It's hard to believe that only a half century ago the United States Supreme Court banned legal segregation. Ironically, many of the schools named after the very people who fought segregation—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks—are among the most segregated schools in our communities.
The much-lauded goals of Brown v. Board of Education were undermined by resistance from whites as well as the economic and social structures that continue to maintain white supremacy. White policymakers dragged their feet in implementing equitable desegregation and placed the burden for most desegregation plans on African-American children. Five white members of the Supreme Court ruled against metropolitan desegregation in Detroit ( Milliken v. Bradley, 1974), essentially closing the door on desegregation across district lines.
Government officials, real-estate brokers, banks, and businesses refused to adopt policies that would have desegregated the workforce and neighborhoods and redistributed wealth. And as black students started enrolling in previously all-white schools, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of white families removed their children from schools and neighborhoods, opting for the privileged sanctuaries of private schools or suburbia.
Fifty years after the historic Brown decision, many students remain segregated between predominantly white suburbs and cities of color. Within the districts with diverse student populations, admission requirements, "open enrollment," and "neighborhood school" policies segregate students into different schools. And even within schools with multiracial student populations, tracking, special education procedures, and "gifted" or "advanced placement" programs too often disguise racial segregation and discrimination.
What is particularly disheartening is that many people seem to have given up the notion that our society should and could become more desegregated in racial and economic terms. Even the most liberal think that "little can be done" to overcome segregation.