The Children of Abbott
For journalists awaiting the Abbott II ruling that spring of 1990, Ray Abbott’s story was a gift from the news gods. The alphabetical accident that had put Ray’s name at the head of Marilyn Morheuser’s plaintiff list provided the peg on which to hang a human drama more compelling than school-funding statistics and constitutional analyses could ever be. Reduced to the shorthand of daily journalism, what the reporters found seemed to fit comfortably with their middle-class readers’ cherished assumptions about inner-city life. No one had time to find out whether Ray’s story was more complicated than that. Yet complexity would prove to be a hallmark of all the Abbott children’s stories. The Abbott plaintiffs fashioned their lives from the raw materials their families and schools provided, and like young people everywhere, they made foolish mistakes—sometimes deadly serious ones. Unlike their more fortunate peers, however, they did not always have a safety net to cushion their fall.
In the years since the filing of Abbott v. Burke, Luci Abbott had married George Cherry, the African American school administrator eighteen years her senior, and given birth to another son. Luci was still teaching in the Camden public schools, but when Ray reached high school, she enrolled him in a local Catholic school. One day that fall, Ray arrived home to find police cars at the door. His house had been burglarized, and the thieves’ takings included something Ray cared about—a gift from one of