JOHN SHATTUCK: On May 17, 1954, exactly 50 years ago today, the United States Supreme Court confronted the institution of racial segregation in our public schools, and it ruled unanimously that segregation was unconstitutional. Long overdue, this decision marked the first great victory of the civil rights movement. The court left no doubt about what it was doing. All nine justices stood behind the opinion of Chief Justice Earl Warren, who declared, and I quote, "The doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
With the decision in Brown, the war against segregation began but did not end in the courts. Throughout the country, there was resistance, often massive resistance as you will hear and often backed by political leaders and battle after battle would have to be fought to overcome it. In the decade after the Supreme Court ruled, two Presidents, Eisenhower and Kennedy, would have to federalize the National Guard or send federal troops to three states, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama to confront this massive resistance to federal court orders to desegregate the public schools of Little Rock and the Universities of Mississippi and Alabama.
At first, President Kennedy was cautious, fearful of losing his democratic base in the South. But as the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum, he came to see the broken promise of equal justice in America as a matter of moral urgency. In our museum downstairs, you can watch Kennedy deliver the first ever nationally televised presidential address on civil rights in which he declared to the nation on June 11, 1963, and I quote, "One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It is time to act in the Congress, in your state and local legislative bodies, and above all, in all of our daily lives.”
By calling the unfulfilled promise of Brown a moral crisis, Kennedy's words foreshadowed the battles to come. For 50 years, a struggle for equal justice has been waged in all parts of the country, including, of course, here in Boston. As Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer writes in today's New York Times, the words of Brown "forced Americans to ask themselves whether they believed in a rule of law and helped us understand that our Constitution was meant to create a democracy that worked not just on paper, but in practice.
We've invited an extraordinary panel here today to explore the meaning of Brown vs. Board of Education in practice. On September 25, 1957, Ernest Green, seated here to my left, entered Little Rock's Central High School with an escort of federal paratroopers. And later he became the first of the nine Black students who entered that day to graduate. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Michigan State University and went on to become a national expert on labor and civil rights, directing the A. Phillip Randolph Education Fund from 1968 to 1976, and then serving as President Jimmy Carter's Assistant Secretary of Labor from 1977 to 1981. Ernie has been in the private sector for more than two decades and is now a Managing Director of Lehman Brothers in New York. He has won many awards for his civil rights work, including the NAACP Spingarn Award and the Rockefeller Public Service Award.
Drew Days, who I am privileged to count as one of my oldest and closest friends, is a professor at the Yale Law School where he holds the Alfred M. Rankin Chair. Drew began his career as a Peace Corp volunteer in Honduras from 1967 to 1969 and later was a leading civil rights litigator at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Twice he has held high level positions in the federal government from which he has played a major role in shaping our nation's civil rights policy. From 1977 to 1980, Drew served as President Carter's Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and then in 1993, President Clinton nominated and the Senate confirmed him to be Solicitor General of the United States, the government's top lawyer before the Supreme Court, and he served with great distinction in that position until 2000. At Yale, he was the Founding Director of the Shell Center for Human Rights from 1988 to 1993, and he has written and lectured widely on the struggle for rights at home and abroad.
Gary Orfield is a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Founding Co-Director of Harvard's Civil Rights Project. Desegregation and the implementation of civil rights laws have been central issues for him throughout his career. He has served as a court-appointed expert in major school desegregation cases in St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Little Rock, and he has given expert testimony in cases on affirmative action, housing discrimination, college financial aid, and many other civil rights issues. Gary has conducted groundbreaking studies for the U.S. Department of Education, Housing and Urban Development, the Education Commission of the States, as well as congressional and state legislative committees. And among his many books is his 1996 study dismantling desegregation, The Quiet Repeal of Brown vs. Board of Education.
Our moderator this afternoon is Sheryll Cashin, a professor at Georgetown Law School, who served earlier as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, one of the architects of the civil rights strategy that led to Brown vs. Board 50 years ago today. Before coming to Georgetown, Sheryll served in the White House during the Clinton Administration as an advisor on urban and economic policy, and her new book, The Failures of Integration: How Race and Class Are Undermining The American Dream, shows how destructive modern segregation is and calls for a renewed integrationist vision of full and equal opportunity for all.
Please join me in welcoming to the stage at the Kennedy Library Ernest Green, Drew Days, Gary Orfield, and Sheryll Cashin.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Thank you very much. I've been assigned the role of moderator, and we're going to have a conversation about the significance of Brown. We're going to go for about 45 minutes, and then we're going to open it up for questions. And I want to start by asking all three of our wonderful panelists here what they think the significance of Brown has been for American society, and particularly, did we succeed or did we fail in implementing Brown?
DREW DAYS: I'll take a shot at it. Brown, obviously, as Justice Breyer indicated today in his article in the Times, set a very high moral standard for the society in terms of treating people equally in a way that did not discriminate based upon race or national origin or gender. It's been the spur to all kinds of other movements in the last 50 years, the fight for equality based upon gender, the fight for disability rights, and so forth and so on. So it set a direction, a course for the society I think will have potency well into the future, well beyond 50 years. But I think that Brown said several things that we have not been able to either hear or act upon.
One, the most famous, is that segregated public education was unconstitutional and inherently unequal, and we've been working at that without the success that many of us hoped. But it also talked about the fundamental role of education in American society, and I think there we've fallen down quite desperately. And these two objectives are related. One, I think, cannot achieve success without the other. And the third is that segregation in public education, even when it's not as a result of state action, nevertheless has a deleterious effect upon the ability of children to thrive and develop in our society and become full-fledged members of the society. I think in those three regards we have not met the challenge yet.
ERNEST GREEN: I see Brown in a much more personal sense. When the decision came down, I was 12 years old in Little Rock. And as I said earlier today, a thumbnail sketch of how I judged it was by the local newspapers in Little Rock. There was a morning newspaper and an evening newspaper. The morning newspaper, which was The Arkansas Gazette, I always thought was much more tolerant, that was Harry Ashmore's paper towards Black people. The evening newspaper, which was The Arkansas Democrat, I saw it as the segregationist's rag. My attitude was that anything The Arkansas Democrat was for, I was against. Anything they were against, I was for.
The Tuesday after the decision came out, the headlines in The Arkansas Democrat screamed that this was going to change the Southern way of life, and I said, "Good, I wanted to be a part of this,” and I saw this as a beginning. I was 12 years old. I obviously didn't understand all the things of the decision, but I did see it as a beginning. I filed it away in my brain. Between '54 and '57 you had Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, you had the Till murder, you had the independence of Ghana, you had a series of things that at least jarred my consciousness, that said because of the '54 decision, I believe there are some wider options for me in Little Rock and that when the moment comes, I want to play a role in it. So I saw Brown, and I think a generation -- my generation of growing up and the Little Rocks of the world -- saw Brown as a chance to change some things.
SHERYLL CASHIN: You were an incredibly sophisticated 12-year old reading the newspaper with such attention.
Gary, what do you think? Have they succeeded or failed with Brown?
