Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, July 1993
The Burden of Brown, Raymond Wolters, University of Tennessee Press, 1984 (paperback edition 1992), 346 pp.
The most unjustifiable excesses of “civil rights” — affirmative action, busing, racially gerrymandered voting districts — have invariably been the work of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nine unelected justices have repeatedly endorsed ruinous policies that flouted the Constitution, the Congress, and the will of the American people. In The Burden of Brown, Professor Raymond Wolters of the University of Delaware chronicles the formulation of one of those ruinous policies: the mandatory racial mixing that destroyed the American public school system.
The United States has a written Constitution that is supposed to be the basis for all laws. There is a procedure for amending it. However, in Professor Wolters’ view, Supreme Court justices have essentially appointed themselves as a standing constitutional convention. On matters of race and education, they have ignored the framers’ intent and simply draped their own liberal values in constitutional language.
The mischief began in 1954 with the Court’s famous decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, which Professor Wolters calls one of the most important events in recent American history. As is well known, this ruling repudiated the 1896 decision of Plessy v. Ferguson, which established that the races could be separated if they were treated equally.
The Supreme Court ruled that separate schools were inherently unequal, but this is not necessarily so. In fact, the NAACP had successfully sued many districts and forced them to give black schools equal facilities. Professor Wolters notes that in many segregated districts, black schools were better appointed and black teachers were better paid than their white counterparts. Whites were willing to pay higher school taxes in order to maintain separate instruction.
The Court’s assumption about the inequality of separateness was based largely on the work of Kenneth Clark, a black sociologist. In a famous experiment, Dr. Clark had shown black children a white doll and a black doll, and asked them to pick the one they liked. Most picked the white doll, and Dr. Clark argued that segregated schools made blacks feel inferior.
What Dr. Clark did not publicize was the fact that when black children attending integrated schools in Massachusetts were given the same test, they chose the white doll more often than did southern blacks attending segregated schools! The Supreme Court was persuaded by Dr. Clark’s data and searched the Constitution for a way to order school integration. They found it in the 14th amendment, which requires that states give all citizens equal protection under the law.
However, to read this amendment as forbidding segregated schools was an act of pure imagination. The same 1866 Congress that passed the amendment established racially segregated schools in the District of Columbia. Twenty-three of the 37 states then in the Union also had legally segregated schools and did not desegregate them after ratifying the amendment. Neither Congress nor the states saw any contradiction between equal protection and racial separation. The Brown decision forced upon the 14th amendment concepts alien to the men who had written and ratified it.
One of the great strengths of The Burden of Brown is that in explaining the machinations of the Court, Professor Wolters describes in fascinating detail what the ruling meant to real people in real schools. By the time Brown was decided, it was a consolidation of suits filed in five different districts. Professor Wolters recounts the depredations of 30 years of integration in each of them. It is startling to realize what has changed since the 1950s — and what has not.
One thing that has certainly changed is the extent to which whites are willing to mobilize to defend their own racial interests. One of the districts to which Brown immediately applied was Prince Edward County in Virginia, a state that briefly mounted what was called “massive resistance” to integration.
The governor, Lindsay Almond, insisted states have the right to resist unlawful federal tyranny. Under his guidance, the state legislature voted to withhold funds from any school that integrated and to issue tuition vouchers for students to use in private schools.
In 1958, when federal judges ordered integration, the state cut off funds and the schools closed. Many students found places in private schools, but others were left in the lurch. The next year, the Virginia supreme court ruled that the state constitution required the operation of public schools, and pronounced the closures illegal. Governor Almond, realizing that the only way to forestall integration was to defy the court and keep all schools closed, gave up and agreed to integrate.
However, as Professor Wolters points out, massive resistance collapsed only because whites broke ranks. Whites who lived in areas with few blacks were the first to capitulate. They assumed that a trickle of blacks would not ruin their schools, and they were not willing to hold out for the benefit of districts in which whites would be swamped. Also, it is important to remember that in the late 1950s, no one had heard of busing. Everyone thought that desegregation simply meant the removal of racial barriers so that blacks who wanted to cross them could. If the Virginians in their safe suburbs had known that blacks would one day be bused into their midst from the slums, they might have fought on against the federal government.
The whites of Prince Edward County, 65 miles southwest of Richmond, did fight on. There were more black than white students in the county, and whites had good reason to fear integration. Blacks were not only far behind whites in academic subjects, they were 14 times more likely to have venereal diseases and ten times more likely to have illegitimate children. Whites feared that racial mixing could lead to miscegenation.
The county therefore closed its public schools and reduced property taxes to offset the difference. With a tremendous outpouring of unity, whites built private schools — first in temporary quarters and then in sturdy, permanent buildings. Contractors donated materials, parents volunteered time, and a private, all-white school system known as Prince Edward Academy was born.
Whites offered to set up similar schools for blacks, where students could spend their vouchers just as whites did. On the advice of the NAACP, the blacks refused. It made much better copy for liberal newspapers if blacks were left with no schools at all; idle children made whites look like cruel bigots.
