“Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” former Alabama Gov. George Wallace famously (or infamously) said during his 1963 inaugural address. Though his own views on segregation would eventually change, a recent report by ProPublica, shows many schools, especially those in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, are just as segregated as they were before the landmark court case of Brown vs. Board of Education ended “separate but equal” schools for black and white children nearly 60 years ago.
“Black children across the South now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. Nationally, the achievement gap between black and white students, which greatly narrowed during the era in which schools grew more integrated, widened as they became less so,” according to the ProPublica report.
In the Mobile County Public School System, there are nearly 30 schools where the student body is almost 100 percent black, according to the State of Alabama Department of Education’s 2012 numbers. Schools with such lop-sided demographics are becoming known as “apartheid schools.”
The report says there are a number of factors at play here, not just in the South but across the nation: “white flight,” low income housing patterns, school boards redrawing district lines to make schools “whiter” or “blacker,” as well as the release of many school districts from federal court — enforced integration.
This has been a problem for decades in Mobile County, home of one of the longest litigated de-segregation cases in the nation, Birdie Mae Davis vs. the School Commissioners of Mobile County, which wasn’t ultimately decided upon until 1997, when it was dismissed by Judge William Brevard Hand, 34 years after it was filed. The creation of de-segregated magnet schools was a large part of having the case dismissed — those public schools that have become the most sought after in the city.
Midtown mommy talk
Very soon after her child’s umbilical cord is cut, a Midtown Mobile mother will be gnoshing on spinach and artichoke dip and sipping on white wine in someone’s kitchen at a party in Midtown, when another mother will say, “Well have y’all decided what you’re going to do about school yet?”
Though this Midtown mother thought she had a few years before she needed to start thinking about this, considering her baby wasn’t even crawling yet, she will soon spend the next four to five years obsessing over the right education choice for her child.
“What are you guys going to do?” the young mother inquires.
“I don’t know. We want to stay in Midtown, so we’re on the list for Council or a transfer to Mary B., but if we don’t get into either of these, I don’t know.”
There are many other public schools in Midtown and Downtown, but they aren’t really considered among the best. These schools cater to the poorest of kids and some are even on or feed into a school on the “failing schools” list released by the state.
Most parents who give a damn – white or black, rich or poor – want the best possible education for their children, whether it’s public, parochial or private. So they start figuring out where they will send their kids because they are not going to send them to these less-than-stellar schools — which obviously helps keep these schools less-than-stellar. It’s a vicious cycle. But you can’t fault parents for wanting the best for their kids.
A year later, the Midtown mothers run into each other in a different kitchen at a different Midtown party with a different dip.
“Well, we didn’t get into Council,” the slightly older mother says, disappointed. “We ended up putting little Johnny in St. Pius this year. We’re going to see how it goes.”
Considering the geographical, housing trends, racial and socioeconomic make-up of Mobile, is full integration of all schools ever a realistic goal? If 60 years hasn’t been enough time to achieve such, what will it look like in another 60?
I’m hopeful things will change for the better. With all of the new industry, and in turn, an influx of people, jobs and money coming in, I think we will see improvement. Technology will also only serve to bridge these divides. But it’s not going to happen overnight.
But hopefully in the next decade or two, that conversation in that Midtown kitchen will change dramatically.
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