GARY ORFIELD: It's important to think about what Brown was and wasn't. It was about the South, basically. Very important, there were 17 states that had state constitutions and laws that forbade racial integration in the schools, in the District of Columbia as well, and it was about starting a process. I think when you're trying to think about what language in a great Supreme Court decision or a constitutional amendment means you never know because it goes on and reverberates for generations. Equal protection of the laws is a classic example.
Of course, there’re two decisions. The first one says, “Segregated schools are intermittently unequal.” The second one says, “You don’t have to do anything about it. And let the local federal judge decide what to do with all deliberate speed.” And it really kind of doesn’t define what desegregation is, when it has to happen, who’s responsible, or what the sanctions will be. So it sets a very high goal and a very weak enforcement process. And that’s kind of been characteristic of most periods of school desegregation since then. A very high goal and then a correct goal. A goal that’s been sustained by lots of research since then as being a valid and important goal not just for minorities but for whites as well with a very weak follow-through, a very weak enforcement.
So in the first ten years of Brown there was almost no actual desegregation in the south. Ninety-eight percent of black students were still in segregated schools when the 1964 Civil Rights Act went to Congress. It was only after there was a movement, and after the Congress backed Brown, and after the Executive Branch defined what Brown meant, and after the Supreme Court upheld that definition in the Green Case 14 years later that we really got a definition of what Brown was about. And that definition was strong enough to transform the south and make it the more integrated part of the United States by 1970. And it’s remained that way since.
What Brown wasn’t about was what we have here in Boston. A situation where we have 8% of the students in the Metropolitan area in the city schools, only 2% of the whites, and we’re supposed to accomplish the goals of Brown inside that boundary because the Supreme Court said in 1974, “Brown doesn’t cross city-suburban boundary lines,” which makes it absurd in the Metropolitan context and which has led to very deep frustration. It was a search for equal, integrated education outside the south.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Well, I want to come back to that in a little while, but I want to stick with history right now. Your comments remind me that there’s a lot of social commentary going on right now about Brown. And a lot of people think that the court reflected social consensus rather than pushing on it, and it went as far as it could. I mean, Drew, what do you think? Could the Supreme Court have done anything differently, other than just to announce a principle and then give it time to be absorbed?
DREW DAYS: Yes, I think it could have gone in a different direction. I think the fortuity—maybe this is unkind to say—of the death of Chief Justice Vincent, and the coming to the position of Chief Justice Earl Warren made a big difference. Had Warren not become Chief Justice, I’m not confident that the Supreme Court would have arrived at the decision it did. So I don’t think it was inevitable at all. Out of the circumstances, there were suggestions that the decision to strike down segregated education was important to the United States and its fight against communism and that had some bearing on what the Court did. But I continue to think that it was still a very close proposition.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Well, Derek Bell has this book out now, and his argument is that the Supreme Court would have done better for black children if they had just insisted on equality and given up on, not even tried to achieve the illusive fantasy of integration. What do you think about that?
ERNEST GREEN: Well, I think if you’re living in the south in 1950 before May 17, ’54 under the Jim Crow laws, Plessy v. Ferguson, it was a stark reality that this was American apartheid. You couldn’t go, you couldn’t do, you were limited. And it really didn’t matter how rich you were or how much education you had, these laws were very fixed. And for those of us who were living in that period saw it as a very restrictive set of activities.
After Brown, and I think that this is what really happened, it was a psychological freedom. Now, it may have been illusionary that we didn’t have all of the tools to work with, but I woke up the next morning and Mrs. Bates and the Arkansas NAACP immediately sued the Little Rock School Board to comply with Brown. And that was the reason that we went forward. We believed enough of it that it was an opening and that we were going to seize it.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Now, you were one of the Little Rock Nine. Tell us what that was like for you personally, being on the front lines of integration.
ERNEST GREEN: Well, I have a friend who says I’ve gotten more out of high school than any living American. [laughter] Again, it was a period of time that once the School Board was sued that they enacted a gradual plan as they saw it, which was to desegregate the Little Rock public schools by beginning at the high school level and over some period of time gradually bringing black students in all grades, one through 12. Well, the spring of ’57, the Little Rock School Board asked for volunteers to transfer. I became one of those volunteers. The School Board had approved more than nine students to transfer to Central. But, as with all of these cases, which I think don’t recognize the effort and the sacrifice that average people put on to go forward with this—I mean, this really wasn’t as great as the Warren Decision and the unanimous activity; this was really enacted by small people. You know, Briggs and Clarendon Count and Oliver Brown in Kansas and our parents in Little Rock.
But to be part of that nine, we discovered in July that there were only nine of us that the School Board had approved. I looked around. I was the only one that was in the 12th grade. There were five of the nine that were in the 11th grade and three that were in the 10th grade. And we thought going forward that it was going to be a relatively quiet year. Governor Orval Faubus had been elected with significant black support. He was regarded as a southern moderate. And expectation was that in Arkansas they had admitted blacks to the law school, to the med school. The buses had been desegregated the year before without many problems. And the expectation was that we would go in.
We’d wake up the morning of school opening, and the governor has called out the National Guard to bar our entrance. And then you had this constitutional crisis. And for three weeks between the anarchy in the streets, Eisenhower was finally forced to send paratroopers on September 25th to provide protection for us to go to school. So I went to school with 1,000 members of the 101st Airborne Division. For the first two months we went from class to class with individual guards. When they finally withdrew the guards inside the school, the harassment and the intimidation increased. So that at one time -- those of you who have seen Eyes on the Prize, you know that one of my colleagues got so upset she ended up dumping chili on one of our antagonists. But the bottom line was to be part of that, to spend that year in which we all got thrust in the center of the storm, we thought, I think individually, that one, we had the support of our parents and family. We couldn’t have done it without it. And two, that what we were doing was more than just—I mean, you had to wake up to that—more than just our own individual education, but that we were widening something. We didn’t see the world; we saw the people in Little Rock that we were widening some options for, other young people behind us. And that they’d have a bigger shot at a broader stage and another brass ring and things that would utilize their talents. And, you know, by the grace of God we got through that year.
When you look back on it, any number of things could have happened. But in May I graduated as the first graduate of the group. And it just so happened that a minister was in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, which is about 40 miles from Little Rock; his name was King, Martin Luther King. And he was speaking at Pine Bluff, which is where the black college was. And he came up, spent that evening at my graduation with my family. What I’ve learned is that when your moment comes, you’ve got to be willing to seize it.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Well, we appreciate and want to honor you, and thank you for doing this. [applause]
DREW DAYS: Sheryll, I just want to go back for a moment to the comment you made about Derek Bell and his suggestion that maybe we should have stuck with “separate but equal” and enforce it. My start came before the Peace Corps. I started in Atlanta, Georgia where I was born, and I lived in Florida until I was 12. In fact, just before Brown was decided, I went to segregated schools. My mother taught in segregated schools. I rode buses past the school that was closest to my home to a black school on the other side of town. The facilities of buildings that we attended, the books that we had, those opportunities that we had were clearly inferior to those made available to the white students. And I think that there’s no reason to believe, given the history of the fight for school desegregation, that what Derek Bell suggests would, in fact, have worked. Indeed, we can look at another example, and that has to do with the litigation over school equalization in the state courts. Those have not been successful either, even when courts have determined that there has to be an equal distribution of resources among schools irrespective of where they are in the states. And to the extent that courts have tried to enforce those decrees, they run, in most instances, into stonewalls. Imagine with all deliberate speed on the issue of equalization, I think we’d be waiting another 50 years for any change.
