Tag Archives: White Supremacy

School Choice and White Supremacy like Two Peas in a Pod

9 Aug

By Thomas Ultican 8/9/2020

In Overturning Brown, Steve Suitts provides overwhelming evidence for the segregationist legacy of “school choice.” He shows that “Brown v Board” has been effectively gutted and “choice proved to be the white supremacists’ most potent strategy to defeat it. In the 21st century, that same strategy is being wielded to maintain segregation while destroying the separation of church and state.

(Note: In this article references to “Overturning Brown” given as Suitts page#)

Defeating Brown

On May 17 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” He added it is “inherently unequal” and plaintiffs were “deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”

A large portion of the United States was not intensely affected by the ruling but in the Deep South, the response was hostility and a determination to fight. Southern politicians organized a “massive resistance” movement. In Jackson Mississippi, the editor of the Jackson Daily news declared, “This is a fight for white supremacy” (Suitts 31).

Governors and state legislators established commissions or committees “to develop options for preserving segregation.” (Suitts 18)

Wallace and Connor

People like Mississippi Senator James Eastland, Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety Bull Connor and Alabama Governor George Wallace are well remembered for their egregious support of “white supremacy.”

Eastland who served in the US Senate for 30-years stated, “I have no prejudice in my heart, but the white race is the superior race and the Negro race an inferior race and the races must be kept separate by law.”

Bull Connor employed Birmingham firemen and policemen using water hoses and police dogs against African-American demonstrators. It was after his arrest during those demonstrations that Martin Luther King wrote his famous Letter from the Birmingham Jail. He stated in the missive, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

In 1958, John Patterson, bested George Wallace for Governor of Alabama. Patterson, a proven segregationist and former Alabama attorney general, had attempted to put the NAACP out of business through a series of harassing lawsuits. The loss prompted Wallace to vow, “No other son-of-a-bitch will ever out-nigger me again.” (Suitts 26)

In 1963, Wallace won the Alabama Governor’s office. In his inaugural address, he attacked governmental overreach in Washington DC and “the illegal 14th amendment.” That is the amendment to the constitution that guarantees all citizens “equal protection under the law.” It was the central argument under-girding the Supreme Court’s “Brown” decision. In the address written by soon to be Klan leader Asa Carter (Suitts 26), Wallace famously called for “segregation now … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever.”

These infamous segregationists were not decisive in stopping what they called the “forced mixing” of students in school. It was the committees and commissions with their schemes for school choice leading to “virtual segregation” that effectively frustrated “Brown”.

Soon after the “Brown” decision, Alabama’s Boutwell Committee reported their plan which aimed for “virtual segregation.” The report decried “forced integration” claiming it would lead to “violence, disorder, and tension for the state and its children.” (Suitts 20)

The primary intellectual force behind the plan was a corporate attorney in Birmingham, Forney Johnston. He was a staunch segregationist who represented Alabama’s Big Mules:” coal, railroads, wealthy industrialists and investors. (Suitts 19)

The Boutwell plan posited four basic strategies for stopping compulsory “mixing” of races in schools. The key to the plan was school choice and not mentioning race as a reason for not admitting a student. The four main points:

  • Eliminate all prohibitions against the operation of mixed schools.
  • Remove from the state constitution any suggestion that there is a right of education and an obligation of the state to fund public school children. The state is to promote education in a manner and extent consistent with available resources, and the willingness and ability of the individual students.
  • Give local school officials the power to refuse admission to individuals or groups whose scholastic deficiencies would compel undue lowering of school standards.
  • Provide vouchers and other tax funds for both black and white children. (Suitts 21)

The plan called for a school choice system that enabled children “to attend all-White schools, all-Black schools, or desegregated schools in a state-financed system of public and private schools.” They called it the “Freedom of Choice Plan.”

The editor of the Montgomery Adviser called it “manicured Kluxism.” The plan was ratified by 61% of Alabama voters in 1956. (Suitts 22)

Southern segregationists often “condemned integration as the work of communists.” (Suitts 32) Adopting the language of University of Chicago libertarian economist Milton Friedman, they began denouncing the “monopoly of government schools” calling it “socialism in its purest form.” (Suitts 59)

By 1965, most voucher programs adopted in Southern states had been declared unconstitutional including indirect expenditures such as tax credits. (Suitts 49) Sill it is estimated that by the 1980s in the eleven states of the former Confederacy as much as 75% of private school white students were virtually segregated. (Suitts 64)

Cornell’s Professor Noliwe Rooks noted in Cutting School that using the federal government’s economic power finally broke the back of state-sanctioned segregation in the South. Rooks shared, “By 1973, almost 90 percent of southern schoolchildren attended integrated schools.”

Re-segregating America’s Schools

When nominating Ronald Reagan in 1984, the Republican Party platform stated its opposition to busing for desegregation, support of private school tuition tax credits and vouchers for low-income students to attend private schools. It was the first time a major political party had called for vouchers.

