative from Brooklyn, whose own children attend heavily white public schools. “Then the U.C.L.A. report hit, and the segregation in the city became urgent.”

The same month that Lander and Torres introduced the bill, Fariña, the schools chancellor, took questions at a town-hall-style meeting for area schools held at P.S. 307. A group of four women, two white, two black, walked to the microphone to address Fariña. They said that they were parents in heavily gentrified Park Slope, and that Fariña’s administration had been ignoring their calls to help their school retain its diminishing black and Latino populations by implementing a policy to set aside seats for low-income children. Fariña, a diminutive woman with a no-nonsense attitude, responded by acknowledging that there “are no easy answers” to the problem of segregation, and warned that there were “federal guidelines” limiting “what we can do around diversity.” What Fariña was referring to is unclear. While the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in Parents Involved tossed out integration plans that took into account the race of individual students, the court has never taken issue with using students’ socioeconomic status for creating or preserving integration, which is what these parents were seeking. In addition, the Obama administration released guidelines in 2011 that explicitly outlined the ways school systems could legally use race to integrate schools. Those include drawing a school’s attendance zone around black and white neighborhoods.

At another town-hall meeting in Manhattan last October, Fariña said, “You don’t need to have diversity within one building.” Instead, she suggested that poor students in segregated schools could be pen pals and share resources with students in wealthier, integrated public schools. “We adopt schools from China, Korea or wherever,” Fariña told the room of parents. “Why not in our own neighborhoods?” Integration advocates lambasted her for what they considered a callous portrayal of integration as nothing more than a cultural exchange. “Fariña’s silly pen-pal comment shows how desensitized we’ve become,” Torres told me. “It could be that the political establishment is willfully blind to the impact of racial segregation and has led themselves to believe that we can close the achievement gap without desegregating our school system. At worst it’s a lie; at best it’s a delusion.” He continued, “The scandal is not that we are failing to achieve diversity. The scandal is we are not even trying.”

 

Fariña would only talk to me for 15 minutes by phone. She told me in May that her pen-pal comments had been taken out of context. “If you hear any of my public speeches, this has always been a priority of mine,” she said. “Diversity of all types has always been a priority.” She went on to talk about the city’s special programs for autistic students and about how Japanese students have benefited from the expansion of dual-language programs. But Asian-American students are already the group most integrated with white students. When pressed about integration specifically for black and Latino students, Fariña said the city has been working to support schools that are seeking more diversity and mentioned a socioeconomic integration pilot program at seven schools. “I do believe New York City is making strides. It is a major focus going forward.”

On May 30, four days after our interview, the Department of Education said in an article in The Daily News that it was starting a voluntary systemwide “Diversity in Admissions” program and would be requesting proposals from principals. In 2014, several principals said they had submitted integration proposals and had not gotten any response from Fariña.

The announcement of the new initiative caught both principals and parents by surprise. Jill Bloomberg, principal at Brooklyn’s Park Slope Collegiate, which teaches sixth through 12th grade, says she learned about the initiative from the news article but otherwise had heard nothing about it, even though the deadline to submit proposals is July 8, about a month away. “I am eager for some official notification for exactly what the program is,” she told me.

David Goldsmith, who has been working on desegregation efforts as a member of the community education council, says he found the initiative, its timing and the short deadline for submitting proposals “puzzling.” “We could be very cynical and say, ‘They are not serious,’ ” he says.

Last June, de Blasio signed the School Diversity Accountability Act into law. But the law mandates only that the Department of Education report segregation numbers, not that it do anything to integrate schools. De Blasio declined to be interviewed, but when asked at a news conference in November why the city did not at least do what it could to redraw attendance lines, he defended the property rights of affluent parents who buy into neighborhoods to secure entry into heavily white schools. “You have to also respect families who have made a decision to live in a certain area,” he said, because families have “made massive life decisions and investments because of which school their kid would go to.” The mayor suggested there was little he could do because school segregation simply was a reflection of New York’s stark housing segregation, entrenched by decades of discriminatory local and federal policy. “This is the history of America,” he said.

