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Archive for the ‘Derechos civiles’ Category

Huellas2

Acaba de ser publicado un nuevo número de la revista Huellas de Estados Unidos. Este excelente proyecto de los colegas de la Cátedra de Estados Unidos  (UBA) ya suma catorce números, todos dedicados a promover un análisis latinoamericano de la historia estadounidense. Este número incluye ensayos sobre temas muy variados: la Guerra contra la Pobreza de Lyndon B. Johnson y el movimiento negro, los afiches (posters) del famoso Wild West de Buffalo Bill  y el asesinato “moral, intelectual e ideológico” de Martin Luther King. Este número también contiene ensayos sobre temas de gran actualidad, como el endeudamiento de los  estudiantes universitarios y la recién aprobada reforma tributaria impulsada por Donald Trump. Además de una sección de reseñas y ensayos bibliográficos, este número también incluye una conferencia dictada por el gran historiador estadounidense Eric Foner titulada La historia de la libertad en el “Siglo Estadounidense” (Museo Histórico Nacional del Cabildo y de la Revolución de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. 28 de septiembre de 2017).  Vayan, nuevamente, nuestras felicitaciones y agradecimientos al equipo editorial de Huellas de Estados Unidos.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez

29 de abril de 2018

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mlkHoy, 4 de abril de 2018, se conmemoran los cincuenta años del asesinato del Reverendo Martin Luther King, Jr. en Memphis, Tennessee. El Dr. King  se encontraba en Memphis apoyando la histórica huelga de los recogedores de basura, que en su mayoría eran afroamericanos. Su asesinato desató una ola de violencia urbana y apagó una de las voces más críticas de la sociedad estadounidense de la década de 1960.

Creo que la mejor forma de recordar al Dr. King en un día como hoy, es compartiendo su análisis de tres problemas fundamentales de su era y de total actualidad: el militarismo, el racismo y la pobreza. El 31 de agosto de 1967, el Dr. King pronunció uno de sus  más importantes discursos ante la National Conference on New Politics. Conocido como The Three Evils of Society Address, este discurso formó parte de su People´s Poor Campaign, dirigida a combatir la injusticia económica más de allá de límites raciales.

Para oir este importante discurso ir aquí.

 

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La década de 1960 fue testigo de la lucha de los afro-estadounidenses  por la igualdad social y política. Tras el fin de la guerra civil, los afro-estadounidenses  disfrutaron de un corto periodo de libertad e igualdad. Durante este periodo, ciudadanos negros llegaron ser electos alcaldes, gobernadores y representantes. Sin embargo, a finales de la década de 1870, éstos habían perdido sus derechos políticos gracias al desarrollo de un sistema de segregación racial. Este sistema conocido como “Jim Crow”  creó formas para negar  o limitar el derecho al voto de los afro-estadounidenses,  además de marginarles social y económicamente. Con el fin de separar las razas, se aprobaron leyes segregando racialmente las escuelas, los parques, y hasta las fuentes de agua. Los matrimonios entre blancos y negros fueron declarados ilegales en varios estados de la Unión.

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Los afro-estadounidenses  no sólo fueron arrebatados de sus derechos políticos, segregados y marginados, sino también fueron víctimas de la violencia racial. Entre 1880 y 1920, miles de afro-estadounidenses  fueron linchados por el mero hecho de ser negros.  Durante este largo periodo, el gobierno federal dejó abandonados y sin protección a miles de sus ciudadanos negros.

En los años 1960 se dio un renacer en la lucha de los afro-estadounidenses  por el reconocimiento de sus derechos políticos y por el fin de la segregación racial. Bajo el liderato de personas como Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Rosa Parks, Huey P. Newton y Bobby Seale, los afro-estadounidenses  usaron diversos tipos de medios para luchar contra quienes les oprimían y maltrataban (boicots, marchas, resistencia pacífica, resistencia armada, etc.). El resultado de esta lucha fue el desarrollo de un vasto movimiento a favor de los derechos civiles que logró la aprobación de leyes federales protegiendo los derechos de los ciudadanos afro-estadounidenses . Sin embargo, esta lucha constituyó una verdadera revolución, pues cambió considerablemente las relaciones y actitudes raciales en los Estados Unidos.

 Martin Luther King

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Rosa Parks

Una de las figuras claves de la lucha por los derechos civiles fue un joven pastor negro llamado Martin Luther King. Nacido en Atlanta en 1929, era hijo y hermano de pastores y vivió desde muy niño la segregación racial.  En 1954,   King se convirtió, a los veinticinco años de edad, en pastor de una iglesia bautista de la ciudad Montgomery. Un año más tarde, una mujer afroamericana llamada Rosa Parks se negó a cederle su asiento en un autobús público a una persona blanca, por lo que fue arrestada por violar las leyes segregacionistas vigentes en el estado de Alabama. En respuesta, el reverendo King encabezó un boicot contra el sistema de transportación pública de Montgomery que duró más de trescientos días. En 1956, el Tribunal Supremo declaró ilegal la segregación en los autobuses, restaurantes, escuelas y otros lugares públicos, lo que marcó el fin del famoso boicot de Montgomery.

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Martin Luther King y Lyndon B. Johnson

King le dedicará los próximos trece años de su vida a la lucha por la igualdad racial por medio de marchas, boicots, bloqueos, toma de edificios, etc. Creyente en la resistencia pacífica promulgada por Henry David Thoreau y Gandhi, King rechazó el uso de la violencia y se opuso a la intervención de los Estados Unidos en la guerra de Vietnam, por lo que ganó el Premio Nobel de la Paz en 1964.

King no sólo defendió el pacifismo, sino que también optó por aliarse con los sectores liberales en busca de reformas. Para él, la integración racial era posible y necesaria. King creía que sólo el cambio pacífico a través de la colaboración con los blancos traería el cambio que los afro-estadounidenses  estaban esperando y del que eran merecedores.

Este gran líder estadounidense fue asesinado el 4 de abril de 1968 en Memphis.  Su muerte provocó fuerte disturbios raciales, pero no frenó la lucha de los afro-estadounidenses  por sus derechos civiles.

La Ley de Derechos Civiles

El asesinato de  John F. Kennedy en noviembre de 1963 ocurrió en un momento que la lucha por los derechos civiles había ganado fuerza y contaba con el apoyo del presidente asesinado. La actitud que asumiría el nuevo residente de la Casa  Blanca preocupaba a los líderes negros, pues Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) no se había caracterizado por sus simpatías hacia la lucha de los afro-estadounidenses . Por el contrario, como Senador Johnson había bloqueado legislación a favor de los derechos civiles.

Afortunadamente para los afro-estadounidenses ,  LBJ entendió que la lucha por los derechos había cambiado el panorama político estadounidense. Además, éste quería unir a los Demócratas y demostrar que era un líder nacional por lo que adoptó el tema de los derechos civiles. Johnson hizo claro que estaba dispuesta a transar y uso todo su poder e influencia para conseguir que el Congreso aprobara  una ley de derechos civiles en 1964.

La aprobación de la Ley de Derechos Civiles  es uno de los episodios más importantes en la lucha de los afro-estadounidenses  por la igualdad.  Ésta es, además, la legislación más importante aprobada en los Estados Unidos con relación al tema de los derechos civiles desde el periodo de la Reconstrucción. La ley prohíbe la discriminación en los espacios públicos, ilegaliza la discriminación en el trabajo por sexo, raza u origen nacional, prohíbe la discriminación en programas federales y  autorizaba al Departamento de Justicia a iniciar casos legales para integrar escuelas y otras dependencias públicas.

El “Black Power”

No todos los afro-estadounidenses  adoptaron el pacifismo reformista predicado por Martin Luther King. Otros reclamaron cambios sociales inmediatos y optaron por la confrontación.  Éstos manifestaron su rencor hacia la sociedad blanca que restringía y limitaba sus aspiraciones, así como también  rechazaron la resistencia pacífica, la integración  y las alianzas de King.   Cansados, frustrados y sin fe en la justicia de los blancos, estos afro-estadounidenses  demandaron la creación de un poder negro o “Black Power”,  es decir, la creación de instituciones y movimientos políticos propios que dieran forma a una agenda propia de la comunidad afroamericana. En otras palabras, los defensores del “Black Power” querían definir su destino, no depender de los blancos para ello.

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Muhamad Ali y Malcom X

El movimiento “Black Power” estuvo fuertemente influenciada por las ideas de uno de los más importantes líderes afro-estadounidenses  de la historia, Malcom X.  Nacido como Malcom Little,  éste cambió su apellido a X como un acto simbólico de repudio al pasado esclavista. Tras una temporada en la cárcel por venta de drogas, Malcom fue liberado en 1952 y se convirtió al Islam.  Malcom se unió a una agrupación musulmana afroamericana llamada la Nación del Islam que era dirigida por Elijah Muhammad.  La inteligencia y oratorio de Malcom X le convirtieron muy pronto en una de las figuras más importantes de la comunidad musulmana afroamericana.

El pensamiento de Malcom tenía una fuerte tendencia separatista y nacionalista. Éste insistía en que los negros tomaran conciencia  y se levantaran en defensa de sus derechos para así alcanzar la independencia verdadera.  Según Malcom, los negros debían estar orgullosos de su negritud y de sus raíces africanas.  Crítico acérrimo de King, Malcom insistía que los afro-estadounidenses  debían conseguir su libertad usando cualquier medio posible, incluyendo la violencia.  En 1965, Malcom abandonó la Nación del Islam y fue asesinado por tres hombres vinculados a ese movimiento.

En 1966, Huey P. Newton y Bobby Seale fundaron el Partido de las Panteras Negras, el grupo más famoso en defensa de la autodeterminación de los afro-estadounidenses . Las Panteras Negras recurrieron a la violencia y se enfrentaron a la policía y el FBI en diversas ocasiones, pero fueron encarcelados o resultaron muertos, lo que terminó destruyendo al partido.

Bobby Seale, Huey Newton

Huey P. Newton y Bobby Seale

El movimiento “Black Power” tuvo un efecto importante para los afro-estadounidenses , pues fomentó el desarrollo de organizaciones comunitarias negras independientes de los blancos, ayudó a la creación de programas universitarios dedicados al estudio de los negros estadounidenses y sirvió para movilizar política y electoralmente a los afro-estadounidenses .  Además, sirvió para promover el orgullo racial  y la autoestima de los negros.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez, PhD

Lima, Perú

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Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 1963. AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Martin Luther King Jr. waves to supporters on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Aug. 28, 1963.
AFP/GETTY IMAGES

MLK’s Case for Reparations Included Disadvantaged Whites

Jonathan Rieder
The Root July 15, 2014

What does white America owe black America? To even broach that question 50 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 seems straight-out wacky. Did not the election of a black president redeem the nation? At a minimum, it’s rude—refusing to avert the eyes from that elephant in the room: “America begins in black plunder and white democracy.” That’s how Ta-Nehisi Coates deemed it recently in his extraordinary “The Case for Reparations.”

Far from fringe lunacy, the idea of a primal debt was obvious to Martin Luther King Jr. Exactly 50 years ago this month in Why We Can’t Wait, his Harper & Row account of the Birmingham, Ala., protests, he made his own impassioned case for compensation. And yet no matter how much he shared Coates’ desire to square accounts, King would settle on a rival solution for the crimes of slavery and all the forms of racism that succeeded it.

In the rapture of King’s crescendo at the March on Washington, it’s easy to forget the language of bankers that pervaded the first half of “I Have a Dream” (pdf): “America had defaulted on this promissory note” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” One year later, in Why We Can’t Wait, he was not coy about the nation’s “need to pay a long overdue debt to its citizens of color.” He retold the story of his 1959 visit to India, where Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru recounted all the preferential policies that aided the untouchables: “This is our way of atoning for the centuries of injustices we have inflicted upon these people.”

Invoking the sacred precedent of “our fighting men [in World War ll]” who “had been deprived of certain advantages and opportunities,” King ticked off all the things—the GI Bill of Rights—that were done “to make up for this.” Then King pivoted and pounced: “Certainly the Negro has been deprived” and just as surely “robbed of the wages of his toil.” You didn’t need a course in logic to complete the syllogism.

The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not diminish King’s zeal for reparations. “Frederick Douglass said we should have 40 acres and a mule,” he told a mass meeting not long before his death. Instead, the nation left blacks “penniless and illiterate after 244 years of slavery.” Calculating that $20 a week for the 4 million slaves would have added up to $800 billion, he noted acerbically, “They owe us a lot of money.”