ERNEST GREEN: I’d like to say something about that, too. I think what Derek Bell suggests is what we actually did. We only worked on Brown for a few years seriously, the second half of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Most money we put into education has nothing to do with integration. It’s about compensation for high poverty schools. That’s what Title I is about, Headstart. That’s what all of these 25 states or more that have had school finance cases have been about. And that’s what we studied in Atlanta in a book that I did called The Closing Door, where the Atlanta schools actually had more money every year of the 1980’s than any of the suburban schools. It didn’t work. There was actually no relationship between the amount of dollars and the outcomes. There was a lot of relationship between the poverty concentration of students. And we find that when we look at the students across the country, if you look at the segregated black and Latino schools, 90% of them have concentrated poverty. And they’re unequal in almost every important respect—teacher qualifications, level of competition, peer group contacts, nature of curriculum, information about college, connections with colleges and labor force. They’re just profoundly unequal institutions. And just putting money in hasn’t proven to be successful. And it has been what we basically tried. We haven’t had any federal money going into desegregation, for example, since the Federal Desegregation Assistance Program was repealed in the first Reagan budget.
People think we’ve been making a big effort about Brown for 50 years; that’s just not true. There was very little effort made for the first ten years. There was a lot of effort in the late 60s when President Nixon came into the office. He turned the government into an enemy of desegregation. He changed the side that the government lawyers had on the Supreme Court, he fired somebody for trying to enforce the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He was found guilty by federal courts of not enforcing the Act.
Since that period, we have had most of the time administrations that were actually opposed to serious enforcement of school desegregation in office in this country.
SHERYLL CASHIN: I actually agree with you, with both you and Drew and Gary. In my book, I argue that in 2004 the average existence for a black or Latino child in public school is one where most of their peers are minorities. And at least half, and often a lot more than half, of their peers are poor. And the average existence for a white child in public school is the opposite, one where most of their peers are white, and most of their peers are middle class. And that translates into a very different existence, a separate and unequal existence. And this urban/suburban divide has a lot to do with it, as you point out with the Milliken case in ’74.
The question is, what do we do about it now? You clearly are pro-integration, Drew is clearly pro-integration. What do we do about that? How do we achieve the vision of Brown in 2004 given that our neighborhoods are very segregated?
ERNEST GREEN: Well, I think, one, that all this attention in the last few weeks on Brown is good, because we’re finally opening a public discourse on education and the question of an open society that is integrated. I mean, we have danced around the word “integration” for the last 20 years and not talked about it frontally. I think secondly that Brown was a beginning. I mean, we were naïve in the sense to think that simply because if you lived in the south … I thought you were naïve because we knew what the resistance was. I mean, they didn’t just drag Emmett Till out of his bed because they were upset. I mean, people were to the point that they were willing to kill somebody to keep that way of life. And so once the Court handed down the decision eliminating that attitude, that apartheid attitude was not going to be easy.
And the third point is that I think the political parties knew that if they threw up the flag of desegregation and integration, the Republican Party would capture the south forever. And they did that. They played the race card in a much more subtle way, but they played it nevertheless.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Well, it’s interesting. You pointed out that Governor Faubus was a democratic moderate. And, actually, a lot of people will argue that Brown radicalized white voters throughout the south in a way that has created this politics of division that we have. I’d be curious what the other people think about what we can do about cultivating more integrationist schools, a more integrated society. And, actually, a less divisive politics.
Drew Days: Well, those of us who have been involved in this battle, concerned with desegregation in my case, I guess, including my early training of 50 years, one of the things that we have to come to grips with is that Brown could not be the answer to all of the nation’s problems. Schools in and of themselves and courts enforcing Brown could not change the society.
One of the things that I think the Justices knew when they issued their ruling in Brown was that we really did have a caste society. And it was segregated not just with respect to schools, but with respect to the ability to vote, the ability to travel, the ability to live where you wanted to. These were deeply rooted sources of segregation and discrimination. And while we’ve made some headway in that regard, the tendency has been to look to school boards; they have enough blame to go around. But to look to school boards to deal with problems of housing segregation, of job discrimination, of discrimination in voting. And we have allowed those who are opposed to desegregation or integration or integration to compartmentalize those issues.
One of the things that I always understood when I was in law school about the Fourteenth Amendment was that it said no state shall deny a person the equal protection of the law. And yet the way the law has developed is that a school board has to desegregate what the housing authority has left alone, to place housing in a way that reinforces the segregation in the schools. We allow the state to discriminate with respect to voting, and we look to the schools to try to deal with that. So I think that somehow we have to come to a more candid and open discussion about the role of the state. After all school boards and housing authorities and indeed municipalities are creatures of the state. And what the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment had in mind was that the state would assume responsibility for this type of protection. We have not got there yet. I think that this is something that we have to focus on.
I think that the housing issue is often really … People say, “We ought to do something about housing. We really should do something about housing.” But they don’t actually propose doing anything about housing.
GARY ORFIELD: The one big law suit I was involved in, I pointed out to the Los Angeles School Board that they could actually do very little busing if they just used land that they already owned to build subsidized housing, and then we could have naturally integrated neighborhoods. And their lawyer went to talk to them in a private session. He said, he thought that sounded like a good idea. And he came back and told me the next day, he said, “They hated that even more.”
You know, basically people don’t … They say housing when you ask about schools. But when you ask about housing, they say, “Do something else.” The average household has changed hands eight times since Brown. An average housing unit changes hands every six years in the United States. And we’ve managed to hold onto and spread residential segregation. And it is the residential segregation interacting with the district boundary lines that is the cause of the segregation now. The serious segregation is between districts; it’s not inside of districts. And it’s in metropolitan areas. And the residential segregation is pervasive and is not the product of choice. We’ve been doing a series of studies here in Boston, the third largest metropolitan area in the United States, which shows that very few minorities want to live in segregated neighborhoods. They want to live in well integrated neighborhoods. There’s very few choices for them here.
You can’t explain the segregation on the basis of income distribution; it’s much more extreme than that. The average black family here with over $50,000 in income lives in a neighborhood with as many poor people as the average white family with $20,000 income. And there’s serious discrimination. The most recent tests by the Fair Housing Center here show very, very common differential treatment by race. We haven’t solved this problem at all, and we’re not working on it with any seriousness. And there are ways to solve it.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Yeah, I have a chapter in my book, which I call “The Middle Class Black Dilemma.” And in American society, if you are middle class African American, you actually have the economic means that you actually have some choice about where to live. The choices you are faced with in the real estate market are actually rather stark. You can go to an overwhelmingly black neighborhood, or you can go to a neighborhood where blacks are few. And I document just how different those experiences are. But, that said, we come back to the conundrum. Here we had massive resistance for decades to the vision of Brown in terms of school. And as you’re pointing out, we seem to have even more resistance to opening up our neighborhoods. So is it really that we just haven’t yet done the hard work of altering people’s hearts and minds, being in close proximity to other?
