60 Years After Brown v. Board of Education

Depending on who you believe—for example, that America is less segregated than it was in 1954—the landmark education case Brown v. Board of Education succeeded in changing the landscape of equal but separate education for all children. A more complicated review of segregation in America now indicates that although there has been much conversation and many changes in schools, desegregation has happened and re-segregation has also happened.

Published just days before the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling, the report, titled “Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future,” takes a look at schools’ demographics since the days when the National Guard had to be brought in to ensure that black and white students could learn together safely. While the report says that Brown -– and subsequent court decisions on desegregation — were initially successful, especially in the South, schools have become increasingly re-segregated since the 1990s. (Huffington Post).

So it would seem the back-sliding into a re-segregated school system, where the neighborhoods re-claim their schools was a natural outcome given that moving children away from their schools is so hard to accomplish. But the pattern of failure may also be tied to a refusal to deal with the more important question of why our schools in poor neighborhoods are segregated by their under-resourced status. Is this failure part of a larger structural flaw, where we work on smaller issues of racism as opposed to larger issues of racism where we under-support non-whites in poor neighborhoods? Is our real failure to construct a better conversation based on what we can more easily act upon, rather than taking on the larger racism that seems to continue to exist all around us and is so difficult to talk about?

Brown embodies a fundamental, even a fatal, flaw that runs deep in the American racial narrative. The argument in the case turns on the specific harm suffered by black children and the feelings of inferiority that result from segregation, rather than the despicable, immoral and destructive system of white supremacy itself. Black people – not racism – were the acknowledged concern; black pathology, however, not white privilege became the focus of action. And the institutions of white supremacy live on: mass incarceration and massive school closings in black communities, home foreclosures which disproportionately erase black wealth, and the gutting of voting rights for black people. On and on and on. (Bill Ayers in

The American racial narrative provides for more easily remembered signposts of progress and less easily recalled realities of segregated neighborhoods. Schools are the reflection of these neighborhoods, so the larger racism endemic in America’s real estate and work place are more of the cause for poorly educated children who are not given the educational promise of a free and equal education. On this July 4th, let us remember to give voice to the more rigid racism that still exists in America, while celebrating the past successes, and working toward newer more meaningful reforms that help us to achieve what we more easily remember about ourselves, the best of our melting pot, a freedom loving country and an equal educational opportunity for all.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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