School Resegregation: Must the South Turn Back?

School Resegregation: Must the South Turn Back?

School Resegregation: Must the South Turn Back?

School Resegregation: Must the South Turn Back?


Confronting a reality that many policy makers would prefer to ignore, contributors to this volume offer the latest information on the trend toward the racial and socioeconomic resegregation of southern schools. In the region that has achieved more widespread public school integration than any other since 1970, resegregation, combined with resource inequities and the current "accountability movement," is now bringing public education in the South to a critical crossroads.

In thirteen essays, leading thinkers in the field of race and public education present not only the latest data and statistics on the trend toward resegregation but also legal and policy analysis of why these trends are accelerating, how they are harmful, and what can be done to counter them. What's at stake is the quality of education available to both white and nonwhite students, they argue. This volume will help educators, policy makers, and concerned citizens begin a much-needed dialogue about how America can best educate its increasingly multiethnic student population in the twenty-first century.


The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision declaring segregated schools unconstitutional directly threatened the South’s social traditions. After Reconstruction was dismantled in the 1870s and 1880s, the South gained the right to manage race relations as it wished. It built a comprehensive system of racial separation, a system legitimized by the Supreme Court in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” decision. But then, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court said that this system of mandatory racial segregation was illegitimate. To its advocates, Brown promised a new day in which the color lines at the heart of all major southern institutions would finally come down and opportunity and access would no longer depend on race. To its opponents, Brown directly threatened the racial system on which the region was founded.

The year that Brown was decided, the University of North Carolina Press published a remarkable book, Harry Ashmore’s The Negro and the Schools, that summarized the work of forty scholars studying the South’s segregated schools. The volume portrayed a region with deeply unequal schools and last-minute efforts at equalization under the threat of imposed desegregation but with pervasive separation and inequality remaining after nearly sixty years of “separate but equal” education. This book, published just after the fiftieth anniversary of Brown, tells of a South where schools have been transformed beyond recognition, where apartheid gave way as southern schools became the nation’s most integrated, but where there is now a strong trend backward toward greater racial separation in an ever more diverse and urbanized region.

Brown is almost universally celebrated as the greatest twentieth-century Supreme Court decision; in its wake, the South changed deeply. Yet Brown’s legacy for southern schools is still uncertain. In fact, in the early twenty-first century, segregation is again growing after decades of progress toward integration. If the present period turns out to be another turning point for southern society, it deserves the most careful analysis. Although most Americans prefer to think of . . .

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