“This Progressivist worldview rendered black intellectuals – just like their white counterparts – unprepared for the rude shock of the Great Depression, and the Harlem Renaissance began a precipitous decline because of naive assumptions about the centrality of culture, unrelated to economic and social realities. The movement of African-Americans toward the American middle-class just did not have enough time to mature – much as the historical immigrant experience in America, which has historically taken several generations to assimilate into the mainstream and for the mainstream to make accommodations for the immigrants. An additional hurdle for African-Americans was the insular, entrenched racism of the Jim Crow American South.”
The great tragedy is that if the Great Depression had not occurred when it did, the African-American middle-class might very well have made it into the mainstream of American culture by the time World War II began for America on December 7, 1941.
The seeds for that conflict had already been planted by 1932 when the Empire of Japan was already engaged in a war of conquest in Manchuria on the Asian mainland and Germans had already elected Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany.
During the war, African-Americans again distinguished themselves in combat, most particularly the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, black Americans in many U.S. States were still subject to the Jim Crow laws – especially since many training bases were located in the South because of the better weather – and the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. All black military pilots who trained in the United States trained at remote Moton Field and Tuskegee Army Air Field, located near Tuskegee, Alabama
The budding flight program at Tuskegee received a publicity boost when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt inspected it in March 1941, and flew with African-American chief civilian instructor C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson. Anderson, who had been flying since 1929, and was responsible for training thousands of rookie pilots, took his prestigious passenger on a half-hour flight in a Waco biplane. After landing, she cheerfully announced, “Well, you can fly all right.” The First lady used her position as a trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Fund to arrange a loan of $175,000 to help finance the building of Moton Field.
“In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946, 355 were deployed overseas, and 84 lost their lives in accidents or combat. The toll included 68 pilots killed in action or accidents, 12 killed in training and non-combat missions and 32 captured as prisoners of war. The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments:
1578 combat missions, 1267 for the Twelfth Air Force; 311 for the Fifteenth Air Force;
179 bomber escort missions, with a good record of protection – the group encountered enemy aircraft on 35 missions and lost bombers to enemy aircraft on only seven; with total losses of only 27 bombers, compared to an average of 46 among other 15AF P-51 groups.
112 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground and 148 damaged
950 rail cars, trucks and other motor vehicles destroyed (over 600 rail cars)
One German destroyer put out of action and finally scuttled it on February 5, 1945.
40 boats and barges destroyed
Awards and decorations included: Three Distinguished Unit Citations:
99th Pursuit Squadron: 30 May–11 June 1943 for actions over Sicily; 99th Fighter Squadron: 12–14 May 1944: for successful air strikes against Monte Casino, Italy; 332nd Fighter Group (and its 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons): 24 March 1945: for a bomber escort mission to Berlin, during which it shot down 3 enemy jet-fighter aircraft.
At least one Silver Star; 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses to 95 Airmen; Captain William A. Campbell was awarded two; 14 Bronze Star Medals; 744 Air Medals; 8 Purple Heart Medals.
After segregation in the military was ended in 1948 by President Truman with Executive Order 9981, the veteran Tuskegee Airmen now found themselves in high demand throughout the newly formed United States Air Force. On May 11, 1949, Air Force Letter 35.3 was published, which mandated that black American airmen be screened for reassignment to formerly all-white units according to qualifications.
Tuskegee Airmen were instrumental in postwar developments in aviation. Edward A. Gibbs was a civilian flight instructor in the U.S. Aviation Cadet Program at Tuskegee during its inception. He later became the founder of Negro Airmen International, an association joined by many airmen. USAF General Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. (then Lt.) was an instructor of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, later a fighter pilot in Europe and, in 1975, became the first African-American to reach the rank of four-star general.
On March 29, 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. The medal is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution. The airfield where the airmen trained is now the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.
After World War II, African-Americans increasingly challenged segregation, as they believed they had more than earned the right to be treated as full citizens because of their military service and sacrifices. As the Civil Rights Movement gained momentum and used federal courts to attack Jim Crow statutes, the white-dominated governments of many of the southern States countered by passing alternative forms of restrictions.
