By
Melissa Harris Perry
updated 2/9/2013 1:47:54 AM ET 2013-02-09T06:47:54

Host Melissa Harris-Perry welcomed a discussion on Saturday about a recent Stanford University study that shows that schools released from court-ordered desegregation plans have returned to a state of racial isolation.

It has been more than half a century since the Supreme Court decided in Brown v. Board of Education that separate is inherently unequal and legally, ended public school segregation. And yet, our schools are now more racially isolated than they were in the civil rights era.

On Saturday’s Melissa Harris-Perry, the host noted in her weekly Education Nation segment that a recent Stanford University study shows that schools released from court-ordered desegregation plans have returned to a state of racial isolation. In fact, parts of the American South are undergoing an era of perpetuated segregation, a situation only exacerbated by entrenched institutions that have survived integration and the decades since the civil rights movement.

In the mid- to late fifties and into the sixties, many communities established so-called “segregation academies” rather than comply with the court-orders to integrate the public schools. This early “school choice” movement was an avenue for white families to abandon their local schools, leaving investment to dwindle in public education. Years on, many of these academies still exist and continue to keep white and black students separate in parts of Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Virginia.

While these schools have the stain of the racist resistance to integration, the “segregation academies” of the Mississippi Delta share the racial isolation of the average private school in the North East. Lest we be too quick to call this a “southern problem,” sustained segregation is an issue across the country. In fact, a recent study showed that in the way northern Twin Cities of St Paul and Minneapolis racial segregation is increasing in the metro area school districts because of the state’s open enrollment policy.

Yet, the Hechinger Report did find that in Mississippi 35 “segregation academies” survive, each enrolling black students at a rate below 2%. Many of these schools have survived in the rural Delta communities, where the Civil Rights tradition has historically been strong. At the same time that segregation academies were forming on one side of town, leaders of the civil rights movement were setting up Freedom Schools in churches, back porches and people’s homes. The Freedom Schools were originally established to help would-be new voters overcome the barriers to voter registration, but these schools grew to supplement the education of both children and adults alike in the hopes to inspire new social-change agents to join the ongoing civil rights movement.

The current-day Sunflower County Freedom Project is product of that history, as Harris-Perry noted when she spoke to its co-founder, Chris Myers Asch, on Saturday.

Founded in Fannie Lou Hamer’s hometown in 1998, the Freedom Project started as a summer program and has grown into a year-round after-school enrichment program for students around the Delta. Today it continues to help its students develop intellectual, physical and spiritual leadership skills to overcome often insurmountable barriers to achievement in an area where the median family income is approximately half the national average, with an unemployment rate almost double the national average. The founder of the Freedom Project, Chris Myers Asch joined Harris-Perry this week to discuss the effects of segregation in public schools in the Delta.

In many ways the goal of integration as an ideal of school quality has been abandoned. In fact, contemporary school activists have embraced racial imbalance in their push for charter schools. Research finds that charter schools are much more likely than traditional public schools to be racially unbalanced. A recent study of North Carolina schools found that 30 percent of traditional public school students attended racially segregated schools, while more than 60% of charter school students attend racially unbalanced schools.

MHP delved into the charter-school aspect in the second half of Saturday’s discussion. See that video below.

Video: Areas of the South experiencing era of re-segregation

  1. Closed captioning of: Areas of the South experiencing era of re-segregation

    >>> welcome back. i'm melissa harris-perry. it has been more than half a century since the supreme court decided the " brown v. board of education " decision that separate is inherently illegal and ended the public school segregation in the country. part of the decision explained, quote, that separating black children from others solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way that is unlikely ever to be undone, and the impact of segregation is greater when it has the sanction of law and a since of inferiority and affects the motivation of a child to learn. 50 years after the court recognized the negative effects of segregation, american kids are still suffer iing. a recent stanford university study shows that schools released from the court ordered desegregation plans have returned to areas of racial isolation. in the south, we are experiencing an era of resegregation, and one reason is that many schools were never truly integrated. when the public schools were ordered to integrate, many schools developed academies to supply. in mississippi , arkansas, alabama and virginia -- the online independent news site heckinger said that more than 35 academies survive in mississippi alone n. a state where 37% of the population is african-american, each of the academies have a student body where african-americans are fewer than 2% of the students. it is a reminder that school choice was initially an engine of racial segregation as the white families were willing to pay extra to keep their kids separate, and the investment in public school would dwindle as the region's black children was left behind . one of my next guests is working to address the needs of the children in the deep south . the freedom project takes its name from the freedom schools in the 1964 voter registration campaign. it is a project devoted to aftercool programs for academic enrichment for the stints of the mississippi delta . chris ashe joins me, and at the table is jalani cobb, and one of the top political strategists, john riley , and jackie mater as well. i want to start with you on the question of what sun flower is, and what it does and how it is responding to the problems of a continued segregation, and resegregation of students in the south.

