BRAND NEW SCHOOL; SAME OLD MESS
In 1971, Ron experienced his first year in an integrated classroom, let’s take a look back in time, to my era in the public school systems.
The year was 1958, four years after the Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; “Racially segregated schools,” the Court concluded, were “inherently unequal.”
At that time, I was an eager “Silent Generation” black child making preparations for graduation from high school in Eufaula, Alabama. It was not a very good year because of the interruption of moving to a new school. The new school was a pristine school and was ready for students in mid-year of my senior year.
This new school was built out of desperation, in the midst of a battle that opposed the integration of our public school system. In Alabama, George Wallace had not yet stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium, at the University of Alabama to prevent the enrollment of two black students, but it was to come.
We had moved from an older school that was without a library and which had an old dilapidated, run-down building, as a lunchroom. It contained both high school and elementary school students. It was where I spent my first eleven and one half years in pursuit of a public school education.
Those years consisted of the many inadequacies in my education that I have mentioned before. A new school did not solve the conditions that existed.
The new school remained one that was underfunded and ill equipped, particularly in comparison to white schools. For instance, this school employed teachers that were under paid, therefore, most likely under certified. Science classes lacked even a single microscope.
The building of this new school was just a ploy to impede or ignore the law. Our leaders were desperately and tightly clinging to the “separate but equal” stance.
Schools in Eufaula had remained segregated by race until around 1970. After integration began the school stopped sponsoring social events, such as proms although unofficial segregated events were still held. By 1990, students at Eufaula High had begun pressuring school officials to allow them to hold integrated proms, and the first such prom was held on Saturday, May 18, 1991, without incident.
Ron, you experienced a degree of “enlightenment” in 1971, but you probably knew that already! In contrast, mine, as a 1958 graduate of the public school system of Eufaula, Barbour County, Alabama, was not an enlightenment, nor anything else more than satisfactory.
As a result of the “battle” so vigorously fought by those that dreaded the integration of public schools, I did not experience the opportunity to attend an integrated public school.
Woody Guthrie’s daughter stood at Lincoln Memorial on President Obama’s Inauguration Day as Seeger and Springsteen led hundreds of thousands of Americans in singing every verse of “This Land is Your Land”, Americans – young and old, black and white, of all religious and political beliefs – united, for a brief moment. According to Nora Guthrie, she experienced a moment in a very visceral, personal way; ” So that’s why he wrote it, and was laughing and crying ‘We’ve been to the mountain, we’ve seen the dream.”’
Miss Guthrie may have been right about that part, but research says something else about our public schools! Research suggests that we’ re not quite to the top!
It states that recent developments suggest we are at a critical moment in history—at a juncture between a future of more racial unrest and a future of racial healing when our society can become less divided and more equal.
It is also clear from our history that absent strong leadership at the federal, state, and local level to sustain diverse neighborhoods and schools, it is likely we will recreate high levels of racial segregation in both urban and suburban contexts.