50th Anniversary of Lincoln School Desegregation Case Comes And Goes without a Whisper in New Rochelle

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Ward ProtectAs predicted more than a year by Talk of the Sound, New Rochelle has no events planned to mark January 24, 2011, the 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Court's landmark decision in Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education in which Judge Irving Kaufman found that the New Rochelle Board of Education has engaged in "de facto" racial segregation and ordered the desegregation of the Lincoln Elementary School in New Rochelle, NY.

Why are we not surprised?

No matter what anyone tells you, today was the penultimate day in the history of the Tayor v. Board of Education case. The rest of the events were elements of what became the case, filings in the case or appeals and dismissals of appeals of the case. The actual decision in the case filed on behalf of the Lincoln parents by Paul Zuber was January 24, 1961. Celebrating any other day than this would be equivalent to celebrating the Emancipation Proclamation on April 4th or Independence Day on February 9 (the date on which the Confederate States of America was formed).

A year ago, when I first brought the upcoming 50th Anniversary to the attention of the New Rochelle Board of Education, Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak expressed concern that highlighting the Lincoln case would draw attention to the situation at Columbus School which is 94% Latino just as Lincoln School was 94% African-American. Organisciak was also concerned about holding an event with a large gathering which would likely include many African-Americans and he was not comfortable with that idea. He did want any "outdoor" or "public" events; he wanted everything to take place inside school buildings so he could control the events and keep people out. He got his way. There are no events currently announced to take place outside of school grounds and none announced that will take place outdoors.

No one in the district, least of all the Superintendent, wants residents looking at the abysmal on-time graduation rates for African-American (55%) or Latino (51%) students. Or the racial/ethnic composition of the elite Kaleidoscope program (over 90% white). Or the elite PAVE program. Or the AP/Honors program where school officials have been double-counting minority students to create the illusion that it is not a mostly white program. Or the ethnic composition of the senior administration of the school district where the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendents are all white. If they were to do that, they might realize that not a lot has changed in 50 years except that there are now not only a large number of black students in New Rochelle schools but a similar number of Latino students as well -- both of whom are poorly served by the public school system.

After my presentation to the Board of Education prior to the 49th Anniversary of the Taylor v. Board of Education in January 2010, it was Board of Education President Sara Richmond who expressed her immediate and enthusiastic support from the dais for a 50th Anniversary celebration. Other board members such as Quay Watkins, Chrisanne Petrone, Jerome Smith and Jeffrey Hastie echoed her sentiments.

Stuck between a rock and a hard place -- hoping to ignore the 50th anniversary but facing strong board support engendered by my efforts -- Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak was left no choice but to proceed but kept an eye on holding only "indoor" events that would keep any commemorations as much out of the public eye as possible. As a result, events are limited to display within New Rochelle high school, coursework for some students, a screening of film about the Little Rock 9 (don't ask what that has to do with New Rochelle, it doesn't). There will be no large-scale public gatherings. No unveilings of monuments. No special dinners or prayer breakfasts. In short, nothing that might attract TV cameras or the attention of people not directly affiliated with the public school system.

One thing upon which the Board of Education and the Superintendent agree is that they do not want people to know Talk of the Sound's central role in raising awareness of this event and moving it forward. So, it falls to me to once again point out that I was the person who appeared before the Board of Education and gave the board a five minute summary of the case and urged the importance of not allowing January 24, 2011 to go unmarked in New Rochelle. All of this is explained in the article I wrote last September when the Board of Education and City hosted a Meeting for 50th Anniversary of Lincoln School Decision Monday Night at City Hall.

To explain my interest, I have to go back to 2006 when my son was a student at Ward School. His teacher was Dr. Gail Guttman. In the course of conversation about the history of the schools in New Rochelle, Dr. Guttman mentioned that she had written her dissertation on the Taylor v. Board of Education case. Fascinated, I borrowed her copy of her work. I was fascinated both by the work and how little seemed to be known within the school system about was so obviously a major case in the Civil Rights movement. Two years later, when I launched Talk of the Sound, I began planning to write about the Taylor case and push the idea that the 50th Anniversary was a very big deal and ought to be treated as such. In addition to lobbying the Board of Education on the subject, I wrote about it and published an 8-part series on the subject researched and written by Karen Hessel. In concluding that initial phase on pushing for a proper commemoration I wrote an article the day after the 49th Anniversary and again addressed the board.

