Reflecting on 60 Years of Desegregation in Little Rock and Nationwide

Reflecting on 60 Years of Desegregation in Little Rock and Nationwide

Desegregation Has Become Re-Segregation

Sixty years ago, the “Little Rock Nine,” a group of nine black students, walked up the steps of the historic and all-white Little Rock Central High School. Many schools had been integrated long before the groundbreaking court case Brown vs. the Board of Education, but those cities tended to be in the North, where de facto segregation was less of an issue. In the South, it remained a large issue even into the 1960s and 1970s, and still is today.

In fact, many schools all over the country are still segregated, or have become segregated. An Associated Press article from Monday September 25

What the article points out, and what is very troubling, is that the Little Rock School District—taken over by the state in 2015 because of failing schools—is still segregated. Or, perhaps more accurately, has become re-segregated. The district is two-thirds black, and according to the Associated Press charter schools have only increased the segregation by giving students options to switch schools.

I take issue with that statement, though. All students have the option to switch schools and go to charter schools—black students, Hispanic students, white students, you name it. It’s not as if only white students are going to these charter schools or only white students are allowed to attend these charter schools.

However, that is not to disparage the fact that indeed, most black students go to schools where blacks and whites are grossly unequal in number. According to the AP article, “The average black student nationwide in 1980 went to a school that was 36 percent white. In the 2014-15 school year, a black student would have gone to a school that was 27 percent white.” I find this interesting. This implies—though certainly does not confirm—that schools were in fact at least somewhat more integrated 35 or 40 years ago than they are now. This makes sense to me, and I can see why it might be so. Busing explains a lot of it.

My 1977 Little Rock Central High School yearbook is quite a feat—college-sized and more detailed than most high school yearbooks I’ve come across. It also repeatedly lauds itself on being integrated and having no racial tension. ABC reporter Geraldo Rivera visited the school in the fall of 1976 to report on this, and a New York Times article published around the same time called Central a “model” of desegregation for other schools to follow. Students are also quoted as saying there is no racial tension at Central.

These things surprised me when I first read them—not that I don’t want to believe there wasn’t racial tension, but because this was Little Rock, a district that had only formulated and put into place a school integration plan in 1973. This plan involved busing for students of all grades.

My 1977 yearbook shows a senior class that is rather equal in terms of black and white students. The same goes for the other two grades; blacks and whites are largely equal. The yearbook itself stated that that year, 1976-77, was the first year blacks had become the majority at the school. Indeed, as of 1977 the demographics of the district were 52 percent black and 48 percent white. Had Little Rock’s desegregation plan actually worked?

Perhaps it had, but only because of busing. White flight made it unsuccessful. In subsequent years black students began to outnumber whites largely because white families fled to nicer areas of the city and to suburbs. This happened in many cities in the South (and even in the North). Certainly it happened in St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, and Memphis. The results have been the same: schools in these cities have, in the past 20 (and even 30 and 40) years, become largely re-segregated. In Little Rock in 2013, the district was made up of about 19 percent white, 67 percent black, and 11 percent Hispanic students. In 2016 the number of white students dropped to 18 percent, according to an article in The Atlantic Monthly.

In Tulsa, whites fled beginning in the late 1960s and especially in the 1970s when schools began to be integrated, and while the district’s demographics as of 2016 are more evenly distributed than Little Rock’s—25 percent white, 25 percent black, 33 percent Hispanic, with other minorities in smaller numbers—individual schools have vastly different demographics. Hale High School has 43 percent Hispanic, 21 percent white, and 20 percent black students. Further north, McLain High School, which takes students from a largely African-American-populated area, has 57 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic, and seven percent white students. Other schools such as Memorial and Webster are more evenly distributed; but Edison High School, historically and still in a fairly well-off mostly-white area, has 48 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, and 16 percent black students.

