talking about desegregation

Our high school students interviewed

a white graduate of largely African American public schools in Prince

George’s County (class of ’98). It was interesting to compare her experience

to that of the African Americans who first attended the County’s all-White

schools in the 50’s. In short, she fared much, much better. She professed

never to be uncomfortable because of race, although her friends were mostly

among the other white students.

We asked our students to frame possible answers to the question: "What

should have been done with the County’s segregrated schools in 1954?"

They come up with these options:

  • "leave it alone" (1 vote)
  • improve the County’s two Black schools and let White students in (7


  • build more Black schools (in different parts of the County); also

    let Black students attend White schools (5)

  • integrate the teaching staffs first (5)
  • ignore schools and integrate housing patterns by pressuring realtors


  • allow students to transfer on request, and advertise this opportunity


  • send everyone to the nearest school (6)
  • bus to achieve an equal racial distribution in all schools(4)

(I list the students’ votes not because they necessarily represent the

views of any larger population, but only to give a sense of the class’s


There could have been two kinds of "diversity" in the schools

of 1954 when the County was about 11 percent African American. Some schools

could have been predominanly Black and others predominantly white (diversity

among schools); or all schools could have been 11 percent African

American (diversity within schools). Our students, who are all

kids of color, unanimously preferred the latter.

We also asked them about these value priorities:

  • choice in what school to attend (2)
  • having a racial mixture in all schools (3)
  • having a few excellent, minority-dominated schools (1)
  • convenience (4)
  • avoiding disruption and conflict (2)
  • quality of education*

*"quality of education" won hands down on the first ballot,

so everyone had to vote for another choice.