Prince Edward County was free to act as it did because counties were not under a state constitutional obligation to provide public instruction. As it happened, the public schools stood empty from 1959 to 1964 — longer than anyone had anticipated. When President John Kennedy took office he urged foundations and big corporations to donate money and materials for public schools. The Free Schools, as they were called, opened with great fanfare in 1963, with per pupil expenditures twice as high as those at the Academy.
Finally, in 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that since Prince Edward County had closed its public schools solely to evade an integration order, it must reopen them. Of course, there is nothing in the Constitution that forbids doing something legal for the sole purpose of avoiding something illegal — people do it all the time — but legalities scarcely mattered since segregationists had to be taught a lesson. Even some liberals worried that the Court was exercising tyrannical powers by ordering a county to raise taxes and spend money against its will.
Prince Edward County obeyed the Court. Per pupil spending at the reopened public schools was slightly more than at Prince Edward Academy, but blacks still complained that it was less than at the Free Schools.
The county has continued with its two school systems. The voucher system was, of course, struck down by the courts and whites had to reach into their own pockets for tuition. Most were glad to. During the 1970s, while the national average SAT scores dropped by nine percent, scores at the Academy rose by five percent. As graffiti, vandalism, and violence spread through integrated schools, they were practically unknown at Prince Edward Academy. Unlike students elsewhere who locked up their belongings for fear of theft, academy students left things wherever they liked. As the rest of the country plunged into the blackboard jungle of the 1970s and 1980s, the academy retained the civility and demeanor of the 1950s.
Across the Country
Professor Wolters’ accounts of what happened in the other districts directly affected by Brown are equally illuminating and well told. In Washington (DC) there was little resistance to integration; whites simply vanished.
During the brief, initial collision whites were astonished at the language of blacks. One school principal said that he “heard colored girls at the school use language that was far worse than I have ever heard, even in the Marine Corps.” At Theodore Roosevelt High School, blacks shouted so many obscenities at cheer leaders during the 1954-5 school year that the school switched to boy cheer leaders. Blacks were notorious for pawing white girls in the halls. Noting that black high school students were 23 times more likely to have venereal disease than whites, some principals stopped having school dances.
Some things never seem to change. The Washington Post used to sponsor an annual football game between the champions of the public schools and the parochial schools. By 1962, the public league was almost all black and the parochial league was almost all white. That year, when the black team lost, thousands of blacks poured onto the field, brandishing sticks and shouting “Get the whites.” In the two hour brawl that followed, all but 30 of the 346 injured were white. Newspapers solemnly reported that race had nothing to do with the melee.
As the DC school district turned black, standards plummeted. In 1976, the valedictorian at one high school was in the 39th national percentile in verbal ability and in the 16th percentile in math. Schools saw the inevitable increase in shootings, muggings, knifings, rapes, etc.
Another Brown district was in South Carolina. Here, whites mounted a full-blown court case against integration based on the view that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites and that the gap in inherent ability was wide enough to justify separate education. No matter how good their case, the South Carolinians were in the awkward position of asking a district court to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown. This the lower court refused to do, and the state became the last to integrate its schools. As happened all across the country, whites promptly left the public schools which, when left to blacks, descended into chaos.
During this time, it was common for Southerners to argue that if Northerners only had blacks in their midst they would understand the folly of school integration. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia even advocated a plan to pay black families $1,500 each if they would move to the North and show Yankees just what a scourge they were. Robert Patterson, founder of the anti-integration Citizens’ Councils used to argue that a sure cure for integration was a stiff dose of Negroes.
The Burden of Green
Of course, Northerners got their comeuppance when the Supreme Court decided that schools must not merely be open to all races but that students had to be forced to mingle whether they wanted to or not. This resulted in the nightmare of busing, which wracked Boston and Louisville as much as it did any city in the South.
As Professor Wolters explains, until 1968, when the Supreme Court once again decided to amend the Constitution, virtually everyone thought that the Brown decision required only the dismantling of legal segregation. Black students who had been denied admission to white schools now had the right to attend them. All that the NAACP asked in 1954 was that race be disregarded when students were assigned to schools. No one dreamed that race could be made the primary criterion for assigning students to schools in order to mix the races.
That, however, was the result of Green v. New Kent County. After the failure of “massive resistance” this Virginia county had duly ended legal segregation. It allowed all students to attend the schools of their choice and provided free transportation to make this possible. However, no whites transferred to black schools and only a few blacks transferred to white schools. Though the system was no longer legally segregated, most children of both races still had classmates of the same race.
The Court held the then-fashionable view that unless the races were thoroughly mixed they could not be properly educated. As Judge J. Skelly Wright had written in a 1967 lower court decision, “Racially and socially homogeneous schools damage the minds and spirits of all students who attend them.” He wrote that schools should “produce attitudes of tolerance and mutual sharing,” and had visions of “Negro and white children playing innocently together in the schoolyard.”
