Last summer I railed against the construction and zoning of Shelby County’s all-Black Southwind High School, which the county school board seemed to be using to “whiten” Germantown, Houston and Collierville High Schools. Now the Metropolitan School District in Nashville is undergoing a similar crisis in which Black parents are objecting to a district rezoning that sends almost all of the district’s Black students to all-Black schools. Letters written by white people to the Nashville Scene reveal that many of them applaud the rezoning, and for distinctly racial reasons. One woman asked rhetorically why the “liberals” don’t want white people to be able to preserve their “white heritage”, while another stated that going to school with white people won’t fix what’s wrong with inner city Black youngsters. The tragic truth is that school boards are using neighborhood zoning to resegregate public schools, and they’re getting away with it. At a time when the courts should be more vigilant than ever, they are removing school districts from court supervision, and those districts are then proceeding to resegregate, presumably because most school boards are elected, and this is the politically-expedient thing to do, a popular move with white parents in many districts. Conservatives often argue that Black children don’t have to be in the same classroom with white children to learn- and if we’re talking about learning facts (times tables, history, the law of thermodynamics, etc.) that’s true. But learning also occurs when children interact with other children, especially those from a different background, and that learning is crucial. It is this learning that is lost when parents homeschool, or when children attend one-race schools. The current reality in the tragic situation is highlighted in situations like that of Southwind near Memphis, where the frehsman enrollment this year is down 200 students from projection. Evidently, many Black parents sold their homes and moved rather than subject their children to the indignities of a segregated, overcrowded school. It is a tragedy when people have to sell their homes and move to exercise a right to integrated schools that the constitution supposedly already gave them. If we insist on continuing to separate white and Black children in schools, we will reap a terrible harvest of hate from it in the future.
The problem with the Memphis City Schools is not that the school board is elected. The problem is not that this elected board chose a superintendent. The problem is not even that some members of that board felt that the primary qualification of the new superintendent should be Black skin. The problem is not simply money, although that is part of it. Even if Mayor Herenton got his way, and now had the right to appoint both the school board and its superintendent, and even if an anonymous donor gave or willed a billion dollars to the Memphis district, we would be faced with the fact that the Memphis City Schools, being nearly all-Black, cannot prepare its students for a world that is increasingly diverse. Add to that the problem of crumbling, outdated buildings and Memphis’ declining tax base, and you get a recipe for educational and social disaster. There is an answer far better than Herenton’s power grab, and it is simple. There should be only one school system in Shelby County, and it should be the Shelby County Schools. Memphis will never again have the tax base to adequately fund a large, urban school system, and even if it could, it is unfair to African-American children to shunt them off into all-Black, segregated schools, even under the pretense of separate school districts or “neighborhood schools.” Just because the neighborhoods are in awful shape should not consign the young people there to a hopeless future. It is time to put responsible people in charge of all public education in Shelby County and to start worrying about children and not politics or skin color. For those who constantly worry about race, it happens to be Black children who are bearing the brunt of the leaders’ irresponsibility. If we don’t do something soon, our whole region faces a very dark future.