Profiles in Change
By John Egerton
Vol. 1, No. 8, 1979, pp. 8-10, 26-28
(Editorial Note: This excerpt is taken from John Egerton’s School Desegregation: A Report Card from the South, published by Southern Regional Council in 1976. It provides a good overview of school desegregation in the South. The briefer city profiles which make up this section were authored by working newspersons who have written about the school desegregation process for their newspapers. Their by-lines follow their reports. The complete study is available from the Council at $4.00 a copy.)
Anniston, Alabama: Wounds To Heal
After eight years of backing away from desegregation and two years of living with it, Anniston school officials say they’re now getting back to their basic work: educating children.
Desegregation, when it finally came, was tense at first-but peaceful. Now the tension is gone, and educators seem to take pride in the way things have worked. “1 think people in Boston would gladly give their interest in hell to trade places with us,” says Anniston High School Principal Robert Whitehead.
The Reverend N.Q. Reynolds, a Black minister and civil rights leader who now serves as chairman of the Anniston Board of Education, says, “Once they decided it was something they would have to do, everyone buckled down and started working, and worked beautifully together.”
Anniston, with a population of 31,000 (34 percent Black), is located in Northeast Alabama, 60 miles from Birmingham. The city is surrounded by semi-rural Calhoun County, which has a population of more than 100,000, about 10 percent Black.
The city maintained a dual school system until the mid1960s. As a result of HEW enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some “freedom of choice” desegegation began in 1965. In 1967, Anniston became one of the 99 Alabama school systems involved in Lee v. Macon County Board of Education, a statewide suit. Three years later, after many alternatives were proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the school system and the Black community, a plan to disestablish the dual schools was ordered into effect.
The Justice Department was not happy with the plan, because it left most of the schools either predominantly White or overwhelmingly Black. School officials, though, expressed public satisfaction. Superintendent John L. Fulmer told newspaper reporters he felt racial problems, as far as the schools were concerned, were “almost passe.” At the time, however, formerly allWhite Anniston High School was still about 80 percent White, and formerly all-Black Cobb High had 1,120 Blacks and only 13 Whites.
Further court action and out-of-court negotiation led in 1973 to yet another plan-the one that is now in force.
Under the plan, five of the 11 elementary schools (three of them originally for Whites) were closed, and Johnston Junior High School was converted to an elementary school to accommodate most of the students from the five closed schools. Anniston and Cobb high schools were paired, with senior high students going to Anniston. At Cobb, an older school located in a Black residential area, a special effort was made to strengthen the curriculum in mathematics, languages and the sciences.
The plan left several elementary schools racially identifiable. As a result, the Justice Department has kept the court case open, and has required changes in the plan from year to year. Two of the elementary schools were paired last fall. To others are still segregated. One is all
White, and sits on the opposite side of a range of hills from the rest of the system; the other is nearly all Black, and is almost equally as isolated. The school system is under orders to look for a way to desegregate the two schools, but no specific plan has yet been suggested. Fulmer, the superintendent, says that, in view of present trends in the courts, he doesn’t believe anything will be done.
Rev. Reynolds, the board chairman, says he wishes the Justice Department would back off a little and let the school system have time to plan for the future. “Every year since 1967,” he says, “we have been monitored and required to make some additional changes in the desegregation pattern. That in itself is a hardship.”
Nonetheless, Reynolds sees nothing but progress ahead for the school system. He believes that integration has ceased to be a problem: “As we get some of the wounds healed-and they do heal more and more with time-and get some of the hangups out of our minds, we’ll have nothing but progress.”
A group of Anniston High juniors and seniors, in a discussion of the pros and cons of desegregation, concluded that it has been mostly beneficial to them. No tension remains, they said, although they are aware at times of a “them” and “us” attitude in themselves, and of what might be called-with some irony- de facto segregation. The school’s basketball team, for example, is all-Black; White youngsters who like basketball play at the YMCA.