By no stretch of the imagination can the Constitution be read to allow the federal government to force black students to go to school with whites if blacks are free to do so but choose not to. And yet, in its wisdom and its bliss, the Supreme Court decreed that Americans could not be left with free choice if they did not exercise it in a way that brought the races together in promiscuous contact. The Court decided that the children of New Kent County must once again be assigned to schools on the basis of race, but this time in order to mix them rather than separate them.
Professor Wolters notes that on the day after the Court heard the oral arguments in Green v. New Kent County, Martin Luther King was assassinated. A wave of race riots swept the country as the Court deliberated. No doubt the justices thought their ruling benefited the country, but Professor Wolters quotes Daniel Webster: “It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions.” The folly of busing had begun.
One of the school districts that bore the full brunt of busing was New Castle County, Del., another Brown district that Professor Wolters describes in detail. This case was yet another striking triumph of rule by the judiciary.
New Castle County contains the city of Wilmington, whose schools had become black, dangerous, and ineffective, as well as a number of surrounding white suburbs that had good schools. There were 11 different school districts in the area, none of which practiced segregation but all of which reflected the essential racial homogeneity of their neighborhoods.
Professor Wolters explains that those who first brought the suit to disperse Wilmington’s black students throughout the county had two motives they did not reveal to the courts. First, they wanted whites to share the burden of dealing with troublesome blacks. Second, they thought that if the suburbs lost the advantage of having all-white schools, there would be less incentive for whites to shun Wilmington. Some might return to the city and property prices might recover. The argument they made to the Court, however, was the usual one about how racial separation was bad for education.
The Court’s 1978 ruling was a breathtaking intrusion on local autonomy. It dissolved the 11 separate districts and appointed a single school board for the entire 250 square-mile area. It also ordered that students, both black and white, be bused so that every school would reflect the 80:20 white-to-black ratio of the total student population.
In the suburbs, property taxes were raised 20 percent to pay for the costs of busing and to establish a new, uniform curriculum. White teachers attended dewy-eyed seminars on how to see themselves as “facilitators” rather than lecturers, who would teach “cooperation” as much as the three Rs and thereby raise the “self-esteem” of ghetto blacks. An “interfaith taskforce” was set up to prepare teachers for “empathetic listening” and “values clarification.” Big companies like DuPont, whose executives already sent their children to private schools, churned out propaganda in favor of the new plan.
Of course, shipping underclass thugs to the suburbs where “facilitators” greeted them with “empathetic listening” was no cure for delinquency. Along with the blacks came graffiti, false fire alarms, broken windows, theft, extortion, fights, and assaults on teachers. Gangs of thieves would clear out suburban lockers by the score and bring the booty home to Wilmington in school buses. Although blacks were only 20 percent of the student population, they accounted for 66 percent of all racial assaults.
Whites responded as they always do. In just the first four years, 35 of the 103 public schools in the area closed as whites cleared out. The number of private schools went from 44 to 78, and most had waiting lists and were bursting at the seams. Before busing, the suburban schools had a rich array of options for gifted students. After busing, these programs shriveled to nearly nothing, with all the old effort devoted to remedial education.
Judge Murray Schwartz had personally overseen the execution of the Supreme Court ruling. Three years after busing — to the hoots and jeers of angry whites — he took his own children out of public schools and sent them to private academies. Even Joseph Biden, the relentlessly liberal Democratic senator from Delaware, had to admit that the New Castle County plan was a failure.
New Castle County is a symbol for virtually every school district in which blacks were sent in large numbers to white schools. The schools deteriorated. Whites fled. Whites who cared about education had to pay for two school systems: a taxpayer-financed one for blacks and a privately financed one for themselves.
Did this upheaval accomplish anything? If racial mixing was the goal, it was a modest success in some areas. In others, the transition from free choice of schools to forced busing left schools more segregated than ever. Whites welcomed the motivated blacks who came to white schools for better educations. Civility and learning could not survive court-ordered bus loads of underclass truants.
What about the racial gap in test scores? As Professor Wolters explains, the media trumpeted the cheerful prediction that integration would help blacks and not harm whites. For a brief period this seemed true. Studies in the early 1960s showed that blacks in majority-white schools had slightly better test scores than blacks in all-black schools. Few people realized that this was because of free choice. It was smart, ambitious blacks who went to majority-white schools. They would have done better work than other blacks no matter where they studied.
Thirty years after Brown, which ravaged the public schools, emptied the cities of whites, and sowed chaos in the lives of millions of Americans, the brute facts remained unchanged: average black test scores were at the 15th percentile for whites. Black first-graders were still one year behind whites, and black high school students were still three years behind. Just as before integration, household income could not explain these gaps. Whites from the poorest families got higher test scores than blacks from the richest families.
The hopes of school integration foundered, as egalitarian hopes always do, on the unyielding facts of biology. The Supreme Court trampled the Constitution in the name of liberal pieties about the dominance of environment over genetics. Willful ignorance has a price and, as always, it was whites who paid it.
[Editor’s Note: This review appears in A Race Against Time: Racial Heresies for the 21st Century, a collection of some of the finest essays and reviews published by American Renaissance. It is available for purchase here.]