From Brown to Meredith: The Long Struggle for School Desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky, 1954-2007

From Brown to Meredith: The Long Struggle for School Desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky, 1954-2007

From Brown to Meredith: The Long Struggle for School Desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky, 1954-2007

From Brown to Meredith: The Long Struggle for School Desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky, 1954-2007

Synopsis

When the Supreme Court overturned Louisville's local desegregation plan in 2007, the people of Jefferson County, Kentucky, faced the question of whether and how to maintain racial diversity in their schools. This debate came at a time when scholars, pundits, and much of the public had declared school integration a failed experiment rightfully abandoned. Using oral history narratives, newspaper accounts, and other documents, Tracy E. K'Meyer exposes the disappointments of desegregation, draws attention to those who struggled for over five decades to bring about equality and diversity, and highlights the many benefits of school integration.
K'Meyer chronicles the local response to Brown v. Board of Education in 1956 and describes the start of countywide busing in 1975 as well as the crisis sparked by violent opposition to it. She reveals the forgotten story of the defense of integration and busing reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in the response to the 2007 Supreme Court decision known as Meredith. This long and multifaceted struggle for school desegregation, K'Meyer shows, informs the ongoing movement for social justice in Louisville and beyond.

Excerpt

In spring 2007, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the joined Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 lawsuits, which challenged the districts’ use of race as a determining factor in student assignment as a means of integrating the schools. in June, the court decreed such “voluntary desegregation” plans—so called because neither district was under court order to desegregate and thus was doing so by choice—unconstitutional. in the weeks following the decision, I avidly scoured local print and online media sources to gauge the public reaction. As a parent with two children in the public schools and a historian of the civil rights movement, I was eager to assess what the court’s verdict would mean for the Louisville community. I was struck at the time that so many people invoked the memory of one particular moment in the more than fifty-year history of the struggle for school desegregation in Louisville—the 1975 busing crisis—as the basis for comments on the order of, “We knew busing was wrong then, and now we’re vindicated.” I wondered what other memories Louisvillians had elided and how a fuller public recollection of school desegregation might have prompted a different reaction. Two years later, I was reminded of that question by my participation in a conference roundtable at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians on the historiography of school desegregation. Even the titles of many works on the history of Brown and its legacies, with phrases like “rise and retreat,” “promise and failure,” and “quiet reversal,” seemed to confirm what Louisvillians said in 2007: busing and, by extension, school desegregation were failures and should rightfully be abandoned.

Yet by this time I had read dozens of oral history interviews conducted in Louisville and Jefferson County about the history of school desegregation . . .

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