For those who didn’t look at the “Education Life” supplement to this week’s Sunday Times, there was a nice collection of articles covering the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. Including a nice portrait of Thurgood Marshall. Although it makes it sound as if Marshall thought of the NAACP’s legal strategy all by himself, overlooking the vitally important role of Charles Hamilton Houston.
Of particular importance was this account, in the lead story, of what has happened to integration in the Rehnquist court. It isn’t good:
Under Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who wrote a memorandum as a Supreme Court law clerk arguing for reaffirming Plessy, progress on desegregation has not only stopped but reversed. In a series of decisions in the 1990’s, sometimes called the ”resegregation cases,” the court made it far easier for school districts to skirt desegregation orders already in place. A pair of cases in the early 1990’s lowered the obstacles for school systems once held to be segregated to achieve ”unitary status,” meaning they had legally desegregated and could start becoming segregated again. In the majority’s view, desegregation was no longer a state for America to aspire for and work toward, but a punishment imposed on districts that had once done wrong, to be lifted as soon as possible.
A few years later, the court went further, dismantling a Kansas City, Mo., program meant to attract white suburban and private school students willingly to heavily black city schools. Gary Orfield of Harvard regards that decision as ”the most disgraceful of all,” because it made even voluntary desegregation virtually impossible. The deciding vote was cast by Clarence Thomas, who occupied what was once Marshall’s seat.
The waning support for desegregation efforts had an undeniable effect. The percentage of blacks attending majority white schools in the South, which peaked in 1988 at 43 percent, had fallen by 2000 to 31 percent; nationally, 28.4 percent attended majority white schools.