A Girl Stands at the Door: The Gen­er­a­tion of Young Women Who De­seg­re­gated Amer­ica’s Schools by Rachel Devlin

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Jonathan Zim­mer­man

A Girl Stands at the Door:

The Gen­er­a­tion of Young Women Who De­seg­re­gated

Amer­ica’s Schools by Rachel Devlin.

Ba­sic Books, 342 pp., $32.00

The School­house Gate:

Pub­lic Ed­u­ca­tion, the Supreme Court, and the Bat­tle for the Amer­i­can Mind by Justin Driver.

Pan­theon, 564 pp., $35.00

The Lost Ed­u­ca­tion of Ho­race Tate: Un­cov­er­ing the Hid­den He­roes

Who Fought for Jus­tice in Schools by Vanessa Sid­dle Walker.

New Press, 468 pp., $32.99

In 1971 Wil­liam Rehn­quist faced a bruis­ing con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. Sev­en­teen years ear­lier, in Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion of Topeka, the Court had ruled that state-spon­sored seg­re­ga­tion of schools was un­con­sti­tu­tional. But in 1952, as a clerk for Jus­tice Robert Jack­son, Rehn­quist had writ­ten a memo de­fend­ing the sep­a­rate-bute­qual doc­trine that Brown over­turned. “I re­al­ize that it is an un­pop­u­lar and un­hu­man­i­tar­ian po­si­tion, for which I have been ex­co­ri­ated by ‘lib­eral’ col­leagues, but I think Plessy v. Fer­gu­son was right and should be reaf­firmed,” Rehn­quist wrote.

At his 1971 hear­ing and again in 1986, when he was nom­i­nated for chief jus­tice, Rehn­quist in­sisted that the memo was meant to re­flect Jack­son’s opin­ion rather than his own. The claim was “in­cred­i­ble on its face,” as Jack­son’s for­mer sec­re­tary told re­porters, and al­most surely false. But the out­cry against the memo—and Rehn­quist’s need to dis­tance him­self from it at two dif­fer­ent con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings— spoke to the pow­er­ful bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus around Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion. It had be­come a sa­cred text in our civic re­li­gion, join­ing the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and the Con­sti­tu­tion as one of the doc­u­ments defin­ing the na­tion it­self. No mat­ter from what party or race or re­li­gion, it seemed, Amer­i­cans knelt at the al­tar of Brown. That may no longer be true. At their con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings this spring, two of Pres­i­dent Trump’s nom­i­nees for fed­eral judge­ships re­fused to say whether they be­lieved Brown was cor­rectly de­cided. Wendy Vit­ter and An­drew Old­ham both told the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee that it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate for them to ex­press per­sonal opin­ions about the case, even though Rehn­quist and a long line of other nom­i­nees had done pre­cisely that; as re­cently as 2006, Sa­muel Al­ito (for whom Old­ham later clerked) said in his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that Brown was “one of the great­est, if not the sin­gle great­est thing that the Supreme Court of the United States has ever done.” What­ever he ac­tu­ally be­lieved, Rehn­quist couldn’t get con­firmed to the Court with­out con­firm­ing his per­sonal sup­port for Brown. That doesn’t seem to be a job re­quire­ment for Vit­ter and Old­ham.

It’s tempt­ing to as­cribe this chang­ing stan­dard to the resur­gence of white racism in the Trump years, when for­merly tabooed big­otries have re­ceived a new lease on life. But it’s also too sim­ple. As the law pro­fes­sor Justin Driver notes in The School­house Gate, his his­tory of the Supreme Court and ed­u­ca­tion, “a tepid ap­petite for gen­uine ra­cial in­te­gra­tion in ed­u­ca­tion” per­me­ates our en­tire cul­ture. Although races are no longer sep­a­rated by law in our schools, the schools are more seg­re­gated than at any time since Brown.

