Students Should Protest About What Really Matters

Winston Taney, American Renaissance, April 3, 2018

They used to demonstrate against “diversity.”

Last month, there was a massive protest, The March for Our Lives. Thousands of students flooded Washington, D.C., to demand gun control. After earlier walk-outs, students won praise from media and elites, including Hillary Clinton, who tweeted about the “right to attend school safely.”

A few weeks before the Parkland shooting, a 16-year-old white girl, Valaree Megan Schwab, was murdered by a group of seven black girls and boys in the middle of the school day in New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City. Miss Schwab was a musician and had apparently been repeatedly bullied by black schoolmates for being a fan of Nirvana. When she tried to defend herself with pepper spray, one of the black girls, Z’Inah Brown, fatally stabbed her with a steak knife. Miss Schwab’s death received scant media attention. There were no tweets from former first ladies about school safety and no protests.

Valaree Megan Schwab

I decided to do a little research on New Rochelle, which happens to be the first Northern city to be subject to a Supreme Court desegregation order. The 1962 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report covers what happened.

“The Little Rock of the North”

In the 1950s, New Rochelle became a desirable destination for upper- and middle-class migration out of New York City. It consisted mainly of three ethnic enclaves. The wealthier area at the north end became predominately Jewish, a group that accounted for 30 percent of the city’s overall population in 1960. The more middle-income areas in the central and western parts of the city were mostly “white ethnic Catholics”—Irish and Italians who made up 45 percent of the city. Downtown became almost exclusively black, mainly due to huge public-housing projects, a popular feature of New York urban planning at the time. There were few Hispanics or WASPs.

In 1960, the elementary school in the downtown area, Lincoln School, was 94 percent black, and the two elementary schools (Davis and Ward) in the “overwhelmingly Jewish” part of the city were 99.7 percent and 99.8 percent white. (See Appendix A of Part 2.) The principal elementary schools in the Italian and Irish areas (Mayflower and Columbus) were much more mixed, as a result of black migration to these areas in the 1950s.

After the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, civil rights lawyer Paul Zuber joined community activist Milton Heimlich (brother of the famous Dr. Henry Heimlich) to argue that the Brown decision required decommissioning the black Lincoln School and transferring all of its students to majority-white schools. Zuber and Heimlich organized protests, earning New Rochelle the name “The Little Rock of the North.”

In 1960, Zuber joined the NAACP’s Jack Greenberg and Thurgood Marshall in a suit against the New Rochelle School Board. Even though this was an example of de facto as opposed to de jure school segregation—when schools are segregated because of residential patterns rather than legal mandate—Zuber and the NAACP argued that the city still had an obligation to transfer the Lincoln students to majority-white schools, because the city had directly created the conditions that had led to the extreme “racial imbalance” between Lincoln and the other schools.

The federal district court agreed and ordered the school board to transfer black students from Lincoln to white schools. There were appeals, but the school board lost.

The board’s response: diversity as class and ethnic conflict

The board proposed a plan whereby the black students from Lincoln would be transferred mostly to the Italian and Irish schools in the central and western parts of the city, not to the predominately Jewish schools on the north end. This was interesting for two reasons. First, these central schools were already mixed due to blacks moving into these neighborhoods in the 1950s. If there was de facto segregation in New Rochelle, it was between Lincoln and the predominately Jewish schools (which were over 99 percent white), not between Lincoln and the central schools (which were already disproportionately non-white). Second, various Jewish groups and individuals had been the leading supporters of desegregation. The Italian and Irish communities—which were the plurality—had not been pushing for integration, though the now-defunct and largely black Catholic Interracial Council of New York took part in the litigation.

Clearly, if “racial imbalance” was the problem, a more suitable remedy would have been to send Lincoln students to the 99.8 percent white Ward school, only 4 miles away from the Lincoln neighborhood. But the school board, under guidance from Julius Weiss (the board’s lawyer and former president) and Merryle S. Rukeyser (then board president), proposed the following condition, which would have had the effect of exempting the north-end schools from desegregation:

Any pupil for whom such transfer is sought shall be recommended by his classroom teacher and principal as being able to perform in academically satisfactory fashion on the grade level to which he is assigned, with the recommendation and request being subject to the approval of the Superintendent of Schools.

The board and the superintendent felt that indiscriminate transfer of Lincoln children into any north-end school would disrupt education. The officials also feared that the transferees would be unable to keep up, and would probably lose interest in school because of this. Lastly, they claimed that mixing Lincoln children with those of a vastly higher educational, financial, and cultural background might confirm unhealthy racial stereotypes in the minds of the pupils in the receiving schools. Apparently, the school board did not think mixing blacks with Italian and Irish children would have these effects.

This plan was proposed to the federal district court, which rejected it. Nevertheless, the board was able to reach a similar result by using “projected enrollments instead of actual classroom figures.” By projecting dramatically increased future enrollment from the local community at upscale Davis and Ward, the board was able to assert that there were only 385 open spots in the city, most of which were located in the central schools. This was a far cry from the 940 open spots that had been established at trial.

As a result, Davis and Ward were almost entirely untouched by desegregation. Indeed, after the transfers, Davis and Ward were, respectively, 99.2 percent and 97.2 percent white (see Appendix F of Part 2). Other majority-white elementary schools were forced to take hundreds of black students from Lincoln.

It should be noted, however, that the now-defunct Roosevelt school (which was also on the north-end and also predominately Jewish) did take a number of black students. The reason for treating Roosevelt differently from Davis and Ward is unclear. It may have been because Roosevelt had a black principal, or perhaps because it was located in the Orthodox as opposed to the Reform Jewish area. Unlike Davis and Ward, which remained almost exclusively white after the desegregation plan, Roosevelt went from nearly 98 percent white to slightly over 87 percent white (see Appendix F of Part 2).

The brunt of desegregation fell on the middle-income, mostly Irish and Italian schools. The Mayflower School, in the heavily Italian, middle-income, central part of the city, received 63 black students as a result of the court order, even though, before the transfer, the school had already been 30-percent black (see Appendix F of Part 2). The Mayflower School became more than 40 percent black overall, with the lower grades majority black. The following year a parochial school across the street from Mayflower was expanded, and many of the middle-income Italian and Irish parents opted out of public education and sent their children there.

As is so often the case, diversity in New Rochelle was dressed up in a veneer of moral righteousness, but it ultimately operated as a form of ethnic and class competition that weakened the white middle class.

New Rochelle and suburban decline: a story about America

New Rochelle was “the archetypical suburban community of the 1960s,” representing the hope and future of suburban America. For this reason, it was selected as the setting for The Dick Van Dyke Show, an upbeat 1960s sitcom about a young, attractive family. At the time, New Rochelle had one of the best high schools in the entire state, and even the nation. It was 88 percent white.

New Rochelle changed dramatically after desegregation. The central area around Mayflower declined due to white flight. Four of the schools subjected to Lincoln transfers (including Roosevelt and Mayflower) were decommissioned in 1981 because of decreasing enrollment: from 2,037 students in 1970 to just 926 in 1980. Incidentally, Miss Schwab was stabbed to death just 400 feet away from where the Mayflower school was located.

By 1986, 25 years after desegregation, New Rochelle High School had become only 59 percent white, but some considered this progress. That year, at the site where Lincoln School once stood, the Coalition for Mutual Respect (a group created by Rabbi Amiel Wohl to improve the city’s black-Jewish civil-rights partnership in the midst of rising tension in the 1970s) erected a plaque celebrating New Rochelle’s desegregation battle in the following terms: “A milestone on the search for unity in the midst of our diversity.”

The New York Times ran an article praising Rabbi Wohl and the city’s transformation. Rabbi Wohl proclaimed that integration was ”something the black community and progressive whites had to work hard to achieve,” but it was well worth the struggle, the rabbi said, because integration had not only created diverse schools, but “excellent schools with exceptional ratings.”

I don’t have access to the New Rochelle school district’s 1980s academic data, but I doubt that was true. It is certainly not true now. Of the 47 high schools in Westchester County, “New Rochelle High School ranks in the 3rd or 4th quartile in every category—at or near the bottom.” The graduation rates for blacks and Hispanics hover around 50 percent. As a result of poor student performance on the SAT and state standardized testing, the district has become notorious for falsifying scores. But New Rochelle now has an excellent football team, even producing a notable NFL running back.

New Rochelle High School in the late 1920s.

The high school continues to hemorrhage whites. This year, it is just 25 percent white, a percentage that will probably drop further. The fatal stabbing of Miss Schwab was just one of three violent incidents in the school that week. What was once considered one of the nation’s best public high schools now requires around-the-clock security: marked police cars, surveillance cameras, and random bag checks.

Protesting diversity

As a parent and concerned citizen, I agree that school shootings are terrifying, but I cannot help wondering which is more deadly: guns or government-coerced diversity. Since 2000, over 100 students and teachers have been killed in school shootings. Because no one collects the data, I don’t know whether racial diversity has taken more lives, but one thing is clear: Diversity not only takes lives; it undermines everything that makes a civilization work.

So why aren’t young people protesting diversity? Why aren’t they protesting the death of the beautiful Miss Schwab, who almost certainly would still be alive, were it not for desegregation?

There were massive student protests against integration, but we don’t hear about them. For example, in 1945, when Gary, Indiana, became one of the first Northern cities to integrate its public schools, thousands of “white grade and high school pupils of Froebel school walked out of class in protest against Negro pupils in that institution.” There were similar walk-outs in other Northern cities.

The NAACP, which now supports the Parkland walk-outs and treats the confiscation of guns as a “freedom,” proclaimed in 1945 that the Indiana students protesting for free association showed “how Fascists can use and are using our children to foment strife between our racial and religious groups.”

Students continued to protest integration well after Brown v. Board of Education, including massive protests throughout the formerly majority-white city of Baltimore. But again, unlike the Parkland protestors, these children were not praised for protesting a government policy that directly affected them. They were denounced by courts, humiliated by national media, and thwarted by the force of the federal government. Even artists sought to shape public opinion and silence youthful protestors by depicting them scornfully.

In 1959, five years after the Brown decision, Gallup polls found that over 80 percent of Southern whites objected to integration even in schools with only “a few blacks.” But public opinion, much less the opinions of Southern children, did not matter to the federal government.

Anti-integration student protests continued well into the 1970s. After a black student stabbed a white student to death in Boston, hundreds of white students walked out to protest integration.

Dr. Raymond Wolters has carefully described how government-forced integration meant that white children were harassed and attackedsexually assaulted, and subjected to declining academic standards. The students most directly affected by these policies did everything that the Parkland protestors are doing, and they did it for decades. The government, the courts, and the national media refused to listen.

White children have been told to be quiet and celebrate diversity—what the Lincoln plaque calls “the search for unity.” How many must die like Miss Schwab before we listen?

The only issue on which I may fully agree with Hillary Clinton is the “right to attend school safely.” When will there again be student protests against the deeper cause of school violence and academic decline?

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Winston Taney
Winston Taney is a constitutional law professor and conservative Christian, struggling to believe in constitutionalism, conservatism, and Christianity in 21st century America.
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