Segregation makes a comeback

Posted by John Kanelis on

Wait a minute. Didn’t the U.S. Supreme Court rule in 1954 that the “separate but equal” provisions in public education violated the U.S. Constitution? Didn’t that landmark ruling mean that schools had to integrate, that black children and white children had to attend the same schools, get the same education, receive the same benefits afforded by the Constitution?

Well, all that happened. However, as Frontline is reporting, segregation is making a comeback.

Frontline looks at an effort in Baton Rouge, La., by some parents to break away and form a new school district. They call the public school system in Louisiana’s capital city the “worst in the nation.”

Frontline’s “Separate and Unequal” special airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Panhandle PBS.

It was 60 years that the high court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine. The case came to be known as Brown v. the (Topeka, Kan.) Board of Education. One of the lawyers arguing for the striking down of the provision was a man named Thurgood Marshall, who 13 years later would become the first African-American ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Well, integration has occurred all over the country. Some communities integrated eagerly, others had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new age of integrated public education.

I lived in a community that fit the latter description. After many urban districts had long been integrated, the Beaumont Independent School District was merged with the South Park Independent School District in 1982 under a federal court order. The result two years later would be the election of a new school board that would govern the combined school district.

I arrived in Beaumont to start my new job with the newspaper there during the very week the election took place; that was in April 1984. The result produced a majority African-American school board. Thus, the city took its first steps into a new era of public education.

Many white folks in Baton Rouge don’t think much of racially integrated public education and they’re trying something new — which in reality is something old.

Frontline takes its usually thorough look at this developing story.

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