Of course, de Blasio is right: Housing segregation and school segregation have always been entwined in America. But the opportunity to buy into “good” neighborhoods with “good” schools that de Blasio wants to protect has never been equally available to all.

To best understand how so many poor black and Latino children end up in neglected schools, and why so many white families have the money to buy into neighborhoods with the best schools, you need to look no further than the history of the Farragut Houses and P.S. 307. Looking at P.S. 307 today, you might find it hard to imagine that the school did not start out segregated. The low-slung brick elementary school, which opened in 1964, and the Farragut public-housing projects right outside its front doors once stood as hopeful, integrated islands in a city fractured by strict color lines in both its neighborhoods and its schools.

The 10 Farragut buildings, spread across roughly 18 acres, opened in 1952 as part of a scramble to house returning G.I.s and their families after World War II. When the first tenants moved in, the sprawling campus — named for David Farragut, an admiral of the United States Navy — was considered a model of progressive working-class housing, with its open green spaces, elevators, modern heating plant, laundry and community center.

In 1952, a black woman named Gladys McBeth became one of Farragut’s earliest tenants. Nearly three generations later, when I visited her in November, she was living in the same 14th-floor apartment, where she paid about $1,000 a month in rent. Back then, she said, Farragut was a place for strivers. “I didn’t know nothing about projects when I moved in,” she said. “It was veteran housing.” The project housed roughly even numbers of black and white tenants, including migrants escaping hardship from Poland, Puerto Rico and Italy, and from the feudal American South. To get in, everyone had to show proof of marriage, a husband’s military-discharge papers and pay stubs.

Robert McBeth, Gladys’s husband, drove a truck, while she stayed home raising their four children. In the years before the Brown decision, the oldest of the McBeth children went to a nearby school where the kids were predominantly black and Latino, because the New York City Board of Education bused white children in the area to other schools, according to the N.A.A.C.P. School officials at the time, as today, claimed the racial makeup of the schools was an inevitable result of residential segregation. Though Farragut was not yet segregated, most of the city was. And that segregation in housing often resulted from legal and open discrimination that was encouraged and condoned by the state, and at times required by the federal government.

Nowhere would that become more evident than in Farragut, which by the 1960s was careering toward the same fate overtaking nearly all public housing in big cities. White residents used Federal Housing Administration-insured loans to buy their way out of the projects and to move to shiny new middle-class subdivisions. This subsidized home-buying boom led to one of the broadest expansions of the American middle class ever, almost exclusively to the benefit of white families. The F.H.A.’s explicitly racist underwriting standards, which rated black and integrated neighborhoods as uninsurable, made federally insured home loans largely unavailable to black home seekers. Ninety-eight percent of these loans made between 1934 and 1968 went to white Americans.

Housing discrimination was legal until 1968. Even if black Americans managed to secure home loans, many homes were off-limits, either because they had provisions in their deeds prohibiting their sale to black buyers or because entire communities — including publicly subsidized middle-class developments like Levittown on Long Island and Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan — barred black home buyers and tenants outright. The McBeths tried to buy a house, but like so many of Farragut’s black tenants, they were not able to. They continued to rent while many of their white neighbors bought homes and built wealth. Scholars attribute a large part of the yawning wealth gap between black and white Americans — the typical white person has 13 times the wealth of a typical black person — to discriminatory housing policies.

But before Farragut’s white tenants left, parents of all colors sent their children to P.S. 307. Gladys McBeth, who died in May, sent her youngest child across the street to P.S. 307 and worked there as a school aide for 23 years. “It was one of the best schools in the district,” she reminisced, sitting in a worn paisley chair. But by 1972, Farragut was more than 80 percent black, and to fill the vacant units and house the city’s growing indigent population, the city changed the guideline for income and work requirements, turning the projects from largely working-class to low-income.

At some point, P.S. 307’s attendance zone was redrawn to include only the Farragut Houses, ensuring the students would be black, Latino and poor. The New York City Department of Education does not keep attendance data before 2000, but as McBeth remembered it, by the late ’80s, P.S. 307 was also almost entirely black and Latino. McBeth, who sent all four of her children to college, shook her head. “It all changed.”

