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Redrawing the boundaries

By Joseph L. Bass

Politicians have a lot of influence, even power, over our daily lives. But it is interesting to note that they can change the definitions of words. Consider “segregation” and “integration.”

Suffolk is beginning a process to redraw school-division attendance boundaries for next school year. Definitions of the two words will influence decisions. But the process will ignore Dr. King’s dream of a world where judgments are not made basis on skin color.

The definitions of segregation and integration changed with Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act along with additional federal laws and court rulings. The act outlawed racial discrimination, prohibiting segregation in public places such as schools, and so on.

Before 1964, mostly in the South, segregated schools were created by busing black, Hispanic and Native American children to schools that did not include white children. Caucasian children were bused to white-only schools.

For example, in former Nansemond County — most of what is now the city of Suffolk — white junior and senior high students rode a bus to Chuckatuck School, now Saunders Supply. That was a long ride for those living near North Carolina. When I lived in Riverside, Calif., in the 1960s and ’70s, I personally knew black and Hispanic neighbors that remembered riding past white schools to get to their segregated school, miles away.

After Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act, a “segregated” school division was legally defined as one having historically achieved separate white and colored schools through busing. A legal requirement was established that these divisions had to achieved “integration” through busing to achieve mixed-race student bodies across a division.

What most do not realize is that in 1964 many northern schools, particularly those in and around central cities, did not have mixed-race student bodies. They had neighborhood schools that were mainly either colored or white, but there was no busing. This situation did not occur by accident. Prior to President Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” many central city neighborhoods were mixed race, as were the schools.

Three major 1930s New Deal programs resulted in the development of ghettos in central cities and white suburbs.  These were highway building, construction of suburban housing, and a new banking institution called “red lining.”

To create jobs, these efforts built new homes outside of city limits. Highways were built to make it possible for new suburbanites to move out of central cities but remain employed in cities. Through red lining, banks caused reductions in central city property values and only issued loans within the red lines to colored people. Banks offered reduced rate loans only to whites to purchase suburban homes.

Many, knowing these facts, think that federal government’s “integration” requirements were only designed to punish southern states, considering many northern divisions did not have mixed-race student bodies either.

Redrawing Suffolk school boundaries will be influenced by 1960s thinking regarding what is a “segregated” or an “integrated” school. It will be politically incorrect for citizens to propose that race and ethnicity should not be factors in the judgments. In this way the city will ignore Dr. King’s dream.

More on this later.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.