Merger of Memphis and County School Districts Revives Race and Class Challenges

Sam Dillon, New York Times, November 5, 2012

When thousands of white students abandoned the Memphis schools 38 years ago rather than attend classes with blacks under a desegregation plan fueled by busing, Joseph A. Clayton went with them. He quit his job as a public school principal to head an all-white private school and later won election to the board of the mostly white suburban district next door.

Now, as the overwhelmingly black Memphis school district is being dissolved into the majority-white Shelby County schools, Mr. Clayton is on the new combined 23-member school board overseeing the marriage. And he warns that the pattern of white flight could repeat itself, with the suburban towns trying to secede and start their own districts.

“There’s the same element of fear,” said Mr. Clayton, 79. “In the 1970s, it was a physical, personal fear. Today the fear is about the academic decline of the Shelby schools.”

“As far as racial trust goes,” Mr. Clayton, who is white, added, “I don’t think we’ve improved much since the 1970s.”

The merger—a result of actions by the Memphis school board and City Council, a March referendum and a federal court order—is the largest school district consolidation in American history and poses huge logistical challenges. {snip}

Toughest of all may be bridging the chasms of race and class. Median family income in Memphis is $32,000 a year, compared with the suburban average of $92,000; 85 percent of students in Memphis are black, compared with 38 percent in Shelby County.

But Kenya Bradshaw, who was recently elected secretary of a separate 21-member commission set up to recommend policies for combining the new districts, sees the merger as a chance for Memphis “to re-envision its educational system.”

“I hope people can see that this is an opportunity to reflect on our history and not make the same mistakes,” said Ms. Bradshaw, an advocate for educational equity, who is black. ”If people are leaving for reasons that they don’t want their children to be around children of color or children who are poor, then I say to them, ‘I bid you farewell.’ ”


Shelby County includes Memphis and six incorporated suburbs to its north and east. Tax money from the entire county is distributed to the two districts based on student population. Memphis, with 103,000 students, compared with 47,000 in the county, gets more of the money, though the suburbs contribute more per capita.

Fearing that suburban politicians and Tennessee’s Republican-dominated legislature might alter this arrangement to allow more tax money to stay in the suburbs, Memphis voted in December to surrender the school charter. Multiple lawsuits ensued, and a federal judge ruled on Sept. 28 that the two districts would be governed by a unified board but would run separately for two years, and then would combine in 2013.


Federally ordered busing in 1973 provoked white flight, with about 40,000 of the system’s 71,000 white students abandoning the system in four years.

More recently, the suburbs have diversified, as middle-class black families left behind an impoverished central city. But the Shelby school board remained all white, and much of the system still seems segregated. Collierville High School, outside Memphis, was 82 percent white last year, while Southwind High, 10 miles away, also outside the city limits, was 94 percent black.


Despite the current inequality, nobody expects the demographics of schools to change much, because most students in both districts are assigned to neighborhood schools and housing tends to be segregated.

That has not changed the minds of people like Mr. Clayton, who told The New York Times in 1975 that he had left the public schools because of mounting chaos caused by desegregation.

Mr. Clayton, who was the principal of two traditionally white Memphis high schools from 1964 to 1973, won election in 1998 to the Shelby County school board, where he and his colleagues were shocked when the Memphis board first voted for the merger.

“We all tried to figure out how to stop it,” he said.

They have not given up. The legislature passed a law in February that, as of September 2013, lifts a prohibition on the formation of autonomous school districts, and five of the six Shelby County suburbs have hired consultants to study the finances of breaking away.


[Editor’s Note: Just this week, a federal judge ruled it unconstitutional for the Memphis suburbs to pursue municipal schools this year.]

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  • Okay. If the Republican Party still has a pulse, then it has to PUBLICLY point out that diversity is a failure, and whitey will keep paying for it.
    Why not a TRUE redistribution? Let’s have Obama take some money from places like Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont; and give that money to the poor black school districts?
    The yankees, after all, will be getting what they had asked for.