There is lit­tle sus­tained ef­fort to change that. In higher ed­u­ca­tion, we have large ini­tia­tives and in­ter­est groups de­voted to en­hanc­ing the “di­ver­sity” of the stu­dent body. That’s not the case for our el­e­men­tary and se­condary schools, where most re­form ac­tiv­ity has fo­cused on im­prov­ing stu­dent achieve­ment—es­pe­cially among un­der­served poor and mi­nor­ity chil­dren—rather than on bring­ing stu­dents of dif­fer­ent back­grounds into the same class­rooms. Out­side of the openly racist fringe, you won’t find any­one who thinks that present-day seg­re­ga­tion is a pos­i­tive thing. But nei­ther will you find many politi­cians—Demo­cratic or Repub­li­can—who have em­braced broad­scale mea­sures to re­verse the trend. We have reached an odd mo­ment of neg­a­tive con­sen­sus: no­body likes school seg­re­ga­tion, but al­most no­body is deeply in­vested in chal­leng­ing it, ei­ther.

So this is a good mo­ment to look back­ward, at the mea­sures that for­merly man­dated seg­re­ga­tion and the peo­ple who fought to re­move them. Sev­en­teen states and the Dis­trict of Columbia had com­pul­sory school seg­re­ga­tion laws in 1954, part of a vast sys­tem of le­gal apartheid ex­tend­ing from Delaware to Texas. Re­flect­ing the over­all trend to­ward “his­tory from the bot­tom up,” re­cent schol­ar­ship about the strug­gle against Jim Crow has ex­am­ined the do­mes­tic work­ers, col­lege stu­dents, and la­bor or­ga­niz­ers who de­seg­re­gated buses, wa­ter foun­tains, and lunch coun­ters. But our sto­ries about chal­lenges to school seg­re­ga­tion laws re­main dom­i­nated by...lawyers. Thur­good Mar­shall looms largest of all, of course, as the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple’s Le­gal De­fense Fund and its chief coun­sel in Brown; next comes his men­tor, Charles Hamil­ton Hous­ton, whom Mar­shall cred­ited with lay­ing the strate­gic ground­work for Brown. But we know much less about the thou­sands of African-Amer­i­cans who put their bod­ies on the line by de­fy­ing seg­re­ga­tion in our schools.

That’s prob­a­bly be­cause so many of those bod­ies were fe­male. As Rachel Devlin re­minds us in her fas­ci­nat­ing book A Girl Stands at the Door, a large ma­jor­ity of the young peo­ple who ini­tially de­seg­re­gated Jim Crow schools were young women. Many Amer­i­cans would rec­og­nize the fa­mous pho­to­graph of El­iz­a­beth Eck­ford be­ing vil­i­fied by a white mob out­side of Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral High School or the Nor­man Rock­well paint­ing of Ruby Bridges be­ing es­corted by fed­eral mar­shals into an el­e­men­tary school in New Or­leans. But Devlin is the first his­to­rian to demon­strate that, col­lec­tively, girls were the van­guard of the strug­gle against Jim Crow in ed­u­ca­tion. The Lit­tle Rock Nine in­cluded six girls and three boys; in New Or­leans, all four of the chil­dren en­ter­ing all-white pri­mary schools were fe­male; and up the road in Ba­ton Rouge, twenty-two girls and six boys de­seg­re­gated lo­cal high schools. Un­like cam­paigns to elim­i­nate Jim Crow in trans­porta­tion and ac­com­mo­da­tions, which typ­i­cally ended when the laws changed, school de­seg­re­ga­tion was a con­tin­u­ous project; it re­quired its pi­o­neers not sim­ply to make a sin­gu­lar and dra­matic ges­ture, like a sit-in at a restau­rant, but to em­bed them­selves in a new in­sti­tu­tion. So it ex­posed them to con­tin­ued ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence in ways that other civil rights ef­forts rarely did. Whites pushed black stu­dents down stairs, shouted slurs at them in hall­ways, os­tra­cized them in cafe­te­rias, and left death threats in their lock­ers. When John F. Kennedy was mur­dered in 1963, white stu­dents in Ba­ton Rouge formed a cir­cle around the hand­ful of blacks at their school and chanted, “We killed Lin­coln, we killed Kennedy, and we’ll kill any­one else who tries to help N—s.” Any African-Amer­i­can who de­seg­re­gated a school en­coun­tered rit­ual cru­elty and hos­til­ity. But black girls were even more likely than black boys to be abused by white racists, who saw them as weaker and more vul­ner­a­ble than their male coun­ter­parts. Ac­tu­ally, Devlin ar­gues, the girls were bet­ter equipped to ab­sorb de­seg­re­ga­tion’s men­tal blows, and less likely to be tar­geted by its phys­i­cal ones. Many of these young women had been brought up to be “nice girls,” as they de­scribed them­selves. That meant dress­ing in con­ser­va­tive out­fits, es­chew­ing slang and ex­ple­tives, and—most of all—dis­play­ing poise and deco­rum in ev­ery in­ter­ac­tion. So they were also more able to per­form the “so­cial high-wire act” (in Devlin’s clever phrase) that de­seg­re­ga­tion de­manded, keep­ing quiet at cru­cial mo­ments and speak­ing up at oth­ers. The most com­pli­cated tests came when white ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials—as part of the de­seg­re­ga­tion process— asked young black ap­pli­cants to all­white schools if they re­ally wanted to leave their seg­re­gated schools for in­te­grated ones. If they said no, they would harm the larger cam­paign against Jim Crow in the schools; but if they said yes, they risked charges

