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Segregation is alive and well 60 years after the Little Rock Nine

by Josh Marcus
Sep 25 2017, 3:59pm

Sixty years ago today, nine black students faced an angry white mob as they started class at the newly integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, a day that would ultimately end as a key moment in civil rights history.

Three years earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” paving the way for a legal end to racial segregation in schools. But changes in the law didn’t translate to changes on the ground.

The governor of Arkansas, like many in the South, resisted the ruling, sending his state’s National Guard to bar the black students from entering the school. In response, President Eisenhower dispatched federal troops to escort the so-called “Little Rock Nine” into class, and images of the drama helped draw national attention to the fight for desegregation.

But 60 years later, school segregation remains a pressing national issue. We’ve rounded up some recent cases across the country:

Little Rock Desegregates

The Arkansas capital has actually become more residentially segregated over the years, and with it, so have its schools. The differences are stark — local and state leaders say black students attending neighborhood schools face dilapidated facilities and a shortage of resources compared to their white counterparts.

Now a court may soon weigh in. A state representative filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court earlier this year alleging discriminatory funding practices, and arguments are set to begin this month.

Cleveland, Mississippi, Desegregates, Finally

In March, a federal court accepted a settlement from Cleveland, Mississippi’s school district that would desegregate its schools — ending a case that began over 50 years ago.

A New Segregation Strategy in Alabama

In 2015, school officials in Gardendale, Alabama joined more than 70 mainly white and wealthy school districts across the country that have tried to split off from larger districts, an ongoing trend since 2000 that many see as a veiled mechanism for reinforcing segregation.

Jefferson County, home to Gardendale, was still covered under a federal desegregation order following the Brown decision, but a federal court ruled in April that Gardendale’s act of school secession could go forward even though it was found to be motivated by intentional discrimination.

Northern Segregation

Segregated schools aren’t just a Southern problem. Under a “school choice” program created by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, students can apply to high schools of their choice in a system designed to allow students to leave underperforming schools.

However, an analysis found that students in better schools were disproportionately middle class and white or Asian, while low income black and Hispanic students were routinely enrolled in schools with graduation rates that were often 20 percent lower.

Beyond Public School

Even outside the public school system, the problem of school segregation persists.

In July, Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers, called charter schools a “polite cousin of segregation.” The data backs her up — a 2016 analysis from the Brookings Institution found that while charter schools serve roughly equal numbers of black, white and Hispanic students, they are more racially segregated than their public counterparts.

This was true especially in urban areas, where black students in charter schools are in “substantially” more segregated facilities.

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