The failure to repair thus added a new crime to the original one. It was like putting a man in jail and discovering his innocence years later: “And then you go up to him and say, ‘You are free,’ but you don’t give him any bus fare to get to town. You don’t give him any money … to get on his feet in life again. Every code of jurisprudence would rise up against that.”

There was still one more twist in the torment to come. All those “white peasants from Europe” who enjoyed the largesse of land grants and low-interest loans “are the very people telling the black man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. … It’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

Are the progeny of those “white peasants” readier to reckon with our racist legacy? Thirty-five years ago, a Brooklyn, N.Y., woman fumed to me about the TV program Roots, “If they keep shoving that stuff down our throats, there’s never going to be peace. … that was over 200 years ago that this slavery bit was!”

Today, countless Americans think blacks have received compensation in the form of anti-poverty money and quotas. As one person told political consultant Stanley Greenberg (pdf), “Didn’t they get 40 acres and a mule? That’s more than I got.” West Indians and African immigrants, too, sometimes complain that black Americans are too racial, and many millennials who used to thrill to President Barack Obama’s exalted flights are preoccupied with their own plights and the grit of a post-Lehman Brothers economy.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of whites even reject apologies for slavery, which cost nothing save one’s dignity. Many of the supporters of affirmative action whom Stanford political scientist Paul Sniderman queried in the 1990s endorsed the remedy only if blacks were not its sole recipients and the rationale was universal: “help people who are out of work” rather than “because of the historic injustices blacks have suffered.”

It’s possible that attaching a race to the injustice made the respondents squirm. Perhaps it forced whites to dwell on this unsettling fact: Our success in part is a windfall, reaped from the access black exclusion gave us to jobs, slots in housing markets and much else.

In truth, white psyches and circumstances are too varied to sustain such generalities. The woman who recoiled from “that slavery bit” didn’t lack empathy. She filled up with emotion as she observed, “The blacks were treated worse than animals; they were taken up from their own happy soil.” When Greenberg returned to McComb County, Mich. (pdf), before the 2008 election, some of the same Reagan Democrats (or their children) who had seen blacks as the source of all their ills in the 1980s and heard Jesse Jackson’s “Our time has come” as “Your time is over,” could now acknowledge America’s special burden: “We did hold them back, and a lot of people were cheated.” As for Sniderman’s respondents, likely many of them saw universalism as a different, equally righteous take on healing and helping.

Maybe, then, it’s best to settle for those modest moral advances, especially if that’s the price of any coalition of conscience that might some day be motivated to remedy the ills of suffering Americans. Better to leave the fuller atonement to those Deep South museums that have confronted their louche local past; people who exit Twelve Years a Slave in turmoil; lawsuits seeking compensation for specific violations like the racist rampage in Tulsa, Okla. Anything more perfect might be the enemy of the good, even the moral good.

 

Ultimately, in the very chapter of Why We Can’t Wait in which he laid out the justice of reparations, King rejected the idea of recompense for blacks alone. It’s not that he was prepared to abandon this equation of restorative justice: The nation that did something special against the Negro had to do something special for him.

But the special thing that King proposed—“A gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial”—left plenty of room for white “veterans” in the mix. He offered solace to the least of these, no matter what their complexion. Inevitably, there was a shrewdness to this inclusion, part of the effort to woo white allies and crystallize the liberal coalition on race that had been growing since Birmingham. It was also, King underlined, “a simple matter of justice.”

Already in 1964, King was looking beyond the Civil Rights Act. He could grasp its limited power to effect “improvements” in the Negro’s “way of life.” He could see that rights and respect might arrive more quickly than economic equality. He could also see that however much white supremacy left blacks vulnerable to inimical forces, the forces could be unsentimentally free of bigotry and wreak havoc on whites and blacks alike.

At the March on Washington, King invited whites to join the  “we” who could sing, “Free at last … we are free at last,” and thus share in bondage and deliverance. He did something just as generous inWhy We Can’t Wait. Likely it took a Christian whose idea of a fair exchange was blessing those who curse you to offer poor and middling Southern whites this face-saving gift: He defined them not as beneficiaries of white supremacy but as “victims of slavery” who suffered their own “derivative bondage.” This wasn’t masochism talking, but a faith at once hard-boiled and brimming with grace.

What, then, about balancing the ledger for specifically black injuries? Throughout Why We Can’t Wait, there are hints that resolving matters of policy and politics didn’t still all the feelings churning within King. “A price can be placed on unpaid wages,” he underlined, but “no amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries.” He rejected an easy “four-minute atonement” as inadequate to “400 years of sinning.”

Atone, you sinners! That is the sound of the muffled voice of the preacher rising up through the printed page. And in the end it seems Coates, too, is seeking something similar: recognition as much as reparations; “not a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe” but “the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences.”

King harbored no illusions that whites as a whole had the moral gumption to undergo that ordeal. In the Letter From the Birmingham Jail, he observed, “I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race.”

The evidence for pessimism only intensified as 1964 unfolded. George Wallace broke out of his Southern lair. White backlash quickened in the North. By 1968 King could warn, “a nation that put as many Japanese in a concentration camp … could put black people in concentration camps.”

And so, in the absence of full justice, the preacher could be a chastising prophet, who once told a mass meeting: “Do you know that in America the white man sought to annihilate the Indian, literally to wipe him out, and he made a national policy that said in substance, the only good Indian is a dead Indian? Now, a nation that got started like that has a lot of repentin’ to do.”

But even rebuke did not close the case. There remained the work of memory and mourning. King never stopped honoring that history, whose pain could not be fully assuaged by rebuke or recognition. In the refuge of a black church, in the nurturant embrace of his people, he grieved: “We read on the Statue of Liberty that America is the mother of exiles.” But whites “never evinced the maternal care and concern for its black exiles who were brought to this nation in chains. And isn’t it the ultimate irony … that the Negro could sing in one of its sorrow songs, ‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.’”

As the audience erupted in applause, King demanded, “What sense of estrangement, what sense of rejection, what sense of hurt could cause a people to use such a metaphor?”

Jonathan Rieder, a professor of sociology at Barnard College, Columbia University, is the author most recently of Gospel of Freedom: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail and the Struggle That Changed a Nation and The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King Jr.

 

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The Warren Court Decisions Earl Warren Said Were the Most Important … “One Person, One Vote” 

 HNN   June 18, 2014

In an age of increasingly sophisticated, computer driven gerrymandering, an imagined, but non-existent, epidemic of voter fraud that has led to a profusion of voter identification laws, and an infusion of corporate money into the electoral system, we as Americans continue to wrestle with basic notions of fair representation. As we struggle to make our political system more truly democratic, we ought to consider the bold and historic actions taken by the Supreme Court of the United States fifty years ago this month.

On June 15, 1964, just four days after the United States Senate brought an end to the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a series of decisions that established the principle of “one person, one vote” in all state legislatures. For the remainder of his life, Chief Justice Earl Warren maintained that these decisions trumped all others made during his tenure, including the segregation decisions, in terms of their importance to American democracy.

Prior to the reapportionment rulings, American democracy was a deliberately misshapen enterprise. In a U.S. version of “rotten boroughs,” district boundaries in almost every state were readily drawn to give some citizens a far greater voice than others. In California in 1960, for example, a state senator from the Eastern Sierra had a mere 14,000 constituents, while a peer from Los Angeles represented more than six million.

Like Jim Crow, this practice seemed to defy the most elementary notions of democracy as a system of popular self-rule – and yet it had many defenders. Malapportionment circumscribed the political power of labor and civil rights advocates and promoted a pro-business, anti-labor agenda of low taxes, limited government spending, and minimal regulation. In the American South, malapportionment served as a cornerstone of white supremacy, ensuring the overrepresentation of the most ardent segregationists and thus further delaying the realization of civil and voting rights for African Americans. As the 20th century proceeded, urban and suburban populations swelled dramatically while legislative districts remained roughly the same. As a result, minority rule intensified.

After World War II, individual citizens, municipal officials, and civic organizations began to seek relief, but repeatedly failed, thwarted by a conspiracy of inaction among lawmakers and judges.

Finally, in 1962, the Supreme Court decided the time had come to intervene. In Baker v. Carr, a majority of the Warren Court ignored the angry dissent of Felix Frankfurter and ruled that federal courts did have jurisdiction to consider whether or not legislative malapportionment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Deliberations in Baker proved so exacting that they contributed to the physical decline and ultimate resignation of Frankfurter and one of his colleagues.

Baker v. Carr did not establish a standard for states to follow in drawing legislative districts, but the decision did open the doors of the federal courts to litigants to challenge malapportionment. Within two years, attorneys and plaintiffs in more than three-dozen states had done just that.

During a tumultuous term that began in October 1963 and was tragically interrupted by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments and issued full opinions in seven of these cases. In February 1964, the Court announced that each state’s districts for the U.S. House of Representatives must contain, as nearly as possible, the same number of people. What came next proved far more controversial.

On June15, 1964, Warren delivered the Court’s opinion in Reynolds v. Sims. Declaring that “legislators represent people, not trees or acres,” he announced that the Equal Protection Clause required both chambers in a state’s bicameral legislature to be apportioned according to the principle of “one person, one vote.”

Although less well-known than Reynolds, a companion case, Lucas v. Forty-Fourth General Assembly of Colorado, turned out to be the most important decision handed down that day. In it, the Court made clear that its ruling in Reynolds left no room for states to deviate from straight population equality in either branch of a bicameral legislature, even if a state’s voters supported a less rigorous standard in a referendum. In one broad stroke , the Court effectively rendered unconstitutional almost every state legislature in the nation. By the end of the decade, the Court had determined that apportionments for all elective municipal and county offices—including city councils, boards of supervisors, and school boards, among others—must adhere to the same standard.

Proponents of reapportionment hailed the decisions as “magnificently liberating,” a step “toward establishing democracy in the United States,” while opponents denounced them as the most significant “usurpation of power by the judicial branch” in American history. Opposition to the decisions of June 15, 1964, soon coalesced around Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, the Republican Minority Leader who enjoyed close ties with national business organizations. Dirksen championed a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state legislatures to apportion one branch of a bicameral legislature on factors other than population. When this approach failed to draw enough support in the Senate, he and others took a more radical step. In order to overturn the court’s decision, they sought to hold the first Constitutional Convention since the founding convention of the 1780s. Over the course of five years, from 1964 to 1969, thirty-three states, just one short of the constitutional threshold, petitioned for such a convention.

Ultimately, time proved the most important ally of the pro-reapportionment forces. The principal of “one person, one vote” soon became the norm in every state and led to a profound transformation in American democracy. In many states, the stranglehold of rural voters was broken, as residents of the burgeoning suburbs exerted more influence.

As the essence of majority rule confronts new challenges, most especially from a profusion of corporate money into the electoral process and a frightening retreat from the massive achievements of the Voting Rights Act, we would do well to remember the reapportionment revolution of the 1960s and its reminder of the need for constant vigilance against counter-majoratarian impulses in our democracy.

J. Douglas Smith is the author of On Democracy’s Doorstep: The Inside Story of How the Supreme Court Brought “One Person, One Vote” to the United States, published by Hill & Wang, June 10, 2014.

 

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Black Women Entertainers in a Revolutionary Time: An Interview with Historian Ruth Feldstein – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155821#sthash.pv6BHGCY.dpuf
Black Women Entertainers in a Revolutionary Time: An Interview with Historian Ruth Feldstein – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155821#sthash.pv6BHGCY.dpuf
Black Women Entertainers in a Revolutionary Time: An Interview with Historian Ruth Feldstein – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155821#sthash.pv6BHGCY.dpuf
Black Women Entertainers in a Revolutionary Time: An Interview with Historian Ruth Feldstein – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/155821#sthash.pv6BHGCY.dpuf

Black Women Entertainers in a Revolutionary Time: An Interview with Historian Ruth Feldstein

Robin Lindley

HNN June 9, 2014


“Culture was a key battleground of the civil rights movement,” writes historian Dr. Ruth Feldstein who explores race and gender as well as the connection of art and activism in her compelling new study, How It Feels to Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement (Oxford University Press).

Dr. Feldstein’s book focuses on the activism and influence of six prominent black performing artists: Lena Horne, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Miriam Makeba, Cicely Tyson and Diahann Carroll. As these women entertained America they also spoke out in various ways for equality and justice in support of the civil rights struggle.

