Brown at 60 and Milliken at 40
The day after "Brown v. Board of Education" was announced, Nettie Hunt sat on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court and explained the decision to her daughter.
Two cases, one known by all, the other hardly known outside legal and academic worlds. Both, however, have dramatically shaped public education in the United States.
On the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education and the 40th anniversary of Milliken v. Bradley, we invited a range of people — including those involved in the cases, those affected by the cases, and those who study the cases — to look at the positive and negative impact these two major cases have had, and will continue to have, on both American education and American society.
60: "We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." - Chief Justice Earl Warren writing for the Brown v. Board of Education unanimous court, May 17, 1954.
40: "To approve the [cross-district] remedy ordered by the court would impose on the outlying districts, not shown to have committed any constitutional violation, a wholly impermissible remedy based on a standard not hinted at in Brown I and Brown II or any holding of this court." - Chief Justice Warren Burger writing for the majority, Milliken v. Bradley, July 25, 1974.
Dean and Faculty Member, HGSE
Nearly everyone has heard of Brown v. Board of Education, but relatively few have heard of Milliken v. Bradley, a case out of Detroit decided 20 years after Brown. In many ways, the Supreme Court's decision in Milliken has been just as influential on the current state of education in this country as the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Brown sought to tie the fates of white and minority students together by declaring that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," but the promise of Brown has never fully been realized. Milliken, by contrast, limited the reach of Brown by making clear that desegregation would not touch the suburbs. As a result, the education of urban and suburban students remains a world apart.
In 1970, there were 290,000 students in the city of Detroit, about 64 percent of whom were black. By contrast, in the surrounding suburban districts just outside of Detroit, there were 490,000 students, 98 percent of whom were white. Stephen Roth, the district court judge in Milliken, realized that busing within the city limits of Detroit would be futile and instead devised a busing plan that encompassed both Detroit and school districts in three surrounding counties. Roth's decision was affirmed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which warned that "if we hold that school district boundaries are absolute barriers to a Detroit school desegregation plan, we would be opening a way to nullify Brown v. Board of Education." But in 1974, the Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals, ruling that school district lines could not be crossed to desegregate schools absent proof of an interdistrict violation. In short, poor, minority students would stay in the cities, and the suburbs would be spared from busing.
The Milliken decision effectively ended any hope that the educational fortunes of urban and suburban schools, students, and parents would be bound together through school desegregation. Additional attempts to bind the fate of urban and suburban students have similarly failed, leaving the two worlds of urban and suburban education largely separate.
Our country continues to live in the shadow of Milliken. Most African American and Latino students attend urban schools. The higher the percentage of minorities in an urban school, on average, the higher the percentage of poor students. And students who attend high-poverty schools generally score lower on standardized tests, are less likely to graduate, and are less likely to go to college. School finance reform, the remedy sought by urban districts and activists in the post-Milliken era, has made less difference than one would have hoped and has done little to bring most urban schools up to par with suburban ones.
Brown asserted that separate is inherently unequal. One might quarrel with the term inherently. But even if separate is not inherently unequal, it quite often results in inequalities, especially where separation occurs along lines of socioeconomic status, race, and political power. Milliken thus both limited the reach of Brown and confirmed the wisdom of its premise — that we are unlikely to see truly equal educational opportunities as long as we continue to separate the advantaged from the disadvantaged and educate them in separate school systems.
James Ryan is the dean of the Ed School. Before coming to Harvard, he taught at the University of Virginia as a professor of law and a research professor of civil liberties and human rights. In 2011, he wrote Five Miles Away, A World Apart: One City, Two Schools, and the Story of Educational Opportunity in Modern America.
Leslie "Skip" Griffin Jr.
Plaintiff, Griffin v. County School of Prince Edward
As the nation pauses to remember the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board desegregation case of May 17, 1954, most people are unaware that four other cases were included in the decision. Brown also included cases from South Carolina; Delaware; Washington, D.C.; and Prince Edward County, Va.
When Barbara Johns — 16-year-old niece of Vernon Johns, the preacher who preceded Martin Luther King Jr. at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala. — led 460 students on a walkout of the all-black Robert Russa Moton High School in April 1951, it was to protest inadequate and unequal physical facilities. They were no longer willing to attend school in three makeshift tar paper shacks. They wanted the county school board to build a new brick school building, putting the "equal" in the prevailing policy of "separate but equal."
The students sought the help of my father, the Rev. L. Francis Griffin Sr., known for his more progressive views. He allowed the use of his church and agreed to be their adviser. He also called Oliver Hill and Spottswood Robinson, NAACP lawyers from Richmond. The lawyers told the students their new strategy was to seek an end to segregation. If the students could get their parents to agree to join the effort to end segregation, they would take the case.
On May 2, 1951, there was a standing-room-only mass rally at my father's church to decide on a course of action. Using a text from the book of Isaiah, my father preached on the Prophecy of Equality. That night, more than 100 students and their parents consented to be a part of a class action suit that became Davis v. Prince Edward County, one of the five cases consolidated in Brown v. Board.
The decision to become involved in the struggle to desegregate Prince Edward County schools gave purpose to my father's life and shaped the destiny of the lives of everyone I knew — friends, neighbors, and my family. My father told me years later that Barbara and the student leaders were to him like Nahshon, the Israelite in the Jewish Midrash, who walked into the Red Sea before the waters had parted. To him, their student-led protest was the earliest such action in the modern civil rights movement.
The Brown decision was cause for celebration in Topeka, Kan., and throughout the national black community. This was especially so in Prince Edward — there was a sense we were a part of changing history.
But in Virginia, and Prince Edward particularly, the party was over quickly. Local and state politicians were swift and decisive in demonstrating their commitment to maintaining segregation. While most of these localities made an effort to comply with the court mandate to desegregate schools "with all deliberate speed," Senator Harry Byrd conceived of an approach called massive resistance, based on the old John C. Calhoun doctrine of interposition. The Virginia Legislature passed resolutions in support of this approach in 1956. The notion was that states had the right to resist federal edicts. The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors elected in 1959 to defund and close all public schools rather than allow white and black children to attend integrated schools. The authorities dismissed teachers, turned out the lights, and chain-locked the doors.
Many people were surprised when the announcement was made in the fall of 1959 that there would be no schools. I was not. My father and Vernon Johns had already started to take me under their wing. I knew that Prince Edward County was an important battleground in the effort to make Brown a reality. And I knew it was a battle the segregationists did not want to lose.
My father and the NAACP knew that it was a battle they did not want to lose, either. There was a belief that giving up on the struggle in Prince Edward would diminish the impact of Brown and set back the cause of integration, perhaps permanently. My father went "all in" to build a movement to get the public schools reopened, and to advance the cause of school integration. My three sisters and I became the plaintiffs in a new case against the county. Although my father became the visible leader, there were many unsung heroes in this story. My father's willingness to step out front and to stay involved in the Prince Edward battle for 13 years earned him the nickname "The Fighting Preacher."
I knew from my newspaper reading and dinner table discussions that Senator Byrd; James Kilpatrick, then with The Richmond News Leader; J. Barrye Wall of the local Farmville Herald; and others planned to resist school desegregation no matter what.
Prominent Prince Edward business leaders founded a segregationist group called Defenders of State Sovereignty and Individual Liberties, which became a 12,000-member organization that provided advice and assistance to communities throughout the south searching for ways to block desegregation efforts. Virginia patricians didn't condone bombings like their Mississippi counterparts, but their "gentlemanly" resistance was just as effective and debilitating. Various forms of economic reprisals, psychological harassment, and subtle threats were used in an attempt to break the cohesion and will of those involved. People were threatened with the loss of jobs or lack of access to credit if they were discovered to be cooperating with movement leaders like my father. His best friends, M. Boyd Jones, principal of the black high school, and John Lancaster, a county farm agent, lost their jobs due to their association with my father.