GARY ORFIELD: I don’t think we’ve done any work at all on this issue really. If you look at almost any year of federal housing subsidies, the net effect of them is to spread segregation. And there are really weak policies to block that even if publicly paid for housing and housing subsidies. And we have methods that really do work quite successfully.
SHERYLL CASHIN: What are some of these methods?
GARY ORFIELD: Like the Moving to Opportunity Experiment that was started in the Clinton administration. It really does work. It produces better choices for poor people with housing certificates. Their housing enforcement can be powerful. Minority families in this area are moving into only seven out of 126 suburban towns. And none of them have any of the best school systems. You know, that’s middle class’s future. We have to provide better information about housing markets. We have to get black brokers into and Latino brokers into suburban housing firms; they’re not hiring them. We have to get listings for black brokerages outside of segregated, desegregated areas.
There’re millions of points of contact here. There’s lots of evidence that mortgage lending discrimination has been very serious in this housing market and in many others. If we got serious about this, there’re a lot of points that can change some of these flows, and I think we can make real progress.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Now we are rapidly moving toward the day when America is going to be a majority/minority nation. You know, in 1954 when Brown was decided, this nation was 87% white, 10% black and 3% other. In 2054 when we’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of Brown, this nation is going to be only 47% white. And I wonder what the panelists think. Does this rapidly exploding diversity, is that going to help us get to a more integrated nation? Or is that going to raise fear levels and accelerate people’s desire to withdraw into their own enclaves?
ERNEST GREEN: Well, I think there’s a certain amount of inevitability about it. I mean, not only have you got the demographic changes going on inside the country, but you’ve got all these international trends and the economic powerhouses down the road, India and China and three or four billion people outside the boundaries of the United States.
So it seems to me, unless there’s a group of people who just want to see the country wither away, you better figure out pretty early how to start utilizing the talent, the people that are here. I don’t know how long we can go with all these wrong-headed policies. But they seem as illogical to me as they did with my first encounter with racism, which was a water fountain incident when I was a six-year old and went to the wrong water fountain and got admonished by the store clerk. The water was wet, I was thirsty, and it was the closest thing near me. And it didn’t make sense to me then, and it doesn’t make sense now. I think, you know, maybe we need a political movement not to feel that we can’t raise issues of housing. I mean, the Brown decision for us, at least for me, was a proxy for a series of things. I mean, I expected soon after that the restaurants and the theaters and all the other things that were barred to me. And in some ways the Civil Rights Movement seized it, whether that was the intent of the decision or not, that you give an opening and we went for it. And somehow we got slowed down. And I think, again, it’s a political decision that has to come from the bottom up. That it’s clearly not going to come top down. And that we’ve got to build a political constituency to push it forward, to try to continue to push it.
GARY ORFIELD: I don’t know whether we can expect any dramatic
improvement in the state of segregation unless there are vast improvements in the economic status of not only blacks, but Asian Americans and Latinos and other minority groups. I think what we see now in the urban centers is great segregation among those groups with whites being the most really segregated population in America. The white children are the ones who are segregated. These other groups are actually living together and going to school together. But unless there’s economic strength and there’s electoral power, I don’t think that the growth of the population that comes from outside the United States will have much impact on the degree of segregation.
You look at California, they’ve already been through this, because they’ve got almost two-thirds, around two-thirds minority students in their schools right now. And they’re going through an incredible demographic transformation. And we saw first the fear and the exploitation in the Pete Wilson campaigns and the referendum propositions. And then we saw reaction to that in mid-1998 when they were all thrown out of office, and the Democrats, a much more liberal group, took over the state. We’ve now got a Republican governor that’s come in, but he’s not on that line of polarization anymore. We’re going to see that kind of change in a lot of states. And I think it will produce a somewhat better climate.
The other thing that we’ll produce is a tangible need and reward for whites to learn how to live across these racial and ethnic lines, because they are the most isolated population. They are unable to function as effectively as they need to in inter-racial settings. And they’re going to be a minority population in many places in this country. And it will be a tremendous advantage to have the skills that you gain from integrated education. We’ve been surveying students in a number of school districts around the country, high school juniors that are in segregated and integrated classes. And we’re finding that the white students, the Asian students, the black students, the Latino students who are actually having this experience say they are getting these skills. And they say it almost to identical proportions. Very high majorities say that they are learning these things and they value them.
SHERYLL CASHIN: This is one of the things I do argue in my book, that I try to underscore in no uncertain terms the ways in which white people, average middle class white people, are harmed by our segregation, by our sometimes tacit agreement to segregate and our public policies that push us apart. And one of the costs, as you say, is not developing cultural dexterity, which I think makes it harder to exist in a very diverse world, but there are also other very, very tangible costs.
Let me take a contrarian viewpoint. We have three African Americans up here who seem to have integration religion, but in my two years of researching my book, I constantly came across African Americans who were very ambivalent about integration and very ambivalent about what integration wrought for black communities. A lot of wariness about integration. What do you think about that? And many African Americans will say, “We don’t need to be sitting next to white people in order to have a good education; we just need resources.”
DREW DAYS: Well, I call that “brown blues.” In fact, I’ve written an article with that title. I think it’s perfectly understandable that African Americans in America feel a little brown weary, because African Americans, in particular, have carried the major burden of the entire process. If we talk about busing, it’s African American students who are bused long distances, not white students. If we talk about who lost jobs as a result of desegregation, they were black teachers and administrators. So that there has been this great shock to the African American society. In terms of control over institutions, the black schools were closed. The George Washington Carver Schools were closed. The Booker T. Washington schools were closed to have the school renamed for a confederate general in some instances.
So this has been painful. And I think we talk a lot about why is the table in the lunch room all black? Why are all the black students sitting together? And I think you make this point in your book, Sheryll, as well, that no one seems to note that the kids from Oklahoma are all sitting together at a table. Or that most of the tables are all white. I think it’s the sense of solidarity that African Americans often feel in situations where they are once again in the minority. This to me does not signify a rejection of integration, but rather a weariness with having to be the constant explainer of what’s going on and what blacks want.
I think that the society will have arrived, in so far as I’m concerned, at the point we had hoped it would in 1954 where African Americans and other people can make decisions independent of the color of their skin. They can live where they want. They can work where they want. They can associate with people based upon common values and interests. We don’t have that now, and I think that’s something that African Americans have been unhappy to find about the society and are often withdrawing to find support among their own people.
ERNEST GREEN: Well, I’m thinking that Drew’s comments that many of the complainers of that idea are enjoying middle class lives. If you ask somebody who’s trying to get there, they’d like to have that as a … that’s a high class problem for them.