In his acceptance speech, President Regan asserted, “We must continue the advance by supporting discipline in our schools, vouchers that give parents freedom of choice; and we must give back to our children their lost right to acknowledge God in their classrooms.” (Suitts 72)

Steve Suitts observed:

“…, the southern states’ first plan for defeating court-ordered desegregation, the one that Johnston and Boutwell devised in 1954 in Alabama, is exactly what today’s advocates and supporters of vouchers seek to implement: no compulsory ‘race-mixing’ in schools and no mention of any intent to discriminate. What could be more American than the freedom of parents to choose their children’s school – private or public – with public financial support? (Suitts 91)

Segregation by caste and segregation by class are the two common types of segregation. Caste segregation is by skin tone and class segregation is by economics.

With class segregation, it is perfectly acceptable for a few Black and Brown students to be in a school with a majority of White students if their parents hold the requisite wealth. Both types of segregation are harmful to all students.

The 1975 Supreme Court decision, Milliken versus Bradley, struck down inter-district remedies to segregation. Professor Jack Schneider of the University of Massachusetts claims this decision was the “beginning of the end of school desegregation.” He stated, “In determining that school districts could not be compelled to integrate students across their borders, Milliken dramatically narrowed the promise of the 1954 Brown v. Board case.”

In his Milliken dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall stated, “Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever learn to live together.”

Public School Enrollment by Race Graphic

Brookings Chart Shows Growing Pluralism in American Schools

A paper from the Brookings Institute says, “School districts and metro areas that were released from court-ordered desegregation plans during the 1990s and 2000s showed a marked trend towards greater segregation, especially in the South.”

On the subject of desegregation trends, a Civil Right Project report from UCLA added,

“These trends began to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision made it easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans. Most major plans have been eliminated for years now, despite increasingly powerful evidence on the importance of desegregated schools.” (Emphasis Added)

In the 2002 Supreme Court ruling Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, the court ruled that publicly funded vouchers could be used to send children to religious schools providing that certain constitutional prerequisites were met. The divided court’s 5-4 decision allowed for taxpayers being forced by state law to send their dollars to religious schools.

In the Espinosa decision handed down this year, the Supreme Court again split 5-4 along what looks more like political lines than lines of legal judgment. Their decision means that if a state gives money to any private schools it cannot refuse money to religious schools.

Last week leaders of the Catholic Church in America penned an opinion piece championing a federal bailout. Cardinal Dolan, Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Gómez called for help with their fiscal problems. They stated,

“The most effective and immediate way to accomplish this is to fund scholarship assistance this summer to families who are economically disadvantaged and need such support. The scholarships would be used at Catholic or other non-government elementary or secondary schools. This approach would be similar to providing Pell grants that can be used at any institution of higher education, including religious institutions.”

In her fascinating book The Good News Club, Katherine Stewart quotes President Ulysses S. Grant’s diametrically opposite advice from that of the Catholic Church leaders. He said in 1876,

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate. With these safeguards, I believe the battles which created the Army of Tennessee will not have been fought in vain.”

Last fall, the Urban Institute studied where school segregation occurs. They concluded, “Holding school size constant, private and charter schools tend to have higher average contributions to segregation than traditional public schools.”

In the 1990s, charter schools first appeared. Since then, they have been significantly contributing to the re-segregation of America’s K-12 schools. A Brookings Institute study of segregation in schools reported,

“Charter schools are more segregated than TPS [traditional public school] at national, state, and metro levels. Black students in charter schools are far more likely than their traditional public school counterparts to be educated in intensely segregated settings. At the national level, 70 percent of black charter school students attend intensely segregated minority charter schools (which enroll 90-100 percent of students from under-represented minority backgrounds), or twice as many as the share of intensely segregated black students in traditional public schools.”

The growth of both charter schools and private schools has engendered growing segregation among America’s school children. This trend portends a divided inefficient society.

Professors Linda R. Tropp and Suchi Saxena along with many other sociologists and educators have conducted research identifying the clear benefit of and need for school integration. They state, “New social science research demonstrates the importance of fostering sustained interracial contact between youth in order to prepare them to thrive in a multiracial society.”

A research brief by Professor Genevieve Siegel-Hawley of Virginia Commonwealth University states,

“What is clear, however, is that racially diverse schools are not linked to negative academic outcomes for white students. And in a number of subjects, like math and science, diverse educational settings are consistently linked to higher test scores for whites. One analysis of 59 social science articles related to school composition effects on mathematics outcomes found, for instance, that math out-comes were higher at every grade level for students from all racial and SES backgrounds who attended racially and socioeconomically integrated schools.”

Conclusions

Steve Suitts book Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Movement is strongly recommended for anyone interested in American education history or school policy.

To reverse the re-segregation of schools in America, stopping public school privatization is necessary.

The separation of church and state must be reestablished.