In September of 1959, chains with padlocks were placed across the doors of all the county's school buildings. The stark white board signs with large black lettering, "NO TRES PASSING," were placed at school driveways. The memory of the chains and signs haunted me in my sleep for years. For those of us who grew up in Prince Edward, these signs caused more pain than the "white only" and "colored only" signs displayed throughout the South. I went through several years of therapy before I stopped having nightmares of being forced to repeat high school.
The schools remained closed from 1959 to 1964, making Prince Edward County the only locality in the United States that did not provide some form of free public education. Robert Kennedy thought this was a disgrace. He said, "The only places on earth not to provide free public education are Communist China; North Vietnam; Sarawak, Singapore; British Honduras — and Prince Edward County, Va."
For most of the five years, many families that were used to being close-knit were forced to break up. Some families sent their children to live with relatives or banded together to rent houses in neighboring counties so their children could attend schools. As a result of a program organized by the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group, 60 to 75 students were placed with out-of-state host families to attend school. After missing two years of school, two of my sisters attended school in California, and I was sent to Newton, Mass., leaving the summers as the only time we were together. My youngest brother for years thought I was an uncle.
Sadly, however, most black children received little or no education for the entire five years. These people formed the lost generation, paying a steep price for securing rights for others. White students enrolled in a segregated whites-only academy financed in part by state funded vouchers or tuition grants. By all accounts, plans for this private whites-only school were developed as early as 1956. County officials found ways to sell equipment, books, and desks — even the lights from the public school athletic field — to the academy at discounted prices. With each passing year that schools remained closed, the knowledge of the way this transfer took place made us bitter.
The Farmville Herald editorials all ended with this request: Citizens of Prince Edward, stand steady! In the end, it was the black community that remained united and firmly committed. In March of 1964, I traveled to the U.S. Supreme Court to hear arguments in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward, the case in which my sisters and I were plaintiffs. Thirteen years after black students walked out of Moton High, 10 years after Brown, and five years after schools closed, the Supreme Court ordered the schools reopened.
Some question what Brown achieved and whether the protracted struggle in Prince Edward was worth it. The children of Prince Edward experienced firsthand the depth of southern politicians' commitment to segregation. I am certain it was necessary to challenge de jure segregation. But I also believe Brown was a beginning, not an ending. The Brown ruling determined that segregation was illegal. The Griffin ruling affirmed and protected public education. Neither Brown nor Griffin guarantees minority children the type of education needed. No court decision can do that. What is required is for citizens of good will to join together, now that laws no longer keep us apart, to create a better future.
Leslie "Skip" Griffin Jr., Ed.M.'74, is currently a director and senior consultant at Dialogos, a consulting firm in Cambridge. In addition to being a plaintiff in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward, he was also a part of the receivership team at South Boston High School from 1976 to 1980.
Author, Integrating Schools in a Changing Society
I am one of millions of adults whose educational experiences and life trajectories were shaped by the Brown v. Board of Education decision 60 years ago and by subsequent court decisions and federal policies and enforcement that put Brown's ideals into reality. My experiences as a student illustrate the promise and limitations of how the decision has been interpreted in its impact on K–12 schools.
I grew up in a southern Alabama countywide school district in which no black and white students attended the same school until two black students in 1963 waded through 200 Alabama Guardsmen to desegregate my future high school. It wasn't until 25 years later that the district finally stopped resisting legal efforts for more comprehensive desegregation and agreed to create six magnet schools, reflecting one of the most popular desegregation remedies of the late 1980s, even if this only affected the schooling of a fraction of the district's students (six of approximately 100 schools). A couple years later, as a middle-schooler, I enrolled in one of these magnet schools, where I had one of the most integrated experiences of my life: The school drew students from across the county, had a diverse faculty, and had no tracking as every student enrolled in college preparatory classes, reflecting the school's theme. Years later, as I learned about Gordon Allport's intergroup contact theory, I saw it reflected in my middle school experiences.
In high school, I enrolled in the oldest, formerly all-white high school that by the mid-1990s had even shares of black and white students — but also contained incredible segregation within the school. My international baccalaureate classes had few students of color, nor were there many teachers of color in these advanced classes. My most diverse class was the marching band, which drew an array of students from across the school. My senior year, the judge declared the district to be unitary, meaning that it had eradicated all vestiges of the prior dual system of schools. This was hard for me to fathom given the inequality within and between high schools that I saw — a high school 1.5 miles away was almost entirely black and had few of the advanced class options that were available at my school, for example.
The richness of my educational experiences and the knowledge that they were not available to all students in my county was an intellectual puzzle that has since motivated my career and was why I chose to study with [former Professor] Gary Orfield at the Ed School. The resegregation of schools, particularly in the South, that my Civil Rights Project colleagues and I have documented is reflected in the enrollment in my high school and in the district more generally. The growth of school choice and changing demographic patterns could potentially help mitigate resegregation trends but only if structured carefully in a way cognizant of existing racial segregation and inequality in our society.
Despite the legal and political setbacks to fully realizing the promise of Brown, I am hopeful that as we continue to learn more about the benefits of desegregation, the country's growing diversity will make issues of racial segregation and inequality impossible to ignore. Further, as those of us who benefited from a desegregated education take on leadership roles in local communities or are able to influence federal policy or law, we can adapt lessons from Brown of courageous plaintiffs, lawyers, judges, educators, local leaders, and federal officials who brought tremendous change to our schools and society.
Erica Frankenberg, Ed.M.'02, Ed.D.'08, is an assistant professor in the College of Education at Pennsylvania State University. She has published several books, including Integrating Schools in a Changing Society and The Resegregation of Suburban Schools: A Hidden Crisis in American Education. She is also a senior research associate at the Initiative on School Integration at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
Assistant Law Professor, UDC
For good reason, most educators are familiar with the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. After 246 years of slavery and 58 years of separate but equal with the U.S. Supreme Court's imprimatur, Brown was the first time that the highest court in the land recognized the ways in which white supremacy harmed African American children. The court observed, "To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."
The court ruled that racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional. This was a radical shift from prior law. Fifty-eight years before Brown, in 1896, the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson held that segregation was constitutional, noting that African Americans were fabricating the injuries that the Brown court later found inherent in separate but equal.
The Brown court overruled Plessy and recognized that the harm of segregation was real. It also implicated white racism as the cause of the harm. Brown, thus, promised to create the foundation for a fairer, integrated society starting with our public schools. Despite this promise, racially segregated, unequal schools are still commonplace in American society. How did this happen?
While most educators know about Brown, not many have even heard of Milliken v. Bradley or 1973's San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez. Yet these two U.S. Supreme Court cases severely eroded Brown, just 20 years after it was decided.
First, in Milliken, the court struck down a trial court's multidistrict remedy to desegregate Detroit's predominantly African American public schools. The remedy encompassed a three-county metropolitan area, busing white students from the surrounding suburbs to inner-city Detroit. The court held that busing students from predominantly white suburban districts was not permissible because there was no evidence that these districts engaged in discriminatory acts that led to the segregation of Detroit public schools. This ruling left Detroit, and many cities like it, without a viable alternative to implement Brown — because of white flight, there were too few white students remaining in Detroit to achieve substantial desegregation. Further, it created an incentive for more white flight. Any family that wanted to avoid desegregation orders simply had to move to the suburbs to be shielded from the court's reach.
Second, in Rodriguez, the court held that a public school financing system in Texas that was based on local property taxes was not a violation of equal protection. Similar to many other property tax-based school financing systems across the country, this system often meant that poor minority areas had little to spend on education while rich white areas had much more. The Mexican American plaintiffs in this case, who resided in a poor area with relatively low levels of school funding, argued that the financing system denied their children the fundamental right to an education and it also constituted impermissible discrimination against poor people. In upholding the system by applying the lowest level of judicial scrutiny, the court ruled that education is not a fundamental right and poor people are not a suspect class.