49th Anniversary of Lincoln School Desegregation Passes Unnoticed, Advent of 50th Anniversary Dawns: Jan. 24, 1961

It is our sense at Talk of the Sound that the school district would prefer to let these anniversaries pass unnoticed and forgotten. Perhaps the district is embarrassed. Maybe they should be. Although the BoE has 3 black members today, the ENTIRE central office administration of the school district is white so nothing has changed in in that regard from 1960-61. There is even one school that is 94% latino just as Lincoln was 94% black (Columbus is 94% Latino)

However, we believe the opposite should be the case. New Rochelle should be proud! All sides in the issue were from New Rochelle so rather than be embarrassed about the racists running the district back then they ought to celebrate the brave men, women and children who challenged them -- and won. To date, the only commemoration of the transformational events is a plaque on pillar in front of Lincoln Park. This is simply not good enough.

There have, so far, been many major milestones in the Taylor case that have come and gone without notice in New Rochelle. Of the two remaining 50th anniversary events, one takes place over the Summer recess and the other takes places on December 11, 2011.

Key Dates Ignored

May 1960 - Voters approve a school board referendum to tear down and replace the Lincoln School galvanizing opposition among the black community in New Rochelle. [IGNORED]

September 1960 - In an orchestrated series of acts of civil disobedience, New Rochelle parents attempt to register their children at the predominantly white North End schools; parents are arrested when they refuse to leave the Ward Elementary School during a "teach in" protest. [IGNORED]

October 1960 - Paul Zuber, a civil rights lawyer, takes on the parent's case and files Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education in U.S. Court in Manhattan. [IGNORED]

January 1961 - Judge Irving Kaufman decides for the parents and against the New Rochelle Board of Education, Kaufman finds that the school district has created a "de facto" segregated school through a series of policies designed to gerrymander neighborhood boundaries to keep black students in the school while giving variances to white students to get white students out of the school. [IGNORED]

August 1961 - The U.S. Court of Appeals affirms the lower court ruling in Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education. [PENDING]

December 1961 - The U.S. the Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case, effectively ending the litigation. [PENDING]

So, the City of New Rochelle is left to celebrate a Court of Appeals affirmation of the ruling and the Supreme Court denying certiori in the case. Not exactly the same as marking the actual date of a decision which is, arguably, the third most important education-related Civil Rights case in American history.

The only other notice of the event comes from the Journal News where Karen Hessel has summarized her 8-part series and an article in AOL Patch:

New Rochelle marks 50th anniversary of schools desegregation suit
Desegregation Anniversary Marked for Lincoln School

UPDATE: City School District response.

Robert,

In response to your post from this morning about no events being planned to commemorate the anniversary of Judge Kaufman's decision, I would point to a calendar of events (attached) that is taking place between now and the end of March to commemorate the entire case and its place in both New Rochelle history as well as the national issue of desegregation at the time.

We recognize the significance of today's date in the case and posted a statement on the homepage of our website to address it specifically. It was read during morning announcements at the high school and is being read into the record at tomorrow night's BOE meeting. Also, Steve Goldberg, chair of the social studies department at the high school has just embarked on a research/report project with his 11th grade students in which they will all be writing about different aspects of the Taylor case.

Surely you can see that there is a significant overall effort to recognize the Taylor case that incorporates input from not only the school district, but also the New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle Council for the Arts and other community partners.

Paul Costiglio
Communications & Media Specialist
City School District of New Rochelle

Duly noted.

In response to Mr. Costiglio, I pointed out the following:

1. At the last BoE Meeting, I asked specifically about what the district had planned for today's date. I received no reply until today, after I had published the article above.

Question: The Kaufman decision in the Lincoln school case occurred on January 24, 1961. The 50th anniversary of that decision, the key decision in the civil rights movement in the northern states, will occur in just over three weeks. Has there been any announcement about any activities planned to mark that date in New Rochelle history?

2. I do not consider posting an announcement on the web site and reading it aloud at the high school and at the BoE meeting to be an appropriate way to mark the 50th Anniversary of what I believe to be the 3rd most important education civil rights case in U.S. history. The district makes longer, more detailed announcements about budget meetings and the need to wash hands regularly to avoid the flu.

STATEMENT ON ANNIVERSARY OF DISTRICT COURT DECISION IN TAYLOR CASE

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Judge Irving Kaufman's historic Taylor Case decision in favor of the Lincoln School children and parents. His ruling paved the way for the eventual desegregation of the Lincoln School and the integration of its students into other schools in the New Rochelle district.

This was undoubtedly a difficult moment in New Rochelle's history. However, we choose to recognize and celebrate it as a momentous occasion that helped to propel our city and our school district into a place of rich diversity, culture and learning.

3. The supposed "50th Anniversary events calendar" includes events related to MLK Day and Black History month, events that have nothing to do with the Taylor case and which have been held in past years such as having a speaker from the Little Rock 9 give a presentation. I do not consider lumping together unrelated MLK Day events or Black History Month events together with a couple of other minor events to be remotely sufficient given the national significance of the case.

