#MNR: DESEGREGATE & CONQUER
“U-N-I-T-Y, that’s a unity.”
Last Tuesday (May 17) marked the 68th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in the case Brown v. Board of Education (Topeka, KS). The 1954 9-0 decision by Chief Justice Earl Warren’s SC marked the end of segregation in public schools. It rejected the 1896 SC ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson which upheld segregation as long as conditions in public facilities were deemed “separate but equal” (pure bullshit). The unanimous decision determined that Plessy violated the 14th Amendment which granted citizenship and equal civil/legal rights to Blacks and enslaved people who were emancipated after the American Civil War (1861-1865). The ruling applied to public schools but implied that segregation wasn’t permissible in other public facilities. In essence, the Brown decision along with Jackie Robinson’s 1947 breaking of the color line in Major League Baseball were precursors to and inspired the civil rights movement and eventual Civil Rights act of 1964. Today, I will explain why that decision [in time] has been one of the worst things to happen to Black folk in America.
I am the grandchild of grandparents whose entire education was spent in segregation. My maternal grandfather told me countless stories of how he and his older brother walked miles to and from a one-room schoolhouse while their white peers were bused to and from school. Their one-room school was home to elementary - grade 12 learning taught entirely by one teacher. The edifice was shabby compared to the white schools and their textbooks were outdated and in poor condition. Ironically, everything their school lacked in aesthetics and resources it more than made up for in discipline and togetherness. Much like W.E.B. Du Bois explained about his tenure as the lone teacher at a segregated school in rural Tennessee in The Souls of Black Folk, my grandparents were educated by supremely qualified educators who demanded excellence in all aspects of learning. Discipline was imperative. Camaraderie was forged through struggle. Unfortunately, much like Du Bois’ school, not every student became a success story. The grim reality of America proved to be the deciding factor in the outcomes of many students. But the ones who made it were truly the cream of the crop.
Irrespective of individual success, perhaps the single greatest corporate achievement of segregated Black schools was unity. We were all together, every one of us soldiers of the same struggle. The single room, K-12 format with one teacher meant that older students were also caregivers for the younger students. The teacher was the unquestioned general of the army. Her or his word was final. Segregated schools from that era to bigger schools leading up to the Brown decision also shined a bright light on self-awareness and identity. The struggle gave us a clear, Ernie Barnes-esque picture of who we were as a people. I’m certain that Mr. James Brown’s “say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud” had roots in not only his upbringing, but his segregated formal education as well. The tandem of togetherness and self-awareness forged our identity. Last, segregated schools, in addition to educating us with “book sense” as my grandfather called it, also provided us with education on our reality and issues as a people. There were no blurred lines. We learned early about being born Black in a white man’s world and its effect on us. Although I stated this after togetherness and self-awareness, this was likely their precursor. We knew what we were up against, and we knew what we were (or weren’t) working with. The objective was clear.
I wholeheartedly feel that the desegregation of public schools was largely a negative for Black America. What we gained in opportunity we lost in other vital areas. We’ve lost our sense of togetherness. There is little unity; many of us seem to be in the game of life for self. Assimilation into white America via education made us soon forget our collective plight. My mother’s generation, the first to “prosper” from desegregated schools, carried the torch. They really didn’t have a choice because they were constantly reminded at home. To my benefit, it was passed down to me by both my mom and her parents. I knew what time it was from jump street. Sadly, my generation largely failed to pass the torch. I don’t give us any type of pass, rather, I call it like it is. We dropped the ball. But, in absolute objectivity, there were several factors that complemented our shortcomings.
The war on drugs ripped our communities and households apart. For far too many of us, dad was either a user or a hustler. Out of respect for my father, I won’t air his dirty laundry. Just know that I fell into one of those categories. Both were supremely destructive. If pop was on “that shit,” you, your siblings and mom suffered immensely. Dad fucked up the grocery money, the rent money and everything else because of his condition. On top of the money being funny because it disappeared into a hazy cloud of crack smoke or into the veins via the doojee, some dads were violent to their moons and stars. The household was in calamity either way. Lord forbid both parents were addicts, and the same energy for both parents being addicts AND abusive.
Other dads were good hustlin’ MF, plain and simple. Irrespective of the product(s) they moved, they moved with precision. Nuff said. But Bmorecareful’s great/late “Little Melvin” Williams said it best when he said he and his team were amongst the best to ever do it – and even they got caught (I don’t have access to the quote so that’s the best I can do). Once states and the FED drew clear lines on the difference in mandatory sentencing between powder and hard, Black dads were locked down and absent for decades. It’s imperative that I add the fact that drug “teams” prompted the FED to include them in its RICO focus that up to then focused on the mob. Cosa nostra decimated by the late ‘80s to early ‘90s. The FED then put all their eggs into the war on drugs basket. Most if not all the earnings and possessions were seized after arrest. What was left was exhausted on lawyer fees. When dad blew trial and took his extended iron vacation, the home was left in disarray. Some mothers folded under the pressure. Most became Superwomen and held the household and them bad ass chillun down however they had to handle their handle. But dad being gone for damn near a generation (or better) did almost irreparable damage.
Every time one of these calamities occurred, the fabric of Black unity was torn. Drug addicts are zombies. All they’re focused on is their next high and how to make it happen. Ostentation and greed translate into every man for himself. That makes unity all but impossible. Social media made narcissism the norm for this generation. Lest we forget how our good ‘ole desegregated schools have actively and purposely attempted to and often succeeded/are succeeding in COMPLETELY white washing History in school textbooks. Overkill.
We are a lost tribe.
Easily, the most overlooked aspect of the desegregation of public schools is the immediate and lasting impact it had on Black public schools and Black educators. It's a known fact that schools in several (mostly southern) states still held fast on adhering to federal mandate until the late ‘70s to early ‘80s. But whenever school districts did integrate, Black schools were IMMEDIATELY shuttered FOREVER. Why weren’t some Black schools kept open, brought up to code (if needed) and made integrated? You don’t have to work for the NAACP to figure that one out. But keep walking with me. Most of the educators and administrators of Black public schools were NEVER given the opportunity to teach or run integrated schools, even though virtually every Black educator and administrator was highly educated at a HBCU. Many of their graduate degrees came from “esteemed” universities like Columbia, NYU, Northeastern and the University of Chicago, as they were amongst the few universities that allowed Black graduate students to matriculate. Far too often, well-educated Black educators were overlooked for less-qualified white educators. This was the beginning of fast-tracking alternative certification programs for the non-certified, programs prevalent in school districts serving Black and impoverished students.
I know what my ardent readers are thinking. Don’t worry. I’ve got some data for y’all. Prior to Brown in the 17 dual education system states 35-50 percent of educators were Black. Today no state is anywhere close to that number. About 7 percent of the nation’s 3.2M teachers, 11 percent of the nation’s almost 90K principals and less than 3 percent of the nation’s nearly 14K superintendents are Black. Now go on ‘head and marinate on that.
You may disagree with me. I respect it. But I feel that the desegregation of public schools begat the downfall of Black folk. I rest my case.
RIP to the babies and educators who perished today in Texas. My prayers go out to Robb Elementary.
tymonday.com: @tymonday on Twitter & IG
crewunb.com: @crewunB on Twitter & @theunbearablescrew on IG