Both Milliken and Rodriguez remain good law. Taken together, these cases created a legal structure that allowed segregated, unequal schools to continue. They betrayed the promise of Brown.
Philip Lee, Ed.M.'12, Ed.D.'13, is an assistant professor of law at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. While at the Ed School, Lee taught Race, Law, and Educational Access.
Dorinda Carter Andrews
Author, Legacies of Brown
One of the arguments made by NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall in favor of ending racial segregation in U.S. schools in the Brown v. Board of Education case was that segregated schools had a tendency to make black children feel inferior to white children. While this may have been the case, in many all-black schools pre-Brown, black children were educated by black adults. The systematic displacement of black educators post-Brown threatened the social, emotional, and academic success of black children. Pre-Brown, black educators served as cultural brokers — other mothers and other fathers — for black children. They provided a type of socialization that nurtured the development of positive racial identities in these youth, whose racial identity was intimately connected to their academic identities; in essence, being black and being an achiever were synonymous. While an expectation might have existed that such socialization would continue through school desegregation efforts, the development and maintenance of such identities for black children were threatened by racial integration in schools. The law might have forced schools to desegregate, but they could not force them to integrate. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suggested, integration was an "unenforceable" demand. The government put black and white children together in the same learning spaces but did very little to provide tools to educators and students to ensure their success in forming mutually trusting and respectful relationships and developing intergroup and interpersonal skills for positive living with one another.
An educational system operating under white supremacy in 1954 did not allow for black children to maintain their cultural brokers or to be respected by their white peers and educators. Integrating into a racist power system in which blacks were positioned as inferior provided little opportunity for equality and equity to occur in schools. With the removal of black teachers and administrators from black schools, and their inability to teach in predominantly white schools, black youth were left to their own devices to define themselves as black achievers in racially hostile learning environments. While many youth developed skills to resist and overcome the oppression they experienced, a plethora of research — including my own — indicates the psychological costs involved in the process: situational self-doubt, rejection of a black identity, or an overall sense of intellectual inferiority. Poorly planned efforts at integration still plague black children and communities today. The racism manifests itself in overt and subtle ways through educational policies and practices related to curriculum, discipline, funding, and the like. I remain hopeful that the intent of Brown can be realized during my children's lifetime and that the recognition of the "equal" part of separate but equal as unconstitutional is actualized. I am not optimistic about this without the destruction of a racist system that at its core is rotten and needs to be completely overhauled.
Dorinda Carter Andrews, Ed.M.'01, Ed.D.'05, is an associate professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University. She has authored and edited many books, including Contesting the Myth of a "Post Racial" Era: The Continued Significance of Race in U.S. Education and Legacies of Brown: Multiracial Equity in American Education. She received the Alumni Achievement Award at the 2014 Alumni of Color Conference.
President, Morgan State University
I was born in 1954 — the same year that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that separate but equal public educational facilities were unconstitutional. This ruling should have had a direct impact on the educational experiences that I should have had over the next 18 years in rural Alabama, but the sad reality is that nothing really changed for black students. The educational facilities across my home state of Alabama remained separate for whites and blacks, and they were not even close to being of comparable quality.
Being born into a sharecropping family, where Alabama laws at the time favored black child labor over schooling, I was literally kept out of school full time until I was in the seventh grade. On the days I did attend elementary school, I went through first and second grades at an all-Negro school in nearby Uniontown, Ala. The Negro School, as it was called back then, had some really dedicated teachers, but the facilities left a lot to be desired. Also, we never got new textbooks. They went to the white schools, and we got their used ones. The all-white elementary school in the same town was most impressive — with spiffy facilities and a great library filled with books. My school just had the bare basics. From third through fifth grade, I attended a Rosenwald School, a one-room building erected on a local church ground. All classes, one through five, were held in a one-room building with a pot-bellied stove in the center. The teacher would roughly spend one hour each day with each grade. From there, I went to an all-black middle and high school. I spent my entire school life never having a white student in any of my classes, so literally nothing changed for me in the two decades following the Brown decision.
Even though I don't live in Alabama, I visit my home state quite often. And I am amazed that very little has changed in the 60-year aftermath of Brown in a swath of 12 counties known as the Alabama Blackbelt, which was the root of plantation life in the state. There is virtually no integration of the schools. They are still separate and still unequal. The same schools that were all black when I grew up there are still all black today, and the vast majority of the schools that were all white are either out of existence or are still all white. Many of the school buildings where blacks go to school are still quite shabby and in need of repair. And I hear stories from teachers of the lack of resources to enable them to meet the needs of the students they serve.
Interestingly enough, the same pattern I see in parts of Alabama are also in existence in my adopted home of Baltimore. While the state of Maryland has boasted of having the number one state public schools in the nation for five straight years, the public schools in Baltimore have lagged far behind. Thanks to effective leadership of [Professor] Andrés Alonso, Ed.M.'99, Ed.D.'06, major improvements were made during the time he served as superintendent and CEO. But, by and large, the Baltimore City Public Schools are quite segregated, and new school buildings are nonexistent. The public schools are almost all black, and the private schools, which are numerous, are virtually all white.
As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Brown, I must say that progress has been slow and uneven. Some pockets of public education in our nation are as segregated today as they were in 1954. We have a lot of work before us.
David Wilson, Ed.M.'84, Ed.D.'87, is president of Morgan State University in Baltimore.
Natasha Kumar Warikoo
Author, Balancing Acts: Youth Culture in the Global City
Recently I reread Doug McAdam's classic study Freedom Summer, which tells the story of young Americans volunteering to participate in Southern literacy campaigns and voter registration drives in the South in the summer of 1964, 10 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. These young Americans — a majority of whom came from elite universities — demonstrated a strong moral commitment to promoting racial justice. While they were not perfect, I admire their commitment to justice. And I worry that today many young Americans attending elite universities do not feel the same moral outrage over racial inequality in the United States that is so important for dramatic social change. Optimistically, I see an important role that higher education — especially elite higher education — can play by providing students with a vision for moving closer to racial justice in the next 60 years.
What does higher education teach our young elites about diversity and their role in promoting racial justice? My research suggests very little, I'm afraid. On affirmative action, for example, most students in my study at elite college campuses expressed ambivalence, lauding its positive impact on their own education while simultaneously expressing fears that it can easily turn into "reverse discrimination." Serena, a white Ivy League student, told my research team that she believed university admissions should consider race "because the different viewpoints that students from different backgrounds can bring is very valuable to the larger purpose of education." Yet later Serena also told us, "If I hadn't gotten into Harvard, I would have felt that I'd been discriminated against if someone else that I knew, and who was equally qualified and a minority, had gotten in above me." While Serena faced unprecedented competition in admissions, perhaps driving her fear — Ivy League universities routinely reject more than 90 percent of their applicants today — her words nevertheless demonstrate a lack of a broad understanding of racial disadvantage and privilege in the United States.
Very few students understood affirmative action as a policy to promote racial equality, given the racial segregation of a generation ago and the symbolic importance of diversity in leadership for a nation with a scarred racial history. Yet I hesitate to blame them; their universities often promote this perspective by only discussing affirmative action as useful for creating a diverse campus where students teach others in classrooms and dorms. While interracial dialogue is important, I find the sole focus on it worrisome, given that in order to address the continued effects of racial segregation, we must acknowledge how that history is built into our institutions.
A minority of students in my study who were active in specific kinds of minority-focused campus programming took a more radical view, expressing an understanding of how racial inequality is built into our educational institutions, and with a vision for how those institutions can change. These students give me hope that there is a way beyond our contemporary denial of the power of race in American society.