At the elementary level, things are somewhat different. Mauvelene Phillips, the principal at Johnston Elementary, says children in the school are working well together: “We have seen improvement in the situation. Each group tends to accept the other more freely than they once did. They cooperate together.”
Today, in addition to having its first Black school board chairman, the system has a Black assistant superintendent and a Black principal at Cobb, as well as at two of the elementary schools. According to school officials, the faculty in the system-and in each school-is approximately two-thirds White and one-third Black.
The population of Anniston, while falling in recent years, has remained a steady two-thirds White. But the student body in the schools has gradually become more Black. Between 1961 and 1967, Black enrollment increased by about 600, while White enrollment fell by 800. Since 1967, both Black and White enrollment has fallenthe former by almost 500, the latter by almost 2,000. Over the entire period since 1961, total enrollment has dropped from 8,000 to 5,400, and the schools have shifted from 65 percent White to 55 percent Black.
Private and parochial schools in Anniston have absorbed some of the Whites who left the city’s schools, but Superintendent Fulmer believes most of the loss has been to surrounding Calhoun County, which has more than 11,000 students, less than 10 percent of whom are Black. Fulmer expresses some concern that continued White flight will lead to a “tipping” situation in which the system could become almost all-Black. Reynolds believes factors other than White flight are involved.
“It has become a whipping stone for the system,” he says. “I think a majority of them would have gone anyway, though, even without desegregation. It was a contributing factor, but not a major one.”
Reynolds believes the city of Anniston could help mat.ters by annexing parts of the county. Another possible move-merger of the city and county schools-has been discussed publicly on occasion, but no such change is now in prospect.
The school principals say there has been no increase in discipline problems attributable to desegregation. At Anniston High, Robert Whitehead says discipline there is related to social factors divorced from desegregation.
The system has added some remedial classes to the curriculum in recent years, particularly in reading and mathematics. Even so, many children-particularly Black children-did not do well in the first states of desegregation, according to Fulmer. He believes overall performance has improved since then, however, and he says younger students whose entire school experience has been in a desegregated setting are doing well, though “maybe not as well as they should.”
Standardized test scores have been dropping since 1969 in both city and county schools- a fact that cannot be explained by desegregation, since the county schools are overwhelmingly White. Fulmer says he has no racial breakdown of test scores to indicate how students have fared since desegregation and some school officials believe it is too early to make comparisons.
Fulmer says he gets few calls these days from parents concerned with desegregation-related problems. In coming months, however, one potential controversy does face the school system. It has to do with the need to replace Cobb Junior High with a modern facility. The school board owns ample land in a White residential area adjacent to Anniston High, and there is some sentiment for building there. Many Blacks are opposed to that; they say Whites always want to move important institutions out of the Black community. Some Whites also are opposed, on the ground that they don’t want so many children in their area of town. A satisfactory solution remains to be worked out.
Austin, Texas: Waiting For The Court
Desegregation in Austin lurched to a rocky beginning in 1971 when the city’s all-Black junior and senior high schools were closed and their students were bused to allWhite schools across town.
The desegregation plan, approved in federal district court, did not affect the city’s elementary schools, or its sizable Mexican-American population, nor did it require Whites to be bused. Legal arguments on those and other questions were taken to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The case has been resting there for nearly three years.
The initial change was accompanied by jeers, rockthrowing and boycotts. Now, things are quieter. The opening of schools last fall was uneventful, and a general calm prevails, marred only by occasional flare-ups between small gangs of Blacks and Whites at the district’s two or three most overcrowded schools.
“We have moved from the stage where our principal concerns were dealing with physical confrontation,” says Superintendent Jack L. Davidson. “Now there is greater concentration on the academic and extracurricular participation of all students in all phases of the school program.
Among the problems left to ponder are the high rate of dropouts and pushouts among minorities, the sparse sprinkling of minorities in extra-curricular activities, and low achievement test scores among all three racial groups.
Austin is a city of 300,000 people. Its school system enrolls 59,000 students-an increase of 4,000 since desegregation began-and the racial ratios have changed only slightly in recent years. Whites make up 63 percent of the total (a decrease of 2 percent since 1970), MexicanAmericans are 22 percent (an increase of 2 percent), and Blacks comprise 15 percent. White flight and private schools have had no significant effect on public school enrollment.