The trailblazer, brilliant vocalist and star of stage and screen Lena Horne, led the way with her performances in the 1930s and 1940s that introduced wide audiences to a fresh and novel talent, and her activism that grew, crossed many divides, and matured in the 1960s. In the shadow of Horne, the five younger artists each broke new ground in her own way to transform American culture and to reshape outdated views of race and gender, forging black power and evolving feminism.

In her sweeping account, Dr. Feldstein details the work and struggle of each of these women who achieved fame in male-dominated cultural industries while resisting racist and sexist stereotypes. She discusses the how South African singer Miriam Makeba connected the American civil rights movement with the anti-apartheid campaign in her native land; how jazz icon Nina Simone confronted audiences with the brutality of racial discrimination in her fiery, moving songs; how the outspoken vocalist and actress Abbey Lincoln broke new ground in music and film; how actress Diahann Carroll made history as television’s Julia in 1968 and then struggled with the ways she was typecast; and how award-winning actress Cicely Tyson advocated for human rights and for dignified portrayals of African Americans on screen and television as she starred in renowned films such as Sounder and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

How It Feels to Be Free has been praised for its originality, insight, and its blending of political and cultural history. Dr. Daphne Brooks of Princeton University wrote: “By placing black female musicians and actors at the center of Civil Rights history, Ruth Feldstein has written a tremendously important study that challenges readers to consider the imaginative activism of artists who performed progressive representations of black womanhood. How It Feels to Be Free takes readers on a critical journey across the mid-twentieth century freedom struggle by way of women performers who rehearsed, remixed, and renegotiated civil rights and black power politics, as well as emergent feminisms.” And Peniel E. Joseph, author of Stokely: A Life commented: “How It Feels to Be Free stands out as an enormous act of historical recovery. Ruth Feldstein masterfully illuminates the way in which black women entertainers actively participated in the civil rights struggle and helped to transform American and international race relations. A powerful and thought provoking book that will change the way we look at gender, civil rights, and the black freedom movement.”

Dr. Ruth Feldstein is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University, Newark.  Her teaching and research focus on the intersections of gender and race and the relationships between culture and politics. Her first book was Motherhood in Black and White: Race and Sex in American Liberalism, 1930-1965, an intellectual and cultural history of liberalism and race from the New Deal to the Great Society.

Dr. Feldstein graciously responded by email to a daunting series of questions on her new book.

Robin Lindley: How did you come to write about the civil rights movement through the stories of this group of black female entertainers?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: For one, I wanted to tell the stories of women whose voices have not been heard. While it is a bit ironic to say that about amazing vocalists like Lena Horne, Nina Simone, or Abbey Lincoln, these and other women have been marginal to our political histories of these decades. Theirs are not the melodies that we tend to hear at Martin Luther King Day celebrations each January. Yet there was far more to civil rights than “I have a dream,” and there was far more to culture and civil rights than “We Shall Overcome.”

I also wanted to consider how politics and social movements were relevant to the thousands upon thousands of Americans and non-Americans who did not (or today, do not) consider themselves particularly political. After all, plenty of people never marched or boycotted or worked on behalf of any particular candidate in the late 50s into the 70s. Nevertheless, they encountered black activism when they bought certain albums or listened to certain songs or watched particular films or television shows. In other words, we need to expand the parameters in which we see people acting politically. When we do so, we can see that these six trailblazing women were critical to what were arguably the two most transformative social movements of the twentieth century: civil rights and women’s liberation.

Abbey Lincoln

Robin Lindley: How did you choose the six women you focus on in the book? What connections did you find in terms of the civil rights movement?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: That’s a great question, and plenty of readers offer me lists of their favorites who could have been included. I chose to focus on these six women because of their diversity and because of what they had in common.

In terms of their diversity, the book traverses television and film, jazz and pop music, the NAACP and the Black Panthers, Selma and South Africa. That is, I incorporated women entertainers who worked across different cultures and industries—and not just women in jazz or women on television; I also wanted to tell a story that cuts across national boundaries and typical political divides of liberalism and radicalism.

On the other hand, even with these differences, the six women I write about did have a lot in common: they all had relationships to organized political movements for racial equality; they all were popular within, and beyond, the United States; and they were all were political subjects and intellectuals and not “merely” entertainers. Perhaps of greatest significance, though, they shared a loosely connected community. The women in How It Feels To Be Free were essential to a larger interracial group of activists/entertainers that came of age culturally and politically in New York—primarily in the Village and in Harlem–in the late 1950s. Their communities included HarryBelafonte, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Maya Angelou, and Ossie Davis,to name just a few. The book is a history of that urban subculture and its gendered dimensions at the same time that it offers snapshots of particular figures.

This is not to say that there were not many other black women entertainers from this period whose careers mattered to the civil rights movement. I feel lucky to have been researching and writing this book when other writers and scholars have told wonderful stories about other women, and I look forward to reading more of this exciting work.

Robin Lindley: What was your research process? Did you have an opportunity to interview any of your subjects?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: My process was to research and write, research and write, chapter by chapter; initially, each chapter felt relatively independent. As the process continued over time, I started to see more and more links between and among the women. In fact, they were connected to each other in all sorts of ways. But this wasn’t necessarily obvious at the outset because critics from the late 1950s—when Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, and Cicely Tyson all came of age professionally—wrote about each one in isolation. It took time for me to see that they were an emergent collectivity of ambitious black women performers who together were building their careers, innovating, and making political commitments.

I made a conscious decision not to interview the women I was writing about. I made that choice because I really wanted to listen in on the conversations that were happening in that period of time. My main questions were about how people at the time made these women and their careers meaningful—how the women worked to represent themselves and how other people reacted to them and made them celebrity-activists. I felt that talking to them decades later would certainly be incredibly interesting, but would not necessarily help me to answer those questions and, in fact, could possibly distract me from those questions.

Robin Lindley: I think many Americans think first of male leaders such as Dr. King and Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael or male entertainers such as Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier when they think of the sixties and the civil rights movement. What are a few things you would like others to know about the role of women in the movement?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: I absolutely agree with you, Robin. The story of the civil rights movement—at least the one that I learned in grade school, high school and even into college, and the one that my students tell me they are still getting in high school—tends to revolve around male leaders and songs like “We Shall Overcome” as the ubiquitous background soundtrack. Occasionally a woman—usually Rosa Parks—shows up in that story; but even then she tends to appear as the “tired, old seamstress,” who “suddenly” decided not to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery (this despite her decades of activism). But when we bring black women entertainers center-stage, the history of civil rights looks different.

