|The racially-segregated system of education for African Americans and whites has been successfully dismantled over the last 40 years. The strategy for achieving desegregation, however, has not been successful in replacing the old system with a stable and workable new one.|
The citizens of Little Rock have a long history of believing in the importance of public schools for the children of the city.
Little Rock's first public school opened on August 29, 1853. Arkansas had entered the Union as a slave state, and before the Civil War the schools were for whites only. After the Civil War, schools were provided for both races, but they were separate, or "segregated."
In 1927, Little Rock opened a new school for whites at Fourteenth and Park. Central High School, as it is now known, was then one of the most expensive schools ever constructed in the United States, costing over $1.5 million. It has been regarded ever since as a striking and attractive structure, befitting the landmark status it has come to enjoy.
Two years later the city opened another imposing high school at Wright Avenue and Ringo Street. It was regarded as one of the finest high schools in the United States built for African Americans. In 1931, this school, Dunbar High, became the first Arkansas high school for African Americans to be accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Because of this status, many African-American students from around the state moved to live with relatives or friends in Little Rock so they could attend a high school of recognized quality.
Soon after the opening of these two impressive high school facilities, the Little Rock Board of Education took another significant step to respond to the changing needs of the people in the capital city. Except for the medical school, there was no public college or university in Little Rock, so the school board started junior college programs in both new high schools. In 1927, Little Rock Junior College began offering classes in the new high school for whites, and in 1930, Dunbar Junior College began offering classes in the new high school for African Americans.
After the Second World War, racial segregation in America came under increasing attack, a change evidenced by President Harry S Truman's civil rights initiatives. The Little Rock school board responded to the changing times. In 1943, the per-pupil expenditure for African Americans in the Little Rock School District (LRSD) had been 67 percent of the per-pupil expenditure for whites. It rose more or less steadily until 1952 when it reached 93 percent. African-American elementary schools were then accredited by the State Department of Education. When rated against a number of standards in 1948-49, about half the African-American schools received "B's" and "C's." Improvement followed the increased financial investment. Between 1951 and 1954, no African-American school in the Little Rock School District received less than an "A."2
May 17, 1954, is an historic date in American history. In the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the United States Supreme Court found racially-segregated public schools unconstitutional. On May 22, 1954, the Little Rock school board stated that it would comply with the law of the land as reflected in the Supreme Court's decision. Looking back, this statement by the school board, coming less than a week after the historic Brown decision, was a credit to the school board and the city.
While waiting for clarification of the Brown decision, the superintendent and school board had proceeded to develop a plan for gradual integration starting with the high schools in 1957 and, over a seven-year period, moving down through the remaining grades. This plan was adopted by the board on May 24, 1955, a week before the decision on May 31, 1955, in which the Supreme Court instructed that the Brown decision should be implemented "with all deliberate speed." During the following two years, school officials worked to inform the community and explain the plan.
The school board's commitment to equal educational opportunities for both races, however, did not extend to the junior-college level. The board divested itself of both junior colleges. Citing inadequate finances, the board simply closed down Dunbar Junior College at the end of the spring semester 1955, and it handed off Little Rock Junior College into private status under a new board of trustees. Little Rock Junior College thus evolved into private Little Rock University and eventually into the public University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The school board members and the white civic leaders who accepted responsibility for preserving and nurturing Little Rock Junior College passed up an opportunity to establish a college in the capital city to serve both races.
It should be noted, nonetheless, that for a school board in a southern city willing to undertake desegregation of the public schools, the task was not an easy one. On the one hand, given segregated housing patterns and the locations of existing school buildings, desegregation would be a logistical challenge. It would also fracture local customs and strongly offend the values of the white majority. On the other hand, the African-American minority, after enduring decades of discrimination in separate but unequal schools, would be understandably impatient with any go-slow responses to the Supreme Court's decision.
