Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

When Minorities Are the Majority/ a Challenge to Desegregation, the Challenge for Public Education (Minneapolis, a Case Study)

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

When Minorities Are the Majority/ a Challenge to Desegregation, the Challenge for Public Education (Minneapolis, a Case Study)

Article excerpt


Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court held in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, (1) that state-sanctioned racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional the children in America's urban school districts continue to attend schools that predominantly are racially-isolated. In Minneapolis, the student profile is in stark contrast with the racial demographic of the city's residents. Where 86% of the population is white, 70% of the school children are of color. Approximately ninety languages are spoken in Minneapolis classrooms and nearly 30% reside in homes where English is not spoken. (2) Within this context, desegregation, as it is traditionally defined, is as conceptually anachronistic as it is impossible to achieve.

This paper examines the assumptions of desegregation as a means to academic opportunity and argues that desegregation, as assumed in Brown, can no longer be the conditional precedent to a quality education. It concludes that where white middle class students are few in number, and courts were reluctant to advance the legacy of Earl Warren--the Chief Justice who delivered the Brown decision (3)--urban school districts like Minneapolis are challenged to provide a quality education in racial isolation. Rather than expending resources on achieving racial balance, more investment must be made in providing equitable access to academic opportunity and professional development.

Until the 1970s, the fight against school segregation was largely perceived to be a Southern matter. However, neighborhoods in northern cities were increasingly becoming racially identifiable and the schools reflected the neighborhoods in which they were situated. The U.S. Department of Housing, Education and Welfare (HEW) Office for Civil Rights found that between 1970 and 1974, black school children were more segregated in northern schools than in southern schools, and black school children in midwestern schools experienced the highest percentage of segregation of all regions in the nation. (4)

Inevitably, federal courts in the North began hearing cases and imposing remedies that were intended to create racial balance which was viewed as a means to equitable access. With the Supreme Court's decision in Swann v. Mecklenburg which held that busing was a constitutional method for achieving racial balance, a new challenge to desegregation arose. s Because of protests against "forced busing" by ever-growing constituencies politicians at the local, state and federal levels began seeking ways to thwart desegregation remedies, emboldened when President Richard Nixon warned federal officials to cease from implementing desegregation plans, a sentiment that was later echoed by his successor, Gerald Ford. (6) Nixon further threatened to seek legislation or even a constitutional amendment to prevent courts from promoting racial integration through busing students. Later in the 1970s, Congress barred the use of federal funds as a way to curb mandatory busing. (7)

For whites, their neighborhood was a veritable birthright to which forced busing was a threat. If their neighborhood schools could not be preserved, then they would either fight or move to a safer place. Nixon had already thrown his support behind protecting the suburbs against forced busing with urban schools. (8) The partnership between the executive and judiciary branches of the federal government that had succeeded in advancing desegregation in the South during the late 1960s fractured by the early 1970s. The Supreme Court decision in a 1974 Michigan case embodied a sign of changing times as the conservative influence of Nixonappointees to the court was just then being felt.

In Millikin v Bradley, the court narrowly held by a 5 to 4 vote that forced busing between the predominately black school district of Detroit and the predominately white school district of the neighboring suburb was an invalid method for achieving desegregated urban schools. …

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