Desegregation's Tortuous Course: Washington: Showcase of Integration
Following the collapse of Virginia’s “massive resistance” to public school desegregation in the face of adverse court decisions, Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., took to the airwaves to state his case against racial integration. He addressed some of his comments “to those who defend or close their eyes to the livid stench of sadism, sex, immorality, and juvenile pregnancy infesting the mixed schools of the District of Columbia and elsewhere.” A week earlier, Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas told his constituents that children locked out of Little Rock’s closed Central High School could lose an entire year of schooling, if need be, and “still be educationally ahead of students in integrated Washington, D. C.”
Ever since President Eisenhower voiced the hope in 1954 that integration in the capital would be a “model” to the nation, Washington’s school system has been a whipping boy for segregationists. Two years ago a newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, devoted a 16-page tabloid section to desegregation in the District of Columbia and concluded that Washington is “a city of seething unrest: a chaotic area of flux and movement, uneasy and unstable. . . . It is a city where many white families who remain, imprisoned, hesitate to talk for fear of violent reprisal.” More recently, a hate sheet published in Inglewood, California, told its readers that “in Washington’s integrated schools, armed police now patrol the halls to protect white students and teachers from Negro jungle violence. Slashings, knifings, assaults, indecent exposures, and sex incidents are so rampant throughout the District’s integrated system that white students are virtually deserting the schools en masse.”
For a long time, Washington’s school authorities avoided making direct replies to these charges, but school Superintendent Carl F. Hansen and Walter N. Tobriner, an attorney who serves as president of the Board of Education, found it “impossible to ignore” Governor Almond’s comment. They described it as “a gratuitous and intemperate attack upon the innate decency of 114,000 children and youth in our public schools,” and declared that “the public school system of the District of Columbia is an outstanding example of how education serves to improve citizenship, thus demonstrating the value of public education to the community and the nation.”
No one familiar with public education in Washington would suggest that school desegregation was easy and effortless. But almost five years have passed since the Supreme Court decision, and some have forgotten the problems of segregation. They were vexing, indeed, and integration provided an answer. Residents recall no community conflict in the past four years which matched the intensity of the recurrent crises in the period before integration.
Washington had been operating two separate, racially segregated public school systems for more than ninety years when the Supreme Court ruled on May 17, 1954, that “segregation in public education is not reasonably related to any proper governmental objective, and thus it imposes on Negro children of the District of Columbia a burden that constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty in violation of the due process clause.” The decision climaxed years of litigation and conflict.
Hobart M. Corning, who retired last year as school superintendent, told the Board of Education in 1947: “Because of the unusually serious crowding of the schools, tensions and evidences of extreme unrest are already occurring within the city.” Total enrollment in the district’s public schools was about the same at the end of the war as it had been at the beginning—92,000 pupils. But school construction had virtually stood still during the war years, and there were about 6,000 fewer white students in the schools and 6,000 more Negroes. The result was what Brigadier General Gordon R. Young, the District Engineer Commissioner, described as “a remarkable mixture of modern and antiquated buildings and equipment, and . . . an acute but unbalanced shortage of space.”
About 7,000 Washington youngsters were on half-sessions in double-shift schools in 1946. More than 6,000 of them were Negroes. The schools were distinctly separate, but they were hardly equal. The average white elementary school class had less than 35 pupils; the average Negro class, almost 39. Even greater disparities existed at the junior and senior high school levels. In some Negro schools, as many as 50 pupils were jammed into a classroom. Bad feelings mounted as Negro children walked past under-capacity white schools to attend overcrowded buildings.