of be­trayal from African-Amer­i­cans. In­deed, many of the pi­o­neer­ing girls in Devlin’s story re­ported painful in­sults from blacks, not just whites. Some African-Amer­i­cans charged that the girls thought they were “too good” to at­tend schools with peo­ple of their own kind; oth­ers ac­cused them of try­ing to be “white.” Black prin­ci­pals some­times pressed high-achiev­ing girls to stay in their seg­re­gated schools, which would suf­fer aca­dem­i­cally if they de­parted. For African-Amer­i­cans, Devlin notes, de­seg­re­ga­tion gen­er­ated feel­ings of pride and ac­com­plish­ment, but also “a sense of loss” for what was left be­hind.

That sense sat­u­rates Vanessa Sid­dle Walker’s book, from its plain­tive ti­tle— The Lost Ed­u­ca­tion of Ho­race Tate— to its fi­nal pages. To Walker, the “hid­den he­roes” of the de­seg­re­ga­tion story aren’t young black girls like El­iz­a­beth Eck­ford but adult black ed­u­ca­tors like Ho­race Tate, a prin­ci­pal at sev­eral all-black schools in Ge­or­gia and pres­i­dent of the state’s black teach­ers as­so­ci­a­tion. Work­ing be­hind the scenes, AfricanAmer­i­can ed­u­ca­tors bar­gained with white of­fi­cials to get more ser­vices and fa­cil­i­ties for seg­re­gated black in­sti­tu­tions. Mean­while, they se­cretly co­or­di­nated with Mar­shall and other NAACP lawyers to chal­lenge seg­re­ga­tion it­self.

In­deed, in Walker’s tale, the ed­u­ca­tors—not the lawyers— were the crit­i­cal fig­ures in shift­ing the NAACP’s goals from the equal­iza­tion of re­sources to the de­seg­re­ga­tion of schools. Black ed­u­ca­tors lived in black com­mu­ni­ties; they bore daily wit­ness to the de­pri­va­tions and hu­mil­i­a­tions of Jim Crow; so they were es­pe­cially aware that sep­a­rate could never be equal. Like the girls in Devlin’s book, black prin­ci­pals placed their lives and liveli­hoods on the line: Tate was fired sev­eral times by white school of­fi­cials, and a house he was rent­ing was burned to the ground. But they bravely pressed on for “jus­tice in schools,” Walker writes, in­sist­ing that black chil­dren de­served the same ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties as any­one else in the United States.

They never got them, of course. Black schools were closed, lead­ing to the dis­missal of thou­sands of AfricanAmer­i­can teach­ers and prin­ci­pals; and black chil­dren were bussed to for­merly all-white schools, which were some­times in­fe­rior to the ones they had left. Thanks to en­er­getic fund-rais­ing cam­paigns in African-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties, some seg­re­gated black schools boasted fa­cil­i­ties that put white schools to shame. And even when black schools lacked text­books and other es­sen­tials, Walker claims, ded­i­cated ed­u­ca­tors like Tate trans­formed them into truly ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions. At the schools he led, Tate knew ev­ery child by name. More than that, though, he knew how to “mo­ti­vate the de­prived child,” to quote one of the speak­ers at Tate’s teacher con­ven­tions. The white schools where black chil­dren were sent could not—or would not—do that. In­te­gra­tion was not the “two-way street” that civil rights war­riors like Mar­shall had imag­ined; in­stead, it con­tin­ued or even ex­ac­er­bated black op­pres­sion. “All change is not progress,” Tate told Ge­or­gia’s black teach­ers as­so­ci­a­tion in 1967. “We are fac­ing a new kind of slav­ery.” Three years later, Tate as­serted that the “sec­ond-class in­te­gra­tion” suf­fered by blacks af­ter Brown was “more evil than was seg­re­ga­tion.”