    • D. H. Andrews

      I agree. My sister, brother-in-law and I watched election results on election night as – true to form – New England states and mostly White Great Lake states – turned blue and threw in their electoral votes in for Obama. After Obongo’s serious failures as a president and the the obviously sliding downhill of America, how could mostly (if not practically ALL White states like Vermont and Maine) go for Obongo? The answer I think is answered by two reasons: 1. The ever-present White Guilt situation that White Northeasterns that apparently still still possess and, more importantly
      2. UN-exposure to Blacks and their violent nature, which I think explains most of this otherwise unexplainable phenomenon.
      We move further west along the northern border to the Dakotas, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, who are deeply red. I think this can be explained by a racial awareness that has always been present in those states, in which they devote their lives to living in a largely rural and cold climate to remain safe from Blacks and hispanics. Things are changing, however, and the formally red states of Colorado and Nevada, which have experienced alarming explosions of hispanics – who vote near monolithically democratic – have moved in the last few years(as we all know due to lax border control) and have tipped the scales into the blue zone..probably never to return to red status – ever.
      Yes, the times they are a changin’ and the above is my assessment of why such an individual as such a White and America-hating old/new prez has been able to beat such a reasonable and fiscally resposible person as Romney. While Romney was not my first choice among the Repubilicans, he was far and away the best choice for White Americans who are racially aware and want to hang onto their country.
      We will see in the next 4 yrs. a further dismantling of our republic. I hate to think of what the consequences might be.

      • ATBOTL

        Your totally off base here. First of all Western states like MT and WY have the least awareness of blacks because they have never seen them. These are the places where you will find most naive, Scandinavian like racial attitudes. Your making the mistake of assuming everyone else is motivated by racial concerns like you are. High Republican support in the Mountain West has nothing to do with race.

        The GOP has become too Southern, too neocon and too in love with it’s own stupidity and it’s turning off other whites, even people who are racially aware. Many northern whites are not voting GOP because they don’t want plutocracy and globalization, things the GOP is 100% behind, but that Democrats are at least ambivalent about. Whenever there is a new “free trade” bill in Congress, it typically passes with full support from Republicans, but divides the Democrats. That’s hurting the GOP with the majority of voters who are skeptical of globalization. The Democrats at least give the appearance that there is range of opinions allowed in their party and that they care about the interests of regular people.

        Also, Northern whites, even people who are conservative in many ways, don’t want hypocritical Southern fundamentalist preachers(who are probably closeted homos like Ted Haggard) telling us what to do. We also don’t want more wars for Israel in the Middle East, something Romney all but promised in his campaign. The war issue is HUGE for younger and better educated voters and the GOP has lost a generation’s trust with the debacle in Iraq. The fact the people behind the Iraq war are still firmly in control of the party, and the voters know it, is a huge money on the GOP’s back.

        A GOP that is more libertarian on social and foreign policy issues and more pro-middle class on economic issues would do much better with white voters outside of the South.

        People in the conservative bubble also don’t appreciate how much GOP pandering to creationists has hurt them with educated voters, especially younger people. Evolution is a surprisingly important issue to many people and I often hear it cited by people who can’t bring themselves to support the GOP despite having many problems with the Democrats. The liberal media loves quoting idiotic GOPers expressing skepticism about evolution. The next time a reporter asks a Republican politician if they believe in evolution, they only answer they should give is “yes.” Most of them are probably lying when they claim to be evolution skeptics anyway.

        • SLCain

          You make several good points, however I would dispute a couple of things you say.

          “The GOP has become too Southern, too neocon and too in love with it’s
          own stupidity and it’s turning off other whites, even people who are
          racially aware.”

          Southern and Neocon are mostly non-overlapping groups: Irving Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, etc……………………not exactly Sons of the Confederacy.

