Jesse Jackson called yesterday for a 10,000-person rally in Louisville this September to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to allow schools to use race in student assignment.
Jackson said he was in Louisville yesterday partly to oppose a legal challenge of the voluntary desegregation plan used by Jefferson County Public Schools. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the challenge.
“Louisville must make a statement to America,” Jackson told a crowd at the downtown Urban League. “We don’t want to go backward.”
If the court bars districts from using race to assign students, Jackson said it would concentrate black students in low-income schools that often have fewer resources.
More important, he said, it would open the door to challenges that threaten an array of affirmative-action programs nationwide that also consider race.
“This thing affects 100 years of struggle,” he said. “If they remove race as a factor . . . it sets back a whole century of work.”
Jackson said he would help organize a rally with other groups, likely during the Louisville NAACP’s planned conference on school desegregation in September.
“There must be some form of massive action,” he said. “Judges read the papers too.”
Jackson did not provide any details about how the rally might be organized.
The Supreme Court announced earlier this month it would hear the appeal of Crystal Meredith, a Louisville parent who challenged the district’s racial-assignment guidelines in 2003.
The district allows parents some choice among schools but uses guidelines that seek to keep black enrollment between 15 percent and 50 percent at most schools.
Meredith argued that her son was denied entrance to an elementary school because he is white. Her lawyer, Teddy Gordon, has said the policy is unfair to many parents and has not eliminated racial achievement gaps.
The Louisville case will be heard alongside a similar case involving Seattle schools, which used race as one of the tiebreakers for assigning students before later dropping that policy.
Some in the audience at the Urban League yesterday noted that desegregation plans hadn’t raised black student achievement to the level of white students, or stopped black students from being disproportionately suspended.
One person said some black residents yearn for a time when their children didn’t feel alienated in largely white suburban schools.
But Jackson said that while problems still exist, integrated schools should not be abandoned.
“Let’s learn to live together in the same pot in our formative years,” he said.