Overall, students at elite universities — our new elites, whether from families of privilege or the first in their families to attend college — will shape the policies and practices of tomorrow. In our universities, we should teach them about our past and provide a vision for the future that includes them as actors in a world moving closer to racial justice. I hope that in the next 60 years, we move as far away from ignoring the social meaning of race as we moved from racial segregation and beliefs about racial inferiority in the last 60. Young people have great capacity to respond to new ideas and complexity in the world. With the support of universities and leaders who dare to take a social justice approach to race, our next generation will be in good hands.
Natasha Kumar Warikoo, Ed.M.'97, is an assistant professor at the Ed School and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation. In 2011, she wrote Balancing Acts: Youth Culture in the Global City.
Author, In Brown's Wake; HLS Dean
Only a decade after the Supreme Court declared racially segregated schools unconstitutional did actual enforcement begin. The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Democratic president Lyndon Johnson reflected his skills and a social movement. Republican president Richard Nixon worked to enforce the law with its new enforcement tools. In 1970, Nixon's team organized Southern leaders of different races to plan for peaceful and orderly desegregation. Justices appointed by Nixon to the U.S. Supreme Court approved desegregation plans that altered attendance zones and bused students in order to end racially separate public schools. High school graduation rates for black students surged, the racial gap in standardized tests shrunk, and graduation rates and test performances of white students increased between 1964 and 1980.
But then, in 1974, the Supreme Court seemed, in the words of dissenting Justice Thurgood Marshall, to reflect "a perceived public mood that we have gone far enough in enforcing the Constitution's guarantees of equal justice." It ruled in Milliken v. Bradley that constitutionally objectionable racial segregation in the Detroit public schools did not support a remedy reaching beyond the city's lines; violations within the district support only a remedy within the district. The court reached this conclusion despite findings that a cross-district remedy would more effectively desegregate the Detroit schools and save money and hassle. The court ignored the fact that Detroit's schools fall within a single statewide system of education operated by the state of Michigan.
Milliken marked the beginning of the end of serious efforts to desegregate America's public schools. Movement of white families from urban areas accelerated; 90 percent of the residents in America's suburbs and towns are white; urban districts, in contrast, with 70 to 100 percent students who are African American and Hispanic, face higher levels of violence, disruption, and lower test scores than suburban schools. Treated as de facto rather than official segregation, the racial patterns dividing residential areas and district school lines make it nearly impossible to create racially integrated schools or schools welcoming students across income levels. Desegregation has come to mean just ending official segregation of schools. The Supreme Court more recently has forbidden even voluntary desegregation if students' racial identity figures in their school assignment. Remote is real integration, joining residents from different backgrounds and colors in communities committed to the success of all.
One exception is U.S. Department of Defense schools. About 40 percent of these students in schools located abroad or stateside belong to racial minority groups; many come from families with low levels of parental education, occupational prestige, and income. These schools yield a much smaller racial gap in achievement scores than the national average. Without unusually high resources, these schools do have high involvement by teachers and parents who themselves work in racially integrated settings with common purposes. And, like military training in general, the Department of Defense schools are oriented to ensure mastery using multiple methods and high expectations. Perhaps another anniversary can celebrate the spread of these successes.
Martha Minow, Ed.M.'76, is dean of Harvard Law School, where she has been teaching since 1981. Her books include In Brown's Wake: Legacies of America's Educational Landmark. She served as a law clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall at the U.S. Supreme Court.
George Roumell Jr. & Kristi Bowman
Attorney, Milliken v. Bradley | Author, Educational Policy and the Law
During the 1970s, while the Milliken v. Bradley case was being litigated, a major demographic change was taking place in Detroit. With the shift of the auto industry, Detroit, once a city of 1.9 million people, was beginning to lose population — to the point that now, 40 years later, the city has a population of about 700,000 with the vast majority being African American. At the same time, the school district that boasted more than 220,000 students was losing students, and a majority white school district was becoming a majority African American school district.
In 1971, after it was determined that both the Detroit Board of Education and the state of Michigan had unconstitutionally segregated the Detroit school system, attention turned to the remedial issues and one of your authors (Roumell) served as the lead counsel for the board during the remedy stage.
Initially, counsel for the NAACP was urging busing within the district. At the recommendation of board counsel, the emphasis shifted to a metropolitan remedy providing for cross-district busing based on two realistic factors. First, a majority of the board's funds came from state aid. Depending on the suburb, a substantial funding of suburban education came from state aid along with local taxation. Second, white students were leaving for the suburbs along with some middle-class African Americans. The district judge approved a metropolitan plan (cross-district busing), which the Sixth Circuit en banc approved.
The issue of remedy went before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974 in Milliken v. Bradley and was decided 5–4 in favor of, with Chief Justice Warren Berger writing for the court and Justice Byron White writing for the dissenting justices. The majority concluded that there was insufficient state involvement to include the suburbs in the remedy, stating: "[A]n interdistrict remedy might be in order where the racially discriminatory acts of one or more school districts caused racial segregation in an adjacent district, or where district lines have been deliberately drawn on the basis of race. … The record before us… contains evidence of de jure segregated conditions only in the Detroit schools. … To approve the remedy ordered by the court would impose on the outlying districts, not shown to have committed any constitutional violation, a wholly impermissible remedy based on a standard not hinted at in Brown I and II or any holding of this court."
In response, Justice White wrote, "An interdistrict remedy for the infringements that occurred in this case is well within the confines and powers of the state, which is the governmental entity ultimately responsible for desegregating its schools. … The court draws the remedial line at the Detroit school district boundary, even though the 14th Amendment is addressed to the state and even though the state denies equal protection of the laws when its public agencies, acting in its behalf, invidiously discriminate."
Thus, the case was remanded back to the district court to develop a Detroit-only remedy. By 1975, the district was primarily an African American school district, resulting in a challenge to creativity to develop a remedy to root out the effects of segregation. There was some busing in the Detroit-only plan, but because little racial integration could result from busing, the remedy focused more on improving the quality and variety of educational opportunities within the district.
First, the remedy required the state to fund a series of educational components, including funding enhancing programs focusing on reading, counseling, and teacher training. The teacher-training program was designed to eliminate teachers' negative expectations of African American students.
Second, the remedy developed magnet schools designed to attract students regardless of attendance areas based upon educational programs. A typical impetus to such an approach was the testimony of one white parent who put his child on two buses to go to Cass Technical High School so that his child, a tuba player, would be exposed to the best tuba teacher in metropolitan Detroit. Cass was a majority African American school.
Third, with the aid of John Porter, the then-Michigan superintendent of public instruction, and the district court, all federal funds for vocational education coming to Michigan were funneled to Detroit to build four vocational high schools designed to attract students. One of the high schools is famous for its culinary arts; another for healthcare-related subjects; the third for aviation-related subjects. These schools still exist. Unfortunately, these schools have not drawn students from the suburbs despite their excellent curriculum and educational opportunities.
Today, of the students enrolled in the district, roughly 90 percent are African American, and about 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. During 2013–2014, the district enrolled roughly 50,000 students and is projected to have fewer than 40,000 students by 2016 — its smallest enrollment in a century. The growth of charter schools in Detroit has had a profound affect. In 2012–2013, charter schools in the district enrolled more than 51,000 students — more than half the school-age children in the district. The number of charter schools and enrollment in those schools has been growing steadily, and as students leave traditional public schools for charter schools, the per-pupil state aid follows them. This drop is despite innovative programs and new, modern renovations to school facilities.
The concept of magnet schools, educational components, and the unique approach to vocational education represented creativity 40 years ago. It was an approach that was affirmed by a unanimous Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley II. However, to root out the effects of segregation and prevent resegregation, more creativity was required.