In 1948, District Appropriations Subcommittees of the Senate and House of Representatives ordered a thorough survey of the District schools. A staff of experts headed by George D. Strayer subjected the system to exhaustive scrutiny. Their report, published in 1949, included these findings: the average white high school teacher was teaching 548 pupil-hours per week, while the average Negro high school teacher was teaching 711 pupil-hours; 25 per cent of the white school buildings and 40 per cent of the Negro schools were 50 years or older; 67.9 per cent of the white elementary classes and 88.1 per cent of the Negro classes had more than 30 pupils; 18 per cent of the white classes and 40.3 per cent of the Negro classes had more than 40 pupils. “It is the confirmed judgment of the survey staff,” Strayer wrote, “that modern standards of education and training are rarely achieved under such conditions of heavy overload.” He recommended a $40 million school construction program, with more than 75 per cent to be allocated to the Negro schools.
The school administration was cognizant of its responsibilities. In 1947, when fewer than 45 per cent of the pupils were Negroes, 72 per cent of the construction budget was assigned to Negro schools. The effort to close the gap continued in succeeding years. Furthermore, 21 white schools were turned over to the Negro division in the last few years before desegregation. Almost all of these transfers were accompanied by racial antagonisms. White parents resented losing the schools their children attended. Negroes resented “hand-me-down schools.” These resentments were reflected in strikes by Negro students, picketing of school offices by parents, lawsuits citing inferior buildings, part-time schooling, and lack of kindergarten facilities for Negroes.
Despite their efforts, the schools could not keep up with the building need. In 1952, after five years of concerted emphasis on catching up, average classroom loads were somewhat lower in the white schools but hardly reduced at all in the Negro division. The inequities and the periodic school-transfer disputes were resolved only when schools were desegregated. This year, classes for all of the city’s pupils are substantially smaller than they were five years ago, despite a steady enrollment increase.
In 1954, before the Supreme Court handed down its decision, a study by the Fund for the Advancement of Education found that “by any measurement, the Negro division of the Washington school system has remained inferior to the white. Continuing effort to superimpose a rigidly segregated school system on a rapidly shifting residential pattern has made crises—financial and otherwise—the norm in Washington schools.” There was, for instance, the problem of budgeting school operating costs. In the voteless capital, school funds are appropriated by Congress by means of a cumbersome budget process which begins two years before the money is to be spent. Since white enrollments were dropping steadily while Negro enrollments increased, a built-in gap existed in the per-pupil allocation for the white and Negro divisions. In the last year of segregation, the District invested $240.27 in the instruction of each white student and $186.17 in the instruction of each Negro, according to figures compiled by the United States Office of Education. Inevitably, special educational services were inferior in the Negro schools. Official statistics for the 1953-54 school year show that there were 21,586 pupils in the white elementary schools; special classes, staffed by 79 teachers, were available to 813 handicapped pupils. At the same time there were 31,044 pupils in the Negro elementary schools; special classes, staffed by 34 teachers, were available to 531 handicapped pupils.
There were even problems in school athletics. Negro high school teams went to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York to fill out baseball and football schedules because there were no teams for them to play against in the Washington area. The Negro schools had the city’s best football stadium, while white students had the best basketball gymnasium. Only Negro students participated in swimming meets because only Negro schools had indoor pools.
There were the increasingly embarrassing incidents, such as the occasion in 1950 when the Washington Sesquicentennial Commission’s drama, Faith of Our Fathers, was barred from a white high school because. the cast contained two Negro actors. “Segregation was a harmful luxury,” Assistant School Superintendent Francis A. Gregory commented recently. “It hurt not only those who were denied, but also those who were privileged.”
There were the far-reaching problems of school administration. In 1949, for instance, the Strayer survey found “marked differences” between the research departments which tested white and Negro students. Strayer wrote: “There can be no justification in maintaining two departments of research. Such a plan is unsound administratively and makes for a much less effective functional organization.” Strayer also found it “unnecessary and illogical” to have separate boards of examiners administer dissimilar examinations to white and Negro applicants for teaching licenses. But the Strayer recommendations were not put into effect until the entire school system was desegregated. Up to the end of segregation, the only system-wide jobs in the Washington schools were held by six white officials: the superintendent, the business administrator, the food services director, the attendance director, and associate superintendents in charge of personnel and of buildings. White officials rarely set foot in the Negro schools except on ceremonial occasions. Negro educators never entered white buildings except to attend after-school conferences. Assistant Superintendent Gregory, formerly an administrator in the Negro division, comments: “Synchronization of educational planning was impossible so long as one division hardly knew what was going on in the other.”