          You are correct that southern politicans too eagerly sign-on to the warfare-state, because 1.) they’ve fallen for the neo-con line, 2.) the south traditionally identifies with the military, 3.) There are a lot of military installations in the south, bringing in jobs, money, and votes, and 4.) they get hefty campaign contributions (anything else, one wonders?) from defence contractors.

          “Also, Northern whites, even people who are conservative in many ways,
          don’t want hypocritical Southern fundamentalist preachers(who are
          probably closeted homos like Ted Haggard) telling us what to do.”

          If so, then northern whites have fallen for the lies they hear from the media. Other than having pushed the abortion litmus-test, southern christians have just about no influence on the Republican party. Their job has been to provide votes, and then shut up. Their votes were bought very cheaply indeed. What conservative social policies have the Republicans (southern or otherwise) stood up for? They have completely caved in on everthing: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, gay marriage, affirmative action, self-determination for municipalities and school districts. Even on abortion they have done next to nothing. The only principals – the only ones – that the Republicans ever put up a fight for are 1.) Continuation of the Empire, 2.) Opposing increases in tax rates, especially top marginal tax rates, 3.) Free Trade.

          “Evolution is a surprisingly important issue to many
          people and I often hear it cited by people who can’t bring themselves to
          support the GOP despite having many problems with the Democrats.”

          Ask those people if they believe in racial differences in intelligence and other human attributes, and you might find that THEY don’t really believe in evolution either. And anyway, if they are concerned about what someone else thinks about evolution, then they are only engaged in making invidious distinctions for no good reason. What you, or I, or John Boehner, or the Pope, or Stephen Hawking thinks about evolution has zero impact on the lives of the above mentioned or anyone else.

          • Gereng

            I have friends in Aiken SC whom I visited 2 yrs back. They are true blue southerners, educated, and successful. I thought I was talking to New England liberals! They are absolutely NOT the least bit racially conscious. I was astonished to find myself the only racially aware person in any gathering I attended. I lived there a few months in 1952 when blacks stayed in their own neighborhoods and schools. If they were killing, robbing and raping, it was their own they were attacking. It suited everyone just fine.

    • ATBOTL

      Northern States already subsidize the South through federal taxes.

    • Liberalsuck

      The GOP didn’t point this out for years, so why would they do it now? Remember, this is the same GOP that created “freed the slaves”, that fought against Southern secession, that sent federal troops to Little Rock to integrate the schools, that voted for the Civil Rights Act, that implemented affirmative action, that gave amnesty to illegal mexicans, etc. They don’t look out for white people’s interests and never have. Even after more of their talking heads are waking up and telling them to quit pandering to blacks or Hispanics, the establishment still keeps wondering “what they did wrong and why we didn’t outreach to Latinos?”

  • Francis Galton

    The suburbanization of America was not a natural, inevitable phenomena. Much of it–at least post-1950s–was due to Whites fleeing crime and cultural upheaval caused by urban blacks being unleashed by the Uncivil Wrongs Movement and LBJ’s Groid Society programs of endless welfare. These types of mergers undermine the entire raison d’etre of suburbs.

    I can see it coming to the point where nearly all Whites will be rural and decentralized, and nearly all blacks and browns will be highly concentrated in urban/suburban centers. In a way, this development would perfectly reflect the genesis of the White and black races. Whites would rely more on themselves and their smarts/skills for survival (hunting, fishing, community sharing of resources and knowledge, off-grid utilities, etc.), while blacks would (still) be mostly dependent upon immediately available, exogenous sources of civilization such as grocery stores, public transportation, mobile charity trucks, etc. (most likely funded by Whites, as usual.)

    The races will come full circle. Or maybe I’m just babbling…who knows?

    • ed91

      I think you’re right but section 8 libs are trying their damnest to put as many blacks in small white towns as they can.

      • IstvanIN

        And section 8 Republicans, I might add.

