Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Segregation in the South: The Public and Private School Continuum

I've been reading a post about the demolition of the Central Delta Academy--formerly the Inverness High School--over in the Delta, along with a lot of interesting comments from the community and Mississippi Preservationists.  It triggered my interest and I began to do some searching about the history of the development of private schools in Mississippi, as a response to integration of public schools.

But first, current history.  In searching this topic, I was surprised, though I am not sure why, to find three recent news articles on this very issue.  I present them first, knowing people often say, "but that's all in the past and doesn't matter now."

September 7, 2010, Eugene Robinson discussed Haley Barbour's 'Civil Rights Fairy Tale' in the Washington Post.  Robinson reported on Barbour's claim that it was Barbour's generation (he is 62) who "led the switch" because they went to integrated schools and that Barbour himself went to integrated college and "never thought twice about it."  Robinson pointed out that Barbour did not attend integrated schools, because Mississippi refused to integrate its public schools, until finally in 1970 after court ordered immediate compliance.  Barbour had already graduated from non-integrated school and gone on to attend the University of Mississippi in the mid 60s.  Yes, Ole Miss was "integrated" then, by court order and the assistance of federal marshalls, with a black student.  A more recent essay in the Daily Mississippian included an interview with one of the 2 black students who were present during Barbour's time at Ole Miss.  She reported that she did not even remember him, nor had she ever spoken with him, and that it was not a pleasant time at Ole Miss for her or the other black student.  Robinson asserts that it was not a different generation from those who fought integration that made the switch from Democrat to Republican, but that integration was the reason Mississippi voted for a Republican president for the first time.

In Nettleton, Mississippi, the middle school ended a policy in August that dictated class officers by race, apparently rotating between black and white.  It appears that for 30 years, no one complained until a mother with mixed-race children learned that her children, or other children who might be Asian, Hispanic, etc., were ineligible to run.  Derrick Johnson of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP indicated the policies were the "result of many school officials and administrators trying to prevent full integration" in the public schools after the 1970 court ordered integration--16 years after it was first ordered by the Supreme Court.

Back in April, US District Judge Tom Lee ordered the Walthall County School District to stop a program allowing students to transfer to schools outside their residential area.  The policy effectively resulted in segregation by race.  Walthall County was court ordered to desegregate in the 70s, along with the rest of Mississippi.  During the 80s and 90s, the school became "significantly more segregated" and the Department of Justice filed suit.  The district rejected the government's settlement proposal, resulting in the judicial ruling that requires they cease segregation by race--which apparently was accomplished solely by white student transfers to alternate schools out of the residential area.  The classes were also segregated, into mostly white and mostly black classes.  The judicial order requires the use of computer to randomize class make-up in order to stop the practice of arranging classes by racial composition.

All of that made me curious as to how things evolved to this practice.  I have noted that Mississippi has an abundance of private academies, that are 100% or 98-99% white.  It is easy enough to look up the school's demographic data online.  Michael Fuquay has an award-winning historical research piece entitled "Civil Rights and the Private School Movement in Mississippi, 1964-1971.  It is a well-researched and documented scholarly article about the founding of private white academies and the transfer of public assets to those private schools.  The following presents some of the findings of his research:

  • "private school system was built using public funds, both legally and illegally" 
  • "a semantic subterfuge, designed to evade the requirements of federal law without sacrificing the benefits of public support"
  • 1964 state legislation to appropriate $185 per child in vouchers for private school tuition and free use of state textbooks; in 1968, it was increased to $240 per child; though eventually ruled unconstitutional, it still enabled private schools public financial support in establishing the private system to avoid integration
  • The Delta founded more private academies quicker than any other part of the state, and had the largest student enrollment
  • The Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education mandated the immediate full integration in all Mississippi school districts (in 1970), which led to an "explosion of private schools and white enrollment in public schools significantly declined"
  • Canton's white academy declared it would accept all white students whether they could pay tuition or not; all but 6 white students left the public school
  • Canton school district sold a bus to the private academy for $250 that had been purchased for some $8000
  • Seniors were promised public school diplomas due to fears the academy would be unable to secure accreditation in time for graduation
  • One elementary teacher transferred to the academy, taking all the public school books, desks, and supplies
  • This occurred throughout Mississippi where academies received books, equipment, facilities and funds directly from the public school district
  • In Tunica and Clay counties, private teachers remained on public payroll
  • In Forrest County, private students were transported on public school buses; "surplus" supplies were auctioned to the academies, and desks were sold for 50 cents
  • In Tchula, public school funds and supplies were diverted to academies for over 10 years after courts ruled it illegal
As recently as 2006, Eckes published the results of two academic studies in a Delta county where students were divided into black public schools and all white private academies.  The private academy did not offer greater educational opportunity than the public school, although the stated reason parents gave for sending their children was the superior academic program.  Students graduating from the private academy had no different ACT scores than students graduating from the public school.  A third option of new charter school was introduced into the community, with superior academic programming, intensively teacher training and a rigorous program to ensure student conduct.  White parents still declined to enroll their children, as the charter school was integrated, unlike the private academy.

And, as I posted back in the summer, the tech-prep movement in the public schools in Mississippi continues to channel public school students (who are primarily African American) into the vocational prep as opposed to a rigorous preparation for college.

No wonder Mullally calls it "the politics of despair."


ELMalvaney said...

Is that "Walthall" County you refer to above?

Also, while I can see that "tech-prep" and/or vocational training has become stigmatized, historically it was considered Progressive educational approach for both black and white students, particularly in rural areas. In fact, my research into rural consolidated schools of the early and mid-20th century indicates that vocational training for white students was funded at a much higher level (not even in the same ballpark) than for black students. In fact, I believe that this obvious disparity in available skills training between white and black schools contributed significantly to the rise of the civil rights movement among rural and small-town black populations. While white students were being trained for trades that you could support a family on, like machine shops, auto repair, intensive agriculture science, etc., black students were being trained for no-skill trades and receiving little academic training other than the basics to boot.

Just my two cents.

Anyway, thanks for pointing out that article--hadn't read it before and will search it out. I have heard many many anecdotes around the state and I'm glad to see documentation to support these assertions.

Suzassippi said...

Yes, it is supposed to be Walthall--I see it in my notes, but guess I misstyped--will correct, thanks for the catch. I know what you mean about the tech prep--when I researched it back in the summer, I found some of the progressive ideas you note, but the general consensus among the students I teach who come from the Delta, as well as our colleagues in the field, is that it is a channeling mechanism. It was troubling to me in that so many of the rural schools in the area where I noted it first are high African American population and in poverty. There is a clear disparity in the students who come into my classes who came from those schools and never got the basics to prepare for higher education, and those who came from other areas. It's just sad to me that we can't do better at educating our children--there is just no future without it for the most part.