[Carlotta Walls Lanier]spoke at Isaac Young Middle School today and at Albert Leonard last fall. She played a short video of a "Where are they Now?" segment with Katie Couric and the Little Rock Nine. The video included black and white footage of the students trying to attend Central High School in Little Rock with the crowds of protestors and National Guard troops.

We can only wonder what is meant by the district's statement "This was undoubtedly a difficult moment in New Rochelle's history". It sounds just a little too apologetic to the losers in the Taylor case. Are there some still in the district who believe Taylor was wrongly decided? After all this is the same district who appealed the case, twice, and was actively considering a third appeal at the time.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Thomas Sowell's picture
Thomas Sowell on Mon, 01/24/2011 - 14:15

Although I love history and this was certainly a historic event, I like the fact that in a short period of time a new generation has grown up in an environment where this event is so foreign an idea that they don't feel a need to celebrate it.
Maybe it's becoming as silly as news reports of "the first african american to _______(fill in the blank). I think anyone under 40 that has grown up in a place like New Rochelle can't even relate to the race related garbage that many make a living off of and that we read in the news and see on TV. So for the older folks this day may bring back memories of a stranger time but for the younger audience it is just another day and at its worst a day to remember that their great-grandparents generation were total idiots.

Brian Sussman on Mon, 01/24/2011 - 14:32

Everyone is entitled to their opinion.

But your posting seemed both insensitive and naive. There is plenty of bigotry remaining these days, among people of all generations, and many people have been harmed by such bias and hatred.

Additionally, many people who lived through the 1950-60's, including the entire Baby Boom generation, have been scarred by being subjected to or witnessing such bigotry. We must all determine that such educational bigotry not occur again.

And yet we witness bias everyday, racially, ethnically, religously, and politically, in the USA and throughout the world.

Those who wish to ignore this reality are free to do so, but they should not be critical of the good people who are reminded of or wish to remind us of America's continuing problems with bias in education, residence, healthcare and employment.

Clearly, a 'separate-but-equal' education is an inferior public education that likely leads to inferior opportunities for higher education, residence, healthcare and employment.

Thomas Sowell's picture
Thomas Sowell on Mon, 01/24/2011 - 17:15

this is not the best avenue for a lengthy discussion so we all must try to put our thoughts into a concise paragraph or two. Of course I understand there is much more to the issue and to judge based on my post isn't taking that into consideration. The issue of race is huge and has changed over the years, the discussion of lack of opportunity has changed to lack of motivation within the black community. I was at Shiloh baptist last week and listened to an excellent speech about self-respect, self-reliance and self destruction.
I wish it was recorded and played on cablevision because if it was spoken by a non-african american the speaker would have been labeled an insensitive racist, bigot. And I agree much damage has been done by the past, however, much damage is being done now to a new generation of kids by the federal, state and local gov'ts by programs designed to right the wrongs of the past. But once again, there is just too much info for this type of forum.
PS... It is not usually good form to start your reply by accusing someone of being naive and insensitive, these are just labels designed to marginalize without having to explain your position.

Robert Cox's picture
Robert Cox on Mon, 01/24/2011 - 15:45

Uh oh. It must be a sign of the apocalypse.

Well said, Brian.

Brian Sussman on Mon, 01/24/2011 - 14:14

I commend you for highlighting New Rochelle's history of public school segregation resulting in court-ordered segregation of New Rochelle's public schools in the 1960's.

I attended GM Davis Elementary School from 1958 thru 1963 (2nd thru 6th grades). During that entire time (and previously) Davis School had no Black students, although it did have one 6th grade teacher who was Black, Elaine Nichols. Ward School, opened in 1959 also without any Black students.

At the same time that the Federal Courts ordered Lincoln School to be desegregated or alternately closed, the courts also ordered Davis and Ward Schools to be integrated, but it took several years before that actually occurred.

Lincoln School had been deliberately segregated in the late 1920'a or early 1930s. My father, who attended New Rochelle Public Schools from 1927 thru 1938, was a witness to that deliberate segregation. He saw Black students living near Webster School suddenly transferred to Lincoln School, while White students living near Lincoln School suddenly transferred to Webster School.

The segregation I witnessed at Davis School, was itself de facto.

The segregation that was deliberate, was by the real estate agents and construction companies who refused to sell the many new neighborhoods that were built near Davis and Ward Schools in the 1950-60's on what had been farm land. My neighbors near Davis School had no wish to see Davis School segregated and there were no protests or reaction by my neighbors to the ordered integration of Davis School.

I believe the last graduating class of Lincoln School were among the students I graduated with at ALJHS in 1966 and NRHS in 1969.

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