It’s clear that we have a nostalgia about the past. But I keep going back to my mother, who was a school teacher for a long time and she put forth with a group of other teachers a suit for pay equity in Little Rock. And the way that they did it, the teacher who was the initial plaintiff, the moment that the complaint was issued was fired. And that a group of black teachers in Little Rock banded together for two years to pay this other teacher’s salary as the plaintiff. And that at the end of it, they were all better off even though teachers, black and white, in Little Rock didn’t make the kind of money they needed to. But still they got some increase in it, and it was because they stepped forward.
Now, I think that without these changes you wouldn’t have had the Civil Rights Act. Without Brown you wouldn’t have had the Voting Rights Act, you wouldn’t have had transportation. I mean, all of them were the beginning of the flood gate beginning to open up. Our problem is we haven’t widened the gate. I heard Professor Ogletree say the other day, “They opened the keyhole but not the door.” And that we got to find out how we open this door. Because I think that poorer youngsters want to have a middle class life. They’d like to have the option. They would like to have some series of options in housing and job opportunities. And for us to shut that off, or at least to have them not believe in it, I think is to cut off part of the reason to succeed. I mean, it is true that many of us in this room are successful, because somebody stood on our backs and drove it home, that “You’re going to do it, you better not come back with a C. I’m going to beat you over the head. You got to do better, and I expect more of you.” And I think that if we don’t continue to put that bar out there, we won’t have people who perform and they aren’t assisted by that.
SHERYLL CASHIN: I can’t resist when you give that example. I lived in a house where the father, if I brought home a 95 on the test, he said, “What happened to the other 5?”
I’d like to invite the audience if you have questions. We’ve been going for 45 minutes now, and we have another 45 minutes for audience questions. If you want to ask questions, please come to the two mikes to ask your question. We need to have your voice amplified so we can hear you. Gary, did you want to respond while we get people lined up?
GARY ORFIELD: Sure, I’ve been involved in a lot of trials in communities where people said, “Blacks weren’t really interested in integrated schools.” And in my experience, I’ve never seen any black family that really wanted to sit next to a white as their end objective. They wanted to get a better education, and they thought whites had better educational opportunities. And, of course, they were often right. So if the desegregation plan actually offers better educational opportunities, I think you’ll see people come from everywhere to get them. Here in Boston we have this little transfer program called METCO which allows 3,500 kids from the city to go to suburban school systems. And when we did survey the parents, we found a fourth of them had actually registered their children before they were one year old they were so eager to get into that. And it wasn’t if you sit next to whites; it was so their kids would go to college and be safe. And they were very overwhelmingly satisfied. And the same thing happened in St. Louis. People said, “Nobody would want to go to the suburban schools,” but 14,000 people have been going to the suburban schools. Where you have choices or other programs that produce access to really good opportunities, people like them. The problem is under the Supreme Court’s decisions, in the Michigan case and so forth, in the Detroit case, lots of the desegregation strategies in places like Cleveland and some of the other cities, are transferring kids from one poor school of one race to a poor school of another race, doesn’t produce a big educational advantage. And that’s the places where people get more skeptical about it.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Let’s take audience questions. I’m going to ask you to keep your comments brief. We just want questions, not long comments, because we’re trying to get as many questions as possible
Q: I’ve never heard this argument offered, and I’d like to hear your opinion about it. I believe that Brown was actually a self-serving decision, that enhancing the educational opportunities of a significant portion of our population led directly to an elevating of my economic status and enhanced my standard of living.
GARY ORFIELD: I think most Civil Rights policies actually are conservative policies about retaining and strengthening the basis of the country when you really consider them in the long run.
Q: Sheryll, I haven’t seen your book, and I know you did a lot of research, but in my getting around I have never heard of Faubus being a moderate.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Ernie said he was a moderate.
ERNEST GREEN: I said before ’57 he was regarded as a moderate governor.
Q: My question is, these guys that we have today here, those who watch Saturday programs all day, they had . . . (inaudible) all over America debating about this debate and whether we gained or whether we lost or where we’re going. I would like to pose a question to Ernie, to Drew, to Gary Orfield. Sure, we have benefited middle class blacks, whatever that means, I don’t know, because I’m still poor. All I’m going to tell you that come November 2nd, I’m going to try to get ten of my dead relatives to vote. [laughter, applause]
It’s true that we have really benefited and upgraded to some degree because of this great decision. But it’s horrifying to me to understand. I’d like to pose … please tell me how we can have some hope for the large majority of blacks who are not there, not going to get there? Give me some hope about how they can make it. I’m going to take my dead relatives and make sure they vote.
DREW DAYS: We have to have leadership. We have a vacuum in this society in terms of leadership with respect to the blight of the urban poor. And until someone is able to communicate effectively with the nation and gain support for the proposition that so long as we have these urban centers in existence where people are poorly educated, poorly housed, lacking in any hope, the country is not going to progress. We’re not going to be able to really compete economically and intellectually with the rest of the world.
So I don’t think there’s any magic solution. But we don’t have anyone standing up and saying that these are problems that require the resources, both human and financial, of the entire society. And forgive the reference, but when we spend $87 billion dollars on a war in Iraq and are asking for $25 billion dollars more, it’s kind of hard to understand or hard to imagine how we can really do anything meaningful here at home. [applause]
SHERYLL CASHIN: I’ll just say before we take the next question, one thing that does give me hope is that coalition politics does work. And I offer some -- what I think -- are hopeful examples of communities where people have built coalitions across boundaries of race and class to form a political majority that gets more progressive policies passed in state legislatures. And I offer the example of what was going on in the Twin Cities with Gary’s brother . . . (inaudible) there. There are ways to crack this nut.
Q: Good evening, my name is Charles Yancey, and I’ve been with the Boston City Council for the last 21 years. But 50 years ago I was a first grader. I was in my first grade in the Boston Public School System. And I believe Jonathan Kozol must have written about some of the schools I went to in the early 50s and 60s. Twenty years later, of course, we had a court order in the city of Boston forcing the city of Boston to implement a desegregation plan. Thirty years from that date and 50 years from the original date, the city of Boston is now engaged in a pretty all out effort to change its student assignment plan, which is at the crux of the issue with regard to de facto segregation within the city of Boston where children will be forced to go to the school closest in their neighborhoods for the most part.
My question is, in light of the 360 degree turn that we appear to be on the verge of making in the city of Boston, what remedies would you suggest to major urban systems to address the issue of high quality education, which is what most parents want. Many politicians are pushing for neighborhood schools. But most, if not all parents of all races, are pushing for quality education. How do we address that dilemma, not only in Boston but in other schools?
And one final question for Ernie Green. I understand a few years ago you worked with a pretty well know state senator. I believe it was Strom Thurmond. No? Okay, then I’ll save that question for someone else then. Because I was going to ask you about some of the conservative senators in Washington and how they address the issue in the late 70s. But I’ll save that for one of your …
SHERYLL CASHIN: Why don’t we stick with the first question about how we get school quality.
GARY ORFIELD: Boston is right now in the middle of reconsidering its student assignment plan. It’s already lost its ability to keep Boston Latin School significantly integrated. And this process, if it were to return to neighborhood schools, would intensify this separation by race and social class, which is already very high in Boston. It seems to me that that needs to be looked at very carefully, since most Boston families do not choose their neighborhood school as their first choice in the choice system.
