“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate facilities are inherently unequal.”
With that, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled several states’ system of providing separate and unequal education to the children of the United States — one for whites, and one for blacks.
That was 60 years ago today, and we’re still trying.
NPR’s Code Switch blog considers what desegregation of education carried with it — at least the part that people don’t want to talk about much.
The nostalgia for functioning black communities does not mean anyone wants to return to the system of American apartheid that forbade blacks to vote, or in some cases, own property. Or use public facilities their taxes paid for. That era was powerfully captured in Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored, a 1996 film of writer Clifton Taulbert’s memoir that chronicled his youth in segregated Mississippi. In this scene, great grandfather Poppa, played by Al Freeman Jr., gently gives 5-year-old Cliff a lesson that could save his life.
Michelle Boyd, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says people shouldn’t confuse the longing for the good part of the bad old days with a wish to go back to segregated life. This nostalgia, she says, means something else:
“This is an expression with disappointment in the limits of desegregation.” With so many hopes pinned on the end of segregation, it is inevitable that all expectations could not be met.
Desegregation is not the same thing as integration. And, Boyd points out, while there is open access to public facilities, everything from bathrooms to libraries, it doesn’t mean that discrimination has ended.
No, it doesn’t. Not by a long shot. As MPR News reported in January, open enrollment is actually increasing segregation in schools. A study found that white students who choose to open enroll often leave diverse districts to attend schools with a higher percentage of white students.
Related: School segregation is back — at charters (Star Tribune).