Looking Back at 'Brown.' (School desegregation)(Class Notes) (Column)

By Reed, Adolph, Jr. | The Progressive, June 1994 | Go to article overview

Looking Back at 'Brown.' (School desegregation)(Class Notes) (Column)


Reed, Adolph, Jr., The Progressive


On May 16, 1954, 1 made my First Communion at a church in downtown Washington, D.C. It seemed like a very big event at the time. The next day, a few blocks away, the Supreme Court announced its ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case, overturning the "separate but equal" mystification that had codified racial segregation since 1896. These two events - one that filled my life with solemnity and anxiety for months, and the other which I only dimly understood - somehow merged in my child's perspective.

I had successfully mastered the fine distinctions of catechistic instruction and the choreography of filing, genuflecting, kneeling, sitting, and rising in unison - all with only a couple of unexpected raps to the knuckles and the back of the head from Sister Anna Maria's feared clicker. Sacramental dry runs and dress rehearsals finally culminated in the actual First Penance and Holy Eucharist. And then my parents and I could walk comfortably into Washington theaters and restaurants that before had been inhospitable.

Of course, the Brown decision did not outlaw petty apartheid in the District of Columbia or anywhere else - but it created enough of a stir in the adult environment, apparently, to prompt the lifting of some forms of de-facto segregation, and to penetrate the consciousness of a very preoccupied seven-year-old.

Brown's immediate impact was mainly symbolic. It signified a victory in and of principle, and it fueled a sense of possibility. The decision energized and emboldened black Americans, conferring on them a sense of equal membership in the polity.

The ruling's fortieth anniversary this year has momentarily focused public attention on Brown again and on its significance in American life. Now, just as dangerous forces are gathering from across the ideological spectrum to support resegregation, it seems a good time to consider the meaning of the Brown decision and its effects on the larger social order.

Perhaps most significantly, Brown boosted (though it certainly also was influenced by) a rising tide of post-World War II black activism challenging segregation. A year and a half after Brown, the Montgomery bus boycott signaled a sweeping wave of aggressive political action that continued through the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights legislation.

On the other hand, the Brown decision served to obscure the true nature of racial segregation in America. In the popular view, Brown emphasized the harmful psychological effects on black children of separate schools, and defined segregation mainly in terms of attitudes and individual prejudice and discrimination. But racial segregation was a social system, codified and impersonalized by law. Outside the South, it was an ensemble of local ordinances and rules whose purpose was to cordon off and dislocate black Americans not just from physical contact with whites, but also from equal access to the fruits of citizenship. Separate schools, publicly enforced ghettoization, and racially gerrymandered electoral districts not only rested on notions of black inferiority; they were devices for denying blacks an equal claim on public resources and a means of redress.

The South, Jim Crow's natural home, was a regime of white supremacy. After Reconstruction, alliances of Redeemers and New South progressives rewrote one Southern state constitution after another to establish public life on an explicitly white-supremacist basis, and to define race as the elemental foundation of citizenship and social status.

Virtually every Southern state passed laws specifying the fractions of "black blood" that marked the boundaries of whiteness. (Louisiana - where much of the white population's claim to that exalted status could not bear careful scrutiny - was the exception, until 1970 when it adopted the same retrograde standard used in the Old South.)

Nor was this simply a naive or irrational fixation on racial classification. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Looking Back at 'Brown.' (School desegregation)(Class Notes) (Column)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.