      • Liberalsuck

        I sincerely hope the small town whites will stand up to this. Us small town white people enjoy not living with the materialism and diversity. I’ve lived around it (diversity) and have been in white rural areas. I don’t want diversity or blacks and browns around me (in large numbers), otherwise I’d still live in the city.

    • pcmustgo

      Nope, whites are reclaiming and returning to cities’ in droves, especially here in NYC… because of the gas crisis… and it’s just more “safe”. Blacks are moving out to suburbs because they often offer cheaper housing and the suburbs will turn into the “banlieus”.

    • Liberalsuck

      The brown and black races will never evolve like white people have. They will attack the whites whereever they go. I hope if it comes to the point where these “diverse” creatures are invading small white towns, that the white rural men stand up to them.

  • There’s a bigger pool of money in the Shelby county than in the city of Memphis. Thus the “merger.” Sort of like lets put all our money in a pile together. The only thing is, the residents of Memphis are putting into the pile a much smaller sum…

  • wilbernsprayberry

    THe Memphis schools have, in effect, just enslaved the Shelby County schools. Interesting. I wonder if the federal court involvement in this will set a new precedent? If so, most predominantly white suburban districts are know under threat of being enslaved to their own black inner cities.

    • ATBOTL

      This can’t happen yet where I live, because we haven’t consolidated our local governments or school districts into the county to lower taxes. If your town is white, your schools are white, and they can’t do anything about it. Most towns are not big either.

      Memphis may just go down as a whole metro area because it’s suburbs are pretty small and the whole region is heavily black. Whites may just abandon the southwest corner of Tennessee. As whites decline, more areas will become de-whitized almost entirely, like the Mississippi delta region that is right at Memphis’s doorstep.

      • wilbernsprayberry

        Hope you are right that merging black inner-city districts with white suburban ones won’t be possible, at least for a while. I am not a lawyer, so I don’t know.

        But I do know that consolidating these districts across city & even county boundaries has been the dream of hard-core integrationists for decades. And given the anti-white hatred apparent in the Obama Justice Department, we may see them try to initiate a new phase of federal pressure (threats) and judicial activism to make the dream come true.

        • Liberalsuck

          I hope our cesspool friends will get the hell out of there. Doesn’t sound safe for them to be there anymore.

      • Reluctant Memphian

        Towns like Collierville and Germantown will form their own districts, and whites in unincorporated Shelby county who are unable to afford those two suburbs will simply move a few miles across the border into neighboring white-friendly counties.

  • Byron

    “No matter where they go, we will follow. No matter how far away they move, we will follow. They can’t escape us.”

    –Andrew Young

    • nobody special

      “No matter where they go, we will follow. No matter how far away they move, we will follow. They can’t escape us.”

      –Andrew Young

      Can someone give a citation as to exactly where and when this statement was made? I don’t doubt that Mr. Young said it. I would like to make use of it to show that blacks are a dependent (some might say parasitic) race with respect to whites, and when eyebrows are raised I want to tell them “where” and “when.”

      • whiteguybuffalo

        There’s an apocryphal story involving Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta and President Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, and an address he gave to the historically Black college
        Atlanta University in the 1980s. While addressing the subject of the
        eroding tax-base in the city and the fear of a diminishing amount of
        resources (funds) to allocate, Mr. Young addressed white flight with this ominous warning:

        “No matter where they go, we will follow. No matter how far away they move, we will follow. They can’t escape us.”

  • You Are Now Enriched

    “As far as racial trust goes, I don’t think we’ve improved much since the 1970s.”

    Considering racial trust as an “improvement” is an anti white, extremist and dangersously racist construct.

    Whites should never trust blacks, and the more we invest ourselves in permanent distrust and division away from blacks, the more improvement they will make.

    Obama is helping our attitudes along toward permanent improvement.

    • Liberalsuck

      “As far as racial trust goes, I don’t think we’ve improved much since the 1970s.”