The Supreme Court outlawed some forms of private discrimination in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), in which it held that restrictive covenants that prohibited rentals or sales of homes to blacks or other racially described groups were unconstitutional, because they represented state-sponsored discrimination, in that they were only effective if the courts enforced them.
The Supreme Court was unwilling, however, to attack other forms of private discrimination. It reasoned that private parties did not violate the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution when they discriminated because they were not “state actors” covered by that clause. But, in 1971, the Supreme Court, in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, upheld desegregation busing of students to achieve integration [in what turned out to be a terrible idea that will be discussed later].
In 1951, the NAACP Legal Defense Committee (a group that became independent of the NAACP) – and its lawyer, Thurgood Marshall – brought the landmark case, “Oliver Brown et al. v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas“, before the Supreme Court.
In its pivotal 1954 decision, the Court unanimously overturned the 1896 Plessy decision. The Supreme Court found that legally mandated (de jure) public school segregation was unconstitutional. The decision had far-reaching social ramifications but de jure segregation was not brought to an end until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In late 1951, the class action suit was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, now known as “Brown v. Board of Education” and was named after Oliver Brown as a legal strategy to have a man at the head of the roster. The plaintiffs were thirteen Topeka parents on behalf of their 20 children recruited by the leadership of the Topeka NAACP.
The suit called for the school district to reverse its policy of racial segregation. The Topeka Board of Education operated separate elementary schools under an 1879 Kansas law, which permitted (but did not require) districts to maintain separate elementary school facilities for black and white students in 12 communities with populations over 15,000. The named plaintiff, Oliver L. Brown, was a parent, a welder in the shops of the Santa Fe Railroad, an assistant pastor at his local church, and an African-American. He was convinced to join the lawsuit by a childhood friend. Brown’s daughter Linda, a third grader, had to walk six blocks to her school bus stop to ride to Monroe Elementary, her segregated black school one mile away, while Sumner Elementary, a white school, was only seven blocks from her house.
As directed by the NAACP leadership, the parents each attempted to enroll their children in the closest neighborhood school in the fall of 1951. They were each refused enrollment and directed to the segregated schools.
In December 1952, the Justice Department filed a friend of the court brief in the case. The brief was unusual in its heavy emphasis on foreign-policy considerations of the Truman administration in a case ostensibly about domestic issues. Of the seven pages covering “the interest of the United States,” five focused on the way school segregation hurt the United States in the Cold War competition for the friendship and allegiance of non-white peoples in countries then gaining independence from colonial rule.
In the spring of 1953, the Court heard the case but was unable to decide the issue and asked to rehear the case in the fall of 1953, with special attention to whether the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibited the operation of separate public schools for whites and blacks.
The case was being re-argued at the behest of Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, who used re-argument as a stalling tactic, to allow the Court to gather a consensus around a Brown opinion that would outlaw segregation. The justices in support of desegregation spent much effort convincing those who initially intended to dissent to join a unanimous opinion. Although the legal effect would be same for a majority rather than unanimous decision, it was felt that dissent could be used by segregation supporters as a legitimizing counter-argument.
While all but one justice personally rejected segregation, the judicial restraint faction questioned whether the Constitution gave the Court the power to order its end. The activist faction believed the 14th Amendment did give the necessary authority and were pushing to go ahead. The Eisenhower Chief Justice nominee and former California governor Earl Warren, who held only a recess appointment, held his tongue until the Senate confirmed his appointment.
Warren convened a meeting of the justices, and presented to them the simple argument that the only reason to sustain segregation was an honest belief in the inferiority of African-Americans. Warren further submitted that the Court must overrule Plessy to maintain its legitimacy as an institution of liberty, and it must do so unanimously to avoid massive Southern resistance. He began to build a unanimous consensus.
Although most justices were immediately convinced, Warren spent some time convincing everyone to sign onto the opinion. Justices Jackson and Reed finally decided to drop their dissent. The final decision was unanimous. Warren drafted the basic opinion and kept circulating and revising it until he had an opinion endorsed by all the members of the Court.
