Brown in Baltimore

Brown in Baltimore: School Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism

Howell S. Baum
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 296
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Brown in Baltimore
    Book Description:

    In the first book to present the history of Baltimore school desegregation, Howell S. Baum shows how good intentions got stuck on what Gunnar Myrdal called the "American Dilemma." Immediately after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the city's liberal school board voted to desegregate and adopted a free choice policy that made integration voluntary.

    Baltimore's school desegregation proceeded peacefully, without the resistance or violence that occurred elsewhere. However, few whites chose to attend school with blacks, and after a few years of modest desegregation, schools resegregated and became increasingly segregated. The school board never changed its policy. Black leaders had urged the board to adopt free choice and, despite the limited desegregation, continued to support the policy and never sued the board to do anything else.

    Baum finds that American liberalism is the key to explaining how this happened. Myrdal observed that many whites believed in equality in the abstract but considered blacks inferior and treated them unequally. School officials were classical liberals who saw the world in terms of individuals, not races. They adopted a desegregation policy that explicitly ignored students' race and asserted that all students were equal in freedom to choose schools, while their policy let whites who disliked blacks avoid integration. School officials' liberal thinking hindered them from understanding or talking about the city's history of racial segregation, continuing barriers to desegregation, and realistic change strategies.

    From the classroom to city hall, Baum examines how Baltimore's distinct identity as a border city between North and South shaped local conversations about the national conflict over race and equality. The city's history of wrestling with the legacy of Brown reveals Americans' preferred way of dealing with racial issues: not talking about race. This avoidance, Baum concludes, allows segregation to continue.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5834-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xx)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Liberalism, Race, and the American Dilemma
    (pp. 1-17)

    During World War II, black Americans worked in military plants and the armed forces to defeat the Nazis, and yet they still suffered discrimination in employment, the military, and much of the rest of life. Seeking victory against racism not only abroad but also at home, they inaugurated a “Double V” campaign. However, though the fight against Nazism would make it harder for white Americans to live with racial discrimination, Americans had other things on their minds after the war, and whites gave little attention to race.¹

    The postwar years were a time of belief and hope but also doubt...

    (pp. 18-32)

    Even in 1950, when Baltimore peaked at nearly a million residents and was America’s sixth largest city, its inhabitants thought of themselves as living in a small town. More than that, Baltimore had long been a city of neighborhoods, and residents were as likely to identify with such ethnically, racially, religiously, and economically distinct enclaves as Highlandtown, West Baltimore, Roland Park, and Hampden as with the city as a whole. Baltimoreans were parochial. They were wary of outsiders, and they put a premium on self-reliance. They did their best to get along with one another by moderating extreme behavior and...

    (pp. 33-50)

    In the mid-1930s, two black Baltimore community institutions launched a campaign to improve black children’s education. The Baltimore Afro-American had protested black school conditions since the newspaper’s founding in 1892. When Carl Murphy succeeded his father as editor and publisher in 1922, he kept up the crusade. The Baltimore branch of the NAACP, established in 1912, quiescent in the twenties, was revitalized by Lillie May Jackson in 1935. Together, the Afro and the NAACP, Murphy and Jackson and her daughter Juanita, focused efforts on equalizing black and white schools. They had close ties to Thurgood Marshall, who left Baltimore in...

    (pp. 51-64)

    As black leaders concluded that only desegregation would improve black children’s education, they found white allies—white liberals belonging to the NAACP branch, the Baltimore Urban League, and the local chapter of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA). On the school board, besides black member Bernard Harris, the eight whites included liberals who disliked segregation. However, unlike the activists, they believed that state and city law prevented them from acting on their principles. Whether they were aware of Harry Levin’s Afro articles or not, they felt they had no choice but to live with policies they found personally distasteful. Then the...