It’s a wrong premise to think that they want neighborhood schools imposed upon them. I think that should be done very carefully. And to increase the isolation, economic isolation, of black and Latino students, which is already very serious and directly related to teacher quality, MCAS scores and so forth, would be a mistake.
I think Cambridge and Lynn both had much more positive looks at this whole issue of inter-racial schooling. And that if Boston had learned something from some of the outlying communities, it would have actually had a positive value about integration, and a much greater success in race relations.
Q: My name is Dan, and I’m going to try and let most of my dead relatives rest in peace if that’s okay. I’m actually a City Year Core Member, which is an Americore program that was started here in Boston about 15 years ago. I actually have two questions. The first question is for Mr. Days. That is, how did your time in the Peace Corps and being involved in national service affect your view on diversity and on getting integration in people’s lives?
DREW DAYS: One of the things that the Peace Corps did was give me an opportunity to see America as people outside of the United States see America. And in some instances, it was a very bright picture, but in other respects it was a very dim and depressing picture.
The other thing I learned about myself and the Peace Corps was that I was an American. Because before I went into the Peace Corps, I viewed myself as a black person, as a minority without really any capacity to have an impact on the direction of the country. When I got to Honduras, where I served as a Peace Corp volunteer, it was shocking to me the first time it happened, when a Honduran pointed at me and said, “Well, you American such and so,” but I wanted to say, “But I’m not one of them.” And I suddenly realized that I was one of them and perhaps that propelled me to want to take a real responsibility for the society in which I lived.
Q: Excellent. My second question is for the entire panel. Now, at least in Massachusetts, May 17th is going to have two connotations. It’s going to be the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. And now as of today, it will be the first day that we’re issuing legal marriage licenses to same sex couples. I guess I was curious how you all feel about that. It seems to be a point of contention in the civil rights movement right now. And with so many minority communities, with such diverse opinions on the subject, I guess I was curious what the panel’s views would be on how those two interests would or wouldn’t fit together.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Well, I’ll just say quickly, I rarely agree with a lot of things that Andrew Sullivan says, but I agree with his op ed today in the New York Times that both movements are premised on a principle of inclusion. And in some ways, a lot of people think that Brown, even if it was decided the way it was, that the notion that America should be a free, open, integrated society where someone is not limited in their access to rights, to all the good things in life based on their race, was an inevitable if you’re going to have any integrity about a principle of democracy.
However people may feel about gay marriage or gays, in general, I think it’s inevitable that the principles that we uphold in the Equal Protection Clause are based upon a free, open, optimistic vision of inclusion. And if you believe in that value, I think over time, it’s inevitable that gay people will be included in American society and welcomed into the array of rights that come with marriage, whether you call it marriage or a civil union. I think it’s kind of appropriate and interesting that both are being dealt with today, because they’re both based on inclusion.
__(?): I agree with that--
DREW DAYS: And I’m supportive of this particular movement as well. But I think it points out the incredible potency of an idea expressed by Brown v. Board of Education. One of the things that perhaps is not widely known is how revered around the world Brown v. Board of Education is. It is quoted by courts in country after country. Many countries know far more about Brown v. Board of Education than we know about what the capital happens to be of some of those places. So I think it’s a movement, a sense of the value of the human spirit, that will take avenues that we can’t really predict, but in so far as I’m concerned are really wonderful examples of what Brown has wrought, not only here in the United States, but around the world.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Let’s take another question.
Q: (inaudible) … of integrating and the benefits for your community if you look back? And have you been able to quantify that in any way? And do you think the benefits outweigh the costs?
ERNEST GREEN: Well, I think the benefits generally, in fact, I think the civil rights movement hasn’t spent enough time showing the broad benefits of the movement. I think whites in Arkansas benefited immeasurably by what we did in ’57, because higher education in many ways was restricted to a small number of white students as well. And once we broke the barrier, we broke a psychological barrier for lots of other people. And I think that happened not only in Arkansas, but in a number of places throughout the country.
And also generally, most southern communities wouldn’t have the economic growth that they are experiencing if they were still carrying the period of Plessy v. Ferguson. That those benefits have been considerable to them. So I think in many ways, while I’m not able to quantify at this moment, I have one vignette that, whether it’s Selma or Little Rock or Montgomery, now regarded as big attractions to tourists. In Little Rock, they woke up one morning and found people flying from Tokyo to look at Central High School. Why you coming all the way to look at this school? And it’s an important part, as Drew indicated, that Brown has had an impact far beyond what we in this country recognize. And that this human rights movement has meant a lot more to, I think, people outside the United States many times than those of us that are here. So I think there’s been immense economic benefit because of this activity.
Q: My name is . . . (inaudible), I’m a junior at Fenway High School. And I had a comment, a question. I think the Brown v. Board of Education case did a good job desegregating schools, but I think the next step would be to make sure that schools are equal economically. Like you have the Boston Public Schools, some of which struggle to have up-to-date materials in history for students. And then you have schools out in the suburbs who have all these sports programs that we can’t afford in my school. Being a small school, we can’t afford that. We have to raise our own funds and stuff. But I was wondering what do you think of the Metco Program, which is a program where they take inner city students to school out in the suburbs?
DREW DAYS: Gary, you’re the expert on this. But let me say that those programs have proven generally quite successful, the one in St. Louis that Gary mentioned. There’s one that’s been going in Hartford, Connecticut for a number of years and the one here in Boston. The problem with those programs is, obviously, they can serve only a very small number of children in inner city schools. And what we have to think about is how we can provide those benefits to the student population generally, not taking small subsets of the students and providing them with those opportunities.
GARY ORFIELD: I think it’s very important that all the schools get equally funded, but they need to be more than equally funded to deal with the urban realities. Because basically when most of the kids are coming to your school hungry … My wife . . . (inaudible) a school here in Boston, and she found half the kids had untreated vision problems, for example. There are many problems that those schools have to face that are in addition to the problems that a suburban school system would have to face as immigrants end up here. The language development has to take place here. If we’re going to equalize funding, we have to equalize funding for grade level and advanced activities in a school, plus the funding that’s necessary to deal with the special costs that relate to the poverty of the school, or else it won’t be equal at all in terms of the outcomes. In terms of the Metco Program, we never had a really good study of it. But what evidence that we do have of it and from the other ones, shows a very large increase in high school graduation, a very large increase in college going. Much better level of competition and connection. And you get plugged into a network that’s much more likely to leave you to success in your later life. We should do this on a much larger scale. That program could be tripled. And it would really begin to have some impact on the city and on the minority students that live here.
We should also think about the state creating some regional magnet schools that serve the entire Boston Metro area here in the city. You know, there’s no reason we have to be so limited since Boston has only 8% of the students in this Metro, it’s crazy to limit opportunities on the basis of just that boundary line.