Walker takes Tate’s as­ser­tions at face value, declar­ing that de­seg­re­ga­tion was “hi­jacked” by whites “to main­tain old prac­tices of sub­or­di­na­tion.” But she pays al­most no at­ten­tion to blacks who con­tin­ued to sup­port the in­te­gra­tion project even af­ter Tate had dis­missed it as a ruse and a sham. Walker de­votes dozens of pages to the merger be­tween the black teach­ers as­so­ci­a­tion and the his­tor­i­cally white Ge­or­gia Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (GEA), which Tate feared would ig­nore African-Amer­i­can in­ter­ests: whereas the GEA sup­ported the equal­iza­tion of black and white teacher salaries, for ex­am­ple, it said al­most noth­ing about the con­tin­ued over­crowd­ing and poor fund­ing of ma­jor­ity-black schools. Tate in­vited Har­lem con­gress­man Adam Clay­ton Pow­ell Jr. to the black teach­ers’ fi­nal meet­ing, in 1970, where Pow­ell pleaded with them to main­tain their in­de­pen­dence. “No­body but a damned fool walks into an or­ga­ni­za­tion where they are im­me­di­ately out­voted three to one,” Pow­ell de­clared. But by a vote of 318 to 101 the black teach­ers as­so­ci­a­tion de­cided to dis­solve it­self and join the GEA.

Like

Tate, Walker re­gards that de­ci­sion as both a strate­gic mis­take and a mo­ral be­trayal. But she never asks why so many African-Amer­i­cans dis­agreed with Tate, or why they were will­ing to act in ways that she sees as harm­ful to black ed­u­ca­tion. The post-Brown in­te­gra­tion schemes of the 1960s were highly un­equal, re­quir­ing black teach­ers and stu­dents to bear an in­or­di­nate bur­den. But it was a bur­den that many blacks will­ingly as­sumed, be­cause they be­lieved that in­te­gra­tion—how­ever un­fairly im­ple­mented—would yield bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion for them.

They also re­ceived a boost from the fed­eral ju­di­ciary, which had done lit­tle in the decade af­ter Brown to spur de­seg­re­ga­tion be­yond the no­to­ri­ously im­pre­cise in­struc­tion that it oc­cur with “all de­lib­er­ate speed.” But in 1971 the Supreme Court’s Swann v. Char­lot­teMeck­len­burg Board of Ed­u­ca­tion de­ci­sion re­quired dis­tricts that had seg­re­gated stu­dents by law to cre­ate sys­tem-wide plans for ra­cial bal­ance in schools. The rul­ing trig­gered protests against bussing among whites, who balked at be­ing as­signed to schools out­side their neigh­bor­hoods. But few of these crit­ics had ob­jected to bussing when it sent black chil­dren like Linda Brown—the daugh­ter of the lead plain­tiffs in Brown—to seg­re­gated schools far from their homes. Court-or­dered plans helped make schools in the South more in­te­grated than those in the North, surely one of the great ironies of mod­ern United States his­tory.

The in­volve­ment of the courts is re­counted in vivid de­tail by Justin Driver, who sets out to res­cue them from the pur­ga­tory to which crit­ics across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum have con­signed them. Con­ser­va­tives charge that the courts have en­gaged in “ju­di­cial ac­tivism” for pro­gres­sive change, while frus­trated lib­er­als in­dict them for fail­ing to pro­mote it. The lead­ing fig­ure in the lat­ter move­ment is the law pro­fes­sor Der­rick Bell, who in­sists that the ju­di­cial branch has not and can­not yield jus­tice for African-Amer­i­cans. Chan­nel­ing his in­ner Rehn­quist, per­haps, Bell has even sug­gested that the Supreme Court should have af­firmed Plessy v. Fer­gu­son in the Brown de­ci­sion; that way, black stu­dents who con­tinue to at­tend seg­re­gated schools might have a bet­ter chance of ob­tain­ing equal funds and ser­vices.

