Monday, Sept. 25, marks the 60th anniversary of the Little Rock Nine — a group of nine Black high school students who defied state orders and racist mobs to desegregate Arkansas capital’s Central High School.
And, as filmmaker Ava DuVernay commemorates that special anniversary with the release of “Teach Us All,” a documentary exploring public school segregation, American schools might literally turn back the clock.
A recently published article out of Alabama noted the harsh reality there. In Tuscaloosa today, nearly 1 in 3 Black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened, the report noted.
Tuscaloosa’s school resegregation — among the most extensive in the country — reportedly counts as a story of city financial interests, secret meetings and angry public votes.
It’s a story shaped by racial politics and a consuming fear of white flight, facilitated, to some extent, by the city’s Black elites. And according to the report, it was blessed by a U.S. Department of Justice no longer committed to fighting for the civil rights causes it had once championed.
And that includes schools located closer to home, right near the nation’s capital.
“These schools are delivering different quality of education — a higher level of education,” Linda Stalls, a parent in Arlington, Virginia, told ABC News.
Fred Millar recently transferred his daughter to a mostly white school in Arlington, Virginia.
“In the North Arlington school, the students felt entitled to learn and the teachers felt entitled to teach,” Millar said. “In the South Arlington school, it was like a penal colony.”
The problem of segregation persists through high school. Although more integrated, students in Arlington seem to be receiving a separate education even within the same school.
“One of my concerns continues to be that there are not enough minority youngsters identified as gifted and talented,” school board member Frank Wilson told ABC. “And, we know that they are.”
According to a recent study, the resegregation of schools has become a trend in major cities across the Midwest and Northeast, especially in Detroit, Milwaukee, Newark, and in New York.
“Where we have segregation then we have to continue to make sure that we have equal resources,” said Theodore Shaw, of the NAACP. “And, where we have a concentration of poverty, equal resources are not going to do the job. We have to put even more into those schools.”
In a Los Angeles Times opinion piece, Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College, said since the 1990s, progress has been reversing in southern public schools, while the largely intractable segregation of the northern cities has intensified.
Nationwide, nearly 75 percent of Black students attend so-called majority-minority schools, and 38 percent attend schools with a White population of 10 percent or less.
Similar statistics apply to Latino students — 80 percent and 40 percent, respectively.
“Both Black and Latino students are much more likely than white students to attend a school where 60 percent or more of their classmates are living in poverty, as measured by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch programs,” Tatum said.
“Separate remains unequal as schools with concentrated poverty and racial segregation are more likely to have less-experienced teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, inadequate facilities and fewer classroom resources,” she said.
In an upcoming scathing report — “The Department of Justice Is Overseeing the Resegregation of American Schools” — writer Emmanuel Felton promises to reveal that White parents are leading a secession movement with dire consequences for Black children.
Produced in partnership with The Hechinger Report, Felton’s investigation offers a detailed look at federal government oversight of nearly 200 school districts, 60 years after the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.
In Alabama, the researchers discovered the number of children in segregated schools in districts under federal oversight has doubled over the past 20 years.
The full report will appear in the Sept.25-Oct. 2 edition of The Nation, but Felton offered a preview.
“In Jefferson County, we’re witnessing a battle that is likely to be one of the last fronts in the long war for school desegregation,” Felton said. “It’s a battle that Black families and school integrationists are losing. The South’s schools were once the most integrated in the country, thanks to the heavy hand of the federal government as it tried to force Southern districts to abide by Brown v. Board of Education.”
However, in the last three and a half decades, the number of Black students attending segregated schools in the South has increased to nearly 36 percent, Felton added.
The federal government’s retreat is a main factor in the return of segregated schooling in the South. Without the feds watching, local school boards are prone to make decisions that end up separating kids by race, he said.
“Six decades after Brown v. Board of Education, federal judges and officials rarely check to see if districts are obeying their orders to desegregate,” Felton said. “Schools in districts with a history of discrimination against Black children have actually grown more segregated under federal supervision.”
The writer offered a blunt assessment of the Trump administration and its complicity in the resegregation of America’s schools.
“With Trump in office, it’s probably only a matter of time before the number of federal desegregation orders drops again, possibly to zero,” Felton said. “Trump’s team is opposed to using consent decrees to keep the pressure on school districts and make sure they’ve fulfilled their promise to erase the legacy of Jim Crow, arguing that the courts and the Justice Department need to get out of these local matters.
“Civil-rights lawyers say they’ve already heard rumors of districts gearing up to ask the courts to lift their orders, assuming the Trump administration won’t fight them,” he said.