One example of another approach comes from Kalamazoo, Mich., a city of approximately 80,000. The Kalamazoo Promise guarantees full tuition for four years at one of Michigan's 15 state universities to high school students who remain in the district and graduate with a certain grade point average. This program has had positive recruitment and retention effects, inspiring students of all races and economic backgrounds to achieve because there is hope for their educational future. It is ideal for the state of Michigan, which has so many state universities offering wide-range of educational opportunities. The Kalamazoo Promise has been funded by private donations. At least two other school districts in Michigan are now in the process of duplicating the program.
Roumell regrets that he did not have the clairvoyance 40 years ago to develop the Kalamazoo Promise in some form for Detroit. It could have made a difference. It may have been more effective in preventing resegregation in the Detroit metropolitan area. Yet perhaps it is never too late to make this promise to our children.
George Roumell Jr. represented the Detroit Board of Education, arguing the Milliken case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974. He is currently an adjunct professor of law at Michigan State University. Kristi Bowman is a professor of law at Michigan State University. In 2012, she wrote Educational Policy and the Law.
Patricia Albjerg Graham
Former HGSE Dean; Author, Schooling America
My teaching began in 1955 in Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp at Deep Creek High School, where I taught American history and English. It was an all-white segregated school with a 75 percent dropout rate. College was an unusual experience for the students or their families. As one of my ninth-grade homeroom students expressed it, "My father went all the way." She meant he had graduated from high school. One trophy occupied the large trophy case in the central hall, 1927 third place for track, as I recall. At the end of the school year after one of my classes had won first place in the district one-act play contest and second place at the state competition in Charlottesville and thus added two trophies to the case, I was terminated because I was pregnant and thus would be an inappropriate role model for my students. Three girls in my homeroom had preceded me in pregnancy, though none was married as I was.
The experience at Deep Creek has kept me in teaching. Thirty-six years later, I returned to Deep Creek at the invitation of the county school superintendent, who had completed a summer program at the Ed School, where I was dean. He was appropriately proud to take me to my old high school. The first thing I noticed was the crammed trophy case, attesting to the academic, athletic, musical, and theatrical abilities of the students and of the teachers who guided them. The second was that the enrollment was nearly equally divided between blacks and whites. The third was that the pictures of senior classes and the principal in the main hallway revealed a high turnover of principals in the years that the senior class began to include significant numbers of black students. In 1972, Nathan Hardee, a sophomore at Deep Creek when I taught there, became principal and served more than 20 years. As I studied these class portraits and speculated about the changes at Deep Creek, I heard in the background the high school orchestra performing classical music in the cafeteria, an unimaginable occurrence in 1955.
What brought about these changes? First was the response to Brown v. Board of Education, actions that were not welcomed in broad sections of the white community. Second were the federal funds flowing through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, principally through Title I programs designated for concentrations of children from low-income homes. Third were the additional special programs principally funded or required by the federal government for the handicapped, the gifted, and the non-English speakers. Fourth and most important was the recognition that schools require strong and consistent leadership and effectiveness of both administrators and teachers to help children acquire the academic skills and character that participation in a democratic society requires. The last has been by far the most difficult, and as a nation we still have a long way to go to accomplish this.
Patricia Albjerg Graham was dean of the Ed School from 1982 to 1991 and is currently a professor emeritas. She describes her experiences at Deep Creek High School in her 2007 book, Schooling America.
Professor Emeritus, HGSE
Michelle Obama has reminded us to remember this: "Movements for real and lasting change are sustained by the relationships we build with one or others." The idea suggests that real success is based on a mutually collective relationship or a community. The quotation from our first lady reminds me of a statement made by former Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays, who told me and the other undergraduates, including Martin Luther King Jr., in the class of 1948 that "No [one] is wise enough or strong enough to go it alone." Brown v. Board of Education of 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave us the help we needed to stay on the right road to a nation-state of the people by the people and for the people that was created to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and promote general welfare. Also, our Declaration of Independence adopted in 1776 declared that "all are created equal."
We know that the United States has not always lived up to the democratic principles of community life. However, it is never too late to do the right thing. Sixty years after the Supreme Court Brown opinion and 50 years after the United States Congress law that required justice for all in public institutions is a good time to assess the effects of these historical events. We know that it is right and our bound duty to give thanks for the good that we have experienced with others in public or private relations in public or private spaces.
Many scholars have recognized that Brown was in part based upon the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which declares that "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges … of citizens … nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law." My guess is that sooner or later, this amendment is going to be used against people who kill people in the theaters and streets and elsewhere simply because they do not like how one looks or where one may be going. The Brown v. Board of Education decision was in part based upon this amendment. It has been said that the 14th Amendment strengthened the Supreme Court opinion in Brown. And it could be used against many other contentious issues with reference to race and gender. In our technology society today, the words of the Brown opinion ring again: "Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments." Brown declared that education "is the very foundation of good citizenship," and I would add so is diversity. Diversity is in the air. Diversity is everywhere because no one is strong enough to go it alone, especially in education and public service. We know that the United States has not always lived up to the democratic principles of community life, including the value of diversity. A very important reason for examining closely the Brown v. Board of Education case is that it quickly addresses the question of whether racially segregated schools are inherently unequal.
Law professor Norman Vieira, in his 1978 book, Civil Rights in a Nutshell, wrote, "In its historical context, state enforced racial separation would almost certainly [have been] by whites who were politically and economically dominant." A famous historian, John Hope Franklin, wrote in his book From Slavery to Freedom, "No public question in the United States in the twentieth century arouses more interest at home and abroad than the debate about the constitutionality of segregated public schools." Franklin further said, "The decision of the court in Brown v. Board of Education, May 17, 1954, was unequivocal in outlawing segregated public schools." Another famous historian, Richard Kluger, also agreed with John Hope Franklin. In 1977, Kluger said, "Scholars have assigned the case known as Brown v. Board of Education … a highpoint in America's willingness to face the consequence of centuries of racial discrimination."
I will close this part of the Brown v. Board of Education story by sharing with you how one country, the Republic of South Africa, has reacted to the Brown case. I will share with you my observations while visiting South Africa to participate as one of the speakers in the conference on Equal Educational Opportunities Comparative Perspective in Education Law: Brown v. Board of Education at 50 years and Education Law at 10 years. Please note that the conference name included the United States and South Africa. Conference leaders said, "The year 2004 marked two momentous occasions: The 50th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and the first 10 years of democratic government in South Africa." The conference planners further said, "In Brown, the American Supreme Court struck down the notion of separate but equal education, and the dawn of democracy in South Africa was accompanied by legislation guaranteeing equality and the right to equal educational opportunities."
Judge Albie Sachs of the Constitutional Court of South Africa — similar to the U.S. Supreme Court — gave the first public speech on equal educational opportunities and the Constitutional Court. He began his speech with these words: "I, speaking now as a judge, have no hesitation in saying that as far as I am concerned, the greatest legal decision of the 20th century in the world was Brown. It set a marker in terms of creativity, in terms of resonance, in terms of integrity — philosophical and legal integrity — for the whole world. It also included what judges could do. The role and scope of a judiciary in a society that proclaimed itself as one based on fundamental value was demonstrated in it. The justices were saying that there are certain forms of conduct that are just not sustainable, that just cannot be tolerated in a society with pretentions to justice." The whole conference burst into a very loud and long clapping of hands. I, of course, was very happy to hear those remarks from a member of the Constitutional Court in South Africa.
Personally, I realized that what we do in the United States is watched carefully elsewhere. I know this to be true because my wife and I visited the Constitutional Court after the conference that I addressed; we were presented a small book of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa prepared in 1996 that is similar in some ways to the Constitution of the United States.
