Arkansas Case Raises Old Issues Regarding Forced Integration

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(Courtesy of Politic365)

In the fall of 1957, the Little Rock Nine, a group of boys and girls determined to desegregate the Arkansas capital city’s school system by enrolling at Central High School, became permanently etched in American history as television broadcasts beamed images of the young students being escorted by federal troops assigned to protect their safety.

Three years earlier, the United States Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, rendered an opinion in the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case requiring American school districts to integrate “with all deliberate speed.”

The tempo in the years that followed was deliberate—ploddingly so—as most states in the South publicly defied the Court’s mandate by maintaining the status quo, which at that time included improving or building new school facilities for black citizens.

Amid that backdrop, civil rights organizations, most prominently the NAACP, began organizing clusters of students throughout the South to test the waters with respect to local resolve to keep black students segregated.

54 years to the semester, the Arkansas education system finds itself again at the center of debate. The state, led by Democrat Governor Mike Beebe, desires to end its five decades long desegregation program. Three districts that receive funding, Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County, argue that they would have to drastically scale back essential programs if the money evaporates.

With a lower court judge having suggested that the three districts’ latent wish is to keep desegregation programs in tact strictly to receive appropriations, this week, a federal appeals panel will decide whether the same must remain under court supervision with respect to desegregation.

In this so called “post-racial era”, it is interesting to note the sheer inanity of forced busing as opposed to school choice. The former remains the primary concern of some educational and civil rights leaders seemingly stuck in a time warp.

In the Arkansas case, the three districts argue that the focus should be upon “good schools” instead of forced integration. Interesting enough there is little data to suggest that bridging the academic achievement gap is dependent upon having racially mixed schools.

In fact, there is evidence that strongly suggests the contrary. Peruse any listing of the nation’s traditional colleges and universities that graduate the highest number of black students and you will find the same led by Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Florida A&M University and North Carolina A&T State University. These figures become even more pronounced when factoring the number of black college graduates who earn professional degrees—many of the same completed their undergraduate work at an HBCU.

In that respect, not much has changed since 1957, when the nation’s HBCU’s regularly produced the overwhelming number of black achievers.

A cynic, of course, would point that such seems to validate the old “separate but equal” doctrine that had been the law of the land prior to the Brown decision in 1954. The problem, then and now, was and is not one of forced interaction, rather, it is one of ensuring that schools funded by the public dole have similar facilities and course offerings.

The second issue, and the primary focus of Brown, is not the inherent benefits of forcing integration, rather, it is one of removing any barriers that prevent choice.

In his book “My Grandfather’s Son,” United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas weighed in on this topic, arguing that his career would have been no less stellar had he attended his first choice of college, predominantly black Morehouse in Atlanta, then having later attended Holy Cross upon his grandfather’s insistence. In 2007, Justice Thomas, in a concurring a 5-4 majority decision striking down forced school integration programs in Louisville, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington, held that “racial imbalance is not segregation…racial imbalance can also result from any number of innocent private decisions, including voluntary housing choices.”

After considering witness testimony in the Arkansas case, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller noted that “few if any of the participants in this case have any clue how to effectively educate underprivileged black children.” Judge Miller’s comments underscore the main issue, which is one of improving the education achievement gap, particularly among poorer black students.

54 years ago when Little Rock first took center stage regarding integration, poverty was a constant. However, many veteran black educators that either taught during that period or were matriculating through segregated school systems at the time will attest to two constants. The first is that discipline was rarely a problem for black students, which is not surprising considering that most black families’ consisted of parents who, whether educated or not, were keenly focused on their children’s educational well being and would not allow their children to disrespect adults.

The second is that teachers during this period were endowed with the institutional support to root out discipline through corporal punishment. Today, behavior issues and lack of parental involvement are the key culprits in the black achievement gap as most districts choose to simply expel discipline problems instead of taking corrective action.

While the Arkansas court decision certainly bears watching, until discipline and parental involvement are addressed on the local level, forced integration will do little to ameliorate the educational outlook for black students


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