By Barney Blakeney
I’ve never been good at remembering special dates – Memorial Day, my girl’s birthday – most dates besides Christmas, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving get past me. So when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Noble’s press coordinator on May 17 called me about a press conference to discuss he and running mate Dr. Gloria Bromell Tinubu’s position on education and segregation, it didn’t sink in that May 17 commemorated the 64th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling against public schools segregation.
Maybe it’s not so hard to forget that racial segregation in public schools is supposed to be against the law because schools still are racially segregated. Heck, America still is racially segregated! Electing a Black president was monumental, but did little to change the reality of racism in America. Most recently I’ve been thinking there is no real desire to end segregation, racism and discrimination in America.
According to one source, the NAACP since the 1930s had been fighting to end racial segregation in public schools. A lawsuit that began in South Carolina’s ‘Corridor of Shame’ in Clarendon County led to the 1954 Supreme Court decision. Clarendon County’s public schools today still are shamefully segregated, unequal and discriminated against.
In 1954 the Supreme Court gave America a way out of the order to end segregation, racism and discrimination. The Supreme Court’s decision did not spell out any method for ending racial segregation in schools. It only ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”. That’s the same rouse South Carolina’s Supreme Court used to make the 20-year-old Corridor of Shame lawsuit go away. And neither the state’s legislature nor the people who elect it have moved an inch otherwise.
The race disparities in Charleston County report released last year by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston documented some things most of us know. Despite having some schools that are racially integrated, racial disparities in educational attainment still are blatant. In 2008 about 74,000 whites in the county had attained a Bachelor’s or higher degree compared to about 7,000 Blacks.
In the 2015-2016 school year, the five schools with the highest poverty indicator were predominantly Black schools and those with the lowest poverty indicator were predominantly white. In 2015 of the students taking and passing advance placement tests about 78 percent of Asian students passed AP tests, about 76 percent of White students passed the tests while only about 25 percent of Black student passed the tests.
During the 2014-2015 school year there were about 8,000 suspensions in Charleston County schools. Black males accounted for about 4,500 of those suspensions. Black females accounted for another 2,000 suspensions. Among elementary school students, Black students accounted for about 1,900 of the 2,200 suspensions. Black males accounted for about 1,400 of those suspensions.
In December I talked with former Charleston County School Board Chair Hillery Douglas who said those disparities exist because some residents in the county are “hell-bent” on insuring that progress for Black citizens is limited. That effort is played out in every aspect of daily life, including public education, he said.
“It may be hard to believe those people exist in these times, the 21st century. But there are those who would limit our gains in politics, economics, education – you name it. It’s not so pervasive in other parts of the state. But here, it’s blatant. To overcome that we must ask ourselves whether our progress will be determined more by us or that group. Do we put forth the effort to guide our children to become successful? We have kids who are smart. Will we invest more in them or in our iPhones, hair and nails? It’s a hard job to get people to be engaged. Some of our people are fighting, but so many don’t know how to fight. They don’t know how to instill in their children the things that make them successful. And there are those among us who let a few dollars influence whether or not we do the right things. We’ve got some politicians who shouldn’t be in office,” Douglas said.
The 64th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision against segregated public schools – by some estimates counted in 20-year intervals – that’s more than three generations. I applaud Noble’s willingness to address racism and inequality, to put those issues on the table as he campaigns to become S.C. governor. But then, that’s who Phil Noble is. It’s not just a discussion with him: it’s a life philosophy. I first came to know of Noble because of his positions on race and racism in our community.
The sad part is, for far too many it is just a matter of discussion. For politicians it’s a talking point. The laws and legislation they introduce and enact however says something different. Meaningful change can occur in 100 years – that’s if you mean to change. Obviously few mean to change the segregation and inequality that exists in our schools. I think the sooner we make that admission, the sooner we can move on. A definition of crazy is doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result. We’re all not crazy. So when it comes to segregated unequal education, quit spittin’ on me and callin’ it rain.
We’re all not crazy. So when it comes to segregated unequal education, quit spittin’ on me and callin’ it rain.