Book Review from Clarion Ledger Article on ClarionLedger.comJay Wiener, Special to the Clarion Ledger
The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision punctured the fiction that separate public facilities are equal.
The Supreme Court Order to desegregate “with all deliberate speed” was manipulated such that 15 years passed before schools in Jackson were effectively integrated.
Jackson students of my generation were those affected. Many remained committed to public education. Others abandoned the public schools.
"Lines Were Drawn: Remembering Court-Ordered Integration at a Mississippi High School,” edited by Teena F. Horn, Alan Huffman and John Griffin Jones, with a preface by Claiborne Barksdale, allows Mississippians to revisit a time of common purpose and relearn.
It is important for those uprooted from the established order to revisit what happened. It is equally important for our parents’ generation to reflect upon their decisions about where their children attended school. It is crucial that our children appreciate our challenges in order to understand their parents' lives. Those who were not in Mississippi at the time can never understand the state absent that chapter of history.
If I could choose one book of 2016 to create dialogue, “Lines Were Drawn” would be it. “Lines Were Drawn” begs people to share their thoughts about the value of public education, the importance of equal opportunity, and the need to engage with those of different backgrounds and experiences. These concerns entail the essence of American democracy.
The various voices contained in the book provide a Rohrshach Test. A wide spectrum of ideas allows everyone to latch onto something familiar. Yet that misses the point: While one can have ideas and hold dear to them, beliefs are best explored with those who see things differently, such that we determine where we are agreed. This is an ideal that is wanting in contemporary society.
The three authors concede that there is overrepresentation by Caucasian students in the Murrah High School classes of 1972 through 1975. It is a shortcoming, but not a serious one if the discussion is a starting point and not an endpoint. The fact that more questions are left unanswered than resolved suggests that the area of inquiry will engage the public for years to come.
The authors recognize that Caucasian students remaining in the Jackson Public Schools might have seen themselves as engaged in the equivalent of the Victorian “White Man's Burden” to raise the disadvantaged. Nonetheless students bonded over time, replacing preconceptions with profound awareness of each other.
African-American and Caucasian institutions were unhinged from their moorings; losing beloved schools which scores of one’s predecessors attended, cherished teachers who mentored students over decades, and a sense of belonging that has been forgotten in the oversimplification of history. Reflecting upon pressing issues confronting the metropolitan area, we should ask how to recreate the sense of pride and well-being that withstood segregation but not its demise; however unintended the consequence.
Education is fundamental to civic participation, economic development and social stability. The fact that integration failed to make the community more cohesive is a tragedy that cannot be ignored.
Mississippians are benevolent and charitable and, given adequate attention, the issues referenced in “Lines Were Drawn” promote Martin Luther King's vision, at the conclusion of his last speech, in Memphis, on April 3, 1968:
“... I just want to do God's will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
“And so I’m happy tonight.
“I’m not worried about anything.
“I’m not fearing any man!
“Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the coming of the Lord!”
Jay Wiener is a Jackson native and a lawyer.