Following announcement of the school board's plan for integration, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asked the school board to move faster in implementing the Brown decision, but the board did not alter its plans. On February 8, 1956, the NAACP filed suit (Aaron v. Cooper) in federal district court in Little Rock; but the district court, on August 28, 1956, and then the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, on April 27, 1957, found the school board's plan acceptable. The school board's plan, therefore, was going to be implemented as announced. This seemed a certainty since in an election of two school board members a few weeks earlier on March 16, two moderate candidates who had supported the plan for integration soundly defeated two segregationists who had opposed it.
The Little Rock School District has never quite recovered from the debacle at Central High in 1957, an event that dwarfs all others in the history of the school district. It is an exciting story with plenty of villains and heroes, plenty of shame and glory. It affected the whole of Arkansas, not just Little Rock; and it was a significant national event. But the analysis here will be limited to Little Rock and will recount only the essentials of the story, leaving out most of the one-right-after-another legal and political fights that wracked the city for two years.
During the first year, on September 2, 1957, Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central High on the eve of the new school year. The Governor justified his use of the National Guard to prevent the nine minority students from enrolling in Central High as necessary to prevent violence. Yet he went to his grave some 37 years later, after having made hundreds of speeches and having authored several books, without ever furnishing the evidence or the source of his information that disorder and danger were imminent.
On September 4, the troops prevented the enrollment of nine African-American students. On September 20, after a federal judge enjoined the Governor and the National Guard from interfering with integration, the Governor withdrew the National Guard from the high school.
On September 23, the nine students entered the school but were removed later in the morning because the city police were unable to control a large mob of whites outside the school. Then in a rather awesome display of federal authority, President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard, removing it from the Governor's jurisdiction, and sent the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army to assure that the integration of Central High School would proceed as planned.
At the end of the first year, with military forces still present, and with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in attendance, Ernest Green, one of the nine minority students who enrolled in Central High the previous fall, became the first African-American student to be graduated from Central High School.
The second year, 1958-59, was for the students of the Little Rock high schools a non-year. In June 1958, a federal district judge approved a request by the Little Rock school board to postpone integration until January 1961, but this decision was overturned by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court in the case known as Cooper v. Aaron on September 12, 1958. The school board was ordered to proceed with integration plans forthwith. Immediately after the Cooper v. Aaron decision was announced, the school board directed that the high schools commence the fall term on September 15; and the same day, the Governor ordered the Little Rock high schools closed. (Elementary and junior high schools, not yet integrated, remained open.)
The Governor had invoked authority given him by a new law adopted by the General Assembly of Arkansas in a special session of the legislature called by the Governor a few days before the school year began in the fall of 1958. Once schools were closed, the new law required a referendum election to determine whether school patrons were "for" or "against" immediate integration. On September 27, 1958, the vote in the Little Rock School District went more than two-to-one against integration. The schools remained closed; and a plan the Governor had touted before the vote that called for leasing the schools to a private corporation, which would open and operate them on a segregated basis, never got off the ground. There was to be no graduating Class of 1959 in the Little Rock public schools.
The second year climaxed in May 1959 when the three segregationist members of the school board attempted to fire 44 teachers and administrators they viewed as pro-integration. A group known as "STOP"--Stop This Outrageous Purge--opposed the firings and initiated a recall election. The three segregationists were voted off the board. A simultaneous effort by an opposing group known as "CROSS"--Committee to Retain Our Segregated Schools--failed in an attempt to recall the three moderate members of the board.
In June, a panel of federal judges invalidated the Arkansas law that gave the Governor the power to close public schools to prevent integration. The Little Rock high schools reopened in the fall of 1959 after two years of strife.
Looking back 40 years after the startling events of September 1957 at Central High, these observations provide perspective:
* As the 1957-58 school year approached, the Little Rock School District was on course to comply peacefully with the law of the land that, since the Brown decision of the United States Supreme Court in 1954, required an end to racially-segregated schools.
* The state government of Arkansas intruded massively in the business of the Little Rock School District to prevent implementation of the school board's plan for integration.
