Who could forget the heart wrenching images of nine school children being escorted into Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957 by federal troops? Their fearless, valiant and courageous march past throngs of sneering racists screaming the most vile insults and threats imaginable exemplified nothing but strength and resolve.
The triumph of the Brown v Board of Education decision began to be enforced across the south, and elsewhere, as the nation’s public schools were ordered to provide equal educational opportunities for all. However, nearly 65 years later we are faced with the prospect of a violent lurch back to the bad old days of Jim Crow. Our schools are re-segregating all over the country as white parents are finding ever more clever ways to avoid sending their children to integrated schools.
This, in the wake of the new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos’ plans for vouchers, privatization, school choice and charter schools, where officials can pick and choose who they accept, the signal is clear from our federal government to our courts that integration of the nation’s public schools is no longer a primary concern. In fact, an investigation by Nation magazine found that white parents have begun secession movements from court ordered desegregation; the consequences for minority students will prove to be calamitous.
The contemporary political landscape has taken a turn towards division and apportion as we witness the resurgence of an Apartheid system in America’s public schools. The hard fought advances ushered in by the Civil Rights movement, in light of increasingly ultra-conservative social policy, has exposed exactly how temporary that progress has become.
The price of this stealthy, creeping racial segregation represents an impending national crisis. The problem is further exacerbated by courts that refuse to enforce the law by allowing complaints to languish for years, if not decades. The promise of Brown is being slowly unraveled before our eyes.
Since 2001, some 75 percent of Black and Latino students have been attending schools were resources are entirely inadequate for providing an appropriate education, according to a Government Accountability Office study; and the number continues to increase.
This so-called secession strategy by wealthy white parents has become a common practice around the country as they seek to break free of public school systems in favor of smaller, more restricted systems. These practices promise to further deepen the disparities of wealth generation between whites and people of color. The evidence is already beginning to show. For instance, in 2003 white family wealth was seven times that of Black families and nine times that of Hispanic families. By 2017, that number had climbed to 13 times that of Blacks and 10 times that of Hispanics. Much of this gap is directly attributable to policies that are partial to resegregation.
The injurious effect of unconstitutional, state-sanctioned racial discrimination has been known for many decades. For example, the Kerner Commission asserted in 1968 that, “Our nation is moving towards two societies, one Black, one white; separate and unequal.” The commission concluded that, “equality cannot be achieved under the conditions of nearly total separation.” One must then wonder what outcomes white parents are aiming to accomplish with their move to break free.
Now, more than five decades later this unequal separation continues. Those results touted by the Kerner Commission have been propagated anew. The hard fought progress since the 1960s may well be consigned to the dustbin of history and a step in the wrong direction.
Let’s be clear—it is illegal to form a school system that purposefully excludes individuals based on race. Yet, many communities across the country have been permitted to do just that. While there are still some 175 school systems nationwide that are still under federal oversight to ensure that there is not a resurgence of Jim Crow. The horrifying fact is that federal officials and judges are rarely even checking to determine whether school systems are in compliance with federal law on the matter of resegregation. What is even more amazing is that when the government does step in, they typically side with the school system that is attempting to splinter off, thereby making segregation even more pronounced.
We know that segregated educational environments lead to an unequal allocation of vital resources. With the Trump presidency, the coming years might prove to be the last in federal effort to keep schools integrated. It could be the death nail as Mr. Trump’s Justice Department could actually end the efforts under Brown and usher in an a new era of Jim Crow in the nation’s schools.
The full retreat by the federal government to enforce Brown sends a clear, unambiguous message that if parents want to create a school system where race becomes a factor in attending, the federal government will do little to stop them. The signs are already beginning to manifest as nominees for the federal bench are refusing to state publicly that they believe that Brown was the right decision.
The percentage of Black students attending majority white schools has been on the decline for the past 30 years. So while the vast majority of white parents continue to parrot the need for diversity in words, their actions indicate anything but a desire to create a level playing field for students of color.
With a single action, President Trump could end all pending federal cases concerning school integration and heave us backwards 60 years while reintroducing Jim Crow in America. Our communities must pay close attention and vigorously protest any move in this direction.