Also, we should be thinking about charter schools. There’s no civil rights policies for the charter schools in this state. They’re growing very rapidly. Much money is being pumped into them and nothing really into expanding Metco. And the charter schools are twice as segregated as the public schools for black students. That’s senseless to put money into a system that makes a bad situation worse without any policies to compensate for them.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Let’s take another question.
Q: This is not a question; it’s just a comment. First of all, Jean McGuire, the Executive Director of Metco sends you her greeting; she was unable to attend. I am a proud, I’m very proud to be a part of Metco, because I am one of the original 200 students that went to raise money, and walked the walk, and I can talk the talk of civil rights, to raise that first bit of money to get those first buses rolling. And I commend you, sir, Ernest for also being a pioneer. Before Metco there was Operation Exodus, which was based within the city of Boston shuttling kids from one part of the city downtown to another. And as far as this Metco is concerned, they need more funding period. Every year we go through this battle, this nerve wracking battle about will we get wiped out, will we get shut down or not? Yes, it’s true, if you give us more money, then we can serve more students. So it’s not that we just have to pick and choose; you know, you have to go on a waiting list and everything. Sure, that’s the way it is now. It wasn’t then. It was like we were trying to get people to go. But you know, just doing that, giving us the money that we need to work with, would be a big help. And it’s true, the charter schools are taking away monies that could go to us. And maybe that situation needs to be reexamined. And you, sir, you’re from Harvard. Well, I’m a Harvard person as well. So maybe we can talk later about this whole Metco thing, which you don’t know about.
Lastly, it’s just a comment, but I’m really upset at the fact that there are folks … As I said, you guys were making the comment about people coming in and being welcomed into society and getting the marriages and everything. They’re riding the backs of folks like me. And there’re other people in this room that have walked the walk and talked the talk, just like I have. And they’re riding the backs of us just to get what they want, and it’s not fair. Thank you.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Okay, next question.
Q: I’m standing here as one of the founders of Metco. I think the value of Metco…
SHERYLL CASHIN: I think for the audience it would help for the listening audience, this will maybe be aired on radio, could you please say what Metco stands for?
Q: Metropolitan Educational …
SHERYLL CASHIN: Just say two sentences for the listeners what Metco does.
Q: Metco was designed by … It happened in one of the northern states in Massachusetts. There were several of us there who were part of fair housing, and we met with Edward Lowe, who was head of the Redevelopment Authority in Boston. And he stood up and said, “If you folks really want to get integration, you ought to move to get your children moved into the suburbs.”
SHERYLL CASHIN: Now your comment.
Q: Now, let me say a couple of things. First of all, you know, without the ’54 Supreme Court Decision, as you have said, Ernie, and I’m glad to hear you say it, and I support it, just want to support that. My parents couldn’t go in a hotel and sleep for a night. My mother couldn’t buy (sic) a hat in a department store unless she planned to buy it. So there was a whole series of things we couldn’t do. When we traveled, we had to go and find another black family to live with as we went across the country. So the idea of ending that, that was set up by Plessy v. Ferguson and made it legitimate to segregate the races, and the first time this was challenged and defeated was with the ’54 Supreme Court decision. I keep saying to people, “Be careful when you talk about desegregation, because you’re really not talking about quality; you’re talking about somehow reaching the American dream that says “Everybody has to be created equal,” whatever that means. And that was the Court’s ruling. The courts didn’t rule on the fact of quality of the education system you wanted. They said you had a right to go. Whether it was bad or good or whatever it was, you had a right to be there. And I think we have to keep that in mind.
Now we’re at a point, and I know as a former President of the Boston School Committee, it is now at a point where we really need to talk about the quality of education. But I don’t consider that a segregation issue. I consider that a public issue. You know, we spend $47,000 dollars a year for every student. We spend $35,000 dollars for every guy in prison. And the majority of people in prison are people who dropped out of high school and didn’t get a diploma and who were pushed out the door.
It’s time for us to really now concentrate on what do we mean by quality? Now, when you talk about integrating Boston, how would you integrate a city that’s predominantly minority in the first place? So you’ve got to think about some other … Now, there are those who say we ought to move everybody and open the suburbs to them, but stage fright sort of gets in our way when we start to talk about that. So we’ve got to try to find a way to educate the children we have in our city, and remember that the people who control the quality of education are the people who control the budget. If you control the budget, you control the quality. And I think that we need to talk about that in some terms and remember that every child, when I heard the President say, “No child left behind,” and I can count the number who are left behind … Come go with me, I’ll show you to them. So the question comes now is, how do we really do something without clichés? How do we really set up a system that begins to say people can exit out of this . . . (inaudible) The success of Metco measured by the thousands of bright parents who want their children to be involved, because they know they get a better educational system than they did than the one at home. That’s it.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Thanks for your comment. Did you want to respond, Drew?
DREW DAYS: I just wanted to say something following up on the whole question of Brown fatigue. If one looks at perhaps Boston as an example of this, but it’s not one that I was thinking of, where there are deeply segregated schools in the center city, I think the parents of children in those schools understand that as a logistical matter, desegregation, however one wants to define that, is highly unlikely in the short term. What happens to their children now, not ten years from now, not when some grandiose plan is developed. And I think we have to respect that and respond to those interests and demands. The other thing is the history of this society is that we have made decisions that I think deep down we knew were segregative (sic) rather than desegregative (sic). Or decisions that would open up the society as opposed to closing it. And I think that’s what we have to keep in mind if we’re serious about moving the society forward. That is, asking the question, is this good for making the society more open, more inclusive? Or is it bad for that particular objective being obtained and achieved? Not that every decision will turn on that consideration. But I think what we face now, and we face for many years, is the absence of that very question in the process of public policy decision making.
SHERYLL CASHIN: I couldn’t agree more.
GARY ORFIELD: I would just like to say something about this issue of what we do now. Everyone realizes that under the existing law there’s no way that most students in central city school systems in this country are going to have the opportunity for integration. And we do know some things that can be done that will make a difference, really good high quality preschool, lowering class size in early grades, providing the salaries and the working conditions that would get and keep good teachers in high poverty schools. Giving students tutoring, targeted one-to-one tutoring when they start falling behind. These aren’t rocket science. They are ways that would actually make a difference. They cost a lot of money. And we’d have to be prepared to spend it.
If we’re going to try to make segregation really equal, it’s going to be very, very costly and it’s going to be hard work. And we’re not doing it. What we’re doing is we’re giving everybody tests. And assuming that by publishing the test results, and being tough on the kids, that that will make them achieve at a higher level. That’s not true. And even if they achieve on the math and reading scores on a higher level, they’re not going to be more educated, because what’s happening is the other subjects aren’t being taught, and drill is replacing education in too many of our schools. So we need to think about, if we’re going to really bet the future on Brown, we’re going to have to finance it in a really serious way, or else we’re going to lose a lot of the talent in our society.
SHERYLL CASHIN: This is one of the reasons why I am unwilling to give up on the integration agenda. I don’t think it’s an either/or proposition, but we have a loggerhead politics where insulated suburban voters have been told that they should not have to spend any of their tax dollars to help people who live elsewhere. And that’s part of our problem with these equity battles of how you get more money for urban education. And I don’t think we’re going to get to a systematic performance of schools where every school is bringing all kids along until we get a more integrated society, we have a more even distribution of benefits and burdens of people.