P.S. 307 was a very different place from what it had been, but Najya was thriving. I watched as she and her classmates went from struggling to sound out three-letter words to reading entire books. She would surprise me in the car rides after school with her discussions of hypotheses and photosynthesis, words we hadn’t taught her. And there was something almost breathtaking about witnessing an auditorium full of mostly low-income black and Latino children confidently singing in Mandarin and beating Chinese drums as they performed a fan dance to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

But I also knew how fragile success at a school like P.S. 307 could be. The few segregated, high-poverty schools we hold up as exceptions are almost always headed by a singular principal like Roberta Davenport. But relying on one dynamic leader is a precarious means of ensuring a quality education. With all the resources Davenport was able to draw to the school, P.S. 307’s test scores still dropped this year. The school suffers from the same chronic absenteeism that plagues other schools with large numbers of low-income families. And then Davenport retired last summer, just as the clashes over P.S. 307’s integration were heating up, causing alarm among parents.

Najya and the other children at P.S. 307 were unaware of the turmoil and the battle lines adults were drawing outside the school’s doors. Faraji, my husband, had been elected co-president of P.S. 307’s P.T.A. along with Benjamin Greene, another black middle-class parent from Bed-Stuy, who also serves on the community education council. As the potential for rezoning loomed over the school, they were forced to turn their attention from fund-raising and planning events to working to prevent the city’s plan from ultimately creating another mostly white school.

It was important to them that Farragut residents, who were largely unaware of the process, had a say over what happened. Faraji and I had found it hard to bridge the class divides between the Farragut families and the middle-class black families, like ours, from outside the neighborhood. We parents were all cordial toward one another. Outside the school, though, we mostly went our separate ways. But after the rezoning was proposed, Faraji and Benjamin worked with the Rev. Dr. Mark V. C. Taylor of the Church of the Open Door, which sits on the Farragut property, and canvassed the projects to talk to parents and inform them of the city’s proposal. Not one P.S. 307 parent they spoke to knew anything about the plan, and they were immediately worried and fearful about what it would mean for their children. P.S. 307 was that rare example of a well-resourced segregated school, and these parents knew it.

The Farragut parents were also angry and hurt over how their school and their children had been talked about in public meetings and the press. Some white Dumbo parents had told Davenport that they’d be willing to enroll their children only if she agreed to put the new students all together in their own classroom. Farragut parents feared their children would be marginalized. If the school eventually filled up with children from high-income white families — the median income for Dumbo and Vinegar Hill residents is almost 10 times that of Farragut residents — the character of the school could change, and as had happened at other schools like P.S. 8, the results might not benefit the black and Latino students. Among other things, P.S. 307 might no longer qualify for federal funds for special programming, like free after-school care, to help low-income families.

“I don’t have a problem with people coming in,” Saaiba Coles, a Farragut mother with two children at P.S. 307, told those gathered at a community meeting about the rezoning. “I just don’t want them to forget about the kids that were already here.” Faraji and Benjamin collected and delivered to the education council a petition with more than 400 signatures of Farragut residents supporting the rezoning, but only under certain conditions, including that half of all the seats at P.S. 307 would be guaranteed for low-income children. That would ensure that the school remained truly integrated and that new higher-income parents would have to share power in deciding the direction of the school.

In January of this year, the education council held a meeting to vote on the rezoning. Nearly four dozen Farragut residents who’d taken two buses chartered by the church filed into the auditorium of a Brooklyn elementary school, sitting behind a cluster of anxious parents from Dumbo. Reporters lined up alongside them. In the months since the potential rezoning plan was announced, the spectacle of an integration fight in the progressive bastion of Brooklyn had attracted media attention. Coverage appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and on WNYC. “Brooklyn hipsters fight school desegregation,” the news site Raw Story proclaimed. The meeting lasted more than three hours as parents spoke passionately, imploring the council to delay the vote so that the two communities could try to get to know each other and figure out how they could bridge their economic, racial and cultural divides. Both Dumbo and Farragut parents asked the district for leadership, fearing integration that was not intentionally planned would fail.

