Unless the courts intervene,
the public schools of Omaha, Nebraska may one
day soon be divided into three ethnically distinct
districts. Whites, Blacks and Hispanics would
each have their own separate school districts,
under a bill passed by the state legislature and
signed into law by the governor. Virtually everyone,
including the state attorney general, expects
a huge legal battle. The courts being what they
are, these days, who can say how the judges will
rule. But the Omaha schools controversy provides
an opportunity to remember what the long struggle
for school desegregation was all about.
A key argument against segregated
schools was that they were inherently unequal,
that they stigmatized Black students as inferior,
irreparably scarring their young personalities.
A more compelling argument was that enforced racial
isolation allowed whites to use the myriad means
at their disposal to shortchange Black schools,
to make them inferior across the board, while
pouring resources into schools for white children.
And of course, that’s exactly what whites did,
in every school district in the nation, North
and South, whether segregated by law, or housing
patterns, or drawing lines on a city map to make
sure that Black and Latino students were kept
in separate locations from whites. Whites used
racial isolation to funnel resources to their
own children while shortchanging Blacks.
was righteous to struggle against Jim Crow and
northern petty apartheid in the Fifties and Sixties.
But whites in general never embraced integration.
In city after city, whites moved like a retreating
army to suburban enclaves or private schools.
Presidents Nixon and Reagan did everything in
their power to thwart school desegregation. And
in the latter part of the Sixties, Black activists
focused, not on integration, but political power,
the power to transform their own lives and the
lives of their children. In many areas, community
control – Black community control of schools that
were overwhelmingly Black – became the watchword.
If whites insisted on fleeing the city and its
public schools, they should not exercise absentee
control over inner city education.
This seems to be the school of thought
to which Ernie Chambers belongs. He’s the only
Black in the Nebraska state senate, and a champion
of the law that would create three ethnically-based
school districts in Omaha. The city’s desegregation
plan was allowed to end, in 1999. Chambers says
the neighborhood schools are segregated, already,
because of housing patterns. That is true of elementary
schools, although no Omaha high school is majority
Black. Overall, Omaha’s schools are 44 percent
white, 32 percent Black, and 24 percent Hispanic
or Asian. If Omaha’s population – specifically,
its white population – really wanted to integrate
all classrooms, there are plenty of whites to
Senator Chambers has opted for an even greater
degree of racial isolation. Presumably, he thinks
that the tiny Black population of Nebraska can
protect a future all-Black Omaha school district
from the fate that befell all-Black schools under
His allies in the state legislature
are among the most racist Republicans Nebraska
has to offer. They’re as enthusiastic about separate
districts as he is.
No one is a more fervent believer
in Black Power than I am. However, a racially
isolated Black school district in the white state
of Nebraska sounds to me like an educational Alamo.
Those kids won’t stand a chance. For Radio BC,
I’m Glen Ford.
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