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CHAPTER IV. FIVE YEARS OF PROGRESS-1954-59

In response to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court outlawing racial discrimination in the public schools, communities in the 17 States that had been requiring segregation fell into three broad groups:

(1) Without waiting for the Court's implementing decree which was to come a year later, one group of five large cities and many smaller localities moved swiftly toward desegregation.

(2) The second group, generally by direction of State authority, took no action until after the implementing decree of May 31, 1955. These "wait and see" communities, like those in the first group, were located chiefly in States bordering the South.

(3) The third group, located generally in the Deep South, took no action, and in most instances were bound by a rapidly developing State policy of resistance and legal challenge.

This chapter first considers the five large cities that took immediate steps to implement a desegregation program. In the remainder of the chapter significant developments in the transition to a non-racial school system are treated on a State by State basis, beginning with the States in which desegregation first occurred.

THE LARGE CITY SYSTEMS

The five cities that acted swiftly were Washington, Baltimore, Wilmington, St. Louis, and Kansas City (Mo.). All had high percentages of Negro population. Chief among the factors that influenced the action they took were their geographical location, the official attitude expressed by their State and local leadership, the readiness of police, churches, and school administrators to cooperate, and the changed or changing status of segregation in other phases of their community life. Two basically different methods of approach, however, were evident among the five; Washington and Baltimore represented the total, all-at-once method, while Wilmington, St. Louis, and Kansas City formulated gradual plans. Differences within each of the two methods also appeared. A climate of readiness and acceptance

In all five cities there had been, over a period of years, a breakdown or softening of segregation in areas of community life other than the public schools. In some, the public schools were almost the only area in which the pattern of segregation remained substantially intact in the spring of 1954. To these communities, school desegregation was just one more step, albeit a big one. Testimony on this point was

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given when, at the invitation of the Commission on Civil Rights, school officials from 13 States and the District of Columbia met to report their desegregation experiences at a National Conference of Public School Officials at Nashville, Tenn., on March 5 and 6, 1959.

Dr. Carl F. Hansen, Superintendent of Schools in Washington, D.C., stated that in his rapidly desegregating city,“the school system, in effect, was reacting to changes within the community rather than leading those changes.”1 Dr. John H. Fischer, Baltimore Superintendent of Schools, believed that what happened in his city was in harmony with its history: “This was the biggest single step our community had ever taken toward desegregation, but it was in no sense a change of course. We simply kept moving in the same direction in which we had been moving for many years.

In other communities, the transition involved a more difficult adjustment. Speaking of Wilmington, Superintendent Ward I. Miller reported that some steps had been taken by the city at large, such as the opening of motion picture theaters to both races, but that“... the schools led the way towards desegregation and integration.

Municipal facilities in the five cities had generally been desegregated. These included transportation facilities, parks, auditoriums, libraries, and civil service employment. Many professional organizations had dropped racial bars. Sporting events had become desegregated. Either voluntarily or under State law, Negroes had been enjoying widening job opportunities. None of the cities was completely free from segregation practices in public accommodation. The most complete segregation pattern was maintained in regard to restaurants, motels, and hotels; but there were significant exceptions in all of the cities. Private recreational facilities, such as motion picture houses, had seen considerable desegregation since World War II. The Catholic parochial schools, not without some initial opposition from patrons, had abolished segregation in St. Louis in 1947 and in Washington in 1948. Perhaps the greatest state of readiness could be found within several of the school systems themselves.

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WASHINGTON

In 1947 the Washington School Superintendent established a committee on intercultural education; and a handbook on intergroup education was prepared. School leaders unofficially accepted speaking engagements at human relations seminars and workshops. In 1952 the Board of Education invited suggestions from the community on

i Commission on Civil Rights, Conference before the United States Commission on Civil Rights, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1959, p. 54. (Hereafter this publication will be referred to as “Nashville Conference.")

2 Nashville Conference, p. 139. 3 Id, at 72.

how desegregation should be effected if and when the Supreme Court found segregation unconstitutional. In 1953 the School Superintendent established a program in intergroup education for the school administration and staff. At this time, the issue of school segregation was before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Washington was directly affected by this litigation.”

With the President of the United States and the Commissioners of the District of Columbia clearly on record as favoring desegregation at the earliest possible moment, there was no foundation for further delay after the Supreme Court rendered its decision. President Eisenhower in his 1953 State of the Union message to Congress had asserted, “I propose to use whatever authority exists in the Office of the President to end segregation in the District of Columbia ..." 6

In the school year 1953–1954, Negroes constituted 56.8 percent of the total public school population of Washington, including the teachers' colleges and kindergartens.? On May 25, 1954, the Board of Education announced that the District of Columbia would be desegregated, and the plan of procedure was presented.

From that time to the actual opening of the schools in September, little more was done to prepare the community and the school system. The foundation had been laid; the community had been kept informed and allowed to express its varying opinions on the subject of how the transition could best be accomplished. But no doubt had been left that desegregation was coming, and soon.

The Washington plan began with a redistricting of all schools into neighborhood zones without regard to race. These zones were mandatory for all children new to the system, at all grade levels. Children already in the system who found themselves in a new school zone had the option of continuing in the school previously attended or entering the school in their new zone. There was no choice for pupils advancing from elementary schools to junior high schools or from junior to senior high schools. The white and Negro teachers' colleges received applications without regard to race. The separate administrative units were unified. Examinations for teachers were put on an integrated basis, and teacher elegibility lists for all grade levels were merged.8

Washington had been operating virtually two separate school systems, in which administration was dual at all levels until merged in the office of the Superintendent. “One of the great values ... of

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* Id. at 54.
• Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954).
& 99 Cong. Rec. 752 (1953).

'D.C. Public Schools, Office of the Statistician, Department of General Research, Budget and Legislation, 15 Year Enrollment by Race-Oct., Nov. 10, 1958.

• Letter from Superintendent of Schools to the Board of Education of the District of Columbia, dated June 23, 1954.

9

desegregation in Washington is what I would call a unification of the school system,” said Superintendent Hansen at the Nashville Conference. The unification enabled "the Board of Education, school officials, teachers, pupils, parents, citizens, and civic organizations .. to meet together and work together and exchange views without fear or self-consciousness or the defensiveness which the old system fostered."

“The second value in unification," continued Dr. Hansen, "is that the total system could now work as one for the improvement of the school system. ... Under the dual system, for example, the simple claim for better equalization of space, teachers, and resources led to intra-family squabbling that prevented progress and improvement. Child was set against child, group against group. This was the pattern of social and civic disunity that was shaped by the matrix of the dual system. It is hard to imagine that opponents of desegregation would want really to return to the clumsy, provocative, and inefficient system of education which had been tolerated so long in the Nation's capital." 10

Superintendent Hansen emphasized the rapidity of the change that took place in the District of Columbia in these words:

"The scope of the unification that occurred from May 25, to September 1954, perhaps has not been duplicated in the history of school administration anywhere in the country. When the District of Columbia schools closed in June of 1954 there was no racial intermixing at all. When they opened in September of 1954, 116 (or 73 percent) of the schools included Negro and white pupils together, and white and Negro teachers were working side by side in 37 (or 23 percent) of the schools in the fall. This transition had been accomplished over a period of about two months' time." 11

Statistical reports dated November 1954, show that of the District's total of 163 schools, 14 were all-white, 29 had less than 10 percent Negro enrollment, 27 were all-Negro, and 52 were more than 90 percent Negro. In sum, 122 of the 163 schools had an enrollment of less than 10 percent or more than 90 percent Negro.2

No violence or other serious incidents accompanied desegregation in the Washington schools. Beginning about October 4, there were student demonstrations and boycotts at three high schools and six junior high schools. Within four days, order was restored, and attendance returned to normal.13 These demonstrations did not coin

• Nashville Conference, p. 55.
10 Id. at 55-56.
* Id. at 56.

22 D.C. Public Schools, Office of the Statistician, Membership as of Nov. 4, 1954, compared with Nov. 5, 1953.

1 Southern School News, Nov. 1954, pp. 4–5. (Hereafter this publication will be referred to as 8.8.N.)

cide with the opening of desegregated schools but occurred after local newspapers had reported similar demonstrations in Baltimore, Md., and Milford, Del.

The beginning of the spring school term saw another step achieved in the desegregation program. Midyear junior high school graduates were required to enter high schools according to the new non-racial school zone boundaries. This involved 1,018 pupils. 14

Little increase was noted in disciplinary problems. “Actually," said Superintendent Hansen in 1959, “in some instances the incidence of severe cases seems to be subsiding ... The children do not so often now become involved in conflicts which have a racial characteristic or motivation." 15

Dr. Hansen further expressed confidence in a general improvement in standards.16 Since 1954, tests had shown a slow but steady rise in the over-all averages, while at the same time high standards of accomplishment were being set for and achieved by “gifted” children. These standards had been made possible by the so-called Four Track System, under which all students at the senior high school level had been grouped according to their scholastic performance.

BALTIMORE

In the spring of 1954, Baltimore appears to have resembled Washington very strongly in the degree of readiness for desegregation within the school system and in its community organizations and activities. It had long been standard procedure in Baltimore to conduct all Staff teachers' meetings on a biracial basis. Also, the professional teacher organizations were biracial, as was the city council of PTA groups. Many student activities and summer programs were desegregated. Glee clubs and bands were exchanged for programs within the segregated system. In 1952 a specialized technical boys' high school was desegregated upon the ground that no such facility was available to the Negro youths.17

The Attorney General of Maryland, shortly after the 1954 decision, advised the State Board of Education that the State's own laws prohibited desegregation until the final decree of the Supreme Court in the Brown case. This bound the State as a whole. However, Baltimore is an independent administrative unit within the State, and the City Solicitor ruled that the immediate effect of the 1954 decision made the segregation provisions of the Baltimore City Code "unconstitu

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