A Step Back In Time …

I am repeating this post that I originally published in 2017.  Why?  Because it was on this date in 1957, exactly 65 years ago, that nine Black students were denied entrance to their high school by the governor of the state of Arkansas and the National Guard in direct opposition to the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of Education three years prior.  Look around today … read the headlines … we are being dragged back into those horrible racist times … schools are effectively finding ways around the laws and once again school segregation is happening … IT IS HAPPENING right before our very eyes.  In 65 years, we moved forward and now are moving backward again.  We need to remember what happened when the Little Rock Nine, as they came to be called, were denied entrance to school and the aftermath.  To forget the lessons of this incident and what followed is to doom future generations to the horrors of living in a racist society.  This is the original post from five years ago …

In a key event of the American Civil Rights Movement, nine black students enrolled at formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957, testing a landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The court had mandated that all public schools in the country be integrated “with all deliberate speed” in its decision related to the groundbreaking case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. On September 4, 1957, the first day of classes at Central High, Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas called in the state National Guard to bar the black students’ entry into the school. Later in the month, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent in federal troops to escort the “Little Rock Nine” into the school, and they started their first full day of classes on September 25.

Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. attended graduation ceremonies at Central High School in May 1958 to see Ernest Green, the only senior among the Little Rock Nine, receive his diploma.

In September 1958, one year after Central High was integrated, Governor Faubus closed Little Rock’s high schools for the entire year, pending a public vote, to prevent African-American attendance. Little Rock citizens voted 19,470 to 7,561 against integration and the schools remained closed. Other than Green, the rest of the Little Rock Nine completed their high school careers via correspondence or at other high schools across the country.History.com

Sixty-three years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education, that separate schools are “inherently unequal.” Sixty years ago this year, the Little Rock Nine, heavily guarded by federal troops, entered Central High School.  Today, much of that progress toward equality in education is unraveling, as a new wave of white supremacy rears its ugly head and mostly-white communities are deciding to re-segregate schools through attrition.

Currently, 30 states have laws that allow geographic communities to secede from large public school districts and form their own. As a result, a growing number of predominantly white, middle class neighborhoods are doing just that and taking their local property taxes with them. That makes racial and economic disparities in adjacent school districts even worse. Almost 50 communities have seceded since the year 2000, according to the nonprofit EdBuild, and a story this week in U.S. News and World Report.

In 1952, the illiteracy rate for blacks 14 years of age or older (10.2 percent) was more than five times that of whites (1.8 percent). More than a quarter of black males (28 percent) completed no more than four years of schooling, compared with less than 9 percent of white males.

The general philosophy, especially in the southern states in the 1950s and prior, was that if African-Americans were kept ill-educated they would remain ‘in their place’ in society. There was also a belief in some areas that African Americans were not intelligent enough to deserve an education. I thought we had risen above such nonsense, but have we? If wealthier white communities pull out of their school districts, taking their property tax dollars with them, that leaves the school district without sufficient funding to provide such things as transportation, textbooks, equipment, building maintenance, supplies and teachers.  Let us think for a moment about the state of black schools in the 1950s …

Students often had to walk to school, as no transportation was provided.  The school year for African Americans was shorter; teacher’s pay was less and the books they used were those no longer needed by white schools, therefore often outdated and in poor condition.

It would be impossible for me to cover all the instances of school districts where communities have seceded, but let us take a brief look at Tennessee, specifically Shelby Country, which includes the city of Memphis. Since the Republican-run state legislature voted to enact the law in 2010, six communities have left the school district.

The impact just one year after the six communities seceded from Shelby County was stark: Its budget was slashed by 20 percent, and declining enrollment has since forced seven Memphis-area schools to close and the district to lay off about 500 teachers in both 2015 and 2016. Tennessee has one of the laxest secession policies in the entire country: In order to create a new city school district, the only requirements are that a municipality has a student population of 1,500 and the support of a majority of municipal voters. Tennessee is one of three states – the other two being Alabama and Mississippi – that does not require approval from any county or state authority.

And while this movement has been going on for many years, it is gaining momentum now, in light of an administration that supports de-regulation of all sorts, including an attorney general who is on record as being a racist, and a secretary of education who is against funding for public schools.  Just last month in Alabama, a judge ruled that Gardendale, a predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood outside Birmingham, would be permitted to secede from majority non-white Jefferson County School District. This, even though the judge acknowledged that the secession was based on racial motives!

race-1-gardendale-sign“Across the country, wealthy communities are drawing their own school district boundaries, often creating bastions of wealth next door to high-poverty, poorly funded districts,” according to Rebecca Sibilia, founder of EdBuild, a nonprofit that focuses on education funding and inequality. Last week, EdBuild put out a report that is well worth a look.

Where does this leave us?  It has the potential to return the state of education in the U.S. to the way it was 60 years ago.  Given that there is a direct link between a lack of education and poverty, it seems inevitable that if this becomes a trend throughout the U.S., we will once again become a highly divided society with race being the dividing line.  With a different Congress, under different administration, there might be reason to hope that the federal government would step in, but in the current circumstances that seems highly unlikely.  Ultimately, I think it likely that there will be lawsuits filed that may ultimately reach the Supreme Court, but that is years into the future.  Meanwhile … the middle-to-upper income children get an education, the poor and non-white children get the scraps that are left over. I can see a situation where ultimately we have to have a do-over of the civil rights era, only this time we have no Martin Luther King, no Lyndon B. Johnson, and no Thurgood Marshall to carry the torch.