For example, in 1963, just a month after the March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, Nina Simone wrote the song “Mississippi Goddam.” The song had an upbeat tempo, but offered incredibly incendiary lyrics filled with anger. Simone rejected the notion that race relations could change gradually and shattered the assumption that African Americans would patiently use the legislative process to seek political rights. She even declared, “But this whole country is full of lies, You’re all gonna die and die like flies.”

In a moment that many people today remember as the high water mark of liberal, interracial, nonviolent, church-based activism that culminated in passage of landmark civil rights legislation, Simone dramatically departed from conventional wisdom and imagined another kind of black freedom. A few years later, the vision that she offered in “Mississippi Goddam” would become known widely as black power.

Nina Simone

Contrary to the neat historical trajectories which assume that black power only arose in the late 1960s, Simone’s album makes clear that black power perspectives were already taking shape and circulating widely years earlier—in organizations, but also on vinyl albums that music fans played around the world. So by listening to this woman’s voice, we can reperiodize civil rights, and mess up what is sometimes an overly schematic story of civil rights versus black power.

But there’s more to it than that. When Simone denounced racism and those who called on black Americans to wait patiently for progress, she did so in ways that emphasized female power. In one verse, Simone sang:

Yes, you lied to me all these years

You told me to wash and clean my ears

And talk real fine, just like a lady

And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie.

But this whole country is full of lies

You’re all gonna die and die like flies

I don’t trust you any more

You keep on saying “Go Slow.

When Simone rejected the impulse to “talk like a lady” she was saying that black women did not have to focus on appearance, diction, and manners—to “wash and clean my ears,” to “talk like a lady” as she put it—to claim their rights; she argued that doing so did not stop whites from calling black women “Sister Sadie” instead of their real names. She was saying that women should not have to behave a certain way to be recognized as deserving. Here and in other songs, Simone staged an assault—simultaneously—on racism and on expectations of female propriety. For her, black power was about black female power.

This is just one example of how listening to women allows us to reconceptualize as well as reperiodize histories of the movement.

Robin Lindley: Lena Horne is a pivotal and overarching figure in your book. How did she influence the civil rights movement and the younger women you profile?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: Lena Horne was older than the other five women in How It Feels to Be Free. In the 1930s and 40s, when Makeba, Simone, Carroll, Lincoln were kids, really, Horne challenged long entrenched assumptions about black women. For example, in 1941, she became the first African American woman to sign a contract with a major Hollywood studio, one in which MGM executives acceded to her demand that she not play any maids on film. She rejected definitions of black women as either sexualized Jezebels or as caretaking and subordinate Mammies. These were powerful and deeply ingrained images that had boxed in all black women for centuries. Instead, Lena Horne made it possible for fans across lines of race to imagine a black woman as glamorous, and as an unavailable object of desire. In many respects, then, Horne created the template for the modern and glamorous politicized female black celebrity.

In the late 1950s, younger black women encountered, played with, and bent sometimes beyond recognition that template. Diahann Carroll was a singer and actress who invited numerous comparisons to Horne. Starting in the 50s, Carroll worked to update and maintain Horne’s insistence that that a black woman could simultaneously be respectable, sexual, and glamorous. Other black women performers also grappled with Horne’s image. But they did more to redefine celebrity culture and they transformed meanings of glamour for black women.

Lena Horne

 Robin Lindley: Miriam Makeba was South African but performed extensively in the US. Wasn’t she important in terms of educating many about international liberation movements and conditions in the US?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: Miriam Makeba was a South African singer who came to the U.S in 1959. Within days of arriving, she made her American debut and was a big sensation. But in contrast to her good friend, Nina Simone, Makeba insisted that she was “just” an entertainer, and she avoided confrontations and overtly political lyrics. Nevertheless, she was able to make connections for her audiences in the United States between domestic black activism and anticolonial struggles. Americans who knew little about Africa beyond Tarzan paid attention to anti-apartheid activism when they saw the exiled Makeba on the popular Steve Allen television show and in the commercial mainstream in the early 1960s. In all sorts of ways—with her music, her lyrics, her appearance, her wardrobe, with what she did and said on-stage and off—she was able to get white and black Americans to see and understand black South Africans who lived under apartheid rule. Without ever using the phrase “black power” in this period, Makeba affirmed the power of blackness and affirmed the power of Africa; she offered a vision of black power for women and men across borders.

Robin Lindley: Actress Cicely Tyson may be best remembered now for her groundbreaking roles in Sounder and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, but she was also deeply committed to the civil rights movement. How do you see Tyson’s role?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: Tyson’s commitment to the civil rights movement was not separate from her acting career; in fact, her commitment to civil rights expressed itself directly in relation to the groundbreaking roles she worked so hard to get. For example, she avoided musicals because she felt that so many white consumers assumed that black performers were “naturally” drawn to those roles, and she refused to adhere to those assumptions. Starting in 1959, when she played the part of a young African woman on the television drama Camera Three, Tyson wore her hair in a short, cropped Afro. She maintained her short Afro in her role as a secretary to a liberal white social worker on the critically acclaimed (but short-lived) television drama on CBS, East Side, West Side (1963). It was “my way of picketing” she later said about her hair.

Tyson also did not work for long stretches—in part because she was so selective about what parts she would accept and because she felt so strongly that it was important to represent black women in certain ways. And when her career did take off in the 1970s, many of her most significant roles engaged with the political debates going on around her—from welfare to police brutality, to name just two—even in stories like Sounder that were set in the past.

Robin Lindley: How did these artists affect the feminist movement?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: The women I write about did not necessarily call themselves feminists. But gender was critical to their vision of black freedom. They offered critiques and made demands that became central tenets of feminism generally and of black feminism specifically. I’ll offer just a few examples, but there are many to choose from.

Abbey Lincoln’s career started as in nightclubs; she wore tight fitting low cut gowns and was known as the “sepia Marilyn Monroe.” But by the late 1950s, she had rejected that music and that sexualized image. She had realized “how wonderful it is to be a black woman,” she said, and with that, opted for more experimental jazz vocals and a very different personal style.

