How schools got desegregated ... and then resegregated


This article really hits home. I started out in a mostly black school (in Memphis), then went to an all-white school, then a de-segregated “optional” school that allowed white people who were to be bussed to 100% black schools to avoid that but still stay in the public school. Most white people simply went to private schools. But my high school was 50% white and 50% black and people got along. It was a great experience. We didn’t realize it was temporary. It is very sad.

Now to add insult to injury, the mania for school reform pretty much exists to redirect efforts to improve poor schools from alleviating poverty or paying teachers better to privatizing and profiting from education dollars. This won’t work and the burden will, as usual, fall on the poorest as private companies with almost no oversight are allowed to do whatever they want.


I was at the Rosa Parks museum this summer - in Montgomery, AL, where my grandparents lived. I noticed that the story ended at the triumphant desegregation of the buses - not that part that I remember, that in the last half century all the white people stopped riding the buses, the downtown became irrelevant, and not much changed at all except the most overt signs of racism like separate water fountains.


The progress is astounding, if you think about it. I mean, look at how much racism has evolved during the last forty years. We’ve come all the way from Jim Crow to dog-whistle politics. I’d challenge you to name another social institution that has come nearly so far.

It’s like the Civil Rights Movement was an antibiotic our society stopped taking too soon, and now racism has mutated to the point that activism is no longer able to control the symptoms. At least with disease the victim acknowledges something is wrong.


Full disclosure: I was involved in a minor way with the early stages of planning the Rosa Parks Museum & Library.

There is a reason why the museum doesn’t go into the long term effects of desegregation of buses: the scope of the museum is Rosa Parks. Civil Rights museums are a dime a dozen in the South. Because this museum was built where Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat, the goal was to tell her story rather than the larger story of civil rights in the South. Troy State University Montgomery is a small university that serves mainly as a night school for working adults. It didn’t have the resources to build something larger that would mainly duplicate the efforts of larger museums in bigger cities like Memphis. Just raising the money for the museum of limited scope to Mrs. Parks was difficult. If it hadn’t been for the fact that the school was already building a new library on which the museum could save money by piggybacking, it probably wouldn’t have been built at all.

That her actions have been at least partially undone by white flight and economic segregation is important, but not one that must be told while telling the story of Mrs. Parks’ life. In a few months the Center for Civil and Human Rights will open in Atlanta. A facility like it with a much expansive mission would be a great place for such issues to be explored.


The takeaway is that people will desegregate only when forced to. When given the choice, the whites will flee a school containing a large number of black students, or flee a largely black neighborhood, etc.
It’s interesting that you do not see the reverse happening (at least in the Northeast). A small number of blacks are ok with being in a mostly white school.

I’ve never been in that situation. What is the reasoning? Is it fear based on reality (increased crime, etc.) or irrational fear based on stereotypes? Is it just a matter of whites not being able to deal with being a minority, as blacks have had to do for so long in so many situations?

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Why do you assume increased crime is a reality when people with different skin colors live, work or study near each other?

Increased crime occurs in a number of situations; for example, when privileged people bully and terrorize people without privilege. Perhaps that’s what you’re referring to? Or the fact that there is more crime in desperate situations such as extreme poverty with no escape available? Because in general, crime has a tendency to stick within a population. It’s true that privileged people are more likely to get away with committing crimes without being punished for them, but that doesn’t mean those crimes don’t occur.

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You are misinterpreting. I am asking actual questions. It’s not a statement. I am asking if that is a real situation that is occurring that is making whites move out of black neighborhoods or schools vs people just assuming that more blacks equals higher crimes.

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If crime goes up when blacks move into white neighborhoods, it’s crime against the black family, not the other way around.

Prejudice explains white flight, not reality.

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Thank you for responding to my comment. Everyone in my family was so impressed with the museum. I’m so happy to be able to tell someone involved with the space how well done it is and what a great addition it is to Montgomery. Thank you.

I did know her story in general terms, but I left the museum with such respect for her - and it was nice to see that there is still an active community fighting for civil rights in Montgomery.

I am sad that more has not changed since Rosa Park’s day and I feel that people think that just because the laws changed that it is enough. I don’t understand how once there was such a demand for change and now people think segregation is acceptable, not just in the South, but everywhere.

I grew up in Tuscaloosa and attended Central for a year before the split to the three schools. I distinctly remember being blown away by the fact that no one was stopping this obvious attempt at re-segregation. Don’t get me wrong, I love my hometown and most of the people there, but I’ve used this scenario as an example for the overt racism that still exists in places of power in the South and why I moved to the PNW.

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The high school I went to in the California central valley had a separate section of the campus for Latino students, who were the children of migrant farm laborers. Once, while I was editor of the school newspaper, I suggested we do an article about it. The other students who worked on the newspaper (many of whom came from families that owned farms in the area) immediately rejected the idea; the faculty advisor gave me a patronizing smile, and told me it would be a bad idea, because it would cause trouble.

My high school was unusual as modern California high schools go, in that there actually were people from different ethnic groups and social classes in the same high school – which meant that segregation was readily visible. Most of my classes were “college prep”, and were therefore almost entirely white and middle class, with a few exceptions. It was only in the handful of non-college prep classes that I had to take, that I encountered students from other backgrounds.

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