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Will I Ever Witness Racial Justice in My Lifetime?

May 29, 2019

I am 72 years old and counting… 7 years older than the Brown v. Board of Education decision that was supposed to replace “separate but equal” opportunities with integrated schools “with all deliberate speed”… and yet story after story illustrates that we are not only falling short of that court edict but seemingly working to make that mandate unrealizable.

A few weeks ago an op ed piece in the NY Daily News by Cornell professor Noliwe Rooks reported on some of the reasons Brown v. Board of Education, the supposed law of the land, has not gained traction, using NYC’s experience as a case study. These two paragraphs explain the sordid reality in NYC:

Over the past 65 years, a majority of large-scale integration efforts in New York City have relied on parents choosing, volunteering or agreeing to allow black and Latino children to attend school with their children. Time and time again, they have refused. Sometimes they say they support the principle of integration but are opposed to specific remedies like busing, redrawing district lines or eliminating high-stakes admission tests. Parents who could afford to do so have also simply removed their children from public schools.

The result is New York City schools are among the most racially segregated schools in the country.

And, as Rooks explains, addressing the two root causes of segregation– the admissions tests used to effectively limit the enrollment of blacks and Latinas from the elite high schools and the segregated housing patterns in the school— are seemingly intractable. Rooks has the sense that the root cause of the failure to integrate is that too many white parents do not want their children to attend schools where their children are in the minority. She concludes her article with this:

One thing is clear: If we want integration, we will have to privilege the law over the desires of parents who do not want their children to attend school with students who are of a different race.

NYC is nowhere near solving the riddle of school integration that was to have been the hallmark of the Brown v. Board. As long as parents in refuse to welcome black and Latino students into their children’s schools, anniversaries such as this will come and go, but our schools will remain the same.


Another recent article shared on Facebook illustrates that things have not changed in Mississippi, even when courts recently (albeit belatedly) enforced the intent of Brown v. Board of Education. Mississippi Today writers Aallyah Wright and Kelsey David reported on the sad story of Olecia James’ whose status as Class of 2018’s salutatorian for the newly consolidated Cleveland Central High School was stripped at the 11th hour over a school board decision to modify the weighting of IB courses. From all evidence this ex post facto decision was made in order to prevent Ms. James, who is African American, from earning the honor for fear that her achievement would lead to more white flight from the recently integrated public school. So instead of attending the University of Mississippi on a full scholarship, Ms. James will be involved in yet another lawsuit being filed against the Cleveland School District for its discrimination against African American students. Happily, Ms.James DID land on her feet:

Although she didn’t get to graduate from East Side or attend her first choice of college, James said she’s still choosing to make the best of her situation.

Instead of pursuing a law degree at Ole Miss, she decided to attend Alcorn State University majoring in mass communications. She ended her freshman year with a 4.0 GPA, Freshman of The Year, a presidential scholar, the Sports Editor of The Campus Chronicle and a ROTC Cadet.

“I was sad but at the moment it was all about resilience and controlling what you can control,” she said. “I got a lot of doors opened for me … and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me at Alcorn.”

Stories like these make me wonder if I will ever see racial justice delivered in my lifetime… it’s been more than 65 years since Brown v. Board of Education and we are still falling short of the standard that case was supposed to put in place. But stories like Ms. James DO make me hope that my grandchildren will see a day when students like Ms. James can receive the honors they earn… especially if Ms. James can parlay her degree in mass communications into a wider platform to seek racial justice.

  1. Byron Knutsen
    May 31, 2019 at 2:46 am

    Maybe you need to go to some more rural districts – away from the masses. I don’t recommend northern Idaho but I did bring the first non white child into Malad, Idaho and we were not run out in the next 12 years until she graduated. Neither was a woman deputy in Malad, Oneida county, Idaho who married a Black and kept being employed as a school deputy and patrol deputy for some 25 years. Depends upon where you look as to goodness that abounds in many places.

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