McLain’s numbers stick out the most, but they are not surprising. The north area of Tulsa has historically been poorer than the south, and as blacks began moving north after housing desegregation, many whites fled south and to the suburbs, resulting in northern neighborhoods becoming largely black (and now, to some extent, Hispanic). While Tulsa did make Booker T. Washington, its historically “black” high school, into a magnet school for blacks and whites, it also used busing like many other districts.

White students do indeed tend to go to schools that are primarily white. This has been going on for years, ever since the Supreme Court ordered school integration. Should it be happening? No. But can we stop it from happening?

The government can’t. Busing in Tulsa continued until the 1980s, and when it was finally stopped, what happened? What we see now: kids attended neighborhood schools, resulting in segregated schools. The same thing happened in Little Rock. What it all comes down to is segregated housing.

I don’t mean real estate brokers who won’t serve minority families, as in the 1950s. I mean self-imposed segregated housing; what has been going on since the 1960s. This is something no government can fix. Only we ourselves, we the people, can fix this.

Why do we segregate ourselves? Partly because being with people who are familiar is “comfortable.” However, I’ve gone to school with many minority students—not as many as others have, but a good amount—and I’m comfortable around minorities. What I am not comfortable around are people who break laws or act violently, regardless of race. Without getting into a big discussion of crime rates in the U.S., I want to point out that this is important to think about.

This is too: maybe our self-imposed segregation is less about race and more about class. It makes sense, at least to explain segregation in the 21st century.

People live where they want to live; it doesn’t mean they hate people they don’t live around. However, neighborhoods do remain segregated, partly because of race but also because of class. Middle-class whites don’t mind living next door to middle-class blacks; they do mind living next-door to poor people who often do not maintain their homes. Some neighborhoods have more expensive houses than others; those who can’t afford those houses buy in less expensive areas. Violent crime tends to be higher in these lower-income areas than in higher-income areas (not always, but often). No one wants to be around violent crime, but the poorer people in these neighborhoods don’t have enough money to leave. So they stay. And meanwhile, middle- and upper-class people form their own neighborhoods and don’t go near the bad ones. This thinking is the root of the problem: “I don’t want to be like those people.”

A quote from the AP article on Little Rock’s desegregation struck me: “’They’re [the Little Rock Nine] coming back to visit to see what? They can visit any number of schools where there isn’t any hint of desegregation,’ state Sen. Joyce Elliott, a Democrat from Little Rock, said . . . . ‘For the Little Rock Nine to come back to the same place where they started and the schools are under state control now . . . I think that is something that is the ultimate embarrassment for the state. That is not something to be celebrated.’”

Indeed. And perhaps it should be the ultimate embarrassment for us too, for segregation only starts with we the people.

This is a huge issue. At its core it is an issue of the human heart, not of government laws or court orders. Change can only begin when we change our hearts—which, though not easy, is still entirely possible—and reflect that change in our attitudes, actions and words.

Cover Image Credit: Jewish Action

Popular Right Now

When You Give A Girl A Dad

You give her everything

They say that any male can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a dad. That dads are just the people that created the child, so to speak, but rather, dads raise their children to be the best they can be. Further, when you give a little girl a dad, you give her much more than a father; you give her the world in one man.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a rock.

Life is tough, and life is constantly changing directions and route. In a world that's never not moving, a girl needs something stable. She needs something that won't let her be alone; someone that's going to be there when life is going great, and someone who is going to be there for her when life is everything but ideal. Dads don't give up on this daughters, they never will.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a role model.

If we never had someone to look up to, we would never have someone to strive to be. When you give a little girl someone to look up to, you give her someone to be. We copy their mannerisms, we copy their habits, and we copy their work ethic. Little girls need someone to show them the world, so that they can create their own.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her the first boy she will ever love.

And I'm not really sure someone will ever be better than him either. He's the first guy to take your heart, and every person you love after him is just a comparison to his endless, unmatchable love. He shows you your worth, and he shows you what your should be treated like: a princess.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her someone to make proud.