Charles Willie is a professor emeritus at the Ed School. He served as a consultant, expert witness, and court-appointed master in major school desegregation cases in cities such as Boston, Hartford, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Little Rock, Milwaukee, San Jose, Seattle, and St. Louis. Willie is the author or editor of 30 books, including The Education of African Americans and Controlled Choice: A New Approach to Desegregated Education and School Improvement.
Author, The Detroit School Busing Case
Forty years ago in Milliken v. Bradley, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a cross-district remedy aimed at desegregating the Detroit public school system. At the trial court, the plaintiffs had painstakingly demonstrated that racial segregation in the city's schools resulted not only from discriminatory decisions by the Detroit school board and state officials, but also from widespread and entrenched housing segregation across the metropolitan area — both city and suburbs. Despite massive evidence that these segregation patterns were due to policies in both the private and public sectors, the high court refused to permit suburban school districts to be included in the plan. The majority emphasized that the plaintiffs had not shown that suburban officials had passed specific policies to segregate their schools. As I indicated in The Detroit School Busing Case, however, this argument was misguided and somewhat disingenuous. Because of the rigid residential segregation in suburbia, there were few black students. Thus policies segregating suburban schools were unnecessary.
Because suburban schools were excluded, the remedy became an extremely limited Detroit-only busing program (with only 27,524 of the city's 247,774 students included and central city schools excluded) and some funding to implement various educational reforms. This educational compensation plan proved insufficient because Detroit's school system already was experiencing financial crises. The city's deteriorating tax base and inadequate state aid had left the system in dire straits, and the inability to pass millage and bond proposals made things worse.
By limiting the tools available to desegregate large metropolitan districts, the Milliken decision made it impossible to fulfill the promise of Brown v. Board of Education. Subsequently, some civil rights activists, educators, and public officials turned to school choice and private school voucher programs, charter schools, single-sex education, and other measures to provide equal educational opportunity. These efforts, however, have been only partly successful — and for a limited number of students.
It has become fashionable in some circles to criticize the cross-district desegregation remedy and argue that the primary goal should have been to secure additional financial resources for urban schools. But this would have required massive amounts of funding on a long-term basis, something unlikely to occur. In Detroit, for example, white voters consistently rejected millage and bond proposals once the schools became majority black. While there is no guarantee that a different decision in Milliken would have made a positive difference to schools in Detroit or elsewhere, it is reasonable to think that white citizens and policymakers might have been willing to invest more in urban education if their own children attended those schools. Finally, given the continuing racialization of space in American cities and suburbs, Milliken eliminated a potentially useful tool for desegregating education and moving the United States toward a more just and equal society.
Joyce Baugh is a professor in the College of Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences at Central Michigan University. She is the author of the 2011 book, The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v. Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation.
Author, Legacies of Brown
Brown v. Board of Education has impacted my life fairly significantly: I was born on May 17, 1972, exactly 18 years after the decision. Early, I learned the story of how Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall fashioned arguments making it possible for black children across the nation to attend integrated schools. I had not experienced these effects firsthand; I attended Department of Defense Dependent Schools in England until ninth grade. We then moved to the east side of Austin, Texas. Unbeknownst to our family, with the Milliken v. Bradley case eroding mechanisms to integrate public schools, Austin spent the 1970s in litigation. By 1979, the Fifth Circuit approved a triethnic desegregation plan featuring affirmative action hiring, bilingual education, and busing. With the court issuing this consent order, the Fifth Circuit declared the district unitary (coinciding with our arrival in 1986).
I immediately realized something was awry in East Austin schools compared to schools in West Austin. There were also deep-seated beliefs about the academic inferiority of students of color. When we competed with other schools, my classmates and I noticed the resources available that we didn't have. It was a sobering orientation to the struggle to integrate schools in a city that had created a plan in 1928 to move industry, Latinos, and blacks to the east and had enforced racially restrictive covenants well into the 1950s.
I attended and graduated from Johnston High School. Located in the barrio of East Austin, it had a proud legacy of educating leaders in the Latino and Austin community. Many white students bused there in the 1980s chose to stay after the consent order, creating a multicultural mix of Latino, black, white, and Asian students. Many of the administrators and teachers were Latino, and they actively fought to dispel stereotypes about achievement for students of color. We had white teachers also instilling confidence in us — inviting César Chávez to bring the reality of the Chicano civil rights struggle to the student body, for example. (One of my proudest moments was shaking Chávez's hand and marching with him, protesting the treatment of migrant farmworkers.) Sadly, the efforts to create truly diverse cultural spaces ended in the 1990s and 2000s. The end of busing led to concentrations of poverty and resegregation, and in 2008, Johnston High School was the first school in Texas closed for low performance.
My formative experiences — first learning about the promise of Brown, then experiencing resistance to busing, and benefiting from integrated schooling — shaped my interests in educational inequity. They led me to pursue a career in education, as a teacher, graduate researcher, and professor here in Austin. The 60/40 anniversary invites us to reflect upon the aspiration of truly integrated public schools — and how far we have moved from this ideal.
Richard Reddick, Ed.M.'98, Ed.D.'07, is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the coauthor of many books, including Legacies of Brown: Multiracial Equity in American Education and A New Look at Black Families.
Research Associate, The Initiative on School Integration at the Civil Rights Project
My life has been profoundly shaped by both the Brown v. Board of Education and Milliken v. Bradley decisions — and the great progress and regress that the two, respectively, represent. In Richmond, Va., where I grew up, access to equal educational opportunity continues to be influenced by the outcome of the Bradley v. School Board of Richmond case, an immediate precursor to Milliken. Like with Milliken, the district court judge in Bradley ruled in favor of a metrowide school system after reviewing evidence showing that meaningful desegregation would not be possible without combining the predominately black city district with the heavily white suburban ones surrounding it. Like Milliken, in 1974 the district court ruling in Bradley was ultimately overturned.
By the time I walked into my prekindergarten classroom in Richmond City a decade later, the white enrollment in Richmond Public Schools hovered around 10 percent, even as white students made up a considerably larger share of the classrooms and schools that I, along with other whites, experienced. My preK classroom, for example, was about 40 percent white. Though the disproportionate concentration of white students undermined more widespread contact between races, settings that were diverse promoted rich classroom discussions, critical thinking skills, and a willingness to work across color lines in both the short and long term.
While I benefited enormously from the many well-documented educational and social advantages linked to racially diverse learning environments — advantages that helped underpin the Brown decision — Milliken meant that far too many students throughout the country were barred from experiencing them. Instead, the Milliken-sanctioned fences between city and suburban school districts locked in stark patterns of segregation and inequality for generations of schoolchildren.
I became increasingly aware of those fences in a specialized high school that drew students from 11 different school divisions to the top floor of a historic city school. Serious, racialized inequities between the specialized and regular programs were present, even as the regional nature of the wildly popular specialized school highlighted the power and possibility of metropolitan collaboration. Two key lessons thus emerged from my K–12 trajectory: 1) Regional cooperation could be both feasible and desirable, and 2) having students of different races go to school under the same roof was only a first step in a much broader process of fostering real integration.
All of these experiences helped mold the research topics I focus on today. Evidence from my dissertation study, among others, shows that metropolitan collaborations centered on educational issues can help promote lower levels of both school and housing segregation. Indeed, despite the limitations of Milliken, a number of communities have continued to strive to make good on the promises of Brown. Through various means, places like Louisville–Jefferson County, Ky.; Hartford, Conn.; and Omaha, Neb., have sought to blur or erase the city–suburban barriers that Milliken erected. Given the increasingly diverse and stratified nature of U.S. society, understanding, improving upon, and replicating the successes of these metropolitan areas must become a key element of educational reform for the 21st century.
Genevieve Siegel-Hawley, Ed.M.'05, is an assistant professor in the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. She is also a research associate at the Initiative on School Integration at the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.
