FORTY YEARS after Brown vs. the Board of Education, many
schools in St. Louis and other big cities offer education that is
separate and manifestly unequal.
At Beaumont High School, for example, 99 percent of the
students are black. No one has a chance to take calculus. The
advanced English class has been axed. And there's no drama club to
fill the renovated auditorium.
It's no wonder that four decades avter Brown vs. the Board of
Educationk, Derrick Brooks gets on the bus to the suburbs.
It's 5:20 a.m. and Derrick Brooks is in high gear ironing his
shirt for school. The bus comes at 6 for the trip from the city to
Kirkwood High School.
When Derrick was placed in an overcrowded first-grade classroom
in the city, his mother, Verdell Brooks, enrolled him and his
brothers in the voluntary city-county transfer plan as it entered
its second year, in 1984.
The decision has been a success. Derrick has a 4.0 grade point
average, is an officer of his junior class and treasurer of the
National Honor Society. He's a role model for black students and
shatters whites' stereotypes.
"Hey, reverend, what did you get?" a white student yells to
Brooks after the history teacher passes back tests later in the
day. The white student's 94 is two points better than Brooks' 92.
"I beat the reverend. I beat the reverend," he chants.
If Brooks attended his neighborhood school, Beaumont, he'd find
no white students measuring themselves against him. Nor could he
pencil in calculus on his senior class schedule, as he has at
Kirkwood in preparation for a career in chemical engineering.
Brooks illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the St. Louis
desegregation program, the nation's most expensive school
desegregation plan per pupil.
Here's a report card on the desegregation plan, based on
interviews with educators, classroom observations and written
The unique city-to-suburbs transfer plan offers Derrick and
13,000 other students each year a bus ride to a good education in
an integrated setting. The program has problems, but it shows
modest educational gains and launches exceptional students to
The city's magnet schools also offer top-flight, integrated
education. But many students can't get in, some magnets have
deteriorated, and others still aren't up and running.
The program to improve the quality of education for those left
in segregated city schools has fallen far short. Forty years after
the U.S. Supreme Court said "separate but equal" schools were
unconstitutional, some St. Louis city schools are separate and
"If I were the judge, I would require the St. Louis school
board to come up with a plan that would work and right now," says
James D. Dixon II, director of the court-appointed Education
Monitoring and Advisory Committee. He adds, "There is a lack of
vision, and the Board of Education lacks the vision."
The Missouri Constitution required separate schools for
"children of African descent" until 1976, 22 years after Brown.
Six weeks after Brown, the Missouri attorney general issued an
opinion telling school districts they could decide "whether (they)
must integrate." The opinion was the first of a long line of
unsupportive pronouncements from Missouri attorneys general on
school desegregation - a line extending into the 1990s.
"We got no help whatsoever from the state," recalls Daniel L.
Schlafly, a member of the St. Louis Board of Education when the
court ruled on Brown in May 1954.
The St. Louis school board was ready with a plan to
desegregate, and it voted unanimously the next month to put it into
effect. But, Schlafly says, the enrollment at schools like Soldan
and Northwest high schools "sadly and inexorably" became more and
more black in the 1960s. Whites were moving to the county.
Meanwhile, Minnie Liddell was getting angry. …