Diversity in schools teaches pupils about diversity in life, educators say.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- As the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision that ended racial segregation in public schools, many members of the Youngstown community say the Mahoning Valley and the nation still have a long way to go.
"I think most of us have discovered not too much has changed as far as integrating schools," said the Rev. Lonnie Simon, pastor emeritus of New Bethel Baptist Church in Youngstown. "Racism still prevails in our country. ... The decision of 1954 was supposed to be about uniting schools, but you can't change the hearts of people and the minds of people, so I don't think much has changed as far as integration."
The Brown vs. Board of Education decision marks its 50th anniversary Monday. The Supreme Court ruling outlawed racial segregation in public schools and became the impetus for desegregation movements in other arenas as the nation moved toward passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
But federal Judge Nathaniel R. Jones said the decision points to a hypocrisy in society.
"People will salute it as a great decision but won't go the next step and acknowledge the implications of it and do something about it," said Judge Jones, a Youngstown native. "Society as a whole is better off because we had Brown, but those for whom the case was filed, black children, have not been the beneficiaries. ... The historic victims remain the victims."
Data show that pupils in the Mahoning Valley remain segregated by district boundaries. While black pupils remain in the inner cities and some first-ring suburbs, farther suburbs are devoid of diversity.
Of the area's 45 public school districts, white pupils make up at least 90 percent of the pupil population in 39. In Mahoning County, black pupils are largely confined to the Youngstown schools, where nearly 67 percent of the student body is black, compared with an overall Mahoning County population that is 82 percent white and 17 percent black. Diversity is most evident in Campbell, where black pupils make up 28 percent of the student body.
Trumbull County's diverse districts are Warren and Liberty. Warren has 51 percent white and 43 percent black pupils, compared with a total county population that is about 91 percent white and 8 percent black. Liberty's 76 percent white pupils are integrated with 21 percent black pupils.
Columbiana County has a total population that is 97 percent white and 3 percent black. Black youngsters make up 6 percent of the student body at East Liverpool and 5 percent in Wellsville. All other Columbiana County districts have 10 or fewer total black pupils.
"I believe that maybe on the surface, the intention is there to make the progress, but I don't think there's any concerted effort to see that the students are integrated like they should be," said Willie Oliver, president of the Youngstown Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "I think it's been so frustrating that a lot of people just backed off, gave up hope and have not taken that fight on."
But educators say it's important to continue to fight for a diverse pupil population in schools.
"It's a global world, one in which kids are going to have to merge with people of all different races, all different classes, all different realities," said Michelle Karns, an educational consultant for the Youngstown schools. "It behooves parents today to have the kids have a broad experience culturally, in terms of class, in terms of life experiences. The more they understand about other people, the better off they are, the better their experience will be in the workplace."
McCullough Williams, who served on the Youngstown Board of Education from 1970 to 1975, remembers when segregation existed within Youngstown district boundaries and blacks were kept out of West Side schools, then considered the better schools with the better teachers.
He said open enrollment policies changed that. Now, for example, the West Side's Chaney High School has a student body that is 45 percent black, 51 percent white and 3 percent Hispanic. The district's other high schools, however, lack significant integration. The South Side's Wilson High School is made up of 72 percent black students, and The Rayen School on the North Side has a black student population of 88 percent.
Williams said segregation along school district boundaries has its roots in housing discrimination, which meant for years that black parents were unable to buy homes outside city limits.
Jones said the Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, helped end practices through which banks favored whites when giving home loans after World War II. But by then, he said, patterns had been set and suburban areas grew up as white enclaves.
Jones served as general counsel for the local NAACP in the 1970s when the association unsuccessfully challenged in court that the Youngstown Board of Education had used policy and practice to create racial isolation among pupils in the district. He argued a similar case regarding the Detroit city schools, which went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In that case, the court ruled 5-4 that the district was not at fault for the segregation. If the ruling had gone the other way, Jones said, the state would have been required to redesign district boundaries to foster segregation.
"There's a great deal of resegregation in schools now because of the very unrealistic ways school district lines have become effective barriers to desegregation," Jones said. "The poorest students are going to be contained in the cities, and a disproportionate amount of the poorest students are African Americans."
But Jones said he has hope that steps are being made.
He said an Early College High School on the Youngstown State University campus should be used to bring together students from various school districts. Plans now call for the school to educate at-risk students from the Youngstown school district.
But Jones, a board member of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation that provided a grant to start the school, said it must be open to diverse children and not "replicate the segregation that's in the Youngstown city schools."
Jones said other magnet programs to draw pupils across district boundaries for specific courses also could help end desegregation.
"It would break down the wall of isolation," he said.
Karns added that the Youngstown schools are "eons ahead" of other districts in some respects, such as reaching out to parents through neighborhood visits, parent meetings and home visits.
"More and more kids are getting hooked in [to education]. It keeps happening," she said. "It's not fast enough and it's not enough kids, but some of the toughest kids are getting hooked in.
"So there's always hope. ... Youngstown is a bastion of hope."