It has been more than half a century since the Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Board of Education that separate is inherently unequal and legally, ended public school segregation. And yet, our schools are now more racially isolated than they were in the civil rights era.
On Saturday's Melissa Harris-Perry, the host noted in her weekly Education Nation segment that a recent Stanford University study shows that schools released from court-ordered desegregation plans have returned to a state of racial isolation. In fact, parts of the American South are undergoing an era of perpetuated segregation, a situation only exacerbated by entrenched institutions that have survived integration and the decades since the civil rights movement.
In the mid- to late fifties and into the sixties, many communities established so-called "segregation academies" rather than comply with the court-orders to integrate the public schools. This early "school choice" movement was an avenue for white families to abandon their local schools, leaving investment to dwindle in public education. Years on, many of these academies still exist and continue to keep white and black students separate in parts of Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia.
While these schools have the stain of the racist resistance to integration, the "segregation academies" of the Mississippi Delta share the racial isolation of the average private school in the North East. Lest we be too quick to call this a "southern problem," sustained segregation is an issue across the country. In fact, a recent study showed that in the way northern Twin Cities of St Paul and Minneapolis racial segregation is increasing in the metro area school districts because of the state's open enrollment policy.
Yet, the Hechinger Report did find that in Mississippi 35 "segregation academies" survive, each enrolling black students at a rate below 2%. Many of these schools have survived in the rural Delta communities, where the Civil Rights tradition has historically been strong. At the same time that segregation academies were forming on one side of town, leaders of the civil rights movement were setting up Freedom Schools in churches, back porches and people's homes. The Freedom Schools were originally established to help would-be new voters overcome the barriers to voter registration, but these schools grew to supplement the education of both children and adults alike in the hopes to inspire new social-change agents to join the ongoing civil rights movement.
The current-day Sunflower County Freedom Project is product of that history, as Harris-Perry noted when she spoke to its co-founder, Chris Myers Asch, on Saturday.
Founded in Fannie Lou Hamer's hometown in 1998, the Freedom Project started as a summer program and has grown into a year-round after-school enrichment program for students around the Delta. Today it continues to help its students develop intellectual, physical and spiritual leadership skills to overcome often insurmountable barriers to achievement in an area where the median family income is approximately half the national average, with an unemployment rate almost double the national average. The founder of the Freedom Project, Chris Myers Asch joined Harris-Perry this week to discuss the effects of segregation in public schools in the Delta.
In many ways the goal of integration as an ideal of school quality has been abandoned. In fact, contemporary school activists have embraced racial imbalance in their push for charter schools. Research finds that charter schools are much more likely than traditional public schools to be racially unbalanced. A recent study of North Carolina schools found that 30 percent of traditional public school students attended racially segregated schools, while more than 60% of charter school students attend racially unbalanced schools.
MHP delved into the charter-school aspect in the second half of Saturday's discussion. See that video below.