Most lib­eral crit­ics of the Court don’t go that far. But they warn that we should never ex­pect the ju­di­ciary to out­pace leg­is­la­tures and the broader pub­lic, which are the real en­gines of change in the United States. To Driver, the record is much more mixed than that: some­times courts have lagged be­hind the rest of the coun­try, but at other mo­ments they have taken the lead. And they have helped ex­pand the rights of Amer­i­can chil­dren, al­beit un­evenly and im­per­fectly. In a way, then, Driver aims to breathe new life into the old lawyer­driven nar­ra­tive. Courts and at­tor­neys might not be as cru­cial as ear­lier gen­er­a­tions imag­ined in their paeans to Thur­good Mar­shall and Charles Hous­ton. But if you look at the long record of ju­di­cial in­ter­ven­tion on mat­ters of ed­u­ca­tion, you see that the courts still mat­ter for young Amer­i­cans. Un­for­tu­nately, Driver is on firmer ground for that claim when he looks at is­sues other than race. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s in­ter­ces­sion, stu­dents no longer have to re­cite the Pledge of Al­le­giance, schools can­not con­duct prayers, they can­not pro­hibit stu­dents from ex­press­ing po­lit­i­cal opin­ions, and they can­not sus­pend or ex­pel stu­dents with­out pro­vid­ing a hear­ing. But what has the Court done to fur­ther the cause of ra­cial jus­tice and equal­ity? The 1971 de­ci­sion in Swann and sub­se­quent rul­ings al­lowed fed­eral reme­dies to over­turn de jure seg­re­ga­tion—that is, seg­re­ga­tion by law—but blocked sim­i­lar reme­dies in cases of de facto seg­re­ga­tion, or seg­re­ga­tion by fact. The dis­tinc­tion was a fal­lacy, ig­nor­ing the way that fed­eral hous­ing pol­icy and many other gov­ern­men­tal ac­tions had struc­tured seg­re­ga­tion in the North; as James Bald­win fa­mously ob­served, de facto meant that seg­re­ga­tion hap­pened but no­body did it.

And three years af­ter Swann, in the piv­otal Mil­liken v. Bradley case, the Court struck down metropoli­tan-wide plans to in­te­grate ur­ban school dis­tricts with ad­join­ing sub­ur­ban ones. The de­ci­sion drew a sting­ing dis­sent from Mar­shall, who had joined the Court a decade ear­lier but had grown de­spon­dent over its un­will­ing­ness to ad­dress race. “Our na­tion . . . will be ill served by the Court’s re­fusal to rem­edy sep­a­rate and un­equal ed­u­ca­tion,” Mar­shall wrote, “for un­less our chil­dren be­gin to learn to­gether, there is lit­tle hope that our peo­ple will ever learn to live to­gether.”

Civil rights lead­ers echoed Mar­shall, warn­ing that Mil­liken would re­in­force the grow­ing di­vide be­tween poor black ur­ban res­i­dents and wealth­ier white sub­ur­ban­ites. But the rul­ing also ex­posed age-old ten­sions among African-Amer­i­cans, who were never as united on school in­te­gra­tion as we some­times imag­ine. To ad­her­ents of “Black Power,” es­pe­cially, ef­forts to mix African-Amer­i­can chil­dren with whites re­flected a racist as­sump­tion that black schools—and blacks, pe­riod—were in­fe­rior. That ar­gu­ment in­verted the logic of Brown, which ar­gued that seg­re­gat­ing black chil­dren by race harmed their self-im­age. And it found a re­cep­tive au­di­ence among black con­ser­va­tives like Clarence Thomas, who re­placed Mar­shall on the Supreme Court in 1991 as its lone AfricanAmer­i­can jus­tice. “‘Ra­cial iso­la­tion’ it­self is not a harm; only state-en­forced seg­re­ga­tion is,” wrote Thomas, who had hung a poster of Mal­colm X on his wall in col­lege. “Af­ter all, if sep­a­ra­tion it­self is a harm, and if in­te­gra­tion there­fore is the only way that blacks can re­ceive a proper ed­u­ca­tion, then there must be some­thing in­fe­rior about blacks.” As Thomas and other Repub­li­can nom­i­nees joined the Supreme Court, it backed away from its al­ready lim­ited com­mit­ment to school in­te­gra­tion. The pre­dictable re­sult has been a re­seg­re­ga­tion of dis­tricts like Char­lot­teMeck­len­burg, where schools quickly re­verted to re­flect the ra­cial com­po­si­tion of the neigh­bor­hoods where they were lo­cated. Most re­cently, in the Par­ents In­volved in Com­mu­nity Schools v. Seat­tle School Dis­trict No. 1 rul­ing of 2007, the Supreme Court struck down dis­trict in­te­gra­tion plans that used race as a fac­tor in as­sign­ing stu­dents to schools; ac­cord­ing to Chief Jus­tice John Roberts, that was no more con­sti­tu­tional than seg­re­gat­ing them. “The way to stop dis­crim­i­na­tion on the ba­sis of race is to stop dis­crim­i­nat­ing on the ba­sis of race,” Roberts in­toned. In the end, he con­cluded, the case came down to a de­bate over “the her­itage of Brown.” Did it sim­ply pro­hibit the state-man­dated seg­re­ga­tion of chil­dren in schools? Or did it also re­quire schools to take af­fir­ma­tive mea­sures to in­te­grate?

