Several decades ago now, the U.S. Supreme Court made school segregation illegal. In the ensuing years, school integration has been one most beloved and respected foundations of the civil rights movement. As millions of children head back to school in cities and towns across the country, a Black activist is arguing that, perhaps, school integration isn’t the way to go. Have we been wrong all these years?
Julieanna Richardson is the founder and executive director of HistoryMakers, a video archive dedicated to preserving African-American oral histories. This month, on Sept. 23, HistoryMakers will hold its second annual Back to School with the HistoryMakers program, in which 500 successful Black Americans will go into classrooms around the country and share their stories of success with students of all colors. “The event,” notes a HistoryMakers press statement, “is designed to bring renewed attention to the needs of the nation’s educational system and its students.” There’s just one problem: Richardson, the HistoryMakers head, believes school integration is detrimental.
According to a publicist for Richardson, she believes that “in a segregated society, Black PhD and Master level graduates taught Black students and [then] stayed connected to their communities and surrounded young people with love and encouragement. Many of these students would then go north to graduate schools well-prepared and graduate at the top of their classes.” Richardson claims those days are over, due in part to the fact that civil rights found more and more successful Blacks moving out of Black communities and into white parts of society. Again, through a publicist, Richardson claims that “since the modern civil rights movement, Black professionals have abandoned Black youth.”
From a distance, it seems like Richardson’s heart is in the right place — who can argue that things are bad for Black youth in America’s educational system? That said, if you look at real, valid statistics about segregation in America, you can see clearly that Richardson is flat wrong.
In a 2005 paper from researchers at Harvard and Cal Tech, Is School Segregation Good or Bad?, the authors wrote, “There is an impressive literature on the effects of segregation across schools on achievement. Jonathan Guryan (2004) estimates that half of the decline in Black dropout rates between 1970 and 1980 is attributable to desegregation plans.” And later: “Based on a metaanalysis of 93 studies, Crain and Rita Mahard (1981) conclude that desegregation has a significant effect on Black achievement, especially among younger children.”
In other words, besides being the right thing to do for children socially — learning to live and work with people different from you is a valuable lesson — not having segregation in schools is academically important, too. If Richardson would like to make the case that it’s important for Black students to have Black role models to look up to, I’d say she’s right, and kudos to HistoryMakers for working toward that goal. But for Richardson to make the case that integration is responsible for ruining Black children’s educations is irresponsible and wrong. And it makes it look like she’s desperate to create controversy where there is none for the sake of publicity. Next time she should think about letting her good work speak for itself.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
(Photo: REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson)