As New York City’s public schools close their doors for the summer, it’s worth noting that they are now more segregated than ever. Sadly, that’s true of public schools just about everywhere, 62 years after the Supreme Court declared state-sponsored school segregation to be unconstitutional in 1954.
Some questions we ought to ponder this summer: What will it take to bring about fairness, let alone integration, in our public schools? What sort of courage and commitment will be required? What price are we paying when we accept a divided society, separated by class and race? Are we committed to racial equality and equal educational opportunity, or are those concepts we pay lip service to, and nothing more?
The men and women who sued to end school segregation in the 1950’s paid a price. It took courage to challenge a practice that had been blessed by the United States Supreme Court, one that was written into state laws and was zealously adhered to by local traditions and zoning covenants. Here’s one story:
Harry Briggs was a garage attendant, and they fired him. And they fired another man whose name was Stookes after–he was working at a filling station also. After they fired him, he attempted to try to work in his backyard, and so he was working on a car and, not having the proper things to use for the car, he had jacked the car up on a homemade shift, and the car fell on him and killed him. And James Brown was working for a trucking company. I don’t recall the trucking company. They fired him. And they fired teachers who they thought had signed it. My husband had two sisters working in the district. They were fired. He was fired. And I was fired. And even the parents who signed the petition, they wouldn’t let them have loans to–for their crops the following year. And of course the (white) people stopped buying groceries, some of them, and they’d even go to Sumpter and Columbia and other places to buy groceries, and they would cut off everything that they thought was helping the petitioners.