62 years after Brown v. Board of Education, segregation is still not history.

With the recent desegregation of public schools in Cleveland, Mississippi, the hard truth that segregation still exists must be dealt with nationwide.

Photo by Book Mama

The en banc decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Mendez v. Westminster, paved the way for the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  In 1947, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the segregation of Mexican and Mexican American students into separate “Mexican schools” was unconstitutional.  It was the first ruling in the United States in favor of desegregation.  Thurgood Marshall filed an amicus brief in favor of desegregation and used those arguments when he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown.  On May 17, 1954, now Chief Justice Earl Warren authored the unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that “separate but equal” facilities are inherently unequal and violate the protections of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Although this decision has been lauded as the one that changed our nation’s schools, the promise of equal education for all is yet to be kept.

For the first time in its 100 year history…students will not attend a school where almost all of the other students belong to the same race…

Days before the 62nd anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi ordered the Cleveland School District to desegregate its schools.  For the first time in its 100 year history, this school district’s students will not attend a school where almost all of the other students belong to the same race or ethnicity.  This case was initiated during the summer of 1965.  The first named plaintiff, “Diane Cowan, minor,” a fourth-grader at the time, is now a 57-year-old clerk with the U.S. Postal Service.  The legal battle has continued for 50 years because the Cleveland, Mississippi school district has failed to integrate.

The town of 12,000 people, like many towns and cities in America, is racially segregated.  A railroad track runs through the town.  Black people live on the east side of the tracks and white people live on the west side.  In the early 1960’s, the town’s schools were explicitly segregated by race.  Over the years the school district claimed to have taken measures to promote integration, but blamed community members for not choosing to attend the different schools.  In 2011, even though White people made up 30 percent of the student population, 99.7 percent of the students attending East Side High School were black. This time, the U.S., as an intervenor plaintiff, argued that none of the school district’s efforts had worked.  It did not accuse the school district of active resistance or any ill will, but of failure.

Judge Brown decided that fear of “white flight” did not override the students’ constitutional rights…

This caused Judge Debra Brown to order that the high schools be merged into a single school, and similarly combining middle schools.  The defendants argued that forcing integration by merging would cause white families to turn to private schools, causing a drop in enrollment.  Judge Brown decided that the fear of “white flight” did not override the students’ constitutional right to an integrated education.  Judge Brown stated,  “The delay in segregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally-guaranteed right of an integrated education.  Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the District to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden.”  In her ruling, Judge Brown also ordered the parties to submit a proposed timeline to implement the plan and ensure the immediate termination of the school district’s dual system.  She set the deadline for no later than 21 days from the entry of her opinion.   The Cleveland School District’s board responded by stating that it, “is studying the judge’s 96-page ruling issued late Friday and is strongly considering an appeal.”

The percentage of all schools with racial or socio-economic isolation grew from 9% to 16%.

Unfortunately, segregation in public schools is a problem that is occurring nationwide and is only getting worse.  Two years ago, Democratic Representatives Bobby Scott (VA), the ranking Democrat on the House education committee, and John Conyers, Jr. (MI), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, spearheaded a request for a study on how segregated the nation’s public schools really are.  The report, released on the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, by the Government Accountability Office shows that from the 2000-2001 to the 2013-2014 school year, both the percentage of K-12 public schools in high-poverty and of schools comprised of mostly Black or Latino students grew significantly.  It more than doubled, from 7,009 schools to 15,089 schools.  The percentage of all schools with racial or socio-economic isolation grew from 9 percent to 16 percent.  Researchers define “isolated schools” as those in which 75 percent or more of students are of the same race or class.  Such schools, investigators found, offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college-prep or advanced courses.  These schools also had higher rates of students who were held back in ninth grade, suspended, or expelled.   Overall, investigators also discovered that Latino students tended to be “triple segregated” by race, economics, and language.

These findings are not new to civil rights advocates, who for years have complained that U.S. schools are separated by race and class.  On May 16, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA released a report that demonstrated that even though the number of minority students in U.S. public schools has grown over the past three decades, diversity has decreased in many schools.  It noted that the percentage of “hyper-segregated schools, in which 90% or more of the students are minorities, grew since 1988 from 5.7 percent to 18.4 percent.”  The report explains that 1988 was the high point of desegregation for Black students in terms of the number of students in majority white schools.  However, by l991 an increasingly conservative Supreme Court authorized the termination of desegregation plans, beginning a period of continuously increasing segregation for Black and Latino students that continued throughout the latest year of their data.  The report concluded that the top five states with the most “hyper-segregated” schools are, New York, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Michigan, and California.