About 15,000 Austin students are bused to school, including some Black and Chicano students who participate in a minority-to-majority transfer program. Only 2,200 students are bused as part of the desegregation plan, and almost all of them are Black. At the elementary level there are five all-Black schools, and about a third of the 60 elementary schools either have a relative handful of Whites (5 percent or less) or a preponderance of them (95 percent or more).
At the secondary level, Blacks make up between 9 and 30 percent of the enrollment in formerly all-White schools. Most of the Mexican-American junior and senior high school students are concentrated in East Austin schools.
There is a high attrition rate among both Blacks and Chicanos, evidenced by two sets of figures. First, Mexican-Americans make up 25 percent of the elementary school enrollment, but only 17 percent of the high school student total. And second, Black students received 54 percent of the long-term suspensions last year. In short, there is a dropout problem among Chicanos and a pushout problem facing Blacks.
Student participation in extracurricular activities is another problem in the schools. Such programs as band, pep squad, student council and honor society attract plenty of Whites, but disproportionately small numbers of minority students.
Scores from standardized achievement tests indicate a slight drop by all three racial groups in the past three years. School officials see no connection between desegregation and test performance. Schools with high percentages of minority students tend to be clustered at the bottom of the achievement score rankings. Average scores from the predominantly White schools are higher, but still below the national average.
The percentage of Black and Mexican-American teachers in the system has inched upward since desegregation began, but the current totals do not please either group. Blacks comprise 14 percent of the total professional staff, and Chicanos only 7 percent; at the classroom level, the percentages are slightly higher. Representatives of both minority groups have accused the school district of discrimination in hiring; school officials say there is a lack of qualified applicants, and recruiting efforts have not been highly successful. In the top echelons of the school district administration, there is
one Black and one Mexican-American among the five assistant superintendents, and one Black and two MexicanAmericans among 19 department directors.
The decrease in confrontations and racial incidents in the secondary schools, says Superintendent Davidson, is a result of two things: “People having the opportunity to adjust to the new situation, and new services provided by the district as a result of desegregation.” Tnethnic student human relations committees operate in each secondary school, coordinating activities designed to foster positive attitudes toward desegregation. There is also a schoolcommunity liaison program staffed by a tn-ethnic team of 10 persons who work to improve relations among the ethnic groups throughout the district. Several other programs, financed largely by federal funds, are focused on reading and mathematics problems, communication skills, extra-curricular activity participation, attendance problems and special learning problems of bilingual and migrant students.
“There seems to be a greater awareness on the part of most of our population of the desirability and the necessity to make desegregation work to everybody’s advantage,” Davidson says. He adds that although desegregation “hasn’t materially enhanced or hurt the cognitive achievement of Austin students, it has made school a more realistic representation of what the community is and should be.”
Still, it is generally acknowledged that only partial school desegregation has taken place in Austin, and school officials have been inclined to wait for directives from the courts, rather than to take the initiative on the issue. Bertha Means, a supervisor in the secondary schools and a respected civic leader in the Black community, believes the various programs and services the schools have started in recent years have promoted desegregation, but she thinks more needs to be done. So does M.G. Bowden the Anglo director of elementary education, who says “more integration needs to take place.”
The Rev. Marvin Griffin, the only Black on the seven-member board of school trustees, says Austin “has not fulfilled the mandate of the Supreme Court because we haven’t touched the elementary schools.” Gus Garcia, the only Mexican-American member of the board, also criticizes the current desegregation plan, saying it excludes grades on through five and requires one-way busing. Garcia would like to see the schools which have reached at least a 25 percent minority enrollment without busing be designated as integrated schools.
In New Orleans, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has been stymied for more than three years by the Austin case. Part of the conflict there concerns the legal status of Mexican-Americans, who have not been subjected to the statutory segregation as Blacks have.