The key holding of the Court was that, even if segregated black and white schools were of equal quality in facilities and teachers, segregation by itself was harmful to black students and unconstitutional. They found that a significant psychological and social disadvantage was given to black children from the nature of segregation itself. This aspect was vital because the question was not whether the schools were “equal” which, under Plessy, they nominally should have been, but whether the doctrine of “separate but equal” was constitutional. The justices answered with a strong “no”:
“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Curiously, the Topeka middle schools had been integrated since 1941. Topeka High School was integrated from its inception in 1871 and its sports teams from 1949 on. The Kansas law permitting segregated schools allowed them only “below the high school level.”
Soon after the district court decision, election outcomes and the political climate in Topeka changed. The Board of Education of Topeka began to end segregation in the Topeka elementary schools in August 1953, integrating two attendance districts. All the Topeka elementary schools were changed to neighborhood attendance centers in January 1956, although existing students were allowed to continue attending their prior assigned schools at their option. Monroe Elementary was designated a U.S. National Historic Site unit of the National Park Service on October 26, 1992.
Not everyone accepted the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In Virginia, Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr. organized the “Massive Resistance” movement that included the closing of schools rather than desegregating them. Texas Attorney General John Ben Shepperd organized a campaign to generate legal obstacles to implementation of desegregation.
Even a key sponsor of legislation (Arkansas’ Democrat Senator J. William Fulbright) establishing the Fulbright Program in 1946,– a program of educational grants, Fulbright Fellowships and Fulbright Scholarships sponsored by the Bureau of Education of the United States Department of State, foreign governments and the private sector, which was established to increase mutual understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries through the exchange of persons, knowledge, and skills and considered one of the most prestigious award programs operating in 155 countries – also signed the “Southern Manifesto” opposing the Brown v. Board of Education decision. He subsequently joined with his fellow Southern Democrats in filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as voting against the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
In 1957, Arkansas’ Democrat Governor Orval Faubus called out his State’s National Guard to block black students’ entry to Little Rock Central High School. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by deploying elements of the 101st Airborne Division, from Fort Campbell, KY/TN, to Arkansas and by federalizing Arkansas’ National Guard in order to desegregate the school.
In 1963, Alabama’s Democrat Governor George Wallace personally blocked the door to Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama to prevent the enrollment of two black students. This became the infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” where Wallace personally backed his “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” policy that he had stated in his 1963 inaugural address. He moved aside only when confronted by General Henry Graham of the Alabama National Guard, who was ordered by Democrat President John F. Kennedy to intervene.
In North Carolina, there was often a strategy of nominally accepting Brown, but tacitly resisting it. On May 18, 1954, Greensboro, North Carolina became the first city in the South to publicly announce that it would abide by the Brown ruling. However, the city put up legal obstacles to the actual implementation of school desegregation for years afterward, and in 1969, the federal government found the city was not in compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Transition to a fully integrated school system did not begin until 1971, after numerous local lawsuits and both nonviolent and violent demonstrations.
Many Northern cities also had de facto segregation policies resulting from historic demographic realities of self-segregated neighborhoods – when blacks moved in, whites moved out, which resulted in a vast gulf in educational resources between black and white communities. In Harlem, New York for example, where a large proportion of property was owned by white taxpayers to whom elected officials were beholden, not a single new school had been built since the turn of the 20th Century. Northern officials were in denial that segregation created inferior education, but Brown helped stimulate activism among African-American parents like Mae Mallory who, with support of the NAACP, initiated a successful lawsuit against the city and State of New York on Brown’s principles.
Mallory and thousands of other parents bolstered the pressure of the lawsuit with a school boycott in 1959. During the boycott, some of the first freedom schools of the period were established. The city, realizing that lower school attendance would mean the loss of federal funds, responded to the campaign by permitting more open transfers to high-quality, historically-white schools.
In 1978, Topeka attorneys persuaded an original Brown plaintiff, Linda Brown Smith – who now had her own children in Topeka schools – to be a plaintiff in reopening Brown. They were concerned that the Topeka Public Schools’ policy of “open enrollment” had led to, and would lead, to further segregation. They also believed that with a choice of open enrollment, white parents would shift their children to “preferred” schools that would again create both predominantly African-American and predominantly European- American schools within the district.
The district court reopened the Brown case after a 25-year hiatus, but denied the plaintiffs’ request, finding the schools “unitary”. In 1989, a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit on 2–1 vote found that the vestiges of segregation remained with respect to student and staff assignment. In 1993, the Supreme Court denied the appellant School District’s request for a certiorari (a formal ruling) and returned the case to District Court for implementation of the Tenth Circuit’s mandate.