President, Boston Architectural College
Shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education decision was announced on May 17, 1954, the New York City Board of Education decided to test the premise that exposing young African American elementary school students to other aspirational cultures might lift the ambition levels of the black children. My Harlem elementary school was chosen to identify fourth-grade students who might have the maturity and flexibility to be bused on public transportation, 45 minutes each way, to primarily white public schools. There, the black students would attend the fifth through ninth grades in a largely Jewish community. My cousin Jill and I were two of the four black students selected for this experiment.
The rest is history: I was placed in an accelerated seventh- to ninth-grade program, passed the rigorous examination to attend New York City's elite Stuyvesant High School, spent a postgraduate prep school year at St. Paul's School in New Hampshire, and earned degrees at Yale College (political science), Yale Law School, Yale Architecture School, and finally a doctorate at Boston University. While in college I was active in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. I studied higher education administration at the Ed School. I married interracially, a fairly rare act for that time.
I became an architectural lawyer, a Harvard administrator, an MIT adjunct faculty member, a MassArt dean, a city of Boston senior administrator under two mayors, and president of the Boston Architectural College. A Boston busing protest photograph of me won a Pulitzer Prize, and I have served on numerous art and architecture boards.
Being bused to test Brown's cultural diversity assumptions transformed my life: Many of my elementary school peers likely succumbed to the vagaries of Harlem's poverty, drugs, broken homes, and quashed ambitions. While I would always be a polio-affected son of a single parent living in public housing, my ability to achieve greater aspirations was clearly enhanced by my exposure to New York City students and communities where such achievement was taken for granted. At Yale I got to know classmates Gary Trudeau, George W. Bush, Hillary Rodham, and Bill Clinton; I have worked subsequently in Boston with Massachusetts governors Mike Dukakis and Bill Weld, U.S. federal judge Reginald Lindsay, and Boston mayors Ray Flynn and Tom Menino. I would hope now that such exposure has enabled me to positively mentor and affect the lives of those with similar impoverished backgrounds who've participated in programs and schools I've overseen.
But there were downsides too. Once transported out of Harlem, I began to lose touch with my black comrades, and I could never really bond socially with new white friends in their neighborhood, due to the simple logistics of living in one community and being schooled in another. I could never entirely be "one of the guys" in either setting. Members of each of these communities perceived me as an "outsider," based on varied views of either (or both) my race and class. I had to learn resilience and a tough impenetrability in widely divergent social situations. Like young women I later met who had participated in Boston's voluntary busing METCO program, I found it difficult for years to find a date or an adhering social environment. Fortunately, experiences have changed dramatically for diverse students in multiracial communities, although class distinctions may have been exacerbated by America's increased economic inequalities.
As a poor young person of color bused from Harlem into a primarily white working class community, I developed an acute DuBoisian double-consciousness of cultural differences, and it took years for me to form a distinctive identity that could transcend the survival needs of being a social chameleon. Even today, neither white nor black communities seem to understand entirely who I am as a person deeply interested in the arts, design, and cultural transformation, beyond the metaphors of socially constructed racial and class characterizations. I don't meet the generally portrayed stereotypic expectations of either community. Being "distinctive" as a social being provides both autonomous independence and certain isolation from other people's social realities.
Brown transformed the world for many Americans, and particularly for me. What could be learned from my experience, at least in part, is that every educational step forward is imbued with unintended social consequences that should also be anticipated and planned for along with the hoped-for positive learning outcomes.
Ted Landsmark is president and CEO of the Boston Architectural College. He once served as director of Boston's Office of Community Partnerships and as a dean at the Massachusetts College of Art. In 2006, he won the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award for his social activism.
Gerald Grant, Author, Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh
Legal scholars cite the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision that black slaves were property and the 1944 Korematsu v. United States ruling that confined Americans of Japanese ancestry in detention camps as two of the U.S. Supreme Court's most shameful blunders. Horrible as they were, the court's 1974 Milliken v. Bradley decision, which struck down a metropolitan plan to desegregate the schools of Detroit may have been the most dreadful.
The Dred Scott decision was reversed, and the Korematsu ruling affected only 110,000 Japanese. But Milliken, which effectively reversed the Brown v. Board of Education decision outside the Old South, still stands and has affected millions of children with devastating effects on most of urban America. And Milliken was dreadful not only in its effects, but also in the debased political process that laid the groundwork for the decision.
Like most cities in the North, metropolitan Detroit was racially segregated. While a few blacks lived in the suburbs, most were concentrated in the city, not by choice but by restrictive covenants and real estate practices. "Government actions and inactions at all levels," wrote Federal District Court Judge Stephen Roth, combined with those of loaning institutions and real estate firms "to establish and to maintain a pattern of residential segregation through the Detroit metropolitan area." He concluded that a desegregation plan limited to the city of Detroit simply would not work. Integration solely within the city would lead to more white flight and ever-greater concentrations of minority and poor pupils. This is exactly what happened over the next 40 years in cities across the North while desegregation in the South resulted in significant gains for black and poor children.
Roth approved a plan that divided the metropolitan area into 17 school districts, each containing a strong majority of suburban white students and a slice of the increasingly black central city. His decision was contested but sustained through the highest appeals courts in Michigan.
Before the Milliken case reached the Supreme Court, President Richard Nixon had appointed four judges to the court who met his hidden criterion: that they would vote against the busing required under the Milliken plan. Nixon had taped his private conversations with his aides. He predicted that his plan to pack the court would work: "Whatever happens in the  election, we will have changed the court. I will have named four, and Potter Stewart becomes the swingman. He's a goddamn weak reed, I must say. But if we can get him on board, we'll have the court." Later in the same conversation, he went on to say: "I don't care if he is a Democrat or a Republican. … Within the definition of a conservative he must be against busing. … Beyond that, he can do what he pleases."
Nixon got his court. It reversed the Milliken decision 5–4, crushing what could have been a transformation of the urban North.
Gerald Grant, Ed.M.'61, Ed.D.'72, is the author of the 2009 book, Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh.
An Author of Boston's 1974 Desegregation Plan
The 1870s was one of the uglier periods in American history. As the North lost interest in protecting freed slaves and their children, the white South extended the system of racial injustice that, in the case of schooling, only began to be dismantled by the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.
The evils of Jim Crow are now a familiar story, as they should be; not so well known is how the dominant Northern Republicans found a new issue to replace Reconstruction as a basis for electoral victory: the supposed threat of Catholic schooling. Immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Quebec, the Netherlands, or England were accustomed to publicly funded Catholic and Protestant schools and quite naturally expected the same accommodations in their new communities. In some immigrant-heavy cities in the Northeast, indeed, Catholic schools received public funding. But only for a few years; President Ulysses Grant and congressional Republicans, plagued by accusations of corruption, seized upon the alleged threat of Catholic teaching to American society to mobilize voters across the North.
The timing was right. Aggressions against the Catholic Church by French, Italian, German, Dutch, and Belgian governments had been met by assertion of papal infallibility and condemnation of key liberal principles. Echoes of these struggles resonated in the United States. Immigrants were welcomed by the fast-growing economy, but communities did not welcome the beliefs and loyalties that Catholic schools might perpetuate. State after state adopted constitutional provisions to prevent public funding for such schools — seeking to strangle them in the cradle.
Thus developed a second injustice, less nakedly oppressive than on the basis of race, but in its own way a denial of the 14th Amendment's "equal protection" — discrimination on the basis of religion, what the U.S. Supreme Court has referred to as "viewpoint discrimination." Contrary to popular assumptions today, it was not on the basis of the First Amendment (seldom mentioned at the time), nor to exclude religion from public schools, since these continued prayer and Bible-reading for another 75 years. No, it was quite simply determination that one category of parents — Catholics — would not be allowed public support for the schools they sought for their children.