      Translation: We still haven’t guilt tripped and hoodwinked as many whites out of the freedoms and money as we planned.

  • Stentorian_Commentator

    As someone who was spared the experience of school busing thanks to some happy accidents of political geography that occurred in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, I find this disturbing. It’s just the latest way blacks and hispanics can inflict themselves on the rest of us, and send us a bill to pay for it, too.

  • APaige

    WHY do blacks (and liberals) KEEP thinking that by just being around white students will make black kids do better in school? Memphis HAD good schools that were white and bad schools that were black…the courts forced the schools to integrate…whites left the good schools and blacks made them bad…that pattern happened everywhere and they blame the people who left! Now it will repeat itself.

    • IstvanIN

      We all know what the definition of insanity is.

      • Katherine McChesney

        Doing the same thing again and again to achieve different results.

    • dhs

      Why do white people allow their children to be destroyed by blacks and liberals?

      That is the relevant question.

  • Ulick

    The fear that Shelby County parents have is legitimate.

  • 1gravity

    Taken as a whole, the black community in this country is an ongoing criminal enterprise.

  • Eurobeing

    It really is interesting this thing called equality and multiculturalisim spreads metastisizes like a cancer. There is only one cure and that is to block it off and cut it out.

  • Sloppo

    ”If people are leaving for reasons that they don’t want their children to be around children of color or children who are poor, then I say to them, ‘I bid you farewell.’ ”

    I don’t want my children or myself to be around blacks, but it’s not because blacks are bad people or anything like that. They’re just really unlucky. Somehow they always get stuck in filthy places with really high violent crime rates and when they move to a different place the same thing happens again.

    • Liberalsuck

      If it were only so easy for them to simply bid us ‘farewell.’ These people follow us around and insist on rubbing these people in our faces at every turn.

  • IstvanIN

    If 60 years of integration, from Truman’s order integrating the military, had actually resulted in black being exactly like whites, except for the obvious unattractiveness, we might not want our daughters to marry them but we wouldn’t fear, loathe and want to escape them. We might be content living near, working with and allowing our children to go to school with them, but they are, as a group, nothing like us. They are the polar opposite of the Midas touch.

  • seek

    It’s both kinds of fear when it comes to black students: physical and academic fear. No sane white parent will send his or her kids to a school where they are likely to be assaulted or otherwise degraded by blacks. Let’s hope Shelby County suburbs have the guts to follow through on their threat to break away and set up their own school district because I guarantee you, the Obama administration, led by AG Eric Holder, will try to rein them in.

  • ”If people are leaving for reasons that they don’t want their children
    to be around children of color or children who are poor, then I say to
    them, ‘I bid you farewell.’ ”

    And every white parent replied with, ‘Cya.’

  • SC_teacher

    This is a paragraph from the short essay I am writing about my 10 day teaching career int he south.

    “The first thing an observer would notice, besides the bars on the windows of all businesses in the neighborhood, was that 99% of the students who walked to school were black. An observer would also notice that the great majority of the students being bused in or dropped off by their parents were white and by their appearance were at least upper-middle class. Working white parents were actually freely and willingly dropping their innocent 12 and 13 year old white children off to attend a failing black majority school in an area of high poverty, drugs, and crime. My mind still has difficulty grasping that concept.”

    I guess that people in this country have been so indoctrinated to the “we are all the same” philosophy that they can’t even see the danger when it right before their nose. I had two physical assaults in my classroom in 10 days and as I was leaving the building for the last time I was told there was a knife incident after school in the parking lot.

    • john in Germany

      I grew up in Columbia SC in the50s and early 60s, There was total segregation of blacks from everyone else and life was sweet. We need figure out a way to convince blacks that segregation is really in their best interest . If they had schools that were all black then black people would be the smartest people in the class and they would no longer have to worry about the dreaded “achievement gap”.

