King’s 1963 dream still deferred
By John Telford
In 2003, nearly half a century after the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education had decreed “separate but equal” schools are inherently unequal, I was the only retired school superintendent in America who had ever returned to teach in an inner-city high school. The school was Detroit Public Schools’ Finney High (now East English Village under the state-created Educational Achievement Authority), which didn’t and doesn’t have a single white student. Thirty-six years earlier (Oct. 18, 1967), as a 31-year-old administrator at Detroit’s Butzel Junior High and a doctoral candidate at Wayne State, I had written a longer version of this column that ran in the University’s newspaper, The South End. While the terminology is dated — e.g., “Negro” — much of its premise remains valid:
“If there were a federal law punishing real estate agents who ‘steer’ Negro clients to predominately Negro neighborhoods, busing for integration would become unnecessary. Lacking that law, busing will remain necessary indefinitely — even though it can be but an artificial substitute for the uncontrived integration open housing would ensure. Although Negro childrens’ intellectual capacities are on a proven par with white children’s, most Negro children in segregated schools read at a level below the national norm.
“Inexperienced or untrained teachers, crowded classrooms and low-achieving classmates from the same deprived backgrounds perpetuate a generational cycle of illiteracy. Equal education demands integrated education. If our great cities are to be saved from degenerating into totalitarian camps with soldiers patrolling the streets as they did here in Detroit after last summer’s rebellion, we must have a federal open housing law with teeth. Opening the suburbs to everyone will eventually establish a residential racial balance at all economic levels.
“In the meantime, a policy must be established whereby a substantial percentage of inner-city students and suburban students will be bused to the schools in each others’ neighborhoods. Suburban children are as culturally deprived as are their contemporaries on 12th Street. As Martin Luther King, Jr. observes, the suburban setting promotes an unrealistic concept of what constitutes the human experience on our majority non-white planet. Suburbanites must become willing to accept students bused from the 12th Streets of our central cities to their schools and send their children into schools in urban neighborhoods.
“Even more significantly, a national open housing law must be passed and enforced. (It was passed the next year, but ever since, it has been enforced only sporadically.) Such a law can save our democracy — but only if Americans of European ancestry acknowledge their fellow citizens of African ancestry must have total equality. A nation predicated on the premise ‘equality for all’ that cynically practices an unwritten policy of ‘equality for some’ shall in the final analysis grant equality to none; all of its citizens shall find their freedoms forfeit.”
It turned out busing wasn’t the solution — open housing is. The still-unaddressed issue of racial segregation remains the elephant in the living room of our national conscience. As we celebrate Black History Month in America’s most segregated region 60 years after the Brown decision, DPS suffers under an unwarranted decade-long state takeover and unlawful partitioning, and our city suffers under a similar “emergency management” and “bankruptcy” yoke the gangster banksters and this Republican governor and legislature have put around our necks.
John Telford is a longtime activist educator and a recent DPS superintendent. Hear him Sundays at 4:30 on NewsTalk1200, get his books at www.AlifeontheRUN.com. He can be reached at DrJohnTelfordEdD@aol.com or 313.460.8272.