A few years later, in 1968, Lincoln, known for her connections to black nationalist politics and her experimental jazz vocals, co-starred alongside Sidney Poitier in the film, For Love of Ivy. Ivy, a young woman domestic (Lincoln in a straight-haired wig), wants to leave her job, is financially independent, hard-working, sexually active, and, as she explains to the Poitier character on their first date, uninterested in marriage. The sex scene between the two stars was one of the first times a commercial Hollywood film featured unmarried black characters in an elegant and romantic setting. “Nobody asks what I want,” declares Ivy, toward the end the film, as she protests the ways that both the white family and Poitier’s character try to control her.

Off-screen, Lincoln talked about the film in ways that highlighted the strength and dignity of working class black women. She discussed the limited options they had for work, and spoke out about her own experiences as a domestic. In other words, Lincoln put the character’s quest for independence and autonomy—economic andsexual—at the center of the story. She anticipated a black feminist perspective that took into account the aspirations and experiences of working-class black women.

In another example, in South Africa, Miriam Makeba was nicknamed the “nut brown baby.” She disapproved of the U.S.-made skin-lighteners that were so popular among her peers in the early 1950s and refused to appear in advertisements for these products that sexualized and celebrated light skinned black women.

Coming back to Nina Simone, many of what we think of as Simone’s civil rights songs emphasized female power. In addition to “Mississippi Goddam,” “Pirate Jenny,” for example, was a song about a poor working class black woman’s fantasies of violence; she feels empowered as she imagines enacting revenge against the white townspeople who watch her “gawking” as she scrubs floors. In the song “Four Women” (1966), Nina Simone sang about four different types of black women from different periods in U.S. history, each of whom wrestled with the combination of racism, sexism, and color consciousness. The final woman in the song, “Peaches” would “kill the first mother I see” because her “life has been rough.” “Four Women” became one of Simone’s most popular songs.

So too, Cicely Tyson’s choice to take on distinctly unglamorous roles had everything to do with both race and gender. Sounder’s emphasis on a loving black family directly countered images of black families as “dysfunctional,” and as caught in a “tangle of pathology” as Daniel Patrick Moynihan had put it in 1965. Tyson talked about this when she promoted the film: If it were not for unified, loving black families, she said “we would not be where we are today as a race of people.”

Tyson was also countering images of black women—and black mothers specifically–that were popular in the late 60s early 70s: as promiscuous “bad mothers” who were only concerned about getting the next welfare check. After seeing Sounder, one white woman wrote to Tyson that “I never knew that kind of love went on between a black man and woman. I thought you were sexual animals.” This comment is just one indication that Tyson’s performances were never just about race and civil rights, or just about gender and women’s liberation, but were always about both. Tyson’s portrayal of Rebecca spoke to how intertwined issues of race and gender were in the performance and consumption of black womanhood.

Cicely Tyson

Robin Lindley: Didn’t each of these women artists suffer career setbacks because of their political expressions and promotion of black activism?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: The women I write about were enormously popular, in the United States and around the world. Miriam Makeba sang at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party celebration at Madison Square Garden in 1962 (where Marilyn Monroe made an even more famous appearance!), and was the first South African singer to receive a Grammy award; Diahann Carroll won a Tony award for No Strings in (1962); and Cicely Tyson and Diahann Carroll each received Oscar nominations for best actress in a lead role for their performances in Sounder (1972) and Claudine (1974).

At the same time, it is worth emphasizing the risks that black women took when they straddled the worlds of culture and politics. After one influential critic accused Abbey Lincoln of being a “professional Negro” for singing songs that had political content on the album Straight Ahead in 1961, she did not record an independent album for over a decade. Miriam Makeba was exiled from her home country of South Africa for decades because of her associations with anti-apartheid activism. She was initially very successful in the United States but, when she married Stokely Carmichael in 1968—an activist known for his connections to black power—she was effectively blacklisted in the American entertainment industry. Nina Simone faced criticism and threats of censorship when she wrote and performed songs like “Mississippi Goddam” that challenged white Americans and denounced interracialism. Cicely Tyson waited years between parts, and almost gave up acting altogether, because she refused to accept roles that she felt sexualized or otherwise demeaned black women. When Diahann Carroll—long associated with glamour and high fashion—took on the part of a working class, single black mother (in the film Claudine, in 1974), she earned an Academy Award nomination, but she also faced a tremendous amount of criticism—for “slumming,” for being incapable of playing the part of a poor black woman in an “authentic” manner, and more. She felt her career floundered after that.

It was never easy, and the women I write about negotiated their ambition and talent and their political commitments in all sorts of ways.

It’s also worth adding that this pattern of silencing them persists today. Nina Simone has become an increasingly iconic figure, especially since her death. A few years ago, my daughter’s public school teacher asked me to come in and talk to the class about music and civil rights. I prepared a program for them about her and about “Mississippi Goddam.” The morning I was scheduled to go in, I got a call from the assistant principal saying that they would not let me play that song to middle schoolers. “Mississippi Goddam” remains deeply controversial in some places.

Robin Lindley: One interesting theme was how several of these black women challenged mainstream white standards of beauty—and that seems an important part of this story. How did some change their appearance and how did white audiences respond?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: That’s a great point, Robin. All of the women I write about were involved in a process of politicized self-fashioning. This was a process in which race and femininity played intersecting parts.

In the 1940s, for example, Lena Horne became known as the first “black pin up girl.” It’s easy for us to forget that in the 1940s the very idea of “beauty” was racially specific. A black woman couldn’t be a “sex symbol,” according to this twisted racial logic, because for centuries, so many whites believed that black women were inherently available to white men. But Horne said no; through her appearance, she claimed—and was granted access—to the category of beauty. Lena Horne made it possible for fans across lines of race to imagine a black woman as glamorous, as someone who white and black men could look at but not have.

Twenty years later, Makeba, Simone, Lincoln, and Tyson also insisted that how they looked mattered to their racial politics. But in contrast to Horne who claimed that black women had access to definitions of beauty and glamour that historically were associated with whiteness, they did more to transform or reject these definitions of beauty altogether. Hair was one of the crucial props that that they drew on to do so.

Diahann Carroll

In the late 1950s, for example, when singer Abbey Lincoln left the world of nightclubs and declared that “I demand that I be respected as a dignified Negro woman,” she simultaneously embraced modern jazz vocals and started to wear her hair natural. Similarly, starting in 1959, Tyson also wore her hair in a short, cropped Afro. Nina Simone wore her hair in dramatically different styles from one performance to the next, including straight-haired wigs, but as early as 1961 these styles included a natural Afro style. In South Africa in the fifties, Miriam Makeba had refused to appear in enormously popular ads for skin lighteners; from her opening night at the Village Vanguard in 1959 and during all of her years of celebrity in the United States, she refused to straighten her hair—opting instead for what she called her “short and woolly” style.