In the end, the council proceeded with the vote, approving the rezoning with a 50 percent low-income set-aside, but children living in P.S. 307’s attendance zone would receive priority. But that’s not a guarantee. White children under the age of 5 outnumber black and Latino children of the same age in the new zone, according to census data. And the white population will only grow as new developments go on the market. Without holding seats for low-income children, it’s not certain the school will achieve 50 percent low-income enrollment.

David Goldsmith, president of the council, told me he didn’t believe that creating low-income set-asides in only one school made sense; he is working to create a plan that would try to integrate the schools in the entire district that includes P.S. 8 and P.S. 307. But Benjamin Greene, who voted against the rezoning because it did not guarantee that half of the seats would remain for low-income children, said: “We cannot sit around and wait until somebody decides on this wonderful formula districtwide. We have to preserve these schools one at a time.”

 

In voting for the rezoning, the council touted its bravery and boldness in choosing integration in a system that seemed opposed to it. “With the eyes of the nation upon us,” Goldsmith began. “Voting ‘yes’ means we refuse to be victims of the past. We are ready to do this. The time is now. We owe this to our children.”

But the decision felt more like a victory for the status quo. This rezoning did not occur because it was in the best interests of P.S. 307’s black and Latino children, but because it served the interests of the wealthy, white parents of Brooklyn Heights. P.S. 8 will only get whiter and more exclusive: The council failed to mention at the meeting that the plan would send future students from the only three Farragut buildings that had been zoned for P.S. 8 to P.S. 307, ultimately removing almost all the low-income students from P.S. 8 and turning it into one of the most affluent schools in the city. The Department of Education projects that within six years, P.S. 8 could be three-quarters white in a school system where only one-seventh of the kids are white.

P.S. 307 may eventually look similar. Without seats guaranteed for low-income children, and with an increasing white population in the zone, the school may flip and become mostly white and overcrowded. Farragut parents worry that at that point, the project’s children, like those at P.S. 8, could be zoned out of their own school. A decade from now, integration advocates could be lamenting how P.S. 307 went from nearly all black and Latino to being integrated for a period to heavily white.

That transition isn’t going to happen immediately, so some Dumbo parents have threatened to move, or enroll their children in private schools. Others are struggling over what to do. By allowing such vast disparities between public schools — racially, socioeconomically and academically — this city has made integration the hardest choice.

“You’re not living in Brooklyn if you don’t want to have a diverse system around your kid,” Michael Jones, who lives in Brooklyn Heights and considered sending his twins to P.S. 307 for pre-K because P.S. 8 no longer offered it, told me over coffee. “You want it to be multicultural. You know, if you didn’t want that, you’d be in private school, or you would be in a different area. So, we’re all living in Brooklyn because we want that to be part of the upbringing. But you can understand how a parent might look at it and go, ‘While I want diversity, I don’t want profound imbalance.’ ” He thought about what it would have meant for his boys to be among the few middle-class children in P.S. 307. “We could look at it and see there is probably going to be a clash of some kind,” he said. “My kid’s not an experiment.” In the end, he felt that he could not take a chance on his children’s education and sent them to private preschool; they now go to P.S. 8.

This sense of helplessness in the face of such entrenched segregation is what makes so alluring the notion, embraced by liberals and conservatives, that we can address school inequality not with integration but by giving poor, segregated schools more resources and demanding of them more accountability. True integration, true equality, requires a surrendering of advantage, and when it comes to our own children, that can feel almost unnatural. Najya’s first two years in public school helped me understand this better than I ever had before. Even Kenneth Clark, the psychologist whose research showed the debilitating effects of segregation on black children, chose not to enroll his children in the segregated schools he was fighting against. “My children,” he said, “only have one life.” But so do the children relegated to this city’s segregated schools. They have only one life, too.