ERNEST GREEN: I think one of the realities is you pay for that one way or the other anyway.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Right, we’re paying for it now. We are paying for it now, as the gentleman suggested.
ERNEST GREEN: It is not cost free, so that my sense is that part of the political discourse is to continue to explain that.
SHERYLL CASHIN: I think that’s right. I think that the amount of money we’re putting into the prison system underscores that. We can take three more questions.
Q: I was wondering about the issue of racial diversity in higher education. Over the past like two, three, four months there’s been a number of editorials like The New York Times talking about this. I remember there’s an especially caustic one from a dean at the University of Illinois . . . (inaudible) where he said that many of the nation’s best colleges, diversity is pretty much just picking more color of who the rich kids are. And I was wondering, in terms of racial diversity at many of the nation’s best colleges where they do make a point to try for racial diversity, do you think that, in a way, is misguided, you have to link race and class? Or do you think there are benefits to racial diversity at the highest levels without regard to class? I was wondering how the panel felt.
DREW DAYS: I think both forms of diversity are very valuable. And the truth is, black and Latino and Asian and white middle class students do not have the same experiences. They’re quite stunningly different in many respects, and they do enrich each other’s education. But as our Harvard President, Larry Summers, recently recognized, we’re admitting very few poor kids of any race to the most elite colleges in the country. And we really need to change our financial aid and other systems so that we have class and race diversity.
Q: My name is Bradford Arnold, and I’m a junior at John O’Bryant. I originally had some questions, but I’ll shorten it out. I’ll just ask, since we’re speaking of the Board of Education, I’d like to know, how do you feel about the budget cuts? And how do you think the urban students will be affected by it?
GARY ORFIELD: Which budget cuts do you have in mind?
Q: The Massachusetts budget cuts.
GARY ORFIELD: Almost all of our states are cutting budgets for public schools right now because of the recession and the decrease in tax revenues. Because most of the states have cut their own tax systems during the good days, they didn’t save any money for the hard times. And the federal government is not delivering on its promise under “No child left behind.” Just leaving the schools trying to accomplish very demanding goals, being threatened with hard sanctions with less resources each year, it’s just a devastating squeeze on the schools.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Unfortunately, that’s a depressing answer, but it’s truthful.
Q: My name is Frank Odesso, and I go to . . . (inaudible) High School. And I got two questions. My first question is to Mr. Green. Do you know where Elizabeth Eckford is, or do you keep in contact with her?
ERNEST GREEN: The nine of us stay in touch with one another. Elizabeth is living in Little Rock. One of the women is living in Amsterdam. Two are in California, Colorado, Ohio. And two others are living in Little Rock.
Q: And my second question is, what can we do to make charter schools more diverse?
GARY ORFIELD: Well, the charter schools don’t have many civil rights requirements in most states. Magnet schools have requirements to reach out, to help diversity as a goal and to achieve that if they’re going to stay in operation. They also had free transportation, good parent information, providing for language minority children and other things that lots of charter schools don’t have. We should put civil rights requirements on charter schools. And they should look like the requirements that magnet schools have had to meet historically.
SHERYLL CASHIN: We still have some time, so we’ll take another question.
Q: My name is Diane Johnson. I’m actually a public health educator, so I come at this topic from a very different perspective. And I guess one of the questions that I have is, looking at the issues of mental health, I know that integration has done a lot to bring more people of color into the various school systems. But now I’m noticing that there are other ways that we are using to segregate students, like issues of Attention Deficit Disorder or a Positional Defined Disorder, or Special Needs classes, and looking at the disproportionate number of children of color, specifically black males in those groups. And I’d just be interested to know what your perspective is from we’re integrating the schools, but now we’re segregating the classes?
GARY ORFIELD: Well, to my knowledge, this is not a new problem. It’s been going on for a number of years, in which African American students and perhaps students of other minority groups were designated as educatable mental retarded and so forth and so on, and segregated. There have been lawsuits that have dealt with those issues. But I think one of the other issues is the extent to which nonminority students are being moved into special programs often in private schools as a result of the inability of public schools to meet the needs, the mental health needs of those students. Some have suggested that this is kind of an ironic twist, because it’s supposed to be helping children but it’s also exacerbating the degree of racial segregation within the public schools. And indeed making distinctions based upon wealth in some cases. Is that consistent with your experience?
Q: It is. And especially in the state of Massachusetts where you’ve got MCAS, you know just looking at the students that are getting the special services for MCAS versus … I think a lot of it is parents being able to navigate the system and having either the educational background or the financial resources to be able to do that. Not that there aren’t diagnoses like ADD or ODD, but the issue is being able to actually advocate for your child and having the resources to do that, which I think exacerbates the problem.
SHERYLL CASHIN: By my watch, I think we have time for this one last question and then we’ll allow the panelists to wrap it up.
Q: Bill Spring is my name, and this is for me personally a wonderful evening. It’s almost as if the Kennedy folks put this in just for me. Because I spent four years in the Carter White House as Ernie Green’s mole on the domestic policy staff. And so it is such … When we were running around the country with the Vice President’s Task Force for Youth Employment, we went, of course, to Little Rock. And we went to Ernie Green’s home. And I was talking with Kitty Higgins, who worked with me in the White House then, too. You remember Kitty Higgins, Ernie. And she was saying how wonderful that experience was.
And I think even for us over-educated, over-paid, highfalutin whites, the opportunity to actually be together with people of color all across the country was extraordinary valuable for us. And I know that part of Ernie’s background is Professor John Donlup -- may he rest in peace – who pressed very hard in construction unions to set up ways in which inner city kids could get help with math so they could pass the application for apprenticeship test. And I think Ernie has done wonderful, wonderful things well beyond this apprenticeship beginning. But it was something that I think ought to be mentioned.
ERNIE GREEN: Well, I paid you to say that. [laughter] Bill Spring and people during the Carter period, unemployment initiatives … I mean, we talk about the issue of schools and desegregation. If we don’t have a concurrent policy on employment and training, here we are in this big construction boom in most major cities around the country. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a relationship between public education and the apprenticeship system today. There are probably fewer of our young people being trained as electricians and plumbers and iron workers.
Q: We have a few in Boston, Ernie. Not nearly enough.
ERNIE GREEN: I think we need to do more. But this, I believe, is a concurrent public policy issue that we’ve got to see as important as education.
SHERYLL CASHIN: Well, I’m going to use the moderator’s prerogative and wrap this up. I want to thank our wonderful panelists and a wonderful audience. [applause] And I’d just like to say that I think the important message of Brown, the chief victory, is that the vast majority of Americans do believe in that vision, that we should be free, open and integrated. And my hope for the 21st century as we’re becoming increasingly more diverse, is that everyone of all races will assume some personal responsibility for being open to difference, for being open to being in close proximity to distance, and for helping build a society that’s very much premised on inclusion rather than exclusion. Thank you. [applause]