Black Support Wanes for Goal of Integration at Its Convention This Week, the NAACP Defends 43-Year Drive to Desegregate Schools

By Ann Scott Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 17, 1997 | Go to article overview

Black Support Wanes for Goal of Integration at Its Convention This Week, the NAACP Defends 43-Year Drive to Desegregate Schools


Ann Scott Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Wanda Stewart's encounter with public-school integration was short and not very sweet.

As a teenager in the mid-1980s, Miss Stewart watched officials in her hometown of Lake Charles, La., merge her predominantly black high school with a white school nearby. The result shocked her.

"Just about all the whites left. The white teachers left too," says Stewart, who is black. "After that, the city let the school go down." Disillusioned by that display of racism - and by others ranging from verbal abuse to paddlings by white teachers - Stewart enrolled three years ago in Chicago State University, where the student body is 92 percent black. "I wanted a black college," she says, to escape "the hidden agenda {of racism}." Across America, many blacks share Stewart's frustration with what they view as the nation's troubled and costly efforts to desegregate public schools in the face of white resistance. This week, such sentiments are fueling a debate between critics and supporters of school integration at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention. NAACP chairman Merlie Evers-Williams sanctioned the debate but reaffirmed the backing of the nation's largest civil rights group for integration. "The NAACP has not and will not retreat from our bedrock policy to seek full and complete equity in all aspects of American life - especially in education," she said in a July 13 address to the NAACP's 88th convention in Pittsburgh. Supporters of integration say a policy reversal by the 600,000-member NAACP could set the stage for a dangerous backsliding into racial division. "This would be viewed ... as an endorsement {for school districts} to evade racial integration," says Edgar Epps, professor of urban education at the University of Chicago. "No one outside the black community has the right to determine where black students go to school." A call to redistribute funds Yet other African-American scholars and citizens contend that money spent on integration would be better used to improve predominantly black and Hispanic schools, especially in poor, inner-city neighborhoods. "A renewed emphasis on racial integration is the wrong response," according to Glenn Loury, a professor of economics and director of the Institute on Race and Social Division at Boston University. "In the many districts where most students are nonwhite, it has long made more sense to address those students' educational needs directly {by reducing class size, lengthening the school day, and expanding support services}, rather than to spend scarce resources trying to get white families to send their children to the same schools as minorities," Professor Loury states. Already, data indicate that the resegregation of American schools is under way, following landmark court decisions and demographic trends that have led to a steady rise in the percentage of minorities in America's schools. In the early 1990s, as the United States Supreme Court made it easier for public schools to end desegregation orders, the percentage of minority students attending schools where more than half the students are white fell appreciably, according to a study released this spring by Gary Orfield of the Harvard University School of Education in Cambridge, Mass. …

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