A brief filed by Attorney General James McGranery in 1952, in relation to the Brown cases, quoted Secretary of State Dean Acheson that the "segregation of school children on a racial basis is one of the practices in the United States which has been singled out for hostile foreign comment in the United Nations and elsewhere. Other peoples cannot understand how such a practice can exist in a country which professes to be a strong supporter of freedom, justice, and democracy." The same could be said of our practice of publicly funding charter schools with every sort of philosophical orientation, so long as not religious, and allowing parents to choose schools with any sort of motivation except those based in their deepest convictions.
As I show in Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education, with my coeditors, the great majority of Western democracies — even secular France — provide public funding for religious schools selected by parents. The United States is almost alone in discriminating on the basis of religion. It is time for a new Brown-type ruling to correct this injustice to millions of families.
Charles Glenn, Ed.D.'72, is a professor at Boston University. He was director of urban education and equity efforts for the Massachusetts Department of Education, where he cowrote the initial school desegregation plan for Boston. In 2012, he coedited Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education.
Author, The Other Boston Busing Story
In 1973, the general counsel for Hartford, Conn., Alexander Goldfarb, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Milliken v. Bradley. Like many urban officials at the time, Goldfarb had hoped the high court would affirm Detroit's proposal to include its suburbs in a plan to remedy racial segregation in the public schools.
"The decision here will have an enduring and critical effect upon metropolitan areas. … It will shape and structure the future relationships between city and suburb, between black and white, between poverty and wealth," Goldfarb wrote. "State school officials have not merely acted to sanction and passively condone interdistrict segregation. … State boards have fostered, promoted, and actively participated in the establishment of racially dual systems of public schools within the metropolitan areas of this nation."
All true, of course. Alas, the high court's 5–4 decision would declare the suburbs sovereign. And so began the legal and practical evisceration of our universally revered but impotent Brown v. Board of Education. Middle class, mostly white families fled ever faster to prospering suburbs, securing easy loans and affordable insurance. As Goldfarb would likely have predicted, Greater Hartford and its public schools would, by the late 1970s, be the poster child for post-Milliken segregation. All-white schools, funded in large part by the state government, went up in expanding suburban white neighborhoods. A few miles away, nearly all-black or all-Latino schools opened in Hartford's neighborhoods. But this is not where the story ends. Hartford would also become the place where Brown would be revived and live on.
This year marks anniversaries for Brown and for Milliken. It also is the 25th anniversary of the filing of Brown's direct descendant, Sheff v. O'Neill. On behalf of 19 families from the cities and the suburbs, civil rights lawyers in 1989 filed the case in Connecticut's state courts. They argued that the racial, ethnic, and class segregation that characterized the region's schools violated the state's guarantee of an equal educational opportunity. By attacking segregation in state courts as opposed to federal court, lawyers made an artful end run around Milliken. They also won the case. And while the Sheff remedy did not end segregation, it does provide thousands of schoolchildren the opportunity to attend high-quality, diverse schools. Because of Sheff, there are now about three dozen magnet schools that bring together some 15,000 children from across the region for learning in integrated schools supported by a mix of local, state, and philanthropic dollars.
"I always keep in mind that segregation was created by people," says Elizabeth Horton Sheff, the case's lead plaintiff. "And that doesn't make me depressed. It reminds me that it can be undone by people."
Susan Eaton, Ed.D.'99, author of The Other Boston Busing Story: What's Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line and The Children in Room E4, is the current assistant director of the One Nation Indivisible project at Harvard Law School.
Hilary O. Shelton
Bureau Director, NAACP, Washington, D.C.
This May, scholars across the country commemorated the 60th anniversary of the legal milestone that determined separate educational facilities for black and white students were inherently unequal. Undoubtedly, they debated the gains made by students of color since the 1954 Supreme Court decision and pondered what the future of education looks like for African American students and others moving forward.
Brown v. Board anniversaries often conjure up thoughts of a little black girl in Topeka, Kan., who traveled a seemingly insurmountable distance to attend a segregated elementary school in the 1950s, traipsing past a segregated white public school on her way. Or we think of those nine courageous African American students who integrated Little Rock High in the face of a rock-throwing, venom-spewing mob. Rarely do our minds travel to those pioneering college students who were the first to desegregate the nation's postsecondary institutions.
In the years leading up to 1954, Jim Crow presented an insurmountable barrier to college access for students of color. Today it seems that college costs are the unyielding impediment standing between students of color and a college education.
A college education can seem unaffordable to a low-income family still reeling from the recession. In 2011, the Pew Research Center found that the economic collapse of 2008 decreased the wealth of white Americans by 16 percent, blacks by 50 percent, and Hispanics by two-thirds after comparing household income and asset data between 2005 and 2009. Parents in states such as Arizona, Georgia, or Washington, where college tuition and fees have rose upwards of 70 percent, have to make some tough decisions about their children's collegiate futures and their everyday expenditures.
We know that college is a must in today's society. We know that there is a $1 million difference in high school graduates' earnings compared with those whose highest education is a bachelor's degree. On average, a bachelor's degree recipient can expect to earn $2.4 million over their lifetime.
Earl Warren, the Supreme Court justice who delivered the ruling for Brown v. Board, wrote, "In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education."
Hilary O. Shelton is Washington bureau director of the NAACP and senior vice president for advocacy. He has played an important role in ushering through major civil rights legislation, including crafting the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
Jennifer Jellison Holme
Author, Both Sides Now: The Story of Desegregation's Graduates
Forty years later, signs of the Milliken v. Bradley decision are everywhere — evident in the crises of academic failure, near-bankruptcy, and enrollment loss in Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and many other urban cores. Policy efforts to address these trends have focused on solving these problems through privatization, choice, and accountability — "get tough" policies that blame the districts themselves for the troubles that plague them.
There is little acknowledgment, however, of the core issue that the Milliken case laid bare: that the boundaries between school districts, and the competition that boundaries engender, are a key driver of educational inequality. The existence of multiple, competing school districts within metropolitan areas creates an environment in which some districts are able to attract (and "protect") more affluent families, leaving other districts with both high needs and low tax bases.
Today, school district boundaries are largely taken for granted, viewed as a natural and immutable — and inculpable — part of the educational landscape. Policymakers ignore them, choosing to take a myopic view of educational failure: Urban schools are blamed for their own problems, and the boundaries that have allowed suburbs to pull out middle class families, jobs, and wealth are viewed as largely irrelevant.
The Milliken decision shed light on these processes. As Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court wrote in his dissent, school district boundaries artificially divide up interconnected metropolitan economies into separate and unequal fiefdoms. School district lines, Marshall observed, become "fences to separate the races" and increasingly, as Sean Reardon and Kendra Bischoff's work on economic segregation shows, social classes.
Many herald the resurrection of cities — the rise in gentrification — with the integration of previously extremely isolated urban cores. This trend has, however, pushed many low-income families into suburbs and, in many cases, into suburbs that are poorer and more segregated than the cities that they left. The crisis facing the Riverview Gardens and Normandy school districts in suburban St. Louis highlights the challenges of such segregated suburbs: Both of these high-poverty, low-wealth, and predominately African American districts lost academic accreditation in recent years. According to the "get tough" Missouri accountability law, the African American students in these districts were given the right to transfer out of their districts into higher-performing and predominately white suburban districts, in much the way the Milliken decision would have allowed. Yet because those low-performing suburban districts shoulder the "blame" for their failures, the districts are also footing the bill and are now on the verge of going bankrupt.
The solutions to these boundary problems are complex and difficult. Policy remedies must recognize, at the very least, how educational failure is related to regional inequalities within metropolitan areas and that educational reforms are, by themselves, insufficient.
Jennifer Jellison Holme, Ed.M.'95, is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2009, she published Both Sides Now: The Story of Desegregation's Graduates.