Washington school officials moved with more than deliberate speed to comply with the Supreme Court decision. Just a week after the Court handed down its edict, the Board of Education approved a plan to integrate the two separate school systems.
It now appears that Washington educators may have overestimated the human relations problems involved in desegregation. When the Board of Education began putting its plans into effect in September 1954, few of the expected frictions and incidents materialized. On the other hand, the schools underestimated the educational problems which would accompany desegregation. When city-wide pupil achievement tests were made public in 1955, they revealed staggering deficiencies as an aftermath of segregrated schooling.
In March 1956, a Georgia Congressman on the House District of Columbia Committee, Representative James C. Davis, declared that desegregation in the capital was “not only a scholastic failure, but—as an experiment in human relations—a nightmare.” Several months later Davis launched a full-scale Congressional investigation to bear out his conclusions. Three other Southern Congressmen joined him as signers of a report which declared: “We are of the opinion that the act of integrating the former Division I (white) and Division II (Negro) schools has seriously damaged the public school system in the District of Columbia. The evidence, taken as a whole, points to a definite impairment of educational opportunities for members of both white and Negro races as a result of integration, with little prospect of remedy in the future.”
Two Republicans on the Davis Subcommittee—Representatives A. L. Miller of Nebraska and DeWitt S. Hyde of Maryland—disagreed with the Southern majority. They said the report drew unwarranted conclusions from evidence which “does not appear to be well-balanced or objective.” Nonetheless, the majority report—with the minority dissent deleted—has been reprinted by the thousands and widely distributed throughout the South. In a television appearance during the Little Rock crisis, Governor Faubus urged his audience to write for copies.
The Davis report has gained wide acceptance in the Southern states resisting school desegregation. For lack of effective rebuttal, even some “moderates” have come to believe the major conclusions of the report: that school desegregation in Washington has resulted in a mass exodus of white families from the city; that scholastic standards have been lowered; that juvenile delinquency and vice flourish in the integrated schools; that racial tensions have mounted in the classroom and in the city. Each of these points is worth examination in detail.
No scientific tabulation can be made of the motives which have sent many white Washington families to the suburbs and brought many Negro families into the city, but two facts indicate that school desegregation was not a major factor in the shift: the change in the capital’s racial composition began some twenty years before the schools were integrated, and a similar change is taking place in cities North and South, including some which never had school segregation and some which have it still.
The 1956 Davis report decried the preponderance of Negro pupils and asserted that “just a few years ago” 59,582 white students and 33,498 Negroes were enrolled. Official enrollment records show that “a few years ago” was November 1, 1935. The date was well chosen; it marked an all-time high in white enrollment in the District schools. The figure has been dropping steadily ever since. The movement of white families to the suburbs began as the depression ended, and was accelerated as war and postwar prosperity put auto ownership and home purchase within the reach of many who could not afford to make the move before. By the end of World War II there were about 50,000 white students and almost 40,000 Negroes in the District schools. In 1950, four years before the desegregation decision, Negroes constituted the majority of the enrollment.
These figures are not proportional to the capital’s total population. This year about 45 per cent of Washington residents are Negroes, though they contribute about 74.1 per cent of the school population. Part of the reason is the higher birth rate of Negroes who come to the District from Southern rural areas. On the other hand, single persons and childless couplets represent an unusually high proportion of Washington’s government-centered white population. The enrollment of white children in private and parochial schools surely does not account for the disparity. Some 19,000 Washington children, white and Negro, are enrolled in non-public schools this year. The number, as a percentage of total school population, has actually decreased since the public schools were integrated.
