Segregation in America
“Looking Back at Segregation”
It is hard for contemporary America to fathom the idea of segregated schools. The idea that races should be separate by law is part of our unfortunate nation's history found in the file labeled “wish we could forget.” But segregation was another important barrier for the civil rights movement and the equality of all races. Desegregation of schools started with the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka in which the plaintiffs felt that segregated schools were a violation of the U.S. Constitution's 14th amendment: which gives all people born within the United States the right to citizenship and equal protection by the states for all citizens (among other rights). The opposition felt that as long as all the facilities and pay for employees were equal as far as tangible opportunities and facilities that segregation was constitutional and that blacks had equal protection of the laws. This court case was important for its time in which Brown and their co-filers won an anonymous decision from the Supreme Court. The movement for desegregation would soon begin and the complications and ramifications of this ruling would soon come to light. As complex as it was to move children to schools clear across towns and cities to attend another school, it was a much needed move with many unforeseen consequences. The case Brown vs. Board of Education had social ramifications beyond the intentions of the original case. In my opinion the intention of the Supreme Courts ruling was to give African Americans the same rights to education as the white students were getting, this led to a forced desegregation by education boards, which in turn led to riots and white flight from inner cities, and eventually became such a non-issue by our era that the idea of now having to force races to go to certain schools and meet certain quotas seems as ridiculous a notion to our generation as segregation did in the 1950s. The issue of segregation has come full circle; it was important for establishing equal rights and expose children to children of another race, which would eventually sway the opinions of future generations and their beliefs about other races,however, now that racism is an unacceptable practice it now seems like an obsolete notion to choose children because of race and make them go to a different school.
Brown vs. Board of Education was so important to the civil rights movement because it abolished the “separate but equal” clause from the Plessy vs. Ferguson, the argument that separate was not always equal essentially became the cornerstone for other segregation cases. Segregation was one of the last visible barriers between the white and black communities, and this case was important in disintegrating that barrier but the case itself did not abolish all segregation. As Lisa Cozzens, an established black history author, suggests in her writings that this case did not abolish other public segregation such as restaurants and restrooms, the Supreme Court merely ruled that it was unconstitutional for the 21 states to have laws that demanded schools be segregated (1998). Justice Earl Warren reported on the decision of the court and was quoted saying “we conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. The court based its decision on the fact that many of the schools that were supposed to be equal were essentially inferior to white institutions (Williams, 1987). The opposing school boards argued that it was not detrimental to the black children's education to be separated from whites if all things were held equal, but what was argued and publicly known was that the schools were not equal in “tangibles” as the school boards had argued.
The case raised some curious questions for the public debate of segregation and the civil rights movement: What else is separate but not equal? Is all segregation unconstitutional? As Justice John Harlan argued in the case of Plessy “Our Constitution is color blind, and neither know or tolerates classes among its citizens”(2009). Unfortunately it took a couple of decades before our Supreme Court accepted the notion that the Constitution was indeed a document that did not represent one certain race or color, but all citizens equal, and the beginning of this notion was the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education.
The act of desegregating schools had social ramifications that may have been unanticipated by the Justices of the Supreme Court. The ideology of like races attending the same school was so obscure that many southern states continued to fight for the right for segregation. Little Rock's Central High school would not allow blacks to enter until the federal government used a show of force with troops, and in Prince Edward, Virginia the county closed all public schools and gave tuition to students to attend private schools which only accepted white students –they were eventually forced to reopen the schools (2009). It took more than a decade for the Supreme Court's decision to be enforced in southern states in the peak of the civil rights movement in the mid 1960s. The nation became stricken with turmoil and rioting accompanied with segregation a new phenomenon emerged: white flight.