Bogalusa, Louisiana: Still Uncomfortable
Gradually since the mid-1960s, desegregated schools in Bogalusa have become an acceptable, if not robust, social institution. It is debatable whether they were ever destined to be anything more than a federally-enforced anomaly, bringing together the rough-edged Whites and Blacks of this milltown community in an uncomfortable atmosphere.
Bogalusa, on the toe of Louisiana’s boot-like configuration, touches the piney woods and sand loam of southern Mississippi. There is a hardtack mentality indigenous to the land, a kind of raw frontier atmosphere in which unskilled Whites have long battled with Blacks for livelihood in the same kinds of jobs. For the past two and a half decades, the town has been dominated by one industrial citizen, Crown Zellerbacn, which converts pine trees into Bogalusa brown kraft paper and the paper into grocery bags and corrugated boxes.
Initially, a court-ordered plan of “freedom of choice” desegregation came to Bogalusa in the fall of 1965. Fighting broke out between Whites and the dozen or so Blacks who transferred into the previously all-White schools. Several of the more militant White students were put under injunction by the federal court for harassing the Blacks, and for some the injunction was in force until they graduated.
Total desegregation of the city’s schools, based on a plan submitted by the all-White school board, was finally ordered by the federal court in the fall of 1969. Of the 5,157 students in the system that fall, 38 percent were Black. Enrollment has fallen by a total of about 500 since then, but the Black ratio has also fallen-by one percentage point.
School Superintendent Frank Mobley says the loss of students is not a result of desegregation or of White flight to private schools, but of a general decline in population involving Blacks as much as Whites. Private schools have not been a factor; American Academy, and all-White school, had a graduating class of 16 last year.
Mobley maintains that since he became superintendent in 1971, the desegregation plan has been fully implemented. “There are no more all-White or all-Black schools,” he says. “The percentages of Blacks range from 20 to 30 percent in some schools to as much as 45 percent in others.”
Under the initial plan, two relatively new all-Black schools in Black neighborhoods were closed. “The Black community went along with the idea of not having any totally Black schools,” says Andrew Moses, a Black radio station manager, “but we didn’t like having to lose the schools in the Black neighborhoods.”
Among more militant Blacks, there are some bitter critics of what Mobley calls “full integration.” Gayle Jenkins, a Black mother and secretary of the Bogalusa
Voters League, is one. “We are supposed to be integrated,” she says, “but it is integrated on the outside and segregated on the inside. From an educational standpoint, we feel we have some of the best teachers among Blacks, but they are limited. There are, for instance, no Black males teaching in the elementary schools, and it was not until this past year that we had a Black named principal of an elementary school.”
Jenkins contends that there are discriminatory hiring practices affecting teachers and administrative personnel. “They are hiring Whites,” she says, “but they find some excuse-such as they can’t find Black specialists-not to hire Blacks.”
Mobley defends the hiring practices in the system. “We have three Black assistant principals, as well as one Black elementary principal,” he says. “We don’t have any Blacks in supervisory positions at this time because we were overstaffed and we’re not hiring any people.”
A.Z. Young, a long-time Black activist in Bogalusa, expresses views similar to those voiced by Jenkins. “We have physical integration,” he declares, “but not mental integration. I’m afraid that is still a long way off.”
Young says a pattern is developing in the school system: “When a Black is in charge of any activity, such as track coach, the Whites don’t participate.” Furthermore, he says, too many young Blacks who graduate from the schools “wind up in the ghettos up North, or on skid row, or have to go into service. We aren’t getting as many to go to college now as we did when we had Black schools.”
Young worries about Bogalusa being “boxed in,” culturally and economically: “We have no interstate highway, no airlines, no trains, and only two buses a day. The people who generally come here can’t make it anywhere else in the world.” From a Black standpoint, Crown Zellerbach has been a good employer and a positive force for racial justice-but it is gradually cutting back on employment.
Still, there is some optimism about the future of the school system. Two years ago, the voters passed a $4.5 million school bond issue to finance modernization and construction of school facilities. Superintendent Mobley says it is significant “that we had one of the few school bond issues to pass anywhere around this area in the past few years.”