This story made me sick to write, but I am fairly certain I will be back with a follow-up or two, as this appears to be a growing trend.  My thanks to Keith Wilson for pointing me to this story.

Images from the past … is this really where we want to go again??? race-2race-3  race-5race-4.jpg

Good People Doing Good Things — Daisy Bates

I’m going to do something a little bit different today.  My usual Wednesday ‘good people’ posts feature people who are doing good things for others, or for the planet, in recent days or weeks.  Today, though, I’m going to highlight a single good person who has been dead for 22 years now, but who, in her day, would certainly have made my ‘good people’ list.

February is Black History Month in the U.S., and while I typically would have done a few pieces by now on people from the past who have made positive contributions to our world, I’ve been so wrapped up in impeachment and other political issues that I’ve been remiss.  So today, I am combining Black History with Good People!

Daisy-Bates-1Her name was Daisy Bates, born in 1914.  When Daisy was three years old, her mother was raped and murdered by three local white men, and her body thrown into a millpond.  Soon after, her father abandoned her and she was left to be cared for by her mother’s close friends.  Her mother’s murderers, though known to law enforcement, were never prosecuted, and thus began Daisy’s rage toward white people.  That rage might have consumed Daisy, but on his deathbed, her adoptive father had some wise words that helped then-teenager Daisy turn her rage into activism …

“Hate can destroy you, Daisy. Don’t hate white people just because they’re white. If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman. Hate the insults hurled at us by white scum—and then try to do something about it, or your hate won’t spell a thing.”

Daisy Bates took his words to heart and would spend the rest of her life ‘doing something about it’.

In 1942, Daisy married L.C. Bates and the couple moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where they started the Arkansas State Press, a weekly statewide newspaper.  The paper became an avid voice for civil rights even before a nationally recognized movement had emerged.  Daisy became president of the Arkansas State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), as well as continuing her work on the newspaper.

A year after it started, the State Press published a story covering the killing of a Black man by a white police officer. This local case gave details about how a Black soldier on leave from Camp Robinson, Sergeant Thomas P. Foster, was shot by a local white police officer.  Sound familiar?  Some things never change.

Daisy-LC-BatesAlthough Black Americans praised this groundbreaking newspaper, many white readers were outraged by it and some even boycotted it.  In August of 1957, a stone was thrown into their home that read, “Stone this time. Dynamite next.” More than once, members of the Ku Klux Klan demanded that the Bates “go back to Africa” and burned crosses in their yard.  But none of that stopped Daisy Bates.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v Board of Education that segregated schools were illegal, however the State of Arkansas refused to acknowledge the ruling and Black students continued to be kept out of schools.  Daisy and L.C. used their newspaper to find a reasonable solution to the situation, editorializing …

“We feel that the proper approach would be for the leaders among the Negro race—not clabber mouths, Uncle Toms, or grinning appeasers to get together and counsel with the school heads.”

And later, when Governor Orval Faubus and his supporters were refusing even token desegregation of Central High School …

“It is the belief of this paper that since the Negro’s loyalty to America has forced him to shed blood on foreign battle fields against enemies, to safeguard constitutional rights, he is in no mood to sacrifice these rights for peace and harmony at home.”

In 1957, Governor Faubus, still refusing to allow Black children to attend all-white schools, brought in the Arkansas National Guard to prevent a group of nine Black students, later to become famous as the Little Rock Nine, from entering Little Rock High School.  In response to this defiance as well as to protests already taking place, President Eisenhower sent in federal troops to allow their entrance. On September 25, 1957, the nine students were escorted by Army soldiers and Daisy Bates into Central High amid angry protests. The next month, Bates and others were arrested on trumped up charges, but were soon after released on bail.

Bates regularly drove the students to and from school, hosted them in her home after school and worked tirelessly to ensure they were protected from violent crowds. One of her most successful protection strategies was to get local ministers to escort the students to school, daring the white Christians protesting and hurling threats to attack men of the cloth. Bates’ plan worked, but she started to receive threats herself. Rocks were thrown into her home, crosses were burned on her property, and bullet shells were sent to her in the mail. White advertisers boycotted her newspaper and eventually she and L.C. had to shut it down.


Daisy Bates with the Little Rock Nine

Bates received support from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who assured her, “World opinion is with you. The moral conscience of millions of white Americans is with you.” Bates was also elected to the executive committee of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  Bates was also the only woman who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington during the official program, pledging that women would fight just as hard and long as the men until all Black people were free and had the vote.

Bates later served in the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson and worked on anti-poverty programs. In 1968 she moved to the rural black community of Mitchellville, Arkansas and worked there to improve the lives of her neighbors by establishing a self-help program which was responsible for new sewer systems, paved streets, a water system, and community center.

The city of Little Rock eventually honored Bates by opening Daisy Bates Elementary School and by making the third Monday in February George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day an official state holiday.

Daisy Bates died at the age of 84 on November 4, 1999 in Little Rock, Arkansas, after suffering numerous strokes. Her body was chosen to lie in state in the Arkansas State Capitol building, on the second floor, making her the first woman and the first Black person to do so. Governor Orval Faubus, who had opposed integration during the Little Rock Crisis and throughout his political career, had an office on this floor.  Her house became a National Historic Landmark in 2002 and in April 2019, the Arkansas governor signed into law a bill that designates Daisy Bates and Johnny Cash as the two representatives of the State of Arkansas in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection.

This woman didn’t just do a single good thing, or a few good things, but she dedicated her life to doing good things.  If Daisy Bates wasn’t a ‘good people’, then I don’t know who is.