* No one can be sure, but there is every reason to believe that the schools of Little Rock would have integrated peacefully in the absence of the Governor's inflammatory behavior and the intrusion of state officials. Their actions invited defiance of the law by members of the community who, to that time, appeared to have accepted the inevitable.
* A book about heroes in Little Rock, 1957-1959, would start with the nine African-American high school students who attempted to enroll at Central High School. Only youths, they had to walk through angry, threatening crowds to enter the school. They and their families had to live with the highest levels of anxiety about their safety and well-being. They were many times the target of curses, threats, and abuse of property. The stories of these and other heroes, both African-American and white, deserve to be told again and again.
* The events of September 1957 did more than slow the momentum for integrated schools and constructive race relations. They brought Little Rock's economic development, which had been impressive for a decade, to a standstill. There would be no other announcement of new industrial plant openings in Little Rock until 1961. Civic and business leaders had to face the fact that business and industry did not build new plants or re-locate employees to places where the schools were in turmoil.
* The Governor's effort to prevent integration of the Little Rock public schools failed.
Unfortunately, the crisis was not one which left the community better and stronger than before. It was a crisis that stained the good name of Little Rock and left the community divided and exhausted as it struggled to come to terms with a social revolution taking place in Arkansas and across the United States.
Little Rock had briefly been in the forefront of desegregation litigation in the 1950s, but as the nation moved through the 1960s and hundreds of school districts inside and outside the South began to desegregate, courts all across the country began dealing with the same challenge. Little Rock's experience since then has followed, rather than led, national developments. Therefore, the story of the Little Rock School District after 1959 is best understood against the backdrop of national developments in desegregation.
As noted, a year after the Brown decision in 1954 the Supreme Court of the United States had said that desegregation should proceed "with all deliberate speed." During the next 10 to 15 years, as the nation and the courts were plowing new ground in desegregating formerly segregated school districts, the federal courts were receptive to a variety of desegregation plans. Specifically, the courts accepted "freedom of choice" plans that were based on the assumption that desegregation could be achieved on an essentially voluntary basis.
As the decade of the 1960s wore on, however, the federal courts concluded that freedom-of-choice plans were not getting the job done. What the courts saw were previously segregated school districts in which boards had rescinded segregationist policies, but practices appeared to be the same; and the schools were almost as segregated as ever despite implementation of freedom-of-choice plans. In broad terms, then, desegregation was not occurring "with all deliberate speed," as the Supreme Court had mandated in 1955. Indeed, it appeared to be occurring with no speed at all. It had been 12 to 15 years since the Brown decision. That seemed like a long time to both plaintiffs and judges. Moreover, there were numerous documented instances of continued resistance to court orders. Judges had ample reason to doubt that good faith efforts were being made by local school boards and to be convinced that stronger, clearer measures were necessary.
In light of such experience in a variety of school districts across the country, perhaps it was inevitable that the courts would reject freedom-of-choice plans and move to require that "racial balance" be achieved at each school within a desegregating school district. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, federal courts began to order school boards to formulate and implement desegregation plans that would achieve racial balance. This meant that if a district's student population was, for example, 70 percent white and 30 percent African-American, then each school's enrollment should reflect that 70/30 balance as closely as possible.
In public education, busing had been used for many years to bring rural children to schools in town, and it had also been used extensively in the South (without objections by white parents) to transport African-American students past one or more towns in order to deliver them to a segregated school. Busing was not new to public education, but extensive cross-city busing was new. It was to become an essential means for accomplishing the objective of racially- balanced schools.
