The Question of Desegregation: Where Do We Go from Here?

By Hubbard, Lee | Colorlines Magazine, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Question of Desegregation: Where Do We Go from Here?


Hubbard, Lee, Colorlines Magazine


It's been 50 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that different schools for black and white students were separate and unequal. The decision was a springboard for the growing civil rights movement in the United States, which helped to put an end to legalized segregation 14 years later across the country. The Brown case began in 1950, after Linda Brown, a seven-year-old black schoolgirl in Topeka, Kansas, was forced to attend Monroe Elementary, a black school that was an hour walk from her house, instead of the much closer Sumner Elementary, which happened to be white. Looking for a case to test the validity of segregation, the NAACP got the Brown family to register at Sumner. When she was denied admission into the school, she became the lead plaintiff in the suit, which would eventually dismantle segregation in America's public schools.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In its ruling, which took place four years later, the court stated that, "segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"The Brown decision was significant, because it was a symbolic attack on racism," said Dr. Robert Smith, a political science professor at San Francisco State University, and author of Black Political Encyclopedia. "It said that racism was unconstitutional."

And as a result, after 10 years of resistance to desegregation, various public school systems in the south and in other parts of the country began to implement the court order. While "legal" segregation in public schools is something that has been relegated to the history books, 50 years after Brown, segregation still persists in American education.

A July 2001 study on the state of education by the Harvard Civil Rights Project found that 70 percent of the nation's black students attend predominantly minority schools (with minority enrollment of over 50 percent), up significantly from the low point of 62.9 percent in 1980. And a third of the nation's black students (36.5 percent) attend schools with a minority enrollment of 90-100 percent.

"Our research consistently shows that schools are becoming increasingly segregated and are offering students vastly unequal educational opportunities," said Gary Orfield, the author of the report and head of the Harvard Civil Rights Project. "This is ironic considering that evidence exists that desegregated schools both improve test scores and positively change the lives of students."

The Civil Rights Project report calls for efforts to continue local desegregation plans and programs through litigation; more integrated metropolitan-wide magnet schools; creation of expertise on desegregation and race relations training in state departments of education; and a provision of funding for better counseling and transportation for inter-district transfer policies.

But one of the things that the report does not do is to call for providing a better education for students. Desegregated schools offer a benefit to students and society, as people from different races get to engage and interact with each other. But stressing a good education should be the focus of educators and civil rights activists, instead of focusing on integration at all costs, which has been the case since the Brown decision.

The re-segregation of schools has been taking place for the last 30 years, due primarily to the change in housing patterns across America. A large number of whites have moved out of the inner cities and urban areas into the suburbs, leaving behind blacks and other minorities who have moved into the cities. While many people moved out of the cities for newer housing, part of this shift in population was a result of the biggest educational issue in the last 25 years--how to integrate schools.

Forced busing was one of the primary tools used by civil rights attorneys and activist to integrate the schools. …

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