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Segregation Forever?

David Callahan

Long after he left the governorship of Alabama, George Wallace -- the leading segregationist of the Jim Crow era -- apologized and repented for his racism. Among the statements he regretted was his famous vow in his 1963 inaugural address: "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

It was Wallace's escalation of the civil rights battle in 1963, among other things, that brought 200,000 marchers to Washington. 

But while Wallace may have repented, it turned out that his vow on segregation would have real legs. Yes, Jim Crow is long gone, but according to many studies -- such as this one by UCLA's Civil Rights Project -- segregation in schools has been steadily increasing for two decades, and now is as bad in some places as in the 1960s. The report stated:

School resegregation for black students is increasing most dramatically in the South, where, after a period of intense resistance, strong action was taken to integrate black and white students. Black students across the country experienced gains in school desegregation from the l960s to the late l980s, a time in which racial achievement gaps also narrowed sharply. These trends began to reverse after a 1991 Supreme Court decision made it easier for school districts and courts to dismantle desegregation plans. Most major plans have been eliminated for years now, despite increasingly powerful evidence on the importance of desegregated schools.

Think of the Civil Rights era from the 1960s into the 1980s as something of a Second Reconstruction. And, as with the first one, the federal government eventually abandoned the cause of racial justice. 

Today's segregation, though, is especially bad for Latino kids, who often find themselves remarkably isolated from white students -- far more so than in previous generations.

The segregation increases have been the most dramatic in the West. The typical Latino student in the region attends a school where less than a quarter of their classmates are white; nearly two-thirds are other Latinos; and two-thirds are poor. 

Enduring segregation in education stands as yet one more example of why so many of the demands of marchers 50 years ago remain startlingly relevant today.