Looking back, one can see that during the 1970s a paradigm--a common framework, a standard model of court-ordered desegregation--crystallized in the federal courts and was to prevail for two decades. The key elements were the following: (1) The federal district court would retain jurisdiction of a desegregation case more or less indefinitely--until the vestiges of the old dual system had been rooted out and a unitary system had been achieved. In effect, desegregation cases remained active for years. (2) Racial balance was required. Indeed, racial balance, originally a means to an end (desegregation), was to become an end in itself. (3) Busing became the primary tool to neutralize segregated housing patterns and distribute students in approved ratios at individual school sites.
|Inset: A History of Desegregation in Public Schools|
Other elements became common. There were often requirements that school faculty, administration, and other staff groups reflect specified racial balance. Facilities, extra-curricular programs, and sometimes curriculum were scrutinized and subject to court requirements. Compensatory programs for disadvantaged children also became common features of court-supervised desegregation plans. Because of sharp declines in white enrollment, magnet schools became a common feature of desegregation plans in the 1980s. They represented what has aptly been called affirmative action for white students.3 Interdistrict majority-to-minority ("M-to-M") transfer programs were also developed.
In recent years, the courts have begun to back away from the desegregation paradigm that has prevailed since the 1970s. For example, in 1994, the federal judge in the Dallas case determined that the district had desegregated as much as possible and pronounced it unitary. In 1995, the federal judge presiding over the Denver case told the Denver school district it could discontinue busing and return to neighborhood schools. In May 1996, a federal judge ended two decades of court-ordered busing in Cleveland. The federal courts have also relaxed or even discontinued court supervision of school districts in Buffalo, Savannah, Wilmington, Kansas City, and Broward County, Florida. These judicial actions have been taken in most instances despite the fact that the districts in question were experiencing a resegregation of their schools--due to dwindling numbers of white students.
Little Rock Follows National Pattern
In Little Rock, as elsewhere, desegregation occurred at a snail's pace after the end of the Central High crisis. In 1966-67, 12 years after the Brown decision, only 16.7 percent of African-American students in Little Rock were in schools with white students. Seven schools were still all white, and another dozen were still all African-American.
Since 1959, the history of the Little Rock School District has been defined by litigation, with most of the time in federal court stemming from three actions: one suit against the Little Rock School District filed in 1966; one suit initiated by the LRSD against the North Little Rock and Pulaski County school districts in 1982; then a settlement agreement among all parties in 1989, approved in a consent decree issued by the court.
In the first suit, the Little Rock School District was named as a defendant in what became known as the Clark case. The immediate reason for the filing of the case was that an African-American mother sought to enroll her elementary and junior high children in white schools near their home. School officials rebuffed her efforts and assigned her children to African-American schools. In time, Little Rock School District officials acceded to her request; but the district court retained jurisdiction, and several Clark decisions were issued over the next 15 years.
There was a fundamental turning point in a Clark decision in 1970. The U. S. District Court found the freedom-of-choice approach unacceptable, and the Little Rock School District was required to implement a plan to achieve racial balance in all of its schools. As had happened elsewhere, busing would become a primary tool in Little Rock for distributing white and African-American students proportionately to school sites throughout the city.
Since the 1970 decision, Little Rock School District officials have developed and implemented a series of pupil assignment plans in pursuit of what would prove to be the elusive goal of racial balance. (See Chapter Three for a detailed picture of enrollment trends from 1957-1958 to the present.) For example, in 1973, when the school board implemented a comprehensive pupil assignment plan, the Little Rock School District enrolled 21,095 students, 48 percent of whom were African-American. In 1976, the minority had become the majority; African-American students were 54 percent of total enrollment. In 1978, the board implemented a revised plan. In the fall of 1981, total enrollment had dropped to 18,104, of which 65 percent were African Americans.
One of the most significant decisions stemming from the Clark case came in 1983 in regard to the school board's "Partial K-6 Plan." This plan would produce four elementary schools almost 100 percent African-American. The concentration of African-American students in these four schools would make it possible to achieve a better racial balance in the remaining 23 elementary schools. Clark plaintiffs challenged the plan. The federal district judge approved the plan, as did the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. These four elementary schools were forerunners of the "incentive schools" of the 1989 settlement agreement. The Partial K-6 Plan was one symptom of the growing difficulty of desegregating a district--with desegregation defined as achieving racial balance across the schools of the district--with a small and decreasing number of white students. The consolidation case was another symptom.