Mobley also asserts that the school system does not have “any real discipline problems now,” as it has had in the past. “We have our share, but I don’t think it is much different than schools all over the nation. This year, we feel we are having our best year. Each year has gotten a little better.”
Shortly before last Christmas, there was an incident in which a White boy stabbed a Black boy. In the disturbance which followed, only a small number of students became involved. The federal judge in whose court the Bogalusa school desegregation case has been handled was brought into the controversy to assure fairness in the settling of the incident by school officials. Most observers appeared not to see the affair as being racially oriented.
Blacks are still concerned that they have no representation on the elected school hoard, even though they have offered capable candidates in the past two elections. “The feeling was that it was time for a Black to be on the school board,” says Al Hansen managing editor of the Bogalusa Dailr’ News.” But when Whites got to the polls, they just couldn’t do it.”
Moses, the Black radio station manager, got a very respectable vote last time, as did Murkel Sibley, a Black executive at Crown Zellerbach. But a majority of the registered voters are White, and Blacks see that as an insurmountable obstacle as long as school board members are elected at large. A lawsuit is now on file in federal court to require that single-member districts be created for each of the five board posts.
Inside the schools, the two problem areas academically are reading and mathematics. Some classes are almost all Black or all-White. In extra-curricular activities, the chorus is mostly Black, the band is mostly White, and the drama club is well mixed. Last year, a White boy and a Black girl had the leading roles in the school play. Whites and Blacks in the Bogalusa schools are still not entirely comfortable with one another, but the worst hostilities and inequalities of the past appear to have been reduced.
New Orleans Times-Picayune
Norfolk, Virginia: “For The Benefit of Everybody”
When U.S. District Court Judge John A. MacKenzie declared on February 14, 1974, that the Norfolk school system was unitary and that “racial discrimination through official action has been eliminated,” he shut the book on one of the longest school desegregation cases in the country.
For almost 19 years, the Norfolk School Board had been involved in litigation initiated by 101 Black parents and children who wanted an end to “separate but equal” education. The 1956 case bore the name of Leola Pearl Beckett, a Black seventh-grader who grew up without ever attending an undesegregated school.
Step by step over two decades, successive court orders forced the school board to desegregate its schools, to take positive steps to desegregate classrooms and faculties, to bus as a means of ending racial imbalance, to provide free transportation, and finally to pay legal fees to attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case.
In retrospect, many persons closely associated with the
Norfolk public schools say desegregation has gone fairly smoothly.
“It was unusually smooth when you compare it to other cities of our size and racial makeup,” says John C. McLaulin, the assistant superintendent for research and planning. “Comparatively speaking, there were very few instances of violence and I can’t remember any community-instigated incidents.”
But the road the schools traveled between 1956 and 1974 was rocky at several points along the way. In September 1958, for instance, Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., used the state’s “massive resistance” laws to close six all-White junior and senior high schools and lock out 10,000 Norfolk students rather than allow 17 Blacks to enter the schools. After a federal judge ruled the anti-desegregation laws unconstitutional, the schools quietly desegregated in February of 1959, but half the members of the “Lost Class of ’59” never finished their senior year.
Another sharp turn of events came in 1970 when the school system-again under court orderbegan busing students in an effort to increase desegregation. Vocal but nonviolent civic groups protested and threatened to boycott the opening of school. In the 15 months that followed, the school system lost 7,000-almost one-fourthof its White students.
In the first year of busing for desegregation purposes, approximately 11,000 students were transported. Now, the total is about 24,000, with the increase being made necessary by changes in the desegregation plan.
The decline in public school enrollment which followed the initiation of cross-town busing was accompanied by a sharp enrollment increase in the area’s private schools, many of which sprang up as a direct result of desegregation. At the peak, an estimated 12,000 Norfolk children were attending the more than 50 private and parochial schools in Norfolk and the nearby cities of Virginia Beach, Portsmouth and Chesapeake, and the overwhelming majority of them were middle-class Whites.