After every softball game, soccer tournament, cheerleading competition, etc., you can find every little girl looking up to their dads for their approval. Later in life, they look to their dad with their grades, internships, and little accomplishments. Dads are the reason we try so hard to be the best we can be. Dads raised us to be the very best at whatever we chose to do, and they were there to support you through everything. They are the hardest critics, but they are always your biggest fans.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a credit card.

It's completely true. Dads are the reason we have the things we have, thank the Lord. He's the best to shop with too, since he usually remains outside the store the entire time till he is summoned in to forge the bill. All seriousness, they always give their little girls more than they give themselves, and that's something we love so much about you.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a shoulder to cry on.

When you fell down and cut yourself, your mom looked at you and told you to suck it up. But your dad, on the other hand, got down on the ground with you, and he let you cry. Then later on, when you made a mistake, or broke up with a boy, or just got sad, he was there to dry your tears and tell you everything was going to be okay, especially when you thought the world was crashing down. He will always be there to tell you everything is going to be okay, even when they don't know if everything is going to be okay. That's his job.

When you give a girl a dad, you give her a lifelong best friend.

My dad was my first best friend, and he will be my last. He's stood by me when times got tough, he carried me when I just couldn't do it anymore, and he yelled at me when I deserved it; but the one thing he has never done was give up on me. He will always be the first person I tell good news to, and the last person I ever want to disappoint. He's everything I could ever want in a best friend and more.

Dads are something out of a fairytale. They are your prince charming, your knight in shinny amour, and your fairy godfather. Dads are the reasons we are the people we are today; something that a million "thank you"' will never be enough for.

Cover Image Credit: tristen duhon

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

8 Types Of People Fetuses Grow Into That 'Pro-Lifers' Don't Give 2.5 Shits About

It is easy to fight for the life of someone who isn't born, and then forget that you wanted them to be alive when you decide to hate their existence.


For those in support of the #AbortionBans happening all over the United States, please remember that the unborn will not always be a fetus — he or she may grow up to be just another person whose existence you don't support.

The fetus may grow up to be transgender — they may wear clothes you deem "not for them" and identify in a way you don't agree with, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them a mentally unstable perv for trying to use the bathroom.

The fetus may grow up to be gay — they may find happiness and love in the arms of someone of the same gender, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them "vile" and shield your children's eyes when they kiss their partner.

The fetus may grow up and go to school — to get shot by someone carrying a gun they should have never been able to acquire, and their life will mean nothing to you when your right to bear arms is on the line.

The fetus may be black — they may wear baggy pants and "look like a thug", and their life will mean nothing to you when you defend the police officer who had no reason to shoot.

The fetus may grow up to be a criminal — he might live on death row for a heinous crime, and his life will mean nothing to you when you fight for the use of lethal injection to end it.

The fetus may end up poor — living off of a minimum wage job and food stamps to survive, and their life will mean nothing to you when they ask for assistance and you call them a "freeloader" and refuse.

The fetus may end up addicted to drugs — an experimentation gone wrong that has led to a lifetime of getting high and their life will mean nothing to you when you see a report that they OD'd and you make a fuss about the availability of Narcan.

The fetus may one day need an abortion — from trauma or simply not being ready, and her life will mean nothing to you as you wave "murderer" and "God hates you" signs as she walks into the office for the procedure.

* * *

Do not tell me that you are pro-life when all of the above people could lose their lives in any way OUTSIDE of abortion and you wouldn't give 2.5 shits.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is gay or trans, you will berate them for who they are or not support them for who they love.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is poor or addicted, you will refuse the help they desperately need or consider their death a betterment of society.

You fight for the baby to be born, but when the used-to-be-classroom-of-fetuses is shot, you care more about your access to firearms than their lives.

It is easy to pretend you care about someone before they are even born, and easy to forget their birth was something you fought for when they are anything other than what you consider an ideal person.

Related Content

Facebook Comments