Consolidation Case 1982
Little Rock School District officials filed suit in November 1982 asserting that policies and practices of the North Little Rock and Pulaski County school boards as well as the State of Arkansas and the State Board of Education had had a segregative impact on the Little Rock School District. After extensive legal proceedings, U.S. District Judge Henry Woods agreed with the Little Rock School District plaintiffs, and on April 13, 1984, he ordered the consolidation of the three districts.
The defendants appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. On November 7, 1985, the appeals court, while accepting the findings of liability reached by the district court, reversed the consolidation order and constructed a remedy of its own. Most notably, the appeals court ordered the transfer of territory from the Pulaski Country Special School District to the Little Rock School District, in order to make the Little Rock School District boundaries and those of the City of Little Rock virtually the same. At the same time, the court removed the Granite Mountain community from the Little Rock district and made it a part of the Pulaski County district. The net effect was to expand the Little Rock School District by some 38 square miles, to transfer 14 schools and almost 7,000 students from the Pulaski County district to the Little Rock district, and, thereby, to change the black/white ratio from 70/30 to 60/40 in the Little Rock School District.
With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that any realistic hope of having a desegregated school district in Little Rock--if desegregated is defined as racial balance in schools across the district--came to an end with the Eighth Circuit Court's reversal in 1985 of the district court's consolidation order. However, the experience in other cities suggests that the initial racial balance of a consolidated district would have been short-lived. Indeed, the growth in recent decades of bedroom communities outside Little Rock and Pulaski County supports the view that consolidation would have provoked white flight beyond the borders of a countywide district. Nonetheless, by broadening the geographical area and lengthening the time-frame, the district judge's consolidation order might have had more beneficial effects than the solution of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Settlement Agreement/Consent Decree 1989
After the appeals court reversed the consolidation order of the district court, the three districts in Pulaski County labored to formulate and implement desegregation plans consistent with the orders and guidelines of the appeals court. It was a contentious period among the districts and between the districts and the district court.
In 1989, the parties, with strong encouragement from community leaders, negotiated a settlement agreement among themselves. The state legislature committed to provide $109 million to fund certain parts of the desegregation programs of the three districts incorporated in the settlement agreement. Thus the state's liability was fixed and limited, and the State of Arkansas was also released as a party to the case. The settlement agreement was eventually approved by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and was then made effective in a court-issued consent decree.
|Inset: Settlement Agreement of 1989|
Here are only the most notable outcomes of the settlement for the Little Rock School District: (1) The longstanding requirement that racial balance be achieved throughout district schools, except at incentive schools, continued in effect. (2) A high priority was to be placed on eliminating educational achievement disparities between minority and white students. (3) The Little Rock School District was permitted to have seven elementary schools located in the eastern section of the city which would be essentially all-minority in enrollment. These would be known as "incentive schools." Concentrating African-American children in seven incentive schools would make it possible to achieve more racially-balanced and integrated elementary schools elsewhere in the district. These schools, because they would be serving primarily disadvantaged children under-prepared for school, would be "double-funded." Such funding would also make it possible to develop unique programs that would attract whites to these hard-to-desegregate schools. (4) Interdistrict and magnet schools would continue to be used as desegregation tools. (5) Over a period of 10 years, the State of Arkansas would provide $71 million in support of selected desegregation programs in the Little Rock School District. (6) The Little Rock School District could borrow up to $20 million from the State of Arkansas. If the district succeeded in raising the achievement levels of minority children to 90 percent of whites by the year 2000, then the Little Rock School District would not have to repay the loan. (7) Decisions by the district in a number of areas, such as closing old or opening new schools, required the approval of the court. (8) An Office of Desegregation Monitoring was established as an arm of the district court.
Four Decades of Instability, Four Decades of Enormous Effort
The constant presence of instability over the last 40 years leaps to the eye in any historical review of the LRSD. Since the crisis at Central High, a new or revised pupil assignment plan has been introduced approximately every five years. Each has grown out of litigation and then has become the subject of litigation.