    >> sure. well, we started the sun flower freedom county project more than a decade ago to address the educational inequalities in the public school system, and basically we used the history of the 1960s freedom struggle to inspire young people to excel academically and become leaders in their communities today. as you suggested, there are many school districts across the south that were never really integrated and sun flower county is one of them, and as the viewers saw the academies located in sun flower academy they popped up after the 1960s and many people believe that "brown" started the desegregation of the schools, but in the rural community that is not true, because before the civil rights act , there were virtually no black children going to the schools, and then after the act, you had the force of integration, that is when you saw the academies pop up in sunflower and across the south, and then when the supreme court weighed in and saying in 1969 that you have to integrate now, the academies blossomed. so almost overnight in sun flower school system the schools went from black to white , and the white students left. what happened is that the schools started out in ramshackled church basements, but then they have built buildings and expanded and now community institutions being around 30 or 40 years, and so you have multiple generations going, and this is where my parents went and this is where i'm going go, and so they are deeply rooted in the community so that new white families who might come n they might not know the racist past of the institutions, and think think, well, that is where i have to send my kids.

    >> yes, that is how it works. martha, there is a central justice question, because on the one hand families are paying a private school tuition and opting out, but it creates a deep injustice in the public system.

    >> there is really today sort of two mississippis on this question, and one is the counties and the school districts that chris just described where white flight from district happened where there were substantial percentages of african-american populations. in districts and counties in mississippi with lower populations, there is a tipping point. so in those districts, we do see desegregation happening and happening, and those districts are educating virtually all of the children in those areas. so we have in mississippi today about 10% of children overall go outside the public system, so the public school system is the vehicle to bridge the education gap and touch all of those other terrible indicators that leave mississippi at the bottom.

    >> part of it is that mississippi is a poor state.

    >> absolutely.

    >> and the people are willing to pay a premium to segregate, and the capacity to pay that premium is limited, but john, it is still -- i'm always want to be careful when we talk about the school sge graduatiointegration, because w e know that african-american communities have been of multiple minds of this question, because when segregation happened, it happened on the backs of the community schools that were closed on the backend of so-called integrating.

    >> yes.

    >> and the thing that we have to bear in mind here is a move and counter move history that goes way before " brown versus board of education ." the best person on this is derrick bell , the legal scholar and activist, and with the legal defense fund , derrick bell was handling the cases that ended up segregating schools in mississippi , and when i interviewed him late in his life, he said that as a young person , he was shocked to find that the community schools in mist msissippi did not want to segregate, but they wanted equalization, and resources. when they sthad that we cannot fight a equalization case, the naacp, and so then they went back to the governor and said, unless you equalize the schools, we will segregate, but segregating is the last option. people wanted to have actual resourced functioning schools in their own community even if the schools were entirely black .

    >> and it is interesting, jackie, because i started this by talking about the "brown" case, and particularly the part that was the kenneth clark dahl studies and the supreme court saying we have to integrate, and if we don't, we will end up with african-american children having a negative sense of themselves and black children picking white dolls, and we saw these studies replicated in a little film of " "girls like me" and we saw a replication of that. i want to look at that for a moment, and then come back.

    >> dr. kenneth clark conducted a doll test with black children. he asked them to choose between the black doll and the white doll, and in the majority of the instances the children preferred the white doll. i decided to reconduct the test as dr. clark did and find out how we have progressed since then. can you show me the doll that you like best and that you would like to play with?

    >> this one.

    >> this one.

    >> i like that one.

    >> this one.

    >> so -- is that solved by integration?

    >> you know, it's -- i think that it would be very beneficial that we see in the reporting down there that it is beneficial when the children especially in low income communities have access to resources, and have more diversity in the experiences and the people they are exposed to. a lot of times we go to schools in the delta and the kids have never been outside of the delta and have very little, so immigration is important, but we see more importantly what the schools really need first is the resources and the funding and quality teachers in there.

    >> and when we come back, i want to come back to you on this question, and come back to you, chris , because i want to ask if as we start measuring school quality if immigration starts to measure equality. and don't go away, because we are taking a break, but wasn't to talk about how charter schools are continuing this issue of resegregation.

    >> there was a big apprehension of daughters, white daughters going into a predominantly black school schools.

    >> you had really a segregated society. and all of the sudden today, it is going

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