A comment from the Vicar recently illustrated how slowly society progresses, regardless of government legislation and court rulings. While the topic of that blog was about our energy consumption behavior, the Vicar’s example was about integration of African-Americans into economic, education, and civic life of the USA. One event along that path was the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, by President Eisenhower, by Executive Order 10730, September 24, 1957.
This was the event in which nine African-American students were to be enrolled in Central High School, three years after Brown v Board of Education struck down separate but equal education practices. Fearing mob outrage, Governor Faubus stationed the National Guard outside the school to prevent the students and protesters from mixing, when the school opened September 5, 1957. President Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10730, commanding the military to open the school to the students. The paratroopers remained at the school for one month to disperse protesters.
Fifty years later, how integrated are we? In the 1990’s, 70% percent of African American students were in schools with other African-Americans. Caucasian students attend schools in which 80% of their classmates were from similar backgrounds. I suspect that both of these statistics occur because of ethnic as well economic factors, that related to why people live in certain areas and whether they can afford private verse public education.
When I was in college I came across the concept of de facto segregation: people voluntarily live in neighborhoods, attend churches and entertainment, make friends with and marry other people of like backgrounds. How do you integrate people who prefer to affiliate with their own? Growing up in suburban California, I recall only one African-American student in my elementary school. O. J. Simpson and Mohammad Ali were sports heroes at the time, and I had the impression that we accepted Sammy because of our admiration for them. I do not recall any people of color at church either. I knew that “Mexicans” lived in the Santa Clara Valley, but they seemed to be somewhere other than our street.
My first exposure to other segments and ethnic groups came after I dropped out of college in Seattle in 1980. Though my childhood years may be have been distanced from people of different backgrounds, my parents had not exposed me to negative stereotypes of “those people”. Thus, when I found a basement apartment on the west side of Capitol Hill in Seattle, I saw low rent, which I could afford, not a black neighborhood. It took me a few months before I recognized that the color of folks on the bus to work became more white as we approached downtown. Similarly, a year later, when I moved to an apartment on Capitol Hill, closer to downtown, I did not realize that this was the gay area of Seattle. The neighborhoods were probably less than a mile apart geographically, but quite different.
When I returned to California to attend college in San Jose, I lived in an apartment, then a house, on the east-side, near the university. Ah, this is where the “Mexicans” live. But, there was Japan-town, and Little Saigon only a few blocks away. My classmates came from many backgrounds, but the fraternities, social clubs, etc. tended to divide out by some ethnic factors. We could study together, but our recreational pursuits generally were segregated.
When I moved to NYC and settled into a neighborhood in Queens, I learned that the building in which I lived had been populated with immigrants from Czechoslovakia during WWII. While most were Jewish, they identified with being Czech. Jews from Russia, Poland, Spain, etc. lived in other parts of the city. And, the neighborhood was changing with Ecuadorians and Salvadorians living a few blocks east, Turks on our block, and Indians a few blocks west. For the most part, anyone could come and go from those neighborhoods, but we did not expect to share social, religious, or recreational activities. This pattern was repeated with many other ethnic groups throughout NYC. If you like ethnic food, just walk a few blocks to see who lives there.
Moving to Alexandria heightened my awareness of the effects of segregation, as I met and spoke with African-Americans who had grown up in Virginia. For many, who were coming of age in the 1960’s, their education level was 6th to 8th grade because Virginia closed all of its public schools rather than integrate them, until the federal courts intervened. For a generation, white children who went to private schools moved on with their middle-class or affluent lifestyles, while blacks who were prevented from a high school education were also prevented from employment in careers that might have improved their family economic status. To complicate the divide, I found that there were several groupings of African-Americans: those whose lineage came from the slave trade in Virginia and southern states, those whose parents and grandparents had moved from Caribbean islands, those who escaped political turmoil in western African nations, such as Sierra Leon, and eastern African civil wars, such as Ethiopia. Each group sought housing among their own, separate from the others.