One has to be impressed by the persistent instability of the LRSD and also by the efforts made again and again to put the district on an acceptable, stable, long-term course. The district has had the service of many able and dedicated citizens of the community. It has had superintendents who, without exception, have been well-qualified and able. It is hard to believe that these persons were simply not capable of planning and running a school district. Instead, one has to conclude that the larger system within which they were struggling doomed their efforts.
The district has also tapped the minds of the best and brightest from elsewhere. Along the way district officials as well as judges have secured the assistance of eminent desegregation authorities from around the country.
One must also be impressed by the sustained effort made by the advocates of African-American students, known in recent years as the Joshua Intervenors. They have done their best to protect the constitutional rights of minority children. They, too, have wanted and have worked for lasting solutions.
Given the dissension and instability that have plagued the LRSD since 1957, it is easy to overlook the fact that the district has many bragging rights.
The LRSD has seen an impressive number of its students become National Merit Finalists and Semi-Finalists and National Achievement Winners. Each year many of the graduates of Little Rock high schools win admission and scholarships to fine colleges all across the nation. LRSD students have done very well in science, mathematics, language, business, writing, the fine arts, forensics, and other academic competitions. The same can be said for athletics and for other extra-curricular programs. Its curricula provide more options than any school system in the state. It has long provided the Metropolitan Vo-Tech High School, open not only to its own students but to those of other districts. It has long provided the General Equivalency Development program--the GED--thereby giving a second chance to thousands of people who initially failed to earn their high school diplomas.
It seems particularly worth remarking that Central High School, through it all, has been a success. It is today integrated. It is today regarded as academically strong, a fact well-known beyond Arkansas in the admissions offices of the best colleges across the nation. For example, a doctoral student at Virginia Tech University asked the directors of admission at 33 of the nation's top colleges and universities to list 10 exemplary public high schools with outstanding guidance departments.4 In the results reported in the student's doctoral dissertation in 1993, Central High was one of the 26 most frequently named high schools across the nation. (There are approximately 16,000 public high schools across America.) The study also noted that in the preceding decade 10 percent of the state's National Merit Scholarship semifinalists had come from Central, as had a third of all of the African-American semifinalists.
The Little Rock School District can also be pleased that parents of children in the public schools give the district high marks. Figure 2-1 shows that two-thirds of them rate its overall performance as good or excellent. Only 5.9 percent rate it poor or very poor
A Sense That Things Are Getting Worse
Despite substantial bragging rights in the quality of its instructional programs and in the achievements of its students, there are perceptions that the LRSD is moving in the wrong direction. Figure 2-2 shows that a plurality of citizens (41.4 percent) see things as having gotten worse in the last five years, whereas only 18.8 percent see things as having improved over the last five years. In addition, it was the observation of almost half (48.5 percent) of teacher respondents (Figure 2-3) that the number of parents involved in their schools had decreased in the last five years, whereas only 20.9 percent reported an increase.
Such perceptions by the people of Little Rock are of concern for a number of reasons. They are likely to have a negative effect on efforts to attract and retain parents and students of both races. Also, people are not likely to be enthusiastic about adding fuel (a millage increase) to a ship that appears to be taking on water. Widely-held perceptions can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
The Big Question: Success or Failure?
Have the efforts to desegregate the Little Rock School District, which began five days after the United States Supreme Court announced the Brown decision in 1954, been a success or failure? That is the big question at the end of this historical overview. If the people of Little Rock are to chart a course for the future of their schools, they need an answer to this question.
The answer is "both." The efforts have been a profound success. The efforts have also been a profound failure.
On the one hand, the desegregation efforts of the last four decades have been a profound success because the dual system of education which the U. S. Supreme Court pronounced unconstitutional in 1954 has been dismantled.
In this connection it is worth remarking that an African American served as LRSD superintendent, 1993-1996. A number of African Americans have also been elected to the school board. In 1996, three of the seven school board members were African Americans, and one of them served as president of the board. Thus African Americans have been participating significantly in decisions regarding the education of both African-American and white children in a unified school district. This represents progress and a remarkable contrast to the situation in Little Rock in 1957 when the first nine African-American students entered Central High School. Through the years since 1957, thousands of white and African-American children, as well as their parents, have had the positive experience of knowing persons of the other race on a personal basis, not as distant racial stereotypes.