Washington has not been unique in experiencing an influx of low-income Negroes into deteriorating downtown neighborhoods. For a generation, Negro families from the rural South have been moving into urban centers in search of economic opportunities. But the in-migration has been heavy in the capital, which has been for many “the first place to get off the bus.” Two years ago the District schools compiled an analysis of pupils who had transferred from other school systems. It showed that some 6,000 students had come from 47 states—almost half of them, however, from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and neighboring Virginia. No comparable Negro in-migration has been experienced by the suburban areas, where real estate opportunities for Negroes are virtually non-existent. The run-down sections of the central city have born the full impact of the influx.
In their recent book, The Exploding Metropolis, the editors of Fortune cited comparable figures for other cities: “New York City today has a net in-migration of 30,000 Puerto Ricans and 10,000 Negroes annually. Something like 50,000 whites appear to be leaving the city every year. Chicago’s Negro population is increasing by 35,000 a year. . . . Best guess on the annual movement of Chicagoans to suburban areas: about 15,000. Cleveland has had an annual loss of some 3,000 whites, and a gain of some 6,500 Negroes, over the past 15 years or so. The city today is 26 per cent Negro; by 1970 that figure should be over 40 per cent. St. Louis population has remained fairly stable, at around 875,000, since 1940. But during those years, the Negro population has increased from 12 to 30 per cent of the total; by 1970, it should be around 45 per cent.”
According to Southern newspaper reports, the same process is taking place in many of the citadels of segregation. In the Georgia bailiwick of Representative Davis, the Atlanta Journal reported last summer that white school enrollment has increased by only 500 since 1955, while Negro enrollment has grown by 8,400. A Chamber of Commerce official quoted by the newspaper said, “Our schools are 40 per cent Negro now and will probably be 50 per cent by 1961.” In Charleston, South Carolina, the Journal and Guide reported last September that “enrollment of colored pupils for the fall term in Charleston’s schools comprises 69 per cent of the total enrollment. . . . During the past five years, colored enrollment in Charleston’s public schools has increased from 6,754 to 8,277. In the past year, white pupil enrollment decreased by 369 to 3,774. . . . Officials said that at the elementary school level, colored pupils outnumber whites by more than three to one.” In Nashville, the Tennessean reported that Negroes now constitute 33.8 per cent of the population, and added: “Moreover, all of Nashville’s increase since 1950 has been in the Negro population and there are actually 400 fewer white persons living in the city than there were eight years ago.” These figures from segregated as well as integrated areas indicate how little the “flight to the suburbs” of Washington’s white families and the arrival in the city of low-income Negroes have to do with public school integration.
The population shift has worked marked changes in the composition of the District’s school enrollment. Since residential segregation persists in the capital, there is a tendency for either white or Negro pupils to be in the overwhelming majority in individual schools. This year 20 of the 170 public schools have all-Negro student bodies. Five schools are all-white. In most of the schools, student bodies are composed 70 per cent or more of members of one race. Four schools have 50 to 70 per cent white enrollment and 10 are 50 to 70 per cent Negro.
School Superintendent Hansen believes that “with support from the home, any child can benefit regardless of the race predominant in his school.” Commenting on the population shift, Hansen said recently, “A well-managed school system should be able to produce effective results in terms of pupils, regardless of race. The efficiency of an educational program need not be determined by the factor of race. In our school system, this factor is being constantly minimized.”
The substandard scholastic level of many Negro pupils became evident almost as soon as the schools were desegregated. The first city-wide achievement tests, published in 1955, provided dramatic documentation of the educational handicaps imposed by the inequities of segregated schooling. On the average, former Negro schools fell far short of the scores chalked up in former white schools. With 64,000 Negro pupils and 41,000 white pupils, city-wide results did not come up to national standards. Scores showed that the typical Washington fifth grader was working at the national fourth grade level in arithmetic reasoning and at the third grade level in reading comprehension. Fifth grade pupils in half of the 110 elementary schools were retarded by at least one full school year in comprehension of paragraph meaning, word meaning, spelling, language, and arithmetic computation. The scores came as a surprise because no comparable program of city-wide testing had ever been undertaken before. White and Negro divisions had always used different sets of tests and not all Negro pupils had been tested.
Most of Washington’s educational planning in the past four years has been directed toward eliminating the deficiencies revealed by desegregation, raising the achievement levels of retarded pupils and keeping capable students from being held back by their slower schoolmates.
The District has a four-track system of ability grouping in the high schools. It provides a demanding honors program for gifted children, a regular college preparatory program, a general program for students not planning to go to college, and a remedial basic curriculum for slow-learning pupils. School officials have encountered problems in evaluating students for assignment to proper tracks, but they report that the program is generally working well. Similar ability grouping is being introduced into the junior high schools and is planned for the elementary level. Assistant School Superintendent Gregory, one of the system’s top Negro officers, says: “No one who goes into a school and sees a slow group made up 80 or 100 per cent of Negro students should feel any resentment. It would be a disservice to group them otherwise. For some time more children in the upper groups will be white and more in the lower groups will be Negro. It takes a while to overcome the results of segregation and cultural disabilities.”
Recognizing the fact that reading disabilities are at the root of most educational problems, the schools have concentrated on reading instruction. Special remedial programs in the past two summers, limited to small classes, have resulted in notable gains. A reading clinic has been established to diagnose pupils’ problems and help solve them. A squad of specialists has been assigned to assist teachers in schools where reading difficulties are acute. Teachers with training in reading instruction have been encouraged to set up remedial classes.
The school administration ordered stronger emphasis on basic subjects and general tightening of academic standards. The results were reflected in the failure rate of elementary pupils, which rose from 3.9 per cent in 1953 to 12.8 per cent in 1957. This did not indicate a lower caliber of work but rather the modification of old “automatic promotion” practices. The schools have also been able to increase their services to physically, emotionally, and mentally handicapped children. The number of special classes has multiplied. This year, 12 psychologists have been assigned to visit schools regularly, confer with teachers and principals, and study individual cases.
In the fifth year of integration, there is convincing evidence that these efforts are bearing fruit. Average achievement levels throughout the city have been raised to within a few months of national standards, and progress continues. “Our schools have higher standards now than they had before desegregation,” says Assistant Superintendent John D. Koontz. “Standards went up because of the new focus on education which desegregation brought. Of course we have many children at the lower end of the academic scale—but that doesn’t hurt those at the upper end.” More than 40 per cent of the District’s high school graduates continue their education in four-year colleges, junior colleges, nurses’ training schools, or special schools in such subjects as art, music, or business. Washington students are well-represented among the winners of scholarship competitions, and colleges have sent back favorable reports on the alumni of the school system. School Board President Tobriner commented recently, “Integration has not been an unmixed blessing. It brought many problems which it will take a long time to solve. But it can fairly be said that one, and perhaps the most important result, of integration is that more children will receive a better education than was ever possible under the dual system. And this is true without any sacrifice in the quality of education being given to our gifted children,”
In the capital, as in every other major city, educators have found that the schools must take on many of the functions of social welfare agencies. But the school system’s growing interest in these areas has led to two unfortunate misconceptions: that the problems are somehow caused by the schools, and that they are somehow a result of school integration.
Referring to one of the District’s most acute social welfare problems, Superintendent Hansen deplored “the all too common tendency to associate school attendance with the problems of venereal disease and illegitimate pregnancies.” Commenting on a recent report on “junior mothers,” the Superintendent added:
Because the data have to do with children of school age, the report groups them by levels of school attendance. As a result, the conditions by implication are school-connected. A further unjustifiable inference is unavoidable—that somehow all school-age children are suspect, that schools are dangerous to the morals of youth, that they cause rather than reflect the social evils. . . . The fact is that for far too many children the school is the only really constructive element available to them. When the home is degrading, when community experiences are negative, and when the church fails to attract children with moral deficits, the school is the only place where positive experience in a moral environment is available. Instead of being a place for the spread of social infection, the school serves generally as the means of its curtailment and often, as the record shows, its elimination.
School officials reported recently that there were 209 pregnancies among school-age girls last year, a decrease from 242 in 1956-57. The annual figure represents about four-tenths of one per cent of the girls enrolled in the school system. No inter-racial relationships are involved. Though illegitimacy records are not kept by race, there can be no doubt that the problem is greater in Washington’s Negro community. Its causes include poverty and cultural deprivation, crowded housing and lack of parental supervision. Estimates based on United States Census data show that some 45,000 Negro children in the capital and about 1,000 white children belong to families with a submarginal total annual income of less than $3,000.
Despite some initial reluctance, the District schools have decided to launch a program in “Personal and Family Living,” including sex education. Teacher training is under way this year, and a pilot program is being tried in about a dozen schools. Working through such subjects as physical education, science, home economics, and social studies, the schools will try to impart both factual knowledge and moral background to children at all grade levels. Wherever possible, teachers will try to provide individual counseling.
Other health and welfare problems still await solutions. The District Commissioners’ Youth Council reported recently that schools receive about 700 requests a month for clothing and more than 600 requests a month for shoes alone to permit needy children to attend classes. Burdened principals, teachers, and counselors now must find the time and resources to meet these requests. A campaign is currently under way for public contributions to help provide daily lunches for almost 1,000 hungry children attending 11 elementary schools in downtown Washington. Officials report that another 6,000 grade school pupils in other parts of the city are also in need of free lunches which are not now provided by any tax-supported program. These needy children, educators point out, are not only being deprived in a physical sense; their education suffers and their behavior is guided into delinquent patterns. Most of the thefts reported in the schools involve food.
Washington educators hope they will get more community support in dealing with such critical needs as these, but they are convinced that school integration itself was a step in the right direction. Superintendent Hansen has commented, “The total school program and the teacher’s relationship to the child must be even more effective as a way of holding the child in school, giving him a sense of self-respect, a taste of success and recognition according to his ability to achieve, and supplying for him persons who care for him no matter how he may be rejected in home and community. For every child there must be a place of honor in the school environment.”
When Washington schools began desegregating in the fall of 1954, educators and police officials were prepared for friction and possible violence. The opening of schools was uneventful, but a month later the first and only demonstrations against integration took place. In the wake of well-publicized student strikes in Milford, Delaware, and Baltimore, students of three District high schools failed to report for classes. In the next four days, encouraged by some adults, a total of 2,500 junior and senior high school students stayed out of school. By the fifth day they were back. In his pamphlet on school desegregation, “Miracle of Social Adjustment,” Hansen attributes part of the strike to “a good-natured desire to have a holiday.” He tells of the white students at one school who invited a Negro classmate to join them in the demonstration. “Who, me?” the youngster asked. “Yes, you,” they replied. “You’re one of us, aren’t you?” At one high school, the principal persuaded students to turn a protest demonstration into a football pep rally.
Nonetheless, individual incidents of racial conflict did increase immediately after desegregation. This was particularly true in changing neighborhoods, where youngsters reflected the anxieties and tensions of their parents. When the Davis Subcommittee investigated the school system in 1956, police officials reported that “incidents in and around schools, of a racial nature,” totaled 4 in 1953, 3 in 1954, 12 in 1955, and 15 through May of 1956. Immediately after the Congressional inquiry, the Youth Aid Division of the Metropolitan Police Department set up a card file on all inter-racial incidents reported to Washington’s 14 police precincts. Though it includes all incidents involving juveniles—not just those in and around schools—and though it includes many where racial factors are not directly responsible, the file shows these totals: 24 in 1956, 17 in 1957, and 9 in 1958.