Most of all, what is the value of hav­ing stu­dents of dif­fer­ent back­grounds in the same class­rooms? Who ben­e­fits when that hap­pens, and who loses? Those aren’t sim­ply le­gal ques­tions; they’re also his­tor­i­cal ones. The way we tell the story of school in­te­gra­tion will have enor­mous bear­ing upon its fu­ture. Con­sider the term “bussing,” which has be­come po­lit­i­cal kryp­tonite al­most ev­ery­where. In a re­cent in­ter­view, for ex­am­ple, New York mayor Bill de Bla­sio be­moaned ra­cial seg­re­ga­tion in the city but warned against ef­forts to trans­port chil­dren to schools out­side their neigh­bor­hoods. In Bos­ton, where the mayor grew up, bussing “ab­so­lutely poi­soned the well,” he main­tained. “I think his­tory is on my side here,” he added. Ac­tu­ally, it isn’t. Although the mayor is right about Bos­ton, he’s wrong to in­voke that sin­gu­lar and deeply con­tentious

episode as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the whole coun­try. As Driver re­minds us, a 1981 Har­ris poll found that 87 per­cent of the par­ents of chil­dren who were bussed to pro­mote in­te­gra­tion viewed the ex­pe­ri­ence as ei­ther “very sat­is­fac­tory” (54 per­cent) or “par­tially sat­is­fac­tory” (33 per­cent); only 11 per­cent said it was un­sat­is­fac­tory.

Nor should we sup­pose that the larger project of de­seg­re­ga­tion was a trau­matic set­back for African-Amer­i­cans, as Walker some­times im­plies. Surely it led to some hugely un­just out­comes, es­pe­cially the dis­missal of qual­i­fied and ef­fec­tive black ed­u­ca­tors. But as one of the fe­male pi­o­neers in Devlin’s story warns, it’s “ahis­tor­i­cal” to imag­ine that black ed­u­ca­tion be­fore Brown was a bed of roses; de­spite some ex­cep­tional schools and teach­ers, most black Amer­i­cans were stuck in “in­fe­rior kinds of spa­ces.” That’s why so many coura­geous African-Amer­i­cans—in­clud­ing ado­les­cent girls, vet­eran ed­u­ca­tors, and civil rights lawyers—chal­lenged school seg­re­ga­tion in the first place.

To bor­row from Adam Clay­ton Pow­ell, no­body but a fool would as­sert that they won the full equal­ity they sought. But only a cynic would claim that our cur­rent ra­cial or­der is as cruel, vi­o­lent, and in­equitable as the one that came be­fore it. And only a nos­tal­gist would pre­tend that per­haps state-spon­sored seg­re­ga­tion wasn’t so bad af­ter all. That dis­torts the mem­ory of the brave peo­ple who fought it, and it blinds us to the real task that lies ahead. As an­other one of Devlin’s pi­o­neer­ing women tells her, seg­re­gated schools “are not good for kids.” We know this, in our bones: sep­a­rate can­not be equal. We just don’t have the will to change it.

Re­cess on the first day of in­te­gra­tion at Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral High School, Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas, 1957

Ho­race Tate with Martin Luther King Jr. at a meet­ing of the Ge­or­gia Teach­ers and Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, 1967

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