The desegregation efforts of the last four decades have been a profound success for another reason. The change in practice, forced by the federal courts, has helped to produce a change in attitude. Perhaps the most significant finding of the community survey of the Task Force came in response to this question: "Would you prefer to send your child to a racially segregated or integrated school?" A solid majority of both races expressed a preference for integrated schools, as shown in Figure 2-4. This represents major change since the 1950s when even those forward-looking leaders who initiated the desegregation effort in 1954 were doing so, not because they thought desegregation was a better way but because they thought it was inevitable.
On the other hand, the desegregation efforts of the last four decades have been a profound failure because, after 40 years, the district is resegregating. It seems unlikely that any of the desegregation leaders of the 1950s, whether white or African-American, would have wanted to see in 1997 the situation that has in fact become reality. Indeed, it seems safe to say that, to a person, they would be keenly disappointed in the current state of affairs.
The continued insistence of the federal courts that racial balance be achieved in the schools has been a major cause of resegregation. The consequences in Little Rock and in other cities across the nation are these: (1) white flight--in Little Rock the number of white students not enrolling in LRSD schools is approaching 50 percent, and an undetermined number of others have moved out of the district altogether; (2) racially-balanced but unstable schools--because the ratio has had to be revised from time to time to match the changing population of the district; (3) an increase in the number of all-minority schools, excused from the racial-balance requirement so that white students can be distributed across a smaller number of schools, hopefully permitting those schools to achieve the required racial balance; (4) desegregation within a particular district, but resegregation among districts as white flight has occurred.
What Next? The Agenda in 1997
Freedom of choice did not eliminate the old system of segregation. The racial-balance requirement, coupled with busing and other elements of the desegregation paradigm developed in the 1970s, did sweep away the old dual system; but that strategy for achieving desegregation has not succeeded in replacing the old dual system with a stable and workable new one.
Perhaps there was no realistic option between the pendulum swings of freedom-of-choice and mandatory racial balance. Nor is any purpose served in speculating about what might have worked better.
In 1997, the challenge is to understand the present situation as it has arrived from the past and to chart a new path to a stable public school system that enjoys the confidence and respect of all its stakeholders. Issues requiring attention are addressed in the remainder of this report. It is a tough agenda. If it were easy, it would have been done long ago.
1. The Task Force received assistance from UALR colleagues in understanding the history of the LRSD. Dr. Charles Bolton, Department of History, prepared an essay for the task force, "Segregation and Desegregation: A Brief History of the Little Rock School District." Dr. Johanna Lewis, Department of History, and a number of her graduate students, provided the Task Force with a time-line of significant events in the history of the LRSD. The students were Laura Miller, Jo Ellen Maack, Pablo Caballero, Wendy Scott, and Stacey Craig. Dr. Lewis, Jo Ellen Maack, and Laura Miller provided the profiles of four LRSD graduates that are printed in this report. An essay, "Little Rock Desegregation: A Comparative Case Study of National Desegregation--Its History and Direction," by Dr. Angela Sewall, Department of Educational Leadership, also provided helpful information and analysis.
2. Griffin Smith, Jr., "Localism and Segregation: Racial Patterns in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1945-1954" (Unpubl. Master's Thesis, Columbia University, 1965), 30-32, 34.
3. Theman Taylor, Sr., "Cracks in 'the Rock:' A Disturbing Aftermath--The Declining Significance of Desegregation--'Separate but Equal' Revisited," Arkansas State Press, March 14, 1996, 1, 6. Dr. Taylor interprets the LRSD desegregation plan as, in general, affirmative action for white students.
4. Shelley Marten Blumenthal, "Preparing the Public Secondary School Student for Highly Selective College Admission" (Unpubl. doctoral dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic and State University, 1993).