After a 1994 plan was approved and a bond issue passed, additional elementary magnet schools were opened and district attendance plans were redrawn, which resulted in the Topeka schools meeting court standards of racial balance by 1998. Unified status was eventually granted to Topeka Unified School District No. 501 on July 27, 1999 – 45 years after Brown.
No sane person has ever argued that slavery did not exist in America. This entire chapter reeks with the stench of man’s inhumanity to man. But it also carries the fragrance of good will – the good will of millions of European-Americans who worked tirelessly for almost two hundred years to remove any and all vestiges of the “peculiar institution” and the hundreds of thousands who gave, in Lincoln’s words, their “last full measure of devotion” to the cause.
The institutional remnants of slavery in America were dead and buried by the end of the 1960’s. Did some vestiges of racial hatred remain? Yes. Were racial tensions extinguished? No. Were there still racists free in society. Of course – black and white and brown and yellow and red. But, no slaves remained. Nor did any slave owners or traffickers – black or white. America’s cultural institutions were now constructed from the fabric of equal rights and equal opportunities for all Americans. It was time to let go.
The grieving process should have begun then with a national discussion considering the five steps of grieving – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression & Acceptance. (The analogy is not perfect but provides a template for discussion.)
These are the five stages of normal grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” The timing was almost miraculous but the opportunity was missed and much of the African-American community has been stuck in the anger stage ever since. Remember, grieving is a personal process that has no time limit, nor one “right” way to do it. It’s now time to start healing.
With all of the intensity focused on racial issues in the latter half of the 1960s, reality and its pain emerged in the African-American community. Such intense emotion is naturally deflected from ones’ vulnerable core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. People feel guilty for being angry, and this makes them angrier.
The normal reaction to the feelings of the helplessness and vulnerability African-Americans felt in the ‘60s is often a need to regain control – make a deal with God or our higher power. “If only we had tried to be a better people…” “If only we had fought harder…” Bargaining is an “if – then” proposition. “If I fight harder now…” This can lead to self-doubt and, over time, depression.
If there was depression in the African-American community, it was eased by the embrace of the Democrat dominated, post-Watergate, federal government. Unfortunately, there were strings attached – in this case it was the umbilical cord of physical and financial dependence and, of course, it didn’t help anyone overcome their depression – it just replaced it with a new hopelessness.
Today, after fifty years of hopelessness fostered by the federal government and endorsed by so-called “leaders of the black community”, many, if not most, African-Americans have accepted the fact that they are never going to “make it” in America. So, in a perverse sense, the federal government has prevented a healing process and has perpetuated the “grief” of the African-American community.
Unfortunately, many leaders of the African-American community, more often than not members of the clergy or associated with various religious denominations, weren’t in the mood to counsel their flocks through the grieving process. They had other ideas – self-righteous and self-indulgent ideas.
There is now a new reality for the African-American community to grieve over – the legacy of the wasted lives of Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. The best thing the African-American community can do now is to allow itself to feel the grief as it comes over them. Resisting it only will prolong the natural process of healing. Comfort must finally come from the local community, not the federal government.
So, what really happened in the African-American community after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. “In 1965, following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had passed into law the Racial Imbalance Act, which ordered school districts to desegregate or risk losing State educational funding. The first law of its kind in the nation, it was opposed by many in Boston, especially working class white ethnic areas, such as the Irish-American districts of South Boston and Charlestown.
In 1972, the NAACP filed a class-action lawsuit against the Boston School Committee on behalf of 14 parents and 44 children alleging segregation in the Boston public schools. Two years later, Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts found a recurring pattern of racial discrimination in the operation of the Boston public schools in a 1974 ruling – despite the fact that most school children attended neighborhood schools – most whites living in south Boston, most blacks in the North End.
His [ill-reasoned] ruling found the schools were unconstitutionally segregated, and required the implementation the state’s Racial Imbalance Law, requiring any Boston school with a student enrollment that was more than 50% non-white to be balanced according to race despite the city’s demographics.
