Liberty and Justice for all? SCHOOLS IN THE US TODAY.
Fifty years ago, the US Supreme Court decided that blacks and whites should go to school together. Segregation was officially ended, but
what is the reality like today?
Since 1892 in schools across the US, before they start their lessons, children have recited the Pledge of
Allegiance. It goes like this:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
The last line is the most significant. Liberty and justice for all means that people in the US are free to live life as they wish,
and are entitled to be treated equally before the law. That means all people, not just white people, or rich people,
but all people; one nation, undivided.
Far from undivided, fifty years ago white children went to white schools and black children went to black schools
in the US. This segregation of blacks and whites in schools was required by law in many US states until several black families
went to court to protest. The case, known as Brown vs. Board od Education, went to the highest court in the
US and they won. The US celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court decision this year. Fifty years on, how have
schools in the US changed?
The most famous of the children who went to court was Linda Brown from Topeka, Kansas. Linda had to cross railway
tracks to get to a black school on the other side of town, eventhough there was a white school much nearer her
home. At the time there were 18 white elementary schools and four black schools in Topeka.
Since 1896, 21 states had had laws requiring 'separate but equal' white and black schools. Schools were definitely separate,
but not equal. White schools often got much more funding than black ones, for example. The Supreme Court
acknowledged this in the 1954 decision: 'We conclude that in the field of education the doctrine of separate but equal
has no place. Separate education facilities are inherently unequal.' Schools were forced to desegregate.
The divide now runs along city boundaries. In the 1960s and 70s, many blacks came from the south to northern US cities in
search of jobs and a better life. As the blacks moved into the cities, the whites moved out. Most large cities in America
are now separated into inner city areas where blacks and other ethnic minorities live, and suburban areas where whites live.
Erich Dietrich, an expert in the history of race and education at New York University, writes, 'In 1974, white parents either moved
to the suburbs or sent their children to private schools to avoid black kids.. In 2004, you do the same... When
we talk about a safe neighbourhood or a good school, we usually mean we see sufficiently few black people to feel
Recent studies have shown that most white children still have little contact withe black children today. In Boston,
for example, in suburban schools there are 91% white children, in inner city schools 15% white children.
The US Census Bureau has listed the ten most segregated cities in the US. Milwaukee was first, then Detroit, Cleveland, St Louis
(the only city in the south on the list), Newark, Cincinnati, Buffalo, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. Only nine US states
have more than 40% of black children in majority-white schools. Only 14 US states have less than 20% of black children
in minority-only schools.
Is there really a cause for celebration on the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision?
In a poll this year, when asked if the US had achieved racial equality in education, two thirds of whites said
yes, and two thirds of blacks said no. In a speech about the 50th anniversary, President Bush called it 'a day of justice'.
His challenger in this year's election, John Kerry said, 'Today, more than ever, we need to renew our commitment to one
America". Let us hope that liberty and justice for all can be achieved, especially for and perhaps by the children
who say these words every day in US schools.
Quelle: Sprachenzeitschrift 'Read On' (Aug. 2004), Eilers und Schuünemann Verlag, Bremen