Integration Fades as Black Priority

By Clarence Page Copyright Chicago Tribune | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 27, 1997 | Go to article overview

Integration Fades as Black Priority


Clarence Page Copyright Chicago Tribune, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


News that the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization is considering a shift away from school desegregation signals a moral victory for Clarence Thomas. For years the black conservative Supreme Court justice has argued that public school desegregation is vastly overrated as a goal for civil rights law.

Now a rising chorus in the nation's leading integrationist organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, appears to be agreeing with him.

NAACP leaders plan to have a formal debate on its long-held school integration policy when it holds its annual convention next month. The NAACP continues to believe in integration, Chairman Myrlie Evers-Williams says. But she acknowledges "a debate has been raging as to whether that's still the position we should take," she told The New York Times. This re-examination of the strategies to achieve integration is long overdue. Black impatience with white resistance to school desegregation has bubbled up from the streets into the organization itself. Last year the NAACP board dismissed Robert H. Robinson as president of its Bergen County branch in New Jersey after he said seeking quality schools was more important than seeking racial integration. A year earlier, the organization bounced Kenneth W. Jenkins, president of the Yonkers, N.Y., branch, out of office for questioning continued busing for integration. In other cities, local NAACP leaders have questioned the virtue of federally sanctioned "integration maintenance" plans that discourage more blacks or whites from moving into particular neighborhoods or apartment developments that already have a certain quota of residents of the same race. That's a big swing from the day when Thurgood Marshall, then the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, persuaded the Supreme Court to declare in its landmark 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education school desegregation decision that separate facilities are inherently unequal and even damaging to black children. Thomas, who replaced Marshall on the Supreme Court, thinks the Brown decision did the right thing in abolishing legal segregation but for the wrong legal reasons. "It never ceases to amaze me that the courts are so willing to assume that anything that is predominantly black must be inferior," wrote Thomas in voting to scale back a Kansas City judge's school desegregation plan.

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