Correction: 

 

An article on June 12 about segregation in New York City schools misstated the number of buildings from the Farragut Houses, a public-housing project in Brooklyn, that were previously included in P.S. 307’s attendance zone. It was five of the 10 buildings, not seven.

Correction: 

 

An article on June 12 about segregation in New York City schools referred incorrectly to homes in Stuyvesant Town. They have always been rental properties; residents have never been able to buy the homes there.

Choosing a School When Race Matters

WBUR Report: Where Parents Have More Choice, Schools Appear To Become More Segregated

A new study out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education Wednesday finds that a majority of parents across the country say they’d prefer to send their children to integrated schools. But researchers at the school’s Making Caring Common project have found that when families are given control over which schools to send their children to, they make choices that perpetuate school segregation. WBUR’s Bob Oakes spoke to the report’s co-authors, senior lecturer Richard Weissbourd and Ph.D. student Eric Torres, about their findings.

Interview Highlights

On why wealthy parents are choosing racially and economically segregated schools

Richard Weissbourd: It looks like there a number of different things that are going on here. One is, (families) are making judgments about school quality … but they’re basing those judgments often on poor data, on average test scores at a school, which is not a good indicator of school quality. And sometimes all kinds of biases can get in the way too. It looks like, from other research, that white advantaged parents often make decisions based on the number of other white advantaged parents at a school, not based on any real research about school safety or school quality or these kinds of important indicators.

On what the research says about integrated schools

RW: What our data is suggesting — and what a lot of data suggests — is that integration is good for your own kids, it’s good for other people’s kids and it’s critical for the country as a whole and it’s critical for a thriving democracy.

On how parents can better assess school quality

Eric Torres: (School quality) is a fuzzy metric for a lot of parents. And this is how these biases are able to seep in … many times parents use stand-ins for quality, like the number of white affluent students at a school, instead of thinking more deeply about the kinds of learning and growing that are going on. It’s difficult to wrap your head around what it means to be a high-quality school, and that’s why we encourage parents to visit, to speak with people who are there, to speak with the teachers and to look at all the available data in order to develop a more holistic sense of a place, rather than relying on these maybe superficial notions.

Further Reading


 

Legacy of Segregation

Equal Justice Initiative: How Segregation Survived

“Because our nation failed to confront the narrative of racial difference in the decades after the assassinations of national civil rights leaders and the rise of politicians opposed to civil rights signaled the end of the Civil Rights Movement, white opposition rebranded itself while racial inequality grew.

In 2016, the rate of African American unemployment (8.4 percent) was nearly double the rate for white Americans (4.3 percent). 605 A 2017 study concluded that “discrimination against black job applicants hasn’t changed since the 1990s.” 606 In part due to high rates of joblessness, 22 percent of African Americans live in poverty, compared to 9 percent of white Americans. 607 The racial wealth gap nearly tripled between 1984 and 2009, and today, for every $100 of wealth held by a white family, a black family has just $5.04. 608

For a fleeting moment, racial justice challenged the American conscience and became a critical issue for this nation. But a generation later, racial injustice was again a burden that black communities bore in resegregated isolation, while many white Americans actively defended the status quo or avoided serious engagement with racial issues entirely.

The number of white adults reporting “no interest” in the issue of employment discrimination against black Americans rose from 13 percent in 1964 to 34 percent in 2000. 609 “[T]he expression of racial apathy in the post-civil rights era is one new way in which white Americans can deny having negative feelings toward racial minorities while indirectly supporting the racial status quo.” 610

More recently, a 2016 Pew Research Center poll reported wide gulfs in views on race relations: 38 percent of white Americans agreed that the nation has already made the changes necessary to achieve equal rights while only 8 percent of black Americans said the same. 611

In the same study, 41 percent of white respondents said too much attention is paid to race these days, and just 19 percent of white respondents (in contrast with 70 percent of black respondents) agreed that institutional discrimination is a bigger problem than individual prejudice. 612

“Perhaps I was too optimistic,” Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, five years before he was assassinated on a Memphis hotel balcony. “Perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action.” EJI

Vox: American segregation, mapped at day and night