The Boston School Committee, under the leadership of Louise Day Hicks, consistently disobeyed orders from the state Board of Education, first to develop a busing plan, and then to support its implementation. As a remedy, Garrity used a busing plan developed by the Massachusetts State Board of Education and then personally oversaw its implementation for the next 13 years – effectively replacing the elected School Committee!
Judge Garrity’s ruling, upheld on appeal by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and by the Supreme Court led by Warren Burger, required school children to be brought to different schools to end segregation – no matter the hours a day students wasted on the buses. The final Judge Garrity-issued decision in the case came in 1985, after which control of the desegregation plan was given back to the School Committee in 1988.
In one part of the plan, Judge Garrity decided that the entire junior class from the mostly poor white South Boston High School would be bused to Roxbury High School, a predominantly black high school. Half the sophomores from each school would attend the other, and seniors could decide what school to attend. For three years after the plan commenced, Massachusetts state troopers were stationed at South Boston High to which black students would be bussed. The first day of the plan, only 100 of 1,300 students came to school at South Boston. Only 13 of the 550 South Boston juniors ordered to attend Roxbury showed up.
Parents showed up every day to protest, and football season was cancelled. Whites and blacks began entering through different doors. An anti-busing mass movement developed, called Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR). Of the 100,000 enrolled in Boston school districts, attendance fell to 40,000
At one point, black teenagers in Roxbury threw rocks at a white man’s car and caused him to crash. The youths dragged him out and crushed his skull with nearby paving stones. When police arrived, the man was surrounded by a crowd of 100 chanting “Let him die” while he lay in the street in a coma from which he never recovered. In another instance, a white teenager was stabbed nearly to death by a black teenager at South Boston High School.
There were dozens of other racial incidents at South Boston High that year, predominantly of racial taunting of the black students. The school was forced to close for a month after the stabbing. When it opened again, it was one of the first high schools to install metal detectors; with 400 students attending, it was guarded by 500 police officers every day. In December 1975, Judge Garrity turned out the principal of South Boston High and took control himself.
Although the busing plan, by its very nature, shaped the enrollment at specific schools, it is unclear what effect it had on underlying demographic trends. By the time the court-controlled busing system ended in 1988, the Boston school district had shrunk from 100,000 students to 57,000, only 15% of whom were white.”
The vast majority of white public school enrollment is now in surrounding suburbs where public school enrollment in 2014-2015 was 64% white and 9% African-American. Metro Boston public schools were 35% African-American and 13% white.”
As a result of the threat of a Boston public school style policy of forced busing, many cities around the country, especially in the South, experienced widespread losses of white students from their public school systems to parent-supported private “academies”. My own Nashville is typical.
In 1970, about 80% of the students in the city’s public schools were white and about 20% were African-American. The implementation of the “academy system” in the 1970s has resulted in the current demographics of the Nashville public school system to be about 80% African-American and less than 20% white while Nashville’s population has only shifted to 62% white and 28% African-American. This equates to the loss of about 40,000 white students out of a total school population of about 80,000 students.
The academies are performing wonderfully well and the public schools are failing despite enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars per year. Through this classic example of governmental overreach, the nation’s public schools, formerly the envy of the world, are predominantly schools-of-color and are failing to provide even a basic education while the nation’s private and charter schools – those without government or teacher’s union control, are succeeding by every measure.
One measure is especially telling. Only ten-percent (10%) of graduates from Tennessee’s urban public high-schools are academically ready for college work. That’s a failure rate of 90% for the public-school system. For comparison, a public charter high school in the Nashville area – serving a predominantly minority population – recently graduated its second senior class ever and every single graduate has been accepted by a college or university. That’s a 100% success rate!
Urban demographics are by no means the only problem with urban public education – or even the most critical problem. That dubious honor belongs to a creation of the PLDC – the decimation and public dependency of the African-American family that has resulted from Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society”, which will be discussed in detail below.
But, as we shall see, forced busing for racial purposes was just one of the manifestations of a failure to confront the final hurdle to a truly color-blind society – true social and cultural assimilation – which is the ability of an individual to take full advantage of equal economic and life opportunities through the benefits of growing-up and maturing in a color-blind environment at home, in school, at work and in the community.
Next: the Civil Rights Movement.