Even here in the mountains, separate groups can be easily found. Those with many generations here live on the farms and small towns. The Hispanics (mostly from Puerto Rico, not Mexico) live near the factories. The “Come Heres” build retirement and weekend homes in wooded subdivisions, some mostly for straights and some mostly for gays.
I grew up under the Great Society rhetoric of the American “Melting Pot”. This metaphor changed to the American “Salad Bowl” and “Mosaic”. I am not sure that any of these images captures the situation. For many years, I asserted that economic factors were more prevalent than racial backgrounds in determining who lived where. While I still view finances as main reason that people live where they can afford to, I now view heritage as a strong factor too.
Social change occurs slowly, often over generations, just as economic status changes slowly, usually with several generations of advancing education. In healthcare, I have always worked with staff from many different ethnic backgrounds. Without our pursuit of education that allowed us to apply for those jobs, we probably would have never met for we lived in different neighborhoods, belonged to different social groups and attended different faith communities. But, we all commuted to the same employer.
The primary reason that I have lived among several different ethnic neighborhoods was that I sought out housing that was less expensive than my means because I valued spending my money (or saving it) elsewhere. I approached my neighbors with an accepting attitude and for the most part they accepted me. If we hold out hope for some degree of integration in our society, accepting each other is likely to be a factor. Listening to each other’s stories, sharing each other’s tables, offering a hand when some labor or support is needed will go farther than building fences and separating “us” from “them”.
What experiences with integration have you had?
Executive Order 10730
Providing Assistance for the Removal of an Obstruction of Justice within the State of Arkansas
WHEREAS on September 23, 1957, I issued Proclamation No. 3204 reading in part as follows:
‘WHEREAS certain persons in the state of Arkansas, individually and in unlawful assemblages, combinations, and conspiracies, have willfully obstructed the enforcement of orders of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas with respect to matters related to enrollment and attendance at public schools, particularly at Central High School, located in Little Rock School District, Little Rock, Arkansas; and
‘WHEREAS such willful obstruction of justice hinders the execution of the laws of that State and of the United States, and makes it impracticable to enforce such laws by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings; and
‘WHEREAS such obstructions of justice constitute a denial of the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution of the United States and impedes the course of justice under those laws:
‘NOW, THEREFORE, I, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, President of the United States, under and by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the United States, including Chapter 15 of Title 10 of the United States Code, particularly sections 332, 333, and 334 thereof, do command all persons engaged in such obstruction of justice to cease and desist therefrom, and to disperse forthwith;’ and
WHEREAS the command contained in that Proclamation has not been obeyed and willful obstruction of said court orders still exists and threatens to continue:
NOW, AND THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the United States, including Chapter 15 of Title 10, particularly sections 332, 333, and 334 therefore, and section 301 of Title 3 of the United States Code, It is thereby order as follows:
SECTION 1. I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of Defense to order into the active military service of the United States as he may deem appropriate to carry out the purposes of this Order, any or all of the units of the National Guard of the United States and of the Air National Guard of the United States within the State of Arkansas to serve in the active military service of the United States for an indefinite period and until relieved by appropriate orders.
SECTION 2. The Secretary of Defense is authorized and directed to take all appropriate steps to enforce any orders of the United States District Courts for the Eastern District of Arkansas for the removal of obstruction of justice in the State of Arkansas with respect to matters related to enrollment and attendance of public schools in the Little Rock School District, Little Rock, Arkansas. In carrying out the provisions of this section, the Secretary of Defense is authorized in the use of units, and members thereof, ordered into active military service of the United States pursuant of Section 1 of this Order.
SECTION 3. In furtherance of the enforcement of the aforementioned orders of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, the Secretary of Defense is authorized to use such of the armed forces of the United States as he may deem necessary.
SECTION 4. The Secretary of Defense is authorized to delegate to the Secretary of the Army or the Secretary of the Air Force, or both, any of the authority conferred upon him by this Order.
Great American Documents series