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From Brown to Meredith

From Brown to Meredith: The Long Struggle for School Desegregation in Louisville, Kentucky, 1954-2007

Tracy E. KʹMeyer
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  • Book Info
    From Brown to Meredith
    Book Description:

    When the Supreme Court overturned Louisville's local desegregation plan in 2007, the people of Jefferson County, Kentucky, faced the question of whether and how to maintain racial diversity in their schools. This debate came at a time when scholars, pundits, and much of the public had declared school integration a failed experiment rightfully abandoned. Using oral history narratives, newspaper accounts, and other documents, Tracy E. K'Meyer exposes the disappointments of desegregation, draws attention to those who struggled for over five decades to bring about equality and diversity, and highlights the many benefits of school integration.K'Meyer chronicles the local response toBrown v. Board of Educationin 1956 and describes the start of countywide busing in 1975 as well as the crisis sparked by violent opposition to it. She reveals the forgotten story of the defense of integration and busing reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in the response to the 2007 Supreme Court decision known asMeredith. This long and multifaceted struggle for school desegregation, K'Meyer shows, informs the ongoing movement for social justice in Louisville and beyond.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1255-3
    Subjects: Education, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    In spring 2007, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the joinedMeredith v. Jefferson County Board of EducationandParents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1lawsuits, which challenged the districts’ use of race as a determining factor in student assignment as a means of integrating the schools. In June, the court decreed such “voluntary desegregation” plans—so called because neither district was under court order to desegregate and thus was doing so by choice—unconstitutional. In the weeks following the decision, I avidly scoured local print and online media sources to gauge the public reaction....

  5. CHAPTER ONE School Desegregation in the Wake of Brown, 1954–1971
    (pp. 15-52)

    In an oral history interview in 1988, Barry Bingham, the white publisher of theCourier Journaland theLouisville Times, remarked, “We did have a record here in Louisville which is worth remembering. I think the year was 1956 when the first integration of the Louisville schools came about, and that was done in such a peaceful way that President Eisenhower gave Louisville a citation for the integration of the schools.”¹ The story he encouraged people to recall was of how the city had managed to implement theBrowndecision with broad public cooperation and little of the furor seen...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Beginning of Busing, 1971–1980
    (pp. 53-106)

    In 1995 and again in 2005, theCourier Journalprinted articles marking the twentieth and thirtieth anniversaries of the beginning of busing for desegregation in Louisville and Jefferson County. On these occasions the paper invited readers to submit their stories, providing a platform for them to remember the events of 1975 and their impact on the community. Many of the stories recount harrowing trips on buses through mobs of antibusing demonstrators, conflicts in the schools, and a sense of an education interrupted. Although few of those who wrote letters or were interviewed by reporters talked explicitly about the reasons for...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Continuing Struggle over Desegregation, 1981–2007
    (pp. 107-148)

    In the spring of 2007, as Louisvillians reacted to the possibility that the Supreme Court would invalidate their school desegregation plan, the former NAACP president Maurice Sweeney wondered why, “As we discuss and debate the state and purpose of desegregated schools in Jefferson County, there seems to be a bit of history missing. For some reason we jump from 1974 to 2007 and forget about April 4, 1984.”¹ On that date, a series of hard-fought negotiations between school officials and representatives of the NAACP and other civil rights groups produced an agreement to reform the busing plan. Sweeney might have...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Remembering the Meaning and Impact of School Desegregation
    (pp. 149-180)

    There are many ways to answer the question: What has desegregation meant for individuals, the schools, and the community? Social scientists analyze quantifiable outcomes such as test scores and graduation rates to measure educational achievement or employ an ethnographic approach to document the long-term fruits of an integrated education in individual lives. Oral history interviews can contribute additional information and insight to the assessment of school desegregation. During the interviews used in this book, the interviewers almost invariably asked the speakers to draw conclusions about the meaning of school desegregation. In response, narrators offered mixed appraisals, acknowledging a wide range...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-188)

    When I heard these words by historian Howard Zinn, I was reminded of the stories shared by men and women in Louisville and Jefferson County about the long struggle for racial equity and diversity in education. Their accounts contradict the community memory of school desegregation that is dominated by the turmoil of “busing”—the “worst” that discourages and inspires retreat. These oral histories remind us of the unheralded local people who helped prepare the schools for integration, worked to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for children, agitated for equal treatment in the newly mixed schools, negotiated improvements in the...

  10. APPENDIX Interviewees
    (pp. 189-192)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 193-206)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-212)
  13. Index
    (pp. 213-221)