The Georgia Desegregation Plan

The Georgia Desegregation Plan

By Alice Lovelace

Vol. 1, No. 8, 1979, pp. 12-13, 28

There is a movement afoot in this country to “curtail the educational expectations” of the masses, according to Howard Dodson, director of the Georgia-based Institute of the Black World. Commenting on the desegregation plan currently being implemented in the Georgia public schools of higher education, he says, “Essentially the plan is to dismantle the Black schools. It is reflective of racism in America. White people never see themselves as the problem. It is always the Blacks who are the problem.”

Also commenting on the plan, a young Savannah State College student involved in protests there against the plan exclaimed, “Georgia is a testing ground. Sooner or later it will be all over the country.” The plan, which calls for entry and exit tests and some merging of the programs at the Black and White schools, has angered many students, college faculty members and concerned citizens alike at historically Black Savannah, Albany and Fort Valley state colleges. The general feeling is that the three predominately Black schools are being burdened with the responsibility for desegregation while the issue of open access to higher education facilities for all citizens is ignored.

It was the historic trend of separate and unequal educational facilities, reinforced by deliberate under financing of public Black colleges that led the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to initiate a suit in the first place. In Adams vs. Califano, the Defense Fund charged the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) with a lack of aggression in requiring Southern states to end their mandatory dual system of public higher education.

As a result of this action, the court ruled in 1972 that 10 states were in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In essence Title VI stipulates that no person shall be excluded from participation or subjected to discrimination under any program receiving federal assistance.

The Court thus required Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia to submit desegregation plans to HEW for correction of their violations.

The Georgia plan was accepted by Califano in 1974, but was rejected by Judge John Pratt, acting on a petition from NAACP. The Georgia Board of Regents, a board appointed by the governor and consisting of 13 Whites and two Blacks, revised the plan and resubmitted it to HEW in 1977. After further discussion and changes the plan was found acceptable by HEW and the court.

As a part of the plan, Black colleges have been promised millions of dollars in funds to upgrade their facilities and make them more acceptable to Whites. The cost of financing future construction which is an integral part of the overall success of the Georgia plan, and upgrading the curriculum at the three Black colleges is viewed by some as very uncertain in light of today’s tax shy climate.

The plan was met with violence and protest on the campuses of several Black colleges and locations across the state. At Savannah State students turned over cars, blocked off streets and boycotted classes.

The major controversy at Savannah State centered on a portion of the plan which calls for the swapping of the teacher education programs there for the business administration program at mostly White Armstrong State College. The rationale for this arrangement is that Black students majoring in education will have to attend Armstrong and White students majoring in business will elect to transfer to Savannah State. However, many Blacks feel that the number of small town and rural Black teachers will be severely affected by moving the traditional teachers education program from Savannah State to the hostile environment of Armstrong.

“Califano and President Carter both appear to have been talking out of both sides of their mouths when they said they wanted to preserve historically Black colleges,” one administrator exclaimed. “They said one ‘thing, but

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they are doing another. Teacher education is the history of Black colleges and they are taking that away from Savannah State.”

There are 28 education-related programs at Savannah State, and no one has yet made it clear to teachers just what will happen to them. They are particularly uneasy over the language of the plan which states that, “several key faculty members at Savannah State College will be reassigned or terminated as a result of the plan.”

A continuing education center operated jointly by both colleges is also proposed for some future date. The primary function of the continuing education center would be to offer various allied health programs, programs in criminal justice, courses for the disadvantaged in health, political awareness and living habits, as well as cultural and educational courses to enhance the daily lives of individuals.

In order to correct past negligence and to attract more Whites, the Board has proposed that one million dollars a year for five years (1983) be spent on “improving the campus environment of Savannah State College.”

Requirements for entrance and graduation at Savannah State will be upgraded and it is expected that 95 percent of the entering freshmen will be required to take the basic skills examination. Those students scoring less than a combined score of 750 will be required to attend “special studies” courses for which they must pay but receive no college credit.

Savannah State students contend that the creation of Armstrong State College was illegal in the first place because it was built since the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation. The Georgia Board of Regents upgraded Armstrong from a junior college to a four-year college in 1964, even though Savannah State was located about 15 miles away and offered similar liberal arts programs.

Albany State College and Albany Junior College are very dissimilar institutions, yet the Georgia plan provides for, “merging these two sister institutions and relocation of the senior college campus (Albany State) in the event that enhancement steps at Albany State do not result, within a four-year interval (1982), in the degree of desegregation required.”

Despite the fact that Albany State College is a senior college and draws students from the same general area as Georgia Southwestern, the regents felt there should be no plan requiring the increase of Black enrollment at Georgia Southwestern which had an enrollment in 1976 of 6.2 percent Black students.

The plan requires that Albany State substantially increase its White enrollment or be swallowed by the smaller Albany Junior College. It also calls for the strengthening of key administrative positions through “further personnel training or personnel replacement.”

The creation of a joint Albany State College/Albany Junior College extension and public service program is called for in hopes that it will “enhance the overall reception of Albany State College of all elements of the community.” The function of the extension and public service program is basically the same as the proposed Savannah/Armstrong continuing education center.

In order to increase the attractiveness of Albany State College, new courses will be introduced. Additional programs will be strengthened through the coordination of selected associate degree programs offered by Albany Junior College and related bachelor level programs offered by Albany State.

Admission, progression and graduation standards will be tightened at Albany State. This will result in 96 percent of the entering freshmen being required to take the basic skills examination and is expected to result in an increase in the number of students enrolled in the special studies course.

In an effort to “insure increased selectivity” in the Albany State teacher education program, a two-point five (2.5) college cumulative grade point average will be required for admission and graduation. Completion of the “rising juniors test” or regents test, prior to admission to teacher education will also be required. The same requirements will be instituted for admission and graduation for the nursing program.

As with Albany and Savannah, at predominantly Black Fort Valley State key personnel will be affected and one million dollars a year will be spent over the next five years to enhance the campus. Stricter testing procedures will result in 93 percent of the entering freshmen taking the basic skills exam. The teacher education program will require the same pre-requisites as the Albany plan.

Other institutions in the Georgia system are committed to increase by nearly 16 percent the number of Black high school graduates entering post secondary institutions. Traditionally White institutions will try to increase Black enrollment by eight percent.

Some groups, including the Georgia Conference for Open Education feel that the desegregation plan, along with standardized entry/exit tests, the declining financial aid for low-income students, the concentration of Black students in two-year institutions and the lack of Black faculty members as roll models, might be the straw that breaks the back of Black colleges. As a result of the plan, students at the three affected Black colleges issued a joint declaration calling for: (1) the removal of all standardized tests; (2) open admissions throughout all state schools; (3) credit for special studies programs; (4) 30 percent Black enrollment at the state’s mostly White schools by 1982~ (5) priority for Black colleges; and (6) the hiring and promotion of more Black faculty.

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Modibo Kadalie, political science instructor at Atlanta Junior College and spokesman for Georgia Conference said, “If this plan goes through in Georgia, all other (Black) public land grant colleges in the nation will be threatened.” In March 1979, he called for a boycott of registration at Black schools in opposition to the plan. While the boycott had only minimal effect statewide, j Modibo feels that the rate of registration at Atlanta Junior College was moderately affected.

Octavius O’Neal, organizer of a 450-mile march for justice and equality in Georgia education, expressed the belief that, “The Georgia Board of Regents and the Department of HEW are scheming to make education an elitist thing in Georgia by instituting these standardized entrance and exit examinations. We have an obligation to the Black community to fight these tests. The few gains we made during the sixties are being taken away at an alarming rate. The government is destroying the predominately Black college in the name of ‘quality education.’ ”

The Southern Education Foundation (SEF), while being opposed to standardized tests, feels that it is better for Blacks to use the plan to their advantage than to fight it. Black schools have to be strengthened to survive, a spokesperson for the foundation said. The plan provides some guidelines and directives and has all kinds of possibilities. Why not let some of the historically Black schools be made into major centers, they question. It would be “foolhardy” not to “maximize” the plan to broaden the scope of Black schools, the foundation assessed.

Officials at HEW feel the Georgia plan is “totally acceptable.” Louis Bryson, director of post-secondary education of the HEW regional office in Atlanta, sees no evidence of possible adverse effects in terms of Black student enrollment. Bryson thinks just the opposite will occur with the number of those retained. He said Black faculty will be “upgraded” as a result of the plan.

“The plan offers Black students access equal to that of the White students and (through special studies) assures they will be retained once admitted. The plan attempts to guarantee that the rate of Black graduates will be comparable to the rate of White grads.”

Bryson said a complaint has been filed by a Black student at Fort Valley State College regarding the “rising juniors test.” The Atlanta office investigated the complaint before passing it on to the office in Washington where it is currently under advisement.

“The plan calls for increased Black admission and upgrading of Black faculty. It cannot result in an adverse effect on Black enrollment,” Bryson says. “The regional office will be monitoring its progress and making on-site investigations.”

Still, many remain unconvinced. In a speech at Atlanta University in early March of 1979, Professor Otis S. Johnson, sociology instructor at Savannah State College summed up the disillusionment felt by many when he asserted:

It is my opinion that what has happened in Georgia is a travesty against justice and equality. One of HEW’s guidelines specifically states that the traditionally Black institutions should not bear any undo hardship in the efforts to desegregate the state’s system of higher education. But this is happening in Georgia. The regents are making commitments to HEW to keep the federal funds rolling into Georgia at the same time they are creating barriers to the entrance and exit of Blacks to the university system of Georgia.”

School officials will likely continue to meet throughout the spring and summer trying to determine their best courses of action. Black teachers at Savannah State believe that whatever happens will be to their detriment. Only the future will reveal whether or not their pessimistic attitude prevails for the Black colleges in general.

Alice Lovelace is the writer-in-residence at the Atlanta Neighborhood Arts Center.