The liberals of the time had managed to change the policies of the education department, but failed to change the opinion of the white populace. An article published in Time Magazine in 1978 states that“...court ordered busing to achieve racial balance in large cities and to ensure that more blacks and whites go to school together was causing a great deal of ...white flight from city schools” (1978). The article continues to state that the best estimates of the time is that court ordered busing was responsible for 6 to 9% percent loss of white students annually from city schools due to white flight (1978). The trends of the time were obvious. The inner cities where desegregation was occurring was not accomplishing what was intended by congress. It had managed to desegregate schools to some extent, but did it give African-Americans an equal education as intended? Markedly we would have to argue they were better, but with the flight of the whites also went the flight of precious educational tax dollars. The predominantly middle class whites went to the suburbs where integration could not be enforced, and many of the ones that stayed in the inner cities placed their children in private institutions. White flight caused many inner city schools to deteriorate along with the predominantly black neighborhoods. Now the segregation lines were visible and yet lawful. The Supreme Court had manged to change the laws but failed to change the nature of the human race. Instead of embracing change many whites chose to leave change behind and congregate together outside of the crowded inner cities. There is no way the Supreme Court Justices could have predicted that their decision in Brown vs. Board of Education would ultimately be such a huge step for the civil rights movement but in the same breathe end up being partially detrimental to the African-American community by way of white flight and inner city deterioration.
Finally human thought has evolved to the point that the trends of white flight are beginning to reverse and the idea of forced integration is becoming obsolete. In a recent article by Connor Dougherty in the Wall Street Journal the author points out that now whites are moving back into larger cities and in some cases their may be what I term “black flight” which is when African-Americans reach a level of financial security and affluence that they too leave the inner city for the suburbs (which in turn leaves African-American communities poorer with a lack of real role models in the community). Dougherty states “...if trends continue, Washington and Atlanta (both black majorities) will in the next decade see African-Americans fall below 50% [of the population] for the first time in about a half-century (2009). Current census reports indicate that while whites make up 66% of the population they only make up 40% of large city populations (2009). But their numbers are increasing and in many cases blacks are decreasing due to their own flight from the inner cities. Races are becoming more acceptable of one another in the majority of places, but the numbers speak for themselves. It seems that we, white or black, voluntarily segregate ourselves from one another. In contemporary thought racial tolerance is the norm, but for what ever reason we as a people choose to live among those of a like race. And if one race is moving in then the other seems to be moving out. The government policy to end segregation was a success, however forced integration has proven to have left something to be desired for its intentions.
To complete the circle the Supreme Court abolished the idea of forced integration in 2007. The decision remains controversial but not as much as the first. “Conservatives had hoped the ruling would be a clear blow to the concept of racial diversity as a vital public policy while civil rights advocates worried that the ruling would obliterate the concept that race can be a factor in remedying societal discrimination (Totenberg & Kaufman, 2007). The reason for over-turning its earlier decision, to the best of my understanding, was that it found it to be unconstitutional to force anyone because of race to go to school somewhere he or she didn't want to go. This was the right decision in my opinion. Desegregation had served its purpose with reasonable failure. The Supreme Court had the right to see that African-Americans had equal rights to education, however, the concept of desegregation was never embraced by the white community, and then once racial tolerance rose to its current level with contemporary thought it became evident that now what was once a needed tool had served its purpose and now the rights of future generations were being infringed upon for the ignorance of a previous generation.
The case of Brown vs. Board of Education was essential to the civil rights movement. The case itself will stand up for the fact that it was the beginning in a historic chapter for the equality of all of our nations citizens. However, subsequent rulings concerning desegregation policies proved troublesome with unpredicted results and as of recently overturned. This case was the beginning of erasing color discrimination from the Constitution given by the 14th amendment. Without it maybe we don't have the racial tolerance that now allows us to erase forced integration from our school system, or maybe the civil rights movement would have been prolonged for an even greater period. With all things considered it was a must for our nation and unlike some debates such as Roe vs. Wade that will never end this stands as something that needed to be done and the idea of “separate but equal” died in its wake.
Totenberg, N., and Kaufman, W. Supreme Court Quashes School Desegregation. Retrieved March 8, 2009 from www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11598422
Dougherty, Conor. The End of White Flight. Retrieved March 8, 2009 from www.wsj.com/article/SB121642866373567057.html
Anonymous. Forced Busing and White Flight. Retrieved March 8, 2009 from www.time.com/magazine/article/0,9171,912178,00.html
Cozzens, Lisa. Retrieved March 8, 2009 from www.watson.org
Williams, Juan (1987). Eyes on the Prize:America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Viking Penguin Press, p.44.
A website that focuses on the Constitution www.law.cornell.edu/constitution
Anonymous. Retrieved March 8, 2009 from http://law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/FTrials/conlawsepbutequal/htm
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