The Little Rock Nine’s attendance at a previously all-white high school was a milestone in the history of school desegregation. One may expect that decades after the Little Rock Nine endured horrible racism and violence to achieve integration, schools would be mostly or even completely desegregated. Although integration has been legally enforced for decades, American public schools still remain largely segregated. Carlotta Walls LaNier, a member of the Little Rock Nine, stated "Brown versus Board of Education, and let me tell you. The Civil Rights Act, the Housing Rights Act, the Voters Rights Act, that's all progress, and it all came from that foundation. So I'm not going to sit here and say that we're still living the same way, but I do see this pendulum swinging back in that particular direction [of the Jim Crow era]" (LaNier, Colorado Public Radio).
As LaNier and the other members of the Little Rock Nine experienced, many cities and school districts in the South largely ignored the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision, requiring public schools to integrate. However, one city in the South intentionally integrated its schools: Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte even became known as “The city that made desegregation work.” Unfortunately, like in many American cities, Charlotte’s schools have become resegregated. James Ferguson, a civil rights attorney who fought for school integration in Charlotte, claims that racial segregation has resurged because “There is no core of people who are actively pushing for school desegregation… We’re almost back to where we started from” (Ferguson, Newsweek). His argument suggests that without proactive enforcement of racial integration, it is not likely to occur.
For a graph tracking a quantitative measure of segregation from 1960 to 2005, click here
The graph above shows racial segregation in schools as measured by black-white exposure. The black-white exposure index measures the degree to which African Americans and white people are exposed to each other. The graph shows that after integration in schools was enforced, black-white exposure increased until 1988. After 1988, black-white exposure decreased dramatically. The sharp decrease in African Americans and white people being exposed to each other suggests that racial segregation has increased.
Many people argue that racial re-segregation is not occurring, but rather that economic segregation may be occurring. This argument suggests that economically advantaged and economically disadvantaged families are becoming more distant from other with regards to location. Such separation results in their children being isolated from each other in schools. However, race and economic status are not so easily detached. Across the U.S., about 75% of African American and Latinx students attend lower income schools, whereas only about 33% of white students attend such schools (The Atlantic). These statistics highlight the close relationship between race and economic status. This relationship suggests that while economic segregation occurs, so does racial segregation.
The return of racial segregation is apparent to Carlotta Walls LaNier. She stated “We're 60 years and I'm looking at some of the same things that happened to me prior to that” (LaNier, Colorado Public Radio). The return of school segregation disrespects everything that LaNier and the other members of the Little Rock Nine endured and sacrificed in the name of integration.
For more information on modern racial segregation in schools, please see: