February 15, 2010
Making Sausage

From McClatchy Newspapers, hereís one way to get the job done:

For the two generations of children who have attended integrated public schools, it's hard to fathom South Carolina spent $124 million on buildings and buses from 1951 through 1955 with the express purpose of preventing black and white kids from attending school together. Based on inflation, that would be $1.1 billion in 2010 dollars. The Legislature approved a 3-cent sales tax in 1951 to pay for the work, and the state borrowed against future sales tax revenue to build schools as quickly as possible.

Never before and never since has South Carolina spent as much money and energy improving public school facilities in such a short period as it did in the 1950s. But to call that period the golden era of school funding in the state would be using the wrong color. It was all about black and white.

And from the late, great Huey Long of Louisiana, hereís another way to get the job done.


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Posted by Jerome Doolittle at February 15, 2010 05:42 PM
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The early 50's were before my time but I do remember thinking that the teacher who put me on the black row for a year, and to whom I am grateful for the experience even though she meant that as a punishment for me seemed terribly bitter about something. I often wondered if her bitterness and her mean nature toward us students was related to the fact that she was not transferred to the new modern high school instead of the run down old lower school building we attended. That school is still in existence as a man bought it as he has historical memories of a much earlier time than when I was there and he wants to make it a museum.

There was another new school building but it was given to the black children and ours often had no heat in 30 degree weather but that happened only a few times when it really was cold, the boiler broke down often back when the last vestiges of the South using oil heat and radiators were in existence in our school and the school also had no air conditioning. My northern Eskimo or Russian genetics seemed not to have come into play then as I don't remember the lack of air conditioning bothering me a bit as I had an afternoon paper route and I handled those ten miles of cycling with no problem, the heat in the winter which often failed was a problem as cold was not conducive to studying in twenty or thirty degree weather but I didn't even know about the other schools in town so we didn't feel deprived, we just felt cold on those days that the heat didn't work.

I don't remember even knowing where the black children went to school and I had no idea that there was an many of "them" as there were of "us". But there was a concerted effort to keep the schools separate, I remember a good deal about that and slowly starting about 1965 the "freedom of choice" plan started to roll into being and black students started trickling into the white schools -then we moved to another town, the jump in the story is too long to tell- many extremely intelligent children from the bravest and finest families in our town came to join our classes, which I know about only now as I can see it from a historical perspective. and I remember the haters. They were quite a problem in that town as we had an African American college and there were a number of white men who didn't have a college degree who felt the need to make themselves "better" than the more educated blacks. So they often used hate as the tool to rescue them from their feelings of inferiority. Some of them are still around but many have changed, have grown up and aren't that way anymore.Some are young and just carrying on a family tradition so that continues to some degree. But racism was reduced substantially.

Then about 68 or 69 or so the schools were finally fully integrated but most of the white students boycotted such that I was the only white child in my class the first day of it - I was quickly moved into the class with the other 2 or 3 white children whose families tried to make the system work. The rest, about 40 to 50 other white children boycotted.

So the Federal Court gave the school system one more year and my mother and father were so traumatized by my crying at being the only white child in a class of not a soul that I knew, that they sent me on to the private school in another town. That school was started by a bunch of Birchers and my father got on that school board to reduce their influence. The Birchers were considered radical nut cases back then but now it seems the ideology they had isthe current Republican party.

Later on, in my law practice I came to understand that "fixing" the educational gap is very likely going to take many generations unless dramatic changes are made, and that's quite a lengthy story to tell. But we, the white community were and are responsible for that being the case, at least historically so. And the Corridor of Shame still exists. And the court case that could have helped solve the problem happened in South Carolina just a few years ago. And yet South Carolina doesn't budge, nor does it budge from the Confederate flag at the state Capitol.

It's quite strange as South Carolina is in many ways much more progressive than Alabama or Mississippi (which isn't saying much) but still the state has these problems. If I wanted to be political about it I could grumble about Mark Sanford, who definitely wants to move the state backwards in time, but the problem existed long before the state elected him and unless drastic changes are made, the problem will continue on for years to come. It's a shame but it is so.

I do remember years later seeing the pre 1950s schools and being told what they were, but they have been torn down as far as I am aware of, at least in the town where I went to school during those crucial years of change. But there is still much change yet to do. And not just in South Carolina. We still have a nationwide problem with race. Balkanization blog says we need to fix the Constitution and they make reference to Rick Hertzberg's admonition to get rid of the electoral college and changing the constitution . Maybe that also could help solve the problem of race if it were to occur. I would consider it a miracle if that were to happen.

But I can see the need to document that history. Many if not most or all of the senior school administrators of that era are already long dead and there is a need to memorialize the story of what happened during those years, those that predated my birth and those during which the greatest change occurred when I was a child about the age of Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer or one of Atticus Finch's children; and saw life from about that kind of perspective back then. Innocent and yet aware. I remember so much of it very well. And I don't know yet how much of it I've forgotten.

Posted by: Buck on February 15, 2010 8:09 PM
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