The history of the United Stated has witnessed many difficulties and conflicts arising from the differences in race and ethnicity. One of the features of the development of the American society in the 19-20th centuries was segregation of social life, i.e. separation on the basis of race. With segregation as a foundation of social relations, school education could not but feel its impact. It was not until 1954 that the United States Supreme Court declared that separate public school education for black and white people is unconstitutional by enacting Brown vs. Board of Education case. It initiated the process of school desegregation all over the country that had a great influence on the social life of Americans and has become a subject of both criticism and appraisal but was a first step towards reaching social justice and equality.
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The beginning of the process of public education desegregation has deep historical roots. At first, black people were slaves. Even though not all representatives of this race were enslaved, the rest were not treated as equals. Notwithstanding the fact that there were many attempts to establish racial equality in the American society, e.g. the 1965 Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery, 1868 Fourteenth Amendment and 1870 Fifteenth Amendment declaring that all people are equal before the law, there were even more steps taken to separate them based on their race. For example, school education was segregated on the grounds of skin color. It happened in 1849 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court proclaimed Roberts v. City of Boston enactment that made the separation of schools based on race and ethnicity legal. Moreover, it has become a first step towards establishing a “separate but equal” doctrine enforced by 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court Decision that laid the foundation of “white supremacy and black inferiority” (“Brown v. Board: Timeline of School Integration in the U.S.” par. 10). Supreme Court kept on legalizing further segregation of education by making colleges separate (1908 Berea College v. Kentucky) and forbidding Chinese kids to study in the same classrooms with white children (1927 Gong Lum v. Rice) including them to the list of colorful people (Davis 27).
Because of these steps, almost all public schools were segregated not to speak about social relations as the whole because people who were seen as colorful were not allowed to stay in the same room with the white people no matter where they were – in schools, theaters, cafes or hospitals. However, such state of things in the society did not satisfy all Americans, so, by 1940, nearly every third citizen of the United States of America believed that schools are not a place for making the distinction based on skin color and that the state should enforce creating integrated schools and declare segregation unconstitutional. The authorities of educational institutions all over the country supported his desire of people forcing the U.S. Supreme Court to authorize Brown v. Board of Education enactment that unanimously declared that segregation of public education is illegal. It has put an end to the separate but equal doctrine and left the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in the past (“Legitimizing Race as a Decision Making Criterion: Where Are We Going?” 4).
Brown v. Board of Education enactment had robust social implications. It was a great accomplishment of the American state and has become a first step towards building a society based on equality and respect to human dignity. Nonetheless, it as well initiated a wave of protests and upheavals, especially in the Southern states that historically saw the black people as slaves and were not eager to alter this belief and accept the new rules. Regardless of the steps taken by the American authorities to increase the tempo of the desegregation process, it was not as quick as they hoped it would be. Many citizens ignored the legal acts and would not allow their children to attend the newly created integrated schools. However, they have chosen an intricate way to do so by precluding the colorful people from going to the same schools as their white children through trying to change educational institutions’ statutes and making them forget about the passed legislation. In the case if they failed to do so, they would choose another way to avoid contact with kids of other races. These families have often moved to the suburbs and the districts populated by white people so that there was a guarantee that the schools there were only for the white children (“School Desegregation” 19). Another way to reach the desired result was to send their kids to private schools making sure that there would not be any representatives of the colorful people in the class.
The process of closing desegregated schools and creating integrated ones took years to reach effect. In the first years since the enactment of the Brown enactment, black students witnessed even more hardships than during the period of segregation, as they were kept away from attending the newly established educational institutions. Remaining inequality in access to education and slow integration of public schools became a motivation for arranging Civil Rights Marches in Washington, D.C., that demanded to complete the desegregation process as soon as possible. On the other hand, an attempt to open incorporated schools led to the outburst of the new Ku Klux Klan, a secret organization preaching white supremacy and white nationalism as its ideals.
