SEGREGATION, SHOW-ME STYLE BROWN VS. BOARD WAS ALMOST ARNOLD VS. KIRKWOOD Series: Black, White and Brown 40 Years of Desegregation Sidebar Story
Harry Levins Of the Post-Dispatch Robert W. Tabscott of the Elijah Lovejoy Society of Webster Groves and John Wright, an assistant superintendent schools, provided an invaluable amount of research material story., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
ST. LOUIS SEGREGATED its schools for 117 years, which is a lot longer than Dixie did.
Even so, when state-ordered segregation ended here, it sank with hardly a ripple. No mobs marched; no politician blocked a schoolhouse door. Parents of black students in St. Louis County voiced the only discontent as some school districts took longer to integrate than others.
What made St. Louis so different at both ends of segregation's history?
Geography, mostly. At the beginning, the city sat too far south to be Northern. In the end, it sat too far north to be Southern.
As White As Chalk
St. Louis opened its first public schools in April 1838. By the standards of the American frontier, that put the city way ahead of its time.
Massachusetts had long required church schooling; in 1837, that state took the first steps toward what we'd recognize today as a public school system, free of the churches.
St. Louis needed a few years to catch up. The city's schools became truly "public" only in 1849, when voters replaced tuition with a property tax.
In the slave states - and Missouri was one - people who educated blacks did so very quietly. The notion of educating blacks frightened most slave-state whites.
Educating blacks would put ideas in their heads. Educating blacks would sour them on their lot as hewers of wood and haulers of water. Educating blacks would give them the organizational skill they needed to revolt.
Although little educating was going on, black or white, the slave-states made sure that blacks stayed on the outside, looking in.
For example, Missouri's Legislature decreed in 1847 that "no person shall keep or teach any school for the instruction of negroes or mulattoes, in reading or writing."
A few scofflaws defied the law. By the standards of their day, they were radicals - people like the Rev. John M. Peck, a Baptist, a missionary and a white man. As early as 1818, he was vexing his neighbors by teaching blacks in the city.
In fact, The city's blacks received what little schooling they got from men of the cloth. Some of these radical clerics were free blacks. One was the Rev. John Berry Meachum, who had been ordained by Peck.
When Missouri took blacks out of schools, Meachum took blacks out of Missouri. The youngsters he taught rode skiffs each day out into the Mississippi River, where they went to school aboard a boat.
Other black ministers camouflaged their lessons as Sunday school, which was allowed. But whenever the authorities found chalk and slates - evidence of writing - they shut down the schools.
Like so many wars, the Civil War changed everything.
Jim Crow Wings In
The fortunes of war gave the South's slaves their freedom, but nothing else. They had neither cash nor the skill needed to lay hands on cash. Early in 1865, Congress set up a sort of disaster relief agency.
The Freeman's Bureau provided blacks with basics like food and shelter. More importantly, it set up more than 4,300 schools for them.
Churches and charities in the North helped. New England shipped down thousands of young churchwomen as teachers, and the North as a whole kicked in money. But the agency shut down in 1872.
By then, some Southern states were setting up a few public schools. The schools tended to be segregated - which made them a bit of an oddity.
Most of us think of Jim Crow segregation as a post-Civil War phenomenom that sprang up across the South as soon as the guns fell silent. It didn't. In most fields of everyday Southern life, segregation took root slowly, and late.
By and large, Jim Crow stayed at bay until the 1880s, after the North's army of occupation pulled out. As late as the 1930s and 1940s, cities and states in the South were adding new places and activities to the segregated list.
From the start, most whites drew the line at sending their children to school with blacks. …