School Segregation: The Problem We Still All Live With

I have been looking forward to sharing today's post with you all for some time. Frances, who you will meet shortly, and I recently became friends when we joined a group of women, Black and white, together online to start talking about race. During these discussions, the topic of modern day school segregation came up and I immediately realized how little I knew about the topic. Frances shared some resources with us and I immediately became aware of my own naivete. I'm going to take a wild guess and assume I am not alone in this. For that reason, I have asked Frances to join us today to share a bit about the topic and her personal experience with it. 

Frances Crusoe is a mom of two living in the south. She is a recovering Christian, a graduate student, a sometimes writer, a coffee snob, podcast junkie and an advocate for social justice and women's rights. You can usually find her on Instagram or Twitter chatting about everything from race to politics and the state of the church.

When someone mentions a pivotal time in history like school segregation, for many, it may conjure up images of the racially charged 50s and 60s Civil Rights era. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case that racially segregated schools were in violation of the 14th Amendment. Schools were forced integrate much to the dismay of  white parents. Schools were mandated by court order to integrate, forcing black and white children to be educated together.

Forced segregation during those times had serious effects on the quality of education that black children were given in contrast to white students. Housing discrimination practices called redlining created all black neighborhoods for generations because banks denied loans based on race and refused to give loans to black families looking to move to areas where white families lived. Black families were confined to overcrowded sections of cities across the country and it became a way of life that was not questioned or challenged for fear of retaliation. Segregated neighborhoods meant segregated schools. While schools were separate, they were far from equal because black schools were overcrowded, underfunded and had more unqualified teachers than white schools.
At 6 years old, Ruby Bridges, became the first Black child to attend an integrated public elementary school in the south. After being met by angry white parents who hurled racial slurs and objects at the child, Ruby had to be escorted to school by federal agents. Parents refused to allow their children to be in the same classroom as Ruby and teachers refused to teach her. Ruby sat alone in an empty classroom for an entire school year with just one teacher, Barbara Henry, who took up the charge to educate  young Ruby.

Elizabeth Ann Eckford was a 15 year old Black teenager who was one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of black high school students who were the first to integrate Central High School in Little Rock Arkansas in 1957. Black children were being bussed from their neighborhoods to attend white schools. Just like young Ruby Bridges, the Little Rock Nine were met by angry white parents with picket signs and armed national guard soldiers. Although it has been 60 years since the Little Rock Nine integrated Central High school, the issues of school segregation and the idea of separate but equal are still alive and well.

Despite the resistance, integrating schools actually helped shrink the achievement gap between black and white students. Black schools had traditionally received less funding, less access to technology and had less qualified teachers. By integrating schools, Black students now had equal access to resources that had always been readily supplied to white schools. Academically, Black students who attended integrated schools were now on par with white students. However, by the 1980’s, integration efforts as a whole started to reverse. Longstanding resistance to desegregation by white families resulted in white flight, gerrymandering election and school districts zones and the increased appeal of private schools. As white families moved out of cities and school districts were rezoned, Black and white students were once again funnelled back into racially divided schools.

Growing up in Mississippi in the 1980s, I was vividly aware that there was a distinct racial divide in my own hometown. Most Black people lived one side of town and white people lived on the other. Our neighborhoods, churches, parks, schools and even funeral homes were all racially separate. Schools could be easily classified as either a white school or Black school. It was not until school children entered the seventh and eighth grade and were all housed in one junior high school together did both most Black and white children sit in the same classroom together.

Historically, there had always been two high schools in my city, one Black and one white. It wasn’t until 1991 that the school board voted to combine the two high schools combined into one.  By the time I matriculated to high school in 1995, many of my white classmates were withdrawn from public school system and enrolled in private schools. Other families moved further outside the city limits where county schools that were majority white schools. For the white families that could not afford to either move to another school district or pay private school tuition, they had no other option but to send their children to the newly combined high school. In response, white parents had a high school racial task force created. This helped to ensure that there would both both Black and white student representation in the various high school activities such as homecoming court and the coveted drum major role. Every year, students had to vote on a Black and white homecoming king, queen and court, prom king and queen and drum major. This practice of “separate but equal” went on for a decade, finally being abolished at the request of the students who felt that they deserved a chance to really function as one high school body, not a racially divided one.  

Fast forward to the present day and the fight against school segregation is still happening. Our neighborhoods are just as segregated today as they were decades ago so our schools continue to suffer the repercussions. White families voluntarily self segregate into majority white neighborhoods and communities. Those that do choose to live in racially mixed neighborhoods in many instances opt out of sending their children to neighborhood schools, in favor of private or charter schools, never fully investing into their neighborhoods. Discriminatory housing practices that continue to create and maintain racially segregated neighborhoods are still happening and school districts are still fighting courts to force desegregation in schools. Often times, Black and brown students who live in racially segregated neighborhoods have to deal with poverty, lack of jobs, crime (typically as a result of lack of jobs) and over policing (because of racial bias and crime rates). This reality is happening to these minority students all while attending underfunded and underperforming schools that do not prepare them for or even provide the minimum course requirements for college admissions. If these obstacles were not enough, these same students are more than like to be funnelled through the school to prison pipeline due to being given harsher punishment for school infractions than their white counterparts.

The issue of school segregation is an issue that can be easily ignored by those who voluntarily live in racially segregated communities. While every parent wants nothing but the best for their children, education included, not every child is afforded equal access to a quality education which is a fundamental right. For many, the plight of underserved school districts across the country will never affect them, therefore, there is no inherent motivation to fight for those who are being affected. Yet for the families who have dealt with the ramifications of generations of racial inequality in our neighborhoods and schools, through no fault of our own except being born black, we continue to fight and advocate for the very resources that have always been made available to our white counterparts.

Frances and I would love if to hear your thoughts on the topic of school segregation. Please dialogue with us in the comments below! Also, I HIGHLY recommend listening to this NPR episode if you want to learn more. 

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