Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

"Now We Go to Their School": Desegregation and Its Contemporary Legacy

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

"Now We Go to Their School": Desegregation and Its Contemporary Legacy

Article excerpt

This article explores one southern community's response to the 1954 Brown decision and its subsequent history of dealing with school desegregation. This local perspective is developed using historical data focusing on events immediately following the Brown decision, which provide a context for events leading up to a decision in the mid-1980s to consolidate the community's middle school students to reduce perceptions of inequality based on race. This consolidated school is the focus of the second half of the article, which analyzes the current status of desegregation in the school. Although the school has been desegregated, it is far from integrated. Many racially based inequalities exist and race continues to play an important role in structuring relationships among students, teachers, and parents.

Over the last four decades, educators, politicians and the public have fervently debated school desegregation. Since the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the mandate to create desegregated schools has forced communities to redistrict, bus, and create opportunities for Black and White students to go to school together. Recently, however, courts have backed away from this mandate. According to Orfield (1996), court decisions including Milliken v. Bradley (1974), Board of Education of Oklahoma v. Dowell (1991), and Missouri v. Jenkins (1995) "reflect a quiet but severe erosion of Brown" (p. 50). In these cases, the Supreme Court ruled that efforts such as redistricting and busing were unconstitutional if they drew suburban and inner-city children together unless the suburbs could be held directly accountable for contributing to the existing segregation. These recent court decisions, often couched in the rhetoric of reform and increased local control, threaten to undermine the limited progress schools have made toward desegregation (Eaton, 1996), and they underscore what author and activist Jonathan Kozol (1991) claimed is the contemporary era of retrenchment from the commitment to integration represented by Brown. In many cases, Orfield and Yun (1999) suggested, schools have become more segregated than they were 10 years ago:

After nearly a quarter century of increasing integration [in the South], the tide turned the other way in the late 1980s. That process of resegregation has continued through the 1996-97 school year. The percent of black students in majority white schools in the South fell from a peak of 43.5% down to 34.7% in 1996, a clear and consistent eight year decline, with integration falling below the level achieved 24 years earlier, in 1972. (unnumbered page)

Because there is no universal pattern of resegregation, broad-based studies such as those conducted by Orfield and Yun (1999), Orfield and Eaton (1996), Oakes (1995), Kozol (1991), and others are helpful in mapping the changing patterns of national public opinion on issues of race and segregation. Beyond these studies, however, there is a need to explore resegregation more fully within the community context. At the local level, researchers can gain greater insight into the resegregation process by listening to the stories of parents, teachers, students, and administrators. This approach places the data in a historical and cultural context in which they are more easily understood and more useful in facilitating change. In this article, we attempt to provide such a context by characterizing the current status of desegregation in one Southern middle school in light of its historical position within the community.

We refer to the middle school as Indigo Middle School and the community as Davis. These names are pseudonyms adopted to protect the identity of the study's participants. The topic of racial resegregation is sensitive and the parents, teachers, students, and administrators who provided us with information for this study felt more comfortable doing so under the condition of anonymity. Because of our consideration for these individuals, we are unable to provide citations that would reveal Davis's location. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.