To put an end to civil unrest, the Federal Government adopted the 1964 Civil Rights Act that declared racial discrimination illegal and highlighted the necessity of further desegregation of public education that was to be enabled by the United States Department of Justice. Succeeding progress in this area was achieved by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. According to this document, local school districts received federal aid with the purpose to help them desegregate (Schofield 1204). The United States Supreme Court supported this step by continuing to pass legal acts that would prohibit the creation of splinter districts and separate schools granting the right to control the whole process to local authorities (“Brown v. Board: Timeline of School Integration in the U.S.” par. 47, 69). This decision was reached in the 1990s as the result of such cases as the 1991 Board of Education v. Dowell and the 1992 Freeman v. Pitts (“School Desegregation” 25).
In accordance with these enactments, the United States Supreme Court declared that if the school complies with the provisions of the legal acts enforcing desegregation and shows positive experience of integrating its students, there was no necessity to preserve the further judicial control over the process of eradicating segregation. The motivation for this decision was obvious – if the local authorities demonstrate that they are able to rule the process by themselves, why fall back on the centralized approach? Another argument in favor was that it is easier to define the needs of local people and control local processes at the scale of the separate district. Driven by these motives, by 2009, the United States Supreme Court released most school district from the supervision of the federal authorities and, instead, granted the right to monitor them to the local administrations.
Nevertheless the process of school desegregation and creating integrated schools became a reason for many positive shifts in the American society, even today not all citizens are willing to let their kids attend such educational institutions thus demonstrating that historical consciousness cannot be easily eradicated by adopting legal acts. That said, the United States witness the new trend towards resegregation of the previously desegregated schools that was established in the 1990-2000s. Because of it, almost half of the schools are back to the separation based on skin color (Reardon et al. 901). The reason for these developments is simple – it lies in the decision to cede control over the desegregation process to local authorities instead of leaving it in the hands of the Supreme Court that was mentioned above. Initially, it was motivated by the government’s belief that fifty years would be enough to eradicate racial inequality from the consciousness of the society. However, the practice has shown that many districts were not ready to accept this decision, and it is especially true in the case of the Southern States.
So, school desegregation is the process that cannot be underestimated because it has become a crucial step in the further building of a society based on racial equality and respect to human dignity. It influences the development of society in many positive ways. First of all, if kids attend integrated schools and study with those who are considered to be colorful, they learn the basics of equality and justice and do not need special laws to understand that all people are equal. Moreover, it leads to building up a safer society because the level of hostility among representatives of different races will inevitably decrease thus establishing harmony and entailing the drop in the level of crimes (“The Continuing Challenge: The Past and Future of Brown v. Board of Education: A Symposium” 91). Furthermore, desegregation of schools helps in increasing the overall level of literacy, as it is not a secret that segregated schools usually suffer from the deficit of textbooks and resources necessary for providing kids with the education services of adequate quality (“Brown v. Board: Where Are We Now?” par. 11). Finally, it is a perfect tool for filling the gap in the socio-economic status of people belonging to different races because equal access to education is the key to obtaining equal access to further employment and, as the result, well-being.
Even though there is a trend towards the renewal of separation of society on the basis of skin color, the historical evidence and the arguments mentioned above should be borne in mind so that the accomplishments in constructing equal and safe society achieved by our ancestors are not neglected, and we receive an opportunity to solve the problem of racial inequality.
Brown v. Board: Where Are We Now? 2004. Web.
Davis, Peggy. “Performing Interpretation: A Legacy of Civil Rights Lawyering in Brown v. Board of Education.” Race, Law, and Culture: Reflections on Brown v. Board of Education. Ed. Austin Sarat. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1997. 23-48. Print.
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Reardon, Sean F., Elena Taj Grewal, Demetra Kalogrides and Erica Greenberg. “Brown Fades: The End of Court-ordered School Desegregation and the Resegregation of the American Public Schools.” Journal of Policy Analysis & Management 31.4 (2012): 876-904. Print.
Schofield, Janet Ward. “School Desegregation.” Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity and Society. Ed. Richard T. Schaefer. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, 2008. 1203-1210. Print.
“School Desegregation.” Gale Encyclopedia of American Law. Ed. Donna Batten. Boston, Massachusetts: Cengage Learning, 2010. Vol. 3. 18-27. Print.