      • Liberalsuck

        At least back then blacks had their own neighborhoods, their own businesses, their own fire departments, their own police departments, etc.

  • I note in the article that …”nobody expects the demographics of schools to change much”….

    Isn’t that they said about the 1965 Immigration Law? Anyone who doesn’t expect demographic change, is deluding themselves.

    • toldev

      The demographics will probably not change much in the short term. Many white families in the area will be stuck there due to other factors, such as being upside down on a mortgage or a poor employment situation. What happens is that no new white families move in. After a few decades, the area will be almost 100% black and the only white people left will be the elderly who are too old to start over someplace else.

  • Puggg
  • There is so much wrong with this article it’s hard to decide where to start. But here’s a start:

    “In the 1970s, it was a physical, personal fear. Today the fear is about the academic decline of the Shelby schools.”

    As if the physical threat is no longer there. If anything, it’s even worse now but the media tries to cover it up and government refuses to do anything about it.

    And then this gem:

    “If people are leaving for reasons that they don’t want their children to
    be around children of color or children who are poor, then I say to
    them, ‘I bid you farewell.”

    If only this were so. In reality, such parents are not given a choice. There is nowhere they can go where their children will be safe from black crime. Their freedom of association is denied them through “fair housing” laws and forced integration.

  • Howard W. Campbell

    In a few years, will a federal judge mandate that the school districts in West Memphis, Arkansas and those in Northern Mississippi be rolled into the greater Shelby County, TN district? Especially once people move across the border into other states.

    • Marc B.

      I have my doubts about regional equity moving across state lines, but I’ve also learned to never underestimate the Cultural Marxists who placate the blacks every chance they get.

  • Joe1922

    What disgusting liars these black diversocrats are.

    Kenya Bradshaw, “an advocate for educational equity” says: “If people are leaving for reasons that they don’t want their children to be around children of color or children who are poor, then I say to them, ‘I bid you farewell.’ ”

    So she’s claiming that she’s ok if racist whites pull their children out? In other words she agrees with segregationists? No, in fact for her it’s not ok if her black children aren’t in the same schools as whites. Wherever we go, she wants to follow.

    It’s the old paradox: conservative whitey is racist and evil but the last thing blacks want is to live away from conservative whitey. They hate us but they can’t live without us. We don’t hate them but we would prefer to not live with them and could do so easily.

    It used to be different. 100 years ago we needed their labor. Now we don’t need anything from them and would be happy to go our own way. But they know, they might hate us violently but they can’t last a week without us.

  • NM156

    What’s frightening is the comments by the white NYT readers. Yow!

  • Marc B.

    I grew up in the Memphis suburb of Germantown,TN, and I guarantee that the productive White population currently residing in the surrounding suburbs will stop moving into the Shelby county if the suburban schools are not allowed to be independent. The county will be rid of it’s productive host population within a single generation, and it will also be out of that revenue until some form of multi-county municipal government is formed to leech those tax dollars back to the future destitute Shelby county/Memphis. I’d recommend moving at least two counties away or across state lines from Shelby to avoid that possibility.

    The main issue with the Shelby county municipal district is that the White parents do not want to have their students going to a district dominated by black school board members, especially after seeing the ghetto behavior and voting patterns of the majority black Memphis City council for several decades. Most White parents are far too “Blind-Sided” to realize what hell their children’s schools would be if they have a black population of 15% or greater, and that’s at the bottom of their list. They want a school board that will look more like them and vote the way they prefer.

  • ljasell

    I lived in Memphis as a child when the forced busing occurred. I went from a modern elementary school that was integrated to a run-down school where I was one of a handful of “white” students. As an 8-year old, I didn’t understand why I the homework was not very challenging suddenly or why I lived so far from the school and my new friends. I’m saddened to hear that the same problems and issues are still plaguing this area. It’s the children that suffer. This kind of unresolved conflict makes Americans look like a bunch of backwards racists.