Typical of the incidents described in the file is this: “October 17, 1956. 9 P.M. Racial incident, 3900 block Burns PI. SE. White and colored boys involved in exciting the neighborhood, mostly by name calling and chasing each other. No injuries reported.”
At Anacostia High School in Southeast Washington, where racial tensions once ran high, Principal Eugene E. Griffith reports that there have been fewer incidents each year since desegregation, though 1,232 white students and 427 Negroes are enrolled. “We had three fights a month the first year of desegregation,” Griffith says, “and less than one a month last year. There is hardly any evidence of racial tension now.”
Among the organized juvenile gangs which flourish in some of Washington’s rundown neighborhoods, racial conflicts are a rarity, according to detectives of the Youth Aid Division. “When we ask the kids why they form gangs,” a detective reports, “they say: ‘To protect ourselves against whites’ or ‘To protect ourselves against Negroes.’ But that’s just the excuse they give. They go out and look for fights with kids of their own color. Our biggest problem is white boys fighting white boys and colored boys fighting colored boys.” Inside and outside the schools, genuine racial incidents are few.
In the capital’s classrooms, no noticeable friction exists among students or between teachers and students. In most schools, seating is arranged alphabetically. Where it is not, white and Negro students tend to sit with classmates of the same race—as they do in school cafeterias. Where alphabetical seating is enforced, students have found it has its compensations. “We might never have gotten to know each other any other way,” a white boy commented.
Negro teachers work in some predominantly white classes and white teachers in some predominantly Negro classes. They have encountered no unusual difficulties. “Some teachers may be prejudiced,” said the Negro president of a high school student council, “but they certainly try hard not to show it. Sometimes children who aren’t doing well in school think teachers are prejudiced when they really aren’t.” No racial line is drawn in such extra-curricular activities as clubs and student government, where white students frequently are elected to office by Negroes and vice versa. School athletics present an outstanding picture of inter-racial cooperation.
When desegregation began, many schools suspended such social activities as dances. Assistant Superintendent Gregory says that those schools which have restored social activities “now realize that they had nothing to fear; I’ve never seen a mixed couple on a dance floor.” He explains: “Youngsters dance with their friends, and in Washington white children have white friends and Negro children have Negro friends. Maybe that’s good and maybe it’s bad—but it’s true.” In high schools which have not resumed dances, students are vocal about wanting them, claiming that they are “mature enough.” Teachers and principals often do not share their eagerness. Some feel that dances never belonged in the schools in the first place and are grateful that integration provided a pretext for ending them. One knowledgable Negro high school senior commented: “Of course we’d like to have the dances back. But we’ve got to consider what the South will think.”
Principals report that the initial apathy and even hostility of many parents involved in desegregation transfers has changed to cooperation. White and Negro PTA groups were merged four years ago and have worked together effectively since. Parents, students, and teachers regret the fact that residential patterns have upset the racial balance in many schools. “It’s hard on both groups,” a high school senior commented. But there is no feeling that an all-Negro school in an integrated system is tantamount to an all-Negro school in a segregated system. The gains since integration are well known. “There are the intangibles, too,” Gregory commented. “A tremendously satisfying moral climate surrounds a community that is democratized.”
In the fifth year of Washington school desegregation, no significant racial problems exist, but problems of education and welfare still loom large. Confronted with the aftereffects of segregation and with thousands of children who come from socially deprived homes, the school system finds itself short of qualified teachers, adequate buildings and needed special educational services. These would be difficulties in any community but in Washington, which is dependent on the largess of the Congress of the United States, they are critical problems. Occasionally, the magnitude of the job ahead seems to dwarf the accomplishments to date. A Washington school official recently described the task in those terms and said the city’s schools are far from fulfilling their obligations. “What did Washington do wrong?” she was asked. “It had segregation,” she replied.