But flight, sudden and severe when it began in the early 1970s, has now tapered off. In the fall of 1973, school officials reported the return of 850 students from private and parochial schools, and the following year, another 1,000 reportedly returned. No accounting of returning students waskept in 1975, but a school spokesman expressed the belief that enrollment is no longer seriously affected by White flight.
In the past 10 years, Norfolk’s public school population has declined from about 55,500 in 1965 to 54,700 in 1970 and to 47,400 in 1975. At the same time, the percentage of Black students has increased-but not to the 70 or 75 percent level some predicted as a result of total desegregation. Black percentages went from about 40 in 1965 to 45 in 1970, and to 52 last fall. Between 1974 and 1975, the number and percentage of both Blacks and Whites in the schools remained more or less unchanged. Between 40 and 45 percent of Norfolk’s 300,000 citizens are Black.
This year, Black-White ratios in the five senior high schools, 10 junior highs and 49 elementary schools are reasonably close to the 52-48 ratio for the system as a whole. Black percentages range from 22 to 69 in a few individual schools, but most are near the 50-60 mark. Some teachers, administrators and board members say, however, that the racial ratios don’t tell the whole story.
“We’ve desegregated the schools,” says the Rev. Joseph N. Green, Jr., one of two Blacks on the sevenmember school board, “but I do not feel we’ve integrated the schools. I think we’ve done a good job through busing of putting the races together physically. But integration means people are working together harmoniously and cooperatively. I don’t think this has really come about. That which separated us in the past to a great extent is still present.”
At the elementary level, children appear to work and play together without racial self-consciousness, but at the secondary level, social segregation is more apparent. “They sit in their little group and we sit in ours,” shrugged one high school student. “Integration, it doesn’t mean anything.” Some say this self-segregation simply mirrors a society in which racial divisions remain deep. The distinctly racial character of most neighborhoods in and around Norfolk would seem to support that view.
In the desegregation process, most of the formerly allBlack schools have survived, and most of the Black principals have retained their positions-contrary to what has happened in many other parts of Virginia. In 1974-75, 26 of the city’s 67 principals were Black-roughly the same as before desegregation. Only about one-third of the more than 900 secondary-school teachers were Black, however, and in the central administrative offices of the system, Blacks held only three of the top IS or so posi tions, including one of the five assistant superintendent posts.
Blacks and Whites both are concerned about the disproportionate involvement of Black students in school disciplinary matters. Almost 80 percent of the students who were suspended and subject to expulsion in 1971-72 were Black, and in the years since then, that pattern has remained essentially unchanged. There are no simple explanations for those statistics, and no quick remedy to the problem appears likely.
Busing has been seen as the source of several problems in the schools. Some parents worry about kindergarten and primary students who are bused as much as eight miles across town. Some students say school spirit has been weakened because most of those who ride buses can’t stay after school or come back at night for extracurricular activities. Busing is also said to be responsible for the decline of parental involvement in school activities and in parent-teacher associations.
In spite of the nagging problems, though, most of those who watch the schools closely appear to believe the advantages of desegregation outweigh the disadvantages.
They say children can now learn about each other and from each other, that all children now have equal access to materials, facilities and educational opportunities, and that all have benefitted from a strengthening of school programs to accommodate a diverse student population.
There is also evidence of academic improvement. Assistant superintendent Robert M. Forster, in comparing standardized achievement test scores from 1971 and 1973, noted an increase in the average reading score of Black students (from 74.4 to 81.9, on a national norm of 100) and also of White students (from 92.3 to 96.7).
Vincent J. Thomas, who was chairman of Norfolk’s school board during much of the litigation and now is chairman of the State Board of Education, credits Norfolk and other public school systems with having “far outdistanced any other public or private institution in creating and maintaining a truly integrated environment.”
Lillian M. Brinkley, a Norfolk elementary school principal, acknowledges that the process has been painful at times, and that it isn’t finished. But she adds: “I think all of us someday-we may be n our graves-will realize it has been for the benefit of everybody.”