    (pp. 65-80)

    At 12:52 p.m. on May 17, 1954, without prior announcement, Chief Justice Earl Warren began reading the Supreme Court opinion on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. After failure to reach a decision a year earlier and reargument in the fall of 1953 under the new chief justice, the court had come to a judgment, unanimously. The justices declared that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The court endorsed NAACP lawyers’ psychological arguments that deliberately separating black students from white, even if schools were...

    (pp. 81-96)

    After the school board adopted free choice, the school facilities director reported that his staff had “long anticipated” and planned for the end of segregation. Desegregation would require only “minor adjustments.” The main challenge, he said, was to provide up-to-date schools for an increasing number of students. His confident report, however, ignored two issues that would affect the course of desegregation. One was that public school enrollment was not just growing rapidly, but also changing racially. The other was that many historically black schools were dilapidated.¹

    When the board voted to desegregate, 182,000 Baltimore children attended school. One-fourth went to...

    (pp. 97-119)

    A year after his arrival, in February 1961, George Brain spoke to a conference of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. His written statement reminded the commission that “the Baltimore public schools rejected the idea of deliberate mixing of the races” and summarized the results: “Changes in the composition of student bodies came as families changed their places of residence or as pupils applied for transfers for specific educational reasons. . . . There was no mass movement of children through transfer [in 1954] nor has there been any very great number of requests for transfer subsequently.” Brain’s testimony, however,...

    (pp. 120-149)

    In the two months before the 28 Parents made their case to the school board, Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, and Bull Connor turned hoses and dogs on young demonstrators. A week before the school board adopted a new policy in September, a quarter of a million black and white Americans joined in the March on Washington. Ten days after the board revised its policy, four black girls were killed in a Birmingham church bombing. Television recorded these events and brought civil rights to public consciousness. President Johnson built on national inspiration by civil rights activists, outrage...

    (pp. 150-164)

    During the time black school board members were battling Superintendent Sheldon over his decentralization plan, in October 1970, NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers filed a suit against the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Plaintiffs charged that HEW had ceased enforcing Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act against segregated school districts (and states with segregated colleges and universities). President Nixon’s OCR director, Stanley Pottinger, had not taken administrative or legal action against more than one hundred districts he knew to be out of compliance.

    On February 16, 1973,...

    (pp. 165-185)

    A month after Roland Patterson submitted the Baltimore plan to OCR, on July 23, 1974, Peter Holmes, Lloyd Henderson, chief of the OCR Education Branch, and Harold Davis gave city representatives the verdict. The plan, which did little in elementary schools and left grades eight through twelve untouched the first year, would not “substantially desegregate” in September. Holmes accepted the proposed elementary school pairings as an interim plan but asked the district to add pairings, for which he offered staff aid. He found elementary school attendance boundaries ambiguous and asked the city to draw defined zones. He accepted the seventh...

    (pp. 186-207)

    Legal confrontation over civil rights neither required nor allowed discussion of local culture, customs, and race relations. For better or for worse, civil rights law focused on the statistical bottom line and means of improving it. In many places, school officials invoked community norms to justify segregation and obstruct change, and yet black and white families lived and found meaning and security in community attachments and beliefs. As OCR tightened its grip on Baltimore, local residents took stock.

    The NAACP branch continued advocating for integration, as did the Afro, which urged busing where necessary. However, the five black board members...

  15. CONCLUSION: Baltimore School Desegregation, Liberalism, and Race
    (pp. 208-224)

    Chance played a role in how Baltimore desegregation ended. If the city suit had gone to a different federal district court judge, the court might have directed that administrative enforcement hearings proceed, and Judge Hackerman might have imposed integration requirements on Baltimore. Alternatively, if Judge Craven had not died, the Fourth Circuit would have ruled in favor of enforcement hearings. Besides chance, local circumstances influenced the course of events. Baltimore had a race-aversive political culture that encouraged school officials to adopt a laissez-faire desegregation policy. The city’s black leadership negotiated grievances with white officials, rather than battling in the open,...

  16. Appendix
    (pp. 225-228)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 229-266)
  18. Index
    (pp. 267-274)