An Educator’s View of Segregation
By Chester Travelstead
Vol. 21, No. 1, Spring 2000 pp. 11-12
On August 2, 1955, as Dean of the School of Education at the University of South Carolina, Chester Travelstead delivered a speech citing eight problems in education, an act which led to his dismissal. Shortly thereafter, Travelstead became dean of the College of Education at the University of New Mexico where he retired in 1977 as Provost Emeritus. A portion of Travelstead’s speech that addressed school segregation was published in the January 1956 issue of New South. It has been edited for inclusion below.
The problem of integrating the races in our public schools is unprecedented. Educators and laymen in this state [South Carolina] are faced with making important decisions related to this matter. The time has passed for us to hide our heads in the sand and ignore the existence of the problem.
I must say in the beginning that I have been surprised and disappointed that the education profession in South Carolina has made no public statement giving its views on this matter. I have seen nothing in print, nor have I heard any official pronouncements from any of the official education organizations, including the State Board of Education, concerning their positions on this question.
In the absence of such statements from the professional organizations, we do not know how the members of these organizations feel about this problem. It seems imperative to me that this or any other issue of so great import deserves and demands public discussion. As I examine the bases of our own government, the Bill of Rights, and all other pronouncements of our forefathers-I find nothing which requires, justifies, or even allows a notion of second-class citizenship for any group. The fact that we have practiced segregation on the assumption that it was right and just, does not make it right and just.
Besides one’s own personal beliefs in this matter, there is the legal side of the question of segregation. The highest court of our land has said that the practice of segregation in the schools is unconstitutional. Our oath of allegiance to this constitution does not allow us the luxury of upholding it if and when we think it suits our purposes and tastes. If we choose to circumvent these duly constituted agencies of law, how will we explain and justify this action to our children and [grandchildren]? Our children will learn much by observation of our words and deeds. We certainly have an obligation to them in this respect.
There comes to mind the question of what to do when parts of the state constitution are not in agreement with parts of the federal constitution. If one looks at this situation as a citizen of the United States, he can give only one answer. He must support the federal constitution.
Such statements have not yet been made by state officials in South Carolina, but the fact remains that all South Carolina laws requiring segregation by race in the public schools are now null and void.
In some sections of the
South, boards of education have gone on record as agreeing with the Supreme Court decisions and as being willing to work toward an early implementation of these decisions. As we boil down the various possibilities, we have left four main alternatives:
- Accept the Supreme Court decision and work sincerely toward its implementation;
- Reject completely the Court decision and work persistently to keep our public schools segregated by attempting to circumvent, delay, and out-maneuver the law;
- Submit to the appropriate court a plan of “good faith compliance” with the Supreme Court ruling;
- Abolish our public schools and attempt to set up private schools on a segregated basis.
The decision to take any one of these four courses will be major. Therefore, such a decision by educators, community and state leaders should be made only after careful consideration of the possible consequences of each choice.
The possible consequences which might follow the fourth alternative–that of abolishing the public schools–are many. First, we must ask ourselves if we are willing to turn back the clock on education more than a hundred years. Most people do not want to abandon public schools, if it can possibly be avoided. Thinking men are not at all certain that abolishing the public schools will correct our troubles. Decisions concerning these matters must be made–and must be made soon.
In this connection, I would like to close with [a] quotation from John Ruskin. “Doing is the great thing. For if, resolutely, people do what is right, in time they come to like doing it.”