Focus on School Desegregation: Is the Past Repeating?

By Staff

Vol. 13, No. 4, 1991, pp. 17-19

Introduction

Perhaps the most important school desegregation case since Brown v. Board of Education was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court Oct 7, 1991. Freeman v. Pitts examines whether a school system in metropolitan Atlanta, which was officially segregated by law until 1969, can be excused from failing to implement an effective school desegregation plan due to increasing residential segregation. The case will also determine if the school system can be released from court supervision of desegregation in one area of school operations when racially discriminatory practices persist in other areas.

Looking back to Brown, John A. Griffin recalls that social scientists in Atlanta worked quickly to prepare demographic studies which became known as the Ashmore report. The best-known study in the Brown case by psychologists Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie Clark showed the harmful impact of segregation on black schoolchildren. The Ashmore report documented the extent of segregation, wide funding gaps and other harmful effects of the dual system.

In August 1991, a group of more than fifty social scientists published School Desegregation: A Social Science Statement, which was filed with the NAACP briefs in the Freeman case and is excerpted on page 19 of this special issue of Southern Changes. School Desegregation, which was led by Harvard professor of education and social policy Gary Orfield and includes Kenneth Clark among its signers, reviews results of years of study of desegregated schools.

John A Griffin was a sociologist on the faculty at Emory University at the time of the study and an active participant in the central committee of the Ashmore project. He is a Life Fellow of the Southern Regional Council.