How Segregation Has Persisted* in Little Rock
We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
– Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 -
LITTLE ROCK — In the 1960s, while other middle-school students were worrying about letter jackets* or boyfriends or saddle shoes*, LaVerne Bell-Tolliver was simply trying to stay sane. Bell-Tolliver’s parents had volunteered her to integrate Forest Heights Junior High in Little Rock in 1961, and as the only black student in a crush* of white ones, she was always on guard*. Boys pushed other students into her, crowing* that her blackness would rub off onto them. Teachers ignored her raised hand and gave her low grades. For the two long years she was the only black student at her middle school; she sat by herself at lunch.
“My realm was surviving,” she told me recently, in a café in Little Rock. “I was depressed the whole time, and I actually had ulcers by ninth grade.”
Bell-Tolliver looks at Little Rock schools now, though, and wonders if her years of hell were all in vain. In the decades since the schools were first integrated, Little Rock has become a more residentially segregated city, with white residents in the northwest part of town and blacks in the southwest and south. Because the vast majority of children attend schools in their neighborhood, the schools have become re-segregated too.
And those separate schools are not at all equal. For example, 58 percent of the students at Roberts Elementary, located in northwest Little Rock, are white, though the district as a whole is just 18 percent white. Roberts was completed in 2010 and has a climbing wall, a state-of-the art computer lab, a chemistry lab, telescopes, high ceilings, natural light, and a cafeteria with a stage and TV screens. Wilson Elementary, 72 percent black, is located in a majority-black neighborhood and, according to a lawsuit filed this year, has failing air conditioning, squirrels that died in the air ducts, and a cafeteria that was closed by the public-health department.
“It’s still unequal,” Bell-Tolliver told me. “It’s the way they put resources in different areas.”
In January of 2015, just a few months after two new members were elected to the five-member Little Rock school board vowing to make the district more equal, the state stepped in and took over the district, citing the board’s inability to fix six academically distressed schools in majority black neighborhoods. It then approved the expansion of two charter schools* — which tend to enroll disproportionately higher-income student bodies—a move that will add 3,000 charter seats to the 6,700 that already exist within the boundaries of the 23,000-student district.
The Walton Family Foundation, an Arkansas-based nonprofit started by the founders of Walmart, has gotten involved too, pushing for more charter expansions and vowing in January to spend $1 billion on the efforts nationally. Last week, the state abruptly removed Baker Kurrus, the superintendent of the Little Rock schools and an outspoken critic of charter schools, replacing him with the superintendent of the schools of Bentonville, where Walmart is headquartered. (Local papers say Kurrus was fired; the state says his contract expired.)
In the background of all this recent controversy is a lawsuit* filed by a handful of black plaintiffs* last fall against the Arkansas Department of Education for subjecting the black students in the district to intentional racial discrimination. The district favors the white student population, the lawsuit alleges, by giving majority-white schools more resources, and by withholding resources from majority-black schools. The lawsuit also accuses the state of subjugating* the rights of black students by wresting* control from a democratically elected school board. The state has filed a motion to dismiss the case, and both sides are waiting for a judge’s decision on that motion.
Of course, what’s happening in Little Rock’s schools is less violent than the battles of the 1950s, when mobs gathered to prevent students from integrating Little Rock’s Central High School, students had acid thrown in their faces, and when President Eisenhower had to call in the 101st Airborne after Governor Orval Faubus refused to allow black students into the school. Faubus even closed Little Rock high schools for the 1958-’59 school year to avoid integration.
Today, those who oppose integration are still fighting it, but in less overt ways. They have moved to outlying areas to get away from lower-income, black families and have prevented those families from following them. They’ve built new schools and established charters in these majority-white areas so that white children don’t have attend lower-performing majority-black schools. And they’ve made sure that the people who are trying to push back against these actions don’t have power in the district.
What’s stunning* about today’s methods of avoiding integration is that they are, by and large, legal, but they nevertheless leave black students stuck in schools that are separate and unequal.
of April 27, 2016
* to persist - andauern, anhalten
* letter jacket - A letter jacket is a jacket traditionally worn by high school and college students in the United States to represent school and team pride as well as to display personal awards earned in athletics, academics or activities.
* saddle shoes - Sattelschuhe
* crush - Schwarm, Gedränge
* to be on guard - auf der Hut sein
* to crow - sich brüsten, angeben
* charter schools - a U.S. and Canadian term for a school that receives government funding but operates independently of the established public school system in which it is located. Charter schools are an example of alternative education. (öffentliche, oftmals von privaten Unternehmen geleitete Schule)
* lawsuit - Klage, Prozess
* plaintiff - Kläger
* to subjugate - sich jn. untertan machen
* to wrest - entreissen, erzwingen
* stunning - atemberaubend
1. What does the authoress mean by "the schools have become re-segregated"?
2. Why is Roberts Elementary School much better equipped than Wilson Elementary?
3. Why did the state make things worse when they stepped in and dismissed the Little Rock schoolboard? Why do charter schools not contribute to more equality in schools?
4. Some black plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Department of Education. What do they want to achieve?
5. What is the difference between the situation of many black and white schools of the 1960s and today? How have things changed?
6. What have you learnt in class about black civil rights in other areas than public education?