Still Separate, Still Unequal  
U.S. and Gulf South School Segregation

by Jeanie Donovan, M.P.A., M.P.H. and Fred Kammer, S.J., J.D.
JustSouth Monthly, August 2016

Across the country, schools are opening and students returning to their classrooms.  Despite the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown versus Board of Education decision to desegregate schools “with all deliberate speed,” too many classrooms are still segregated.

School districts made significant progress toward desegregation after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but the trend has shifted back toward race-based school segregation. [1] Following court decisions in the late 1960s and 1970s that required Department of Education officials to oversee implementation of desegregation plans, the rate of black students attending majority-white schools increased dramatically from 1 percent in 1963 to 43 percent in 1983. [2]  After federal oversight phased out and schools were left to make “good faith efforts” to maintain integration, significant backsliding followed. In 2012, 74 percent of black students and 80 percent of Latino students attended schools that were 50 to 100 percent minority; and of these, more than 40 percent of black and Latino students attended schools that were 90 to 100 percent minority.  [3]

This re-segregation trend often concentrates minorities in schools with fewer resources that face challenges attracting and retaining quality teachers. [4]  A mounting body of evidence indicates that school segregation has negative impacts on short-term academic achievement of minority students and their success in later life. [5]  Integrated schools have a positive impact on all students through promoting awareness and mutual understanding and ensuring that they have the necessary tools to function in an increasingly multicultural society. [6]  Not taking intentional steps to ensure that all students have the opportunity to attend quality, integrated schools perpetuates injustice, allowing the mistakes of the past to haunt the future.


Our Perspective:

An introduction to interconnections

By Fred Kammer, SJ

While planning for the Jesuit Social Research Institute preceded Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the ensuing floods, the need for the Institute became increasingly apparent since this devastation of the Gulf Coast region. The images of children, women, and elderly people, mostly poor and black, left behind in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are indelibly etched on the conscience of our nation. They raise hard questions about how our churches, schools, communities, society, and governments have failed in our moral duty to protect, defend, and uplift our neighbors, the poor in our midst. In their own post-Katrina reflections, the Jesuits of the New Orleans Province realized that they too have failed in some ways to address important social concerns and the need to restore right relations and respond to the unjustly suffering and oppressed in the region. People of color, African Americans and Hispanics, bear disproportionate percentages of persistent and pervasive poverty in the South—a heritage of slavery, prejudice, and systemic inequality. Such chronic poverty contributes to and is influenced by higher rates of unemployment, illiteracy, illness, and incarceration among persons of color. JSRI aims to direct its efforts at research, education, and advocacy towards the alleviation of these conditions and their underlying causes.

This work necessarily must explore and come to understand more deeply the interconnections among the issues of race, poverty, and migration and their specific shape in the context of the Gulf South. Why are the jails and prisons composed largely of persons of color? Why is the death penalty so widely used in the South and especially for persons of color? How is the use of the police power and the incarceration of Hispanics in immigration detention centers related to the use of the police power, the criminal justice system, and the incarceration of African-Americans in the region? How does the concentration of poverty among people of color continue to perpetuate racism and inequality, inadequate education, etc.?

This exploration of these many interconnections by JSRI is an ongoing work and occurs in a number of our articles and projects. Some examples follow:

View all Interconnections articles »

Related links

Banner Photo By Jeff Brouws "USA Talk About Race and Poverty," Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans, Louisiana (from the series Language of the Unheard), 2006