ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
While Plessy-style segregation might have been psychologically harmful,
even more so has been the fruitless, enervating quest to force, trick,
or cajole whites into sharing their neighborhoods and classrooms.
Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. Derrick Bell
Charles J. Ogletree Jr. All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education Norton, 2005
Derrick Bell. Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform. Oxford University Press, 2005
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A Dream Deferred: A Mournful, Contrarian Dissection
Of the Failed Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education
A Review by Debra J. Dickerson May/June 2004 Issue
If Einstein is correct and “insanity” is doing the same experiment again and again and expecting different results, then America is truly delusional in its approach to education and racial integration. Fifty years after Brown v. Board, the landmark Supreme Court decision that invalidated the doctrine of “separate but equal,” America’s schools are as segregated as everwith often abysmal educational and psychological outcomes for black children.
To stop the madness, both Ogletree and Bell argue that what America must stop doing again and again is attempting to provide integrated education for its children.
The notion of retreating from integration is blasphemous, unthinkable, inherently racist. Yet, it rings true, even as one sputters in protest at the heresy. Fifty years of culture wars notwithstanding, integration is still more rhetoric than reality, and it is the ever-neglected minority children who pay the price for our continued focus on this seemingly unattainable goal. Perhaps it’s time America cried “Uncle.” Racism won.
Mournful books both, Bell’s best captures the significance of Brown at the time of its pronouncement and of African Americans’ then-unconquerable optimism about the country’s ultimate goodness. Mustered out after the Korean War, Bell was in law school in 1954; Brown, he was convinced, “marked the beginning of the end of Jim Crow oppression in all its myriad forms.
For black Americans long burdened by our subordinate status, there was, to paraphrase the spiritual, ‘a great day a-coming.'” He describes meeting with William H. Hastie, the first black federal judge, shortly before Bell graduated in 1957. “Son,” Hastie told him, “I am afraid that you were born 15 years too late to have a career in civil rights.”
Forty-seven years later, civil-rights advocates are still trying to integrate America’s schools, wistfully invoking Brown like the abandoned child stationed at the window waiting for parents who are never coming back for her. But not Ogletree and Bell; two of the nation’s premier civil-rights scholars and attorneys, they’ve surrendered the dream of integration and now demand that separate schools actually be made equal.
While Plessy-style segregation might have been psychologically harmful, even more so has been the fruitless, enervating quest to force, trick, or cajole whites into sharing their neighborhoods and classrooms. An elderly teacher from one of the Jim Crow era’s highest achieving black schools-Dunbar in Washington, D.C.-remarks sadly, “Integration, with all the good it brought, was also the beginning of the end of Dunbar and Negro education as I’d known it. I wouldn’t want it to go out that I’m not for integration-I am. I’m not for what it did to Dunbar and to students.” One woman adds, “We got what we fought for, but we lost what we had.” Even that was too optimistic; except for the rhetorical victory of Brown, blacks did not get what they fought for.
Whatever its promise, the reality of desegregation has been grim, as a peek inside America’s still segregated and still substandard black classrooms quickly reveals. White students, Bell notes, attend schools that are 80 percent white. Today’s residential and educational segregation rates equal that of de jure Jim Crow to within two-tenths of a percent in some neighborhoods, resulting in a “social and economic apartheid.”
Educational outcomes have been equally stark: On standardized reading-achievement tests, black nine-year-olds have scored an average of 10 points lower than white ones, and black students are still twice as likely to drop out of high school as whites. Functional illiteracy is as high as 40 percent among minority youths.
“With fifty years of hindsight,” Ogletree writes, “the tragic lesson” of Brown is that it “actually definedthe power of racism as a barrier to true racial progress.” The Brown directive to proceed “with all deliberate speed,” rather than with specific goals and timetables, he argues, opened the door to “massive resistance” at every level of society.
“It began from the day the decision was issued…through to the Boston busing crisis of 1975and, most telling, to the resegregation of our schools and our communities in the twenty-first century.”
Somewhat ruefully, these two legal stars, both of whom committed substantial portions of their careers to Brown-style advocacy, admit that the black community was ambivalent about integration. “Too often, integration is presented as an unalloyed benefit for African-Americans,” notes Ogletree:
For many in the African-American community, however, integration was viewed with suspicion or something worse. Many communities at the center of the battle would have welcomed something less than the full integration demanded by the civil rights lawyers. These teachers, school principals, and janitors would rather have kept their schools, their jobs, and their positions of power and influence than see their charges bused to white schools run by white principals where white educators often made the children all too grimly aware of their distaste for the new state of affairs.
Indeed, the NAACP was known to oust local leaders who opposed integration and to file court briefs attacking the plans of blacks who fought to improve, rather than integrate, black schools. These two books apologize for thatfor an elite forcing its vision on a wiser, more practical community. They function as eulogies for the dying dreams of integration, for years spent in fruitless jousts with white intransigence, for two generations of black children used as pawns and tossed aside, uneducated.
And they offer a hero’s funeral for Brown with a promise to keep fresh flowers on its grave, that resting place for what might have been.
Plan Bthe actual education and nurturing of minority, segregated childrenwill now have to suffice. Whites will argue that it is not racism that causes white flight and dismal minority educational outcomes. But Eisenhower, president during Brown, was unguarded enough to tell the truth: “[Southern whites] are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes.” Fifty years later, that determination remains.
So be it, because Eisenhower was also correct in noting that “it is difficult through law and through force to change a man’s heart.” Impossible, perhapsor so advocates for minority education should believe.
Regardless, 50 years is a long enough experiment, and it’s time we accepted the obvious, as did W.E.B. Du Bois in 1935: “Negro children needed neither segregated schools nor mixed schools. What they need is education.” Insane as it seems, perhaps embracing segregationensuring that separate truly is equalwill make all the difference.
Source: MotherJones.com / posted 16 April 2006
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By Andrew B. Lewis
With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship, historian Lewis (Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table) revisits the ragtag band of young men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient with what they considered the overly cautious and accommodating pace of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., the black college students and their white allies, inspired by Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins, voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and protest marches. Despite early successes, the movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded by the militant Black Power movement.
The highly readable history follows the later careers of the principal leaders. Some, like Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown, became bitter and disillusioned. Others, including Marion Barry, Julian Bond and John Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from protest to politics, assuming positions of leadership within the very institutions they had challenged. According to the author, No organization contributed more to the civil rights movement than SNCC, and with his eloquent book, he offers a deserved tribute.Publishers Weekly
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . .
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 27 May 2012