These women—and others, it’s worth adding, including Odetta, Melba Liston, and Maya Angelou, to name just a few—were not glamorous in the ways that Lena Horne had carved out and claimed that category. But they redefined glamour in the context of their politics. They insisted that how they looked made them desirable and desiring—and political—black women.

Robin Lindley: These stories resonate today—a half century later— as Americans continue to grapple with issues of race, the role of women, voting and other civil rights, and more. How do you see that resonance now?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: I think that the question of who gets to tell black women’s stories, how those stories should be told, and what these stories mean are very much with us. We see this in so many places—from debates about Beyonce, to fierce disagreements about Lupita Nynong’o’s wardrobe and body and hair, to questions about Michelle Obama’s arms. I also think that black feminist criticism has flourished. There are many brilliant black women writing and thinking and speaking about these questions of race and women and sexuality and popular culture. They’re doing so in and out of the academy and making tremendous contributions to conversations about these critical issues.

Robin Lindley: Is there anything else you hope students of history and other readers take from your book?

Dr. Ruth Feldstein: I hope that readers see that history is messy and complicated, and that not everyone or everything “fits” into the categories we’ve established as “important.” I also hope that readers see that Americans and non-Americans have expressed political demands imaginatively as well as with marches and boycotts, and that politics did, and still can, happen in what might seem to be unlikely ways and unlikely places.

Robin Lindley: Thank you so much Dr. Feldstein for sharing your insights on these accomplished artists and the civil rights movement.

 

Robin Lindley is a Seattle writer and attorney, and the features editor for the History News Network. His writing also has appeared in Writer’s Chronicle, Crosscut, Real Change, Re-Markings, Documentary, NW Lawyer, and more.  He can be reached at robinlindley@gmail.com. For a full list of Mr. Lindley’s interviews for HNN, click here.

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The Civil Rights Project    May 15, 2014

Segregation Increases after Desegregation Plans Terminated by Supreme Court

LOS ANGELES: Marking the 60th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v Board of Education, UCLA’s Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles (CRP) assessed the nation’s progress in addressing school segregation in it’s new report released today, Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat and an Uncertain Future, and found that the vast transformation of the nation’s school population since the civil rights era includes an almost 30% drop in white students and close to quintupling of Latino students.

Brown at 60 shows that the nation’s two largest regions, the South and West, now have a majority of what were called “minority” students. Whites are only the second largest group in the West. The South, always the home of most black students, now has more Latinos than blacks and is a profoundly tri-racial region.

The Brown decision in 1954 challenged the legitimacy of the entire “separate but equal” educational system of the South, and initiated strides toward racial and social equality in schools across the nation. Desegregation progress was very substantial for Southern blacks, in particular, says the report, and occurred from the mid-1960s to the late l980s.

The authors state that, contrary to many claims, the South has not gone back to the level of segregation beforeBrown. It has, however, lost all of the additional progress made after l967, but is still the least segregated region for black students.

Since the 1990s, the Supreme Court has fundamentally changed desegregation law, states the report, and many major desegregation plans have ended. CRP’s statistical analysis shows that segregation increased substantially after desegregation plans were terminated in many large districts including Charlotte, NC; Pinellas County, FL; and Henrico County, VA.

“Brown was a major accomplishment and we should rightfully be proud. But a real celebration should also involve thinking seriously about why the country has turned away from the goal of Brown and accepted deepening polarization and inequality in our schools,” said Gary Orfield, co-author of the study and co-director of the Civil Rights Project. “It is time to stop celebrating a version of history that ignores our last quarter century of retreat and begin to make new history by finding ways to apply the vision of Brown in a transformed, multiracial society in another century.”

This new research affirms that the growth of segregation coincides with the demographic surge in the Latino population. Segregation has been most dramatic for Latino students, particularly in the West, where there was substantial integration in the l960s but segregation has soared since.

The report stresses that segregation occurs simultaneously across race and poverty. The report details a half-century of desegregation research showing the major costs of segregation, particularly for students of color and poor students, and, conversely, the variety of benefits offered by schools with student enrollment of all races.

Among the key findings of the research are:

  • Black and Latino students are an increasingly large percentage of suburban enrollment, particularly in larger metropolitan areas, and are moving to schools with relatively few white students.
  • Segregation for blacks is the highest in the Northeast, a region with extremely high district fragmentation.
  • Latinos are now significantly more segregated than blacks in suburban America.
  • Black and Latino students tend to be in schools with a substantial majority of poor children, while white and Asian students typically attend middle class schools.
  • Segregation is by far the most serious in the central cities of the largest metropolitan areas; the states of New York, Illinois and California are the top three worst for isolating black students.
  • California is the state in which Latino students are most segregated.

The report concludes with recommendations about how the nation might pursue making the promise of Brown a reality in the 21st century–providing equal opportunity to all students regardless of race or economic background.

“Desegregation is not a panacea and it is not feasible in some situations,” said co-author Erica Frankenberg, assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University. “Where it is possible–and it still is possible in many areas–desegregation properly implemented can make a very real contribution to equalizing educational opportunities and preparing young Americans to live, work and govern together in our extremely diverse society.”

Brown at 60 is being released from New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, where Orfield delivers the keynote address, on Friday, May 16, 2014, for Brown 60 and Beyond. The report includes various tables showing segregation state-by-state and can be found here.

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About the Civil Rights Project at UCLA

Founded in 1996 by former Harvard professors Gary Orfield and Christopher Edley, Jr., The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles is now co-directed by Orfield and Patricia Gándara, professors at UCLA. Its mission is to create a new generation of research in social science and law on the critical issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the United States. It has monitored the success of American schools in equalizing opportunity and has been the authoritative source of segregation statistics. CRP has commissioned more than 400 studies, published more than 15 books and issued numerous reports from authors at universities and research centers across the country. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2003 Grutter v. Bollingerdecision upholding affirmative action, and in Justice Breyer’s dissent (joined by three other Justices) to its 2007Parents Involved decision, cited the Civil Rights Project’s research.

 

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