Saturday is the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case where a unanimous Supreme Court held that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The following year the justices ordered that states end school segregation with “all deliberate speed.”
As reported in Slate magazine, “In the popular narrative, this is the beginning of American integration, a process that goes from Rosa Parks to Martin Luther King to the Civil Rights Act and eventually to President Obama.
“But for as much as we share an integrated culture, millions of Americans—and blacks in particular—live in segregated worlds, a fact illustrated by the persistence and retrenchment of school segregation, as detailed in a new report from the Civil Rights Project at the University of California–Los Angeles.
“Before considering the report, it’s worth taking a closer look at the process of school desegregation. Almost immediately after Brown, white Southerners met the decision with “massive resistance.” In Virginia, segregationist Democrats pushed sweeping educational changes to combat integration. In 1956, the Commission on Public Education—convened by Gov. Thomas Stanley—asked the General Assembly to repeal compulsory education, empower the governor to close public schools, and provide vouchers to parents to enroll their children in segregated private schools. In the next few years, whites would open “segregation academies” across the state, while closing public schools to block integration.
“Following Stanley’s lead, whites across the South worked to keep blacks out of their schools with rules, legislation, angry mobs, and outright violence. But it failed. Within the decade, new civil rights laws had enhanced federal power. By the end of the 1960s, the federal government was authorized to file suit against segregated school districts and work to dismantle them “root and branch.”
“As Nikole Hannah-Jones details for ProPublica, federal desegregation orders helped “break the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.” She continues, “In 1963, about 1 percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools.”
“The problem today is that these gains are reversing. As the Civil Rights Project shows, minority students across the country are more likely to attend majority-minority schools than they were a generation ago.
“The average white student, for instance, attends a school that’s 73 percent white, 8 percent black, 12 percent Latino, and 4 percent Asian-American. By contrast, the average black student attends a school that’s 49 percent black, 17 percent Latino, 4 percent Asian-American, and 28 percent white. And the average Latino student attends a school that’s 57 percent Latino, 11 percent black, 25 percent white, and 5 percent Asian-American.
“But this understates the extent to which minority students—and again blacks in particular—attend hyper-segregated schools. In 2011, more than 40 percent of black students attended schools that were 90 percent minority or more. That marks an increase over previous years. In 1991, just 35 percent of black students attended schools with such high levels of segregation.
“Even more striking is the regional variation. While hyper-segregation has increased across the board, it comes after staggering declines in the South, the “border states”—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, i.e., former slaveholding states that never joined the Confederacy—the Midwest, and the West. In the Northeast, however, school segregation has increased, going from 42.7 percent in 1968 to 51.4 percent in 2011. Or, put another way, desegregation never happened in the schools of the urban North.”