Stanford University researchers have also recently released an analysis of more than 200 million test scores of 40 million students from around the country between 2009 and 2013.  Their analysis concluded that some of the wealthiest, most-educated towns in the United States, such as Berkeley, CA, and Chapel Hill, NC, have the biggest academic-achievement gaps between white students and their peers of color.  On average, black students score two grade levels lower than white students in their districts, while Latinos score one and a half grade levels lower.  The gaps emerge both between low income and affluent children, and between white and minority children.  The researchers suggest that this is largely because black and Latino students are more likely to come from poor families, and to attend high-poverty schools.  However, even when students share similar socioeconomic backgrounds and attend similar schools, white students fare better.  Although the study does not offer much to explain why, Sean Reardon, a Stanford education professor and one of the leads on the study, hypothesized this may be because schools place white students into more rigorous courses.  This hypothesis is supported by other recent findings, such as a report from Vanderbilt University suggesting schools underestimate the abilities of Black and Latino students.  A study from Johns Hopkins University also found that white teachers are less likely than black teachers to think their black students will graduate from high school.

Busing became a catchall term for a complicated resistance…

Another contributor to this problem is the parents of these white schools and communities.  A common program that has been used in the past to attempt to solve this issue is busing.  Nonetheless, this program has also encountered resistance.  As historian Matthew F. Delmont explains in his new book, Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation, New York City parents created the language that would lead the opposition to racially mixed schools.  This language, which emphasizes the importance of neighborhood schools and opposition to citywide busing, remains as the primary weapon for communities who fight integrated schools today.  Delmont states that, “’Busing’ became a catch-all, euphemistic term for a complicated resistance to racially mixed schools.  Similar language is still used today.  You can say you’re opposing busing, and that resonated more powerfully, and sounded better and less racist than saying, “We don’t want to send our kids to desegregated schools or we don’t want black kids sent to our schools.”  It was a language that got kicked up really well in the media.  This busing narrative is comforting because it authorizes people to accept the continuing racial and socioeconomic segregation of schools in the United States as inevitable and unchangeable.”

In 1957, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins was the first Black student to attend Harding High in Charlotte, NC.  After only four days of attending the all-white school, Dorothy was forced to leave because of all of the abuse she had endured.  Dorothy states, “I did not feel I was being protected in any way within the confines of the school because there were adults there and they did nothing.”  Now 73, she is at the forefront of a debate about whether recently re-segregated Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools should integrate classrooms along socio-economic lines.

When she attends school board meetings, Dorothy says that some parents suggest that people from disadvantaged neighborhoods might “not value education the way I do,” or “don’t share the same passion for learning.”  Some suggested that low-income schools will never perform well because those parents are less involved.  Dorothy expressed that these comments remind her of what she used to hear in 1957.  She explains, “Some of the comments I have heard in some of those meetings, a lot of them are racial. Some of them are subtle and some of them are not.  These children are growing up in this country and this is what they’re hearing.  That’s the part sometimes that saddens me.”

Racism exists at all levels.

This issue is a sign of the bigger problem that our society must stop ignoring: racism in America.  Racism exists at all levels.  Aside from education, it exists in housing, employment, and in our “justice” system, among others.  As Anna Cano Morales, director of the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University, stated, “Why aren’t we talking about the segregation of adults?”  This conversation is one we must all have in order for our society to improve and become more prosperous.  The morning before she left to attend Harding High for the first time, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins’ father told her, “Remember all the things you’ve been taught.  Hold your head up high.  You’re not less than anyone else.”  Dorothy stated, “I felt I had all that in me when I went there, knowing that, yes, this is right.  I’m doing the right thing.”  We must do what is right for our children and ensure that they all grow up knowing that they are not less than anyone else and have the same opportunity to receive a proper education and be successful.

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About Josue Jimenez, Managing Editor Emeritus (18 Articles)
Josue Jimenez is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as the Managing Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. He is a Los Angeles, California native, but has lived in Charlotte, NC, since November, 2003. In 2013, Josue graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in Global Studies (Concentration in Politics, region Latin America) and Religious Studies (Focus on Early Christianity). From August, 2013- July, 2014, Josue worked as a legal assistant at an immigration law firm in Grand Rapids, MI. During the summer of 2015, he interned at Fayad Law, PC, where he worked on immigration and criminal defense cases. In the summer of 2016, Josue interned at the Charlotte Immigration Court where he prepared draft decisions for Immigration Judges on immigration matters including cancellation of removal and asylum applications. As well as, consulted with Immigration Judges and Judicial Law Clerks regarding pending decisions. During his final semester at Campbell Law Josue interned in the Legislative Analysis Division of the NC General Assembly. There, Josue assisted attorneys in the Division with numerous projects that dealt with constituent requests to pending legislation. These projects also covered a wide range of legal issues, ranging from multi-state surveys related to health and human services, agriculture, immigration, and aviation, to research on current state and federal law related to employment, local governments, veterans, immigration, and criminal law. Josue also served as the Vice-President of the Student Bar Association and a Peer Mentor during the 2016-2017 academic year.
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