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The Continuing Impact Of School Segregation In Texas

James E. Smith and his son James Jr., 6, stand in front of Kashmere Gardens Elementary School in Houston on Sept. 7, 1960. The Texas Tribune explored the legacy of desegregation and its continuing impact in a series of stories called "Dis-Integration."
Associated Press
James E. Smith and his son James Jr., 6, stand in front of Kashmere Gardens Elementary School in Houston on Sept. 7, 1960. The Texas Tribune explored the legacy of desegregation and its continuing impact in a series of stories called "Dis-Integration."

Texas has a long history of neglecting schools tasked with educating students of color. Poor facilities, underfunding, less experienced or qualified staff — they're just a few of the complaints mentioned in lawsuits filed against Texas towns and school districts.

The Texas Tribune explored the legacy of segregated schools and their continuing impact in a series of stories called "Dis-Integration."

Recently on Think, reporters Alexa Ura and Aliyya Swaby joined guest host John McCaa to discuss the series that focuses on three districts: Richardson in North Texas, Edgewood ISD in San Antonio and Longview in East Texas.

John McCaa: How did you choose the districts you wrote about in the series?

Alexa Ura: The districts that we ended up focusing on were in places where ... the demographics had changed significantly since they had first ... been forced to desegregate their schools. There were areas where there was either a growing Hispanic population or places where there had always been a large Hispanic population. And these were districts that were often in places that most resisted any integration efforts, particularly North Texas and East Texas -- both places that [did] not embrace the idea of educating white and black children in the same schools. We knew that there would be places where there was sort of a history of this and we wanted to see where things were at today, particularly in Longview and Richardson, where the demographics have changed so much.

There was a time decades ago when the courts, for example, were more amenable to challenges to existing school districts. What do you think has changed in that time period?

Aliyya Swaby: In 1970, there was a major court order to desegregate schools across the entire state. I think now over time there's a lot less public support for a lot of what the court was asking of the school district, so no one really wants forced busing any more. A lot of people are resistant to the idea that the courts would determine how you have to hire teachers or things that you kind of really need in order to pursue desegregation in a way that makes sense and is long lasting.

The arguments that the plaintiffs make in general is that despite desegregation orders, the students of color are still being negatively affected. So while people may want to stop, some of the problems continue.

Alexa Ura: I think what we ended up hearing from folks who have been working on integration and equity for decades now was that when they had these desegregation orders to lean on, they had a way to hold school districts accountable. And without them, and given sort of the politics at the national level and what's going on within the federal government, they no longer felt that they had any sort of security blanket or anyone to lean on if a school district began to resegregate or give up on some of these efforts [that] a lot of folks had worked tirelessly on for a long time.

Aliyya Swaby: If there's a federal court order to desegregate but courts are no longer checking in on the school districts and the Department of Justice is no longer trying to hold school districts accountable, then they're really toothless.

Up until recently, the Longview Independent School District was one of about 100 districts around the country that were still under a court-ordered desegregation plan. And from the very beginning, there were people who were opposed to integrating the schools. In fact, as you reported, some were violently opposed.

Aliyya Swaby: In 1970, when Longview was first put under court order to desegregate after Brown v. Board of Education — and in 1954 it spent decades trying to avoid actually forcing black and white students to go to school together throughout the district. In 1970, there were bombings of a bus barn that was holding the buses that were going to transfer black students to white schools. So immediately after the courts stepped in, there was violence from the white community in Longview.

Despite the fact that during the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower, when the Brown decision came down, they waited until the 1970s -- we're talking into Richard Nixon's era -- before they decided or were forced to do something about this.

Alexa Ura: What you saw in Longview wasn't uncommon in Texas. You saw this in communities across the state where the white community was adamant about not wanting black children to learn in the same classrooms as white children. And in Longview there was violence, and in other places there were other instances of this as well. And I think at the end of the day those sorts of scars are long lasting on the community. ... We talk to people in Longview this many years later, people remembered the bus bombing and not just a sort of artifact of history but something that really marred their efforts and that people have carried around for a long time.

Listen to the rest of the conversation.

Read more of the Texas Tribune series, "Dis-Integration."