Jim Crow Laughs Last

May 20, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

Nashville, Tennessee -- Almost 40 years ago I came to this city to write an article for Redbook magazine about the brave black parents who tried to ensure that Brown v. Board of Education was enforced. The article was entitled ''We Send Our Children Into Trouble.''

One of the saddest fallouts from the failure of Americans to accept and enforce the 1954 decree outlawing segregated schools is the current reluctance of millions of black Americans to risk anything in a struggle for integration.

''The white man's made it clear he ain't gonna integrate the schools, so to hell with it,'' said a man who was one of the ''guinea pig'' black children in the 1950s.

''My kid don't hafta sit with no white child to learn,'' one black mother said. ''Ain't nothing worthwhile gonna rub off that white kid. All I want is them to spend more money raising the standards of our black schools.''

All over America, disillusioned African-Americans are resorting to the same despairing acceptance of Jim Crow that Thurgood Marshall fought so eloquently at the Texas convention of the NAACP in 1947. Powerful black Texans were arguing that it was folly to try to get Negroes into the University of Texas -- that the NAACP ought to demand adequate money for a black university.

Marshall said it would be cowardly and foolish to ''build monuments to Jim Crow Deluxe.''

Time has proved Marshall right about the universities. He effectively busted open all the white public colleges of Texas. But a lot of black people think time has proved Marshall wrong with regard to the public schools. These blacks are becoming more and more enraged when they see that they can't get either meaningful integration or separate-but-equal.

Few pro-integration blacks want to challenge the ''my kid doesn't need to sit by a white child'' argument, lest they be scorned for lacking black pride. Yet, it is obvious to most educators and parents that all children of all races learn valuable things in atmospheres of diversity. A school populated by youngsters from all the groups of America, plus foreigners, is a great place to learn about living and competing in the real world.

The pity today is that while many black parents and high-school graduates know this, the youngsters go to colleges of great diversity and lose the benefits when they get demagogued into self-segregation.

There is hardly a predominantly white campus in America where some whites are not manifesting anti-black bigotry. I have not found a predominantly black campus where some African-American students and faculty members are not expressing their contempt for white people. In both cases, the rhetoric drives or lures blacks into self-segregating, self-defeating shells.

I am not surprised that the repercussions from resegregation of the public schools were scarcely mentioned in the mainstream media during these recent days of extolling Brown v. Board as one of the greatest court decisions in American history.

Millions of white Americans absolutely do not want to be told that white racism is responsible for anything bad in America. They don't want to hear or read that they spat on ''one of the greatest court decisions,'' Brown, and that all of America is now reaping a violent whirlwind.

But even a bitter truth, accepted, can be a savior.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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