Congresswoman Terri Sewell

Representing the 7th District of Alabama

Honoring the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

May 6, 2014
60 YEARS AFTER BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION -- (House of Representatives - May 19, 2014)

"Ms. SEWELL of Alabama. Mr. Speaker, this week, as we honor the living, breathing legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education, we must acknowledge our role in combatting the resurgence of segregation in our nation's public schools. I know my personal journey was paved in the shadow of this landmark decision. As of a proud product of Selma High School and its first black valedictorian, I know firsthand what is possible when provided a quality education. I graduated from Princeton, Harvard, and Oxford on the backs of so many trailblazers who went before me. I stand on the shoulders of so many who were denied access to great public schools in the name of institutionalized segregation.

So it is incredibly discouraging to know that our nation's schools today are more segregated than they were in 1968 or any time since. I am appalled that there are children growing up today in the 7th Congressional District and across this country who are less likely to be afforded a quality education than I was. As old battles become new again, we must recommit to knocking down every barrier that stands in the way of school integration.

To tackle this growing trend in our schools, we must attack residential racial segregation, as it is harder to integrate our schools while communities where children live are equally as segregated. Black and white, poor and non-poor children are more isolated from each other than any other group in the U.S. population. Housing and school policy are inextricably intertwined.

Nowhere is this resurgence more evident than in the 7th Congressional District of Alabama at Central High School in Tuscaloosa. Just a decade ago, Central High School was one of the South's signature integration success stories with a dropout rate less than half of Alabama's average. In 2000, a desegregation mandate was lifted from Tuscaloosa City Schools. And after a series of zoning changes, Central High School is now 99 percent black with a 66 percent graduation rate. And just blocks away, more affluent students are zoned for Northridge High School with an 81 percent graduation rate, higher test scores and more funding.

Today, nearly one in three black students in Tuscaloosa attends a school that looks as if our schools had never been integrated. And black children in the South attend majority-black schools at levels unseen in forty years.

In addition, students across the 7th District are disproportionately injured by racially discriminatory property tax restrictions that impede the ability to raise state and local revenues adequately to fund public education. This separation of our children across school districts, municipal boundaries and property tax lines is immoral and is a threat to the ideals of equality that underscore our democracy.

The trends are clear, as judges across the south have lifted federal desegregation court orders, school districts have retracted the progress made by Brown v. Board of Education, moving back towards the debilitating state of segregation: Less than a third of schools serving high concentrations of minority students offer calculus, black students who spend 5 years in desegregated schools earn 25 percent more than those who don't. African American and latino students are taught by a teacher with 3 years of experience or less almost twice as often as their peers and the odds that any given teacher will have significant experience, full licensure or a master's degree all declines as a school's black population increases.

We cannot ignore the residential isolation of our nation's most disadvantaged children and the opportunity gaps they endure as a result. Integrated schools and communities enable low-income students to enjoy the same AP courses as their middle-class peers, and better access to quality teachers and adequate resources.

And to achieve school integration, we will need to make more concerted efforts to integrate our neighborhoods by prioritizing affordable housing in communities with good schools. How we address zoning policies and demographic changes will determine our future.

Today, we cannot honestly expect our low-income, minority children to succeed in life when they are zoned for schools that are sub-standard, under-resourced and underfunded. These educational and housing inequities have a devastating impact on our students and our communities, and ultimately, our nation's ability to compete globally.

As we enjoy the benefits of Brown vs. Board of Education, we must work together to ensure that no one growing up in America is denied a quality education because of the school they are zoned to attend, the color of their skin or the amount of money they have. It is our job to do no less!

So sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, we must honor the legacies of Vivian Moore, James Hood, Ruby Bridges and James Meredith by launching an assault on modern-day constructions of segregation in our schools and communities."