To Sandra and Curtis McCrary, they had no choice but to fight. After they were dealt such a gross injustice, they could not bear to walk away from it.
When Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary was 2, his parents tried to enroll him in Bobbe's School, a private day-care center in RTC Arlington, Va., only to discover they were not invited.
The school refused to accept people of color.
"They told us on the phone that they never intended to integrate. To us, it was as basic as being turned down while looking for an apartment because we were not white," Sandra said.
Stung by that discriminatory slap, the McCrarys found a volunteer lawyer to fight their cause. And a three-year legal journey that made Michael an important historical footnote was under way.
First, the McCrarys argued successfully in federal district court in Arlington County, then claimed another victory in federal appellate court. Finally, in June 1976, the case of Runyon vs. McCrary went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices ruled in the McCrarys' favor by a 7-2 margin.
The ruling, an expansion of the historic Brown vs. Board of Education case 22 years earlier, determined that private schools, even those receiving no federal funding, could not exclude members based on race. The decision helped end segregation in private academies in the South.
"How on earth could that not have been decided until 1976?" said Dwight Sullivan, staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.
"You think about Brown and the 1950s and Eisenhower and marshals occupying public schools in Little Rock, Ark. Then you realize it wasn't until some 20 years later that the ruling was extended to private schools. Who would have thought by 1976, a school located a stone's throw from the nation's capital would try to exclude children on the basis of race. It's surprising, and it's a pity."
Throughout their ordeal, the McCrarys endured their share of hate mail and disturbing phone calls. Although Michael was too young to comprehend the case, he said he remembers signs of the tension that surrounded it.
"I remember seeing guns around the house, because we were getting death threats," said Michael, who eventually wrote a paper on the case in college. "It's good to know I helped fight what was wrong, that I helped society make a change that's good."
"Mike was so young, the impact on him was minimal. The impact on us was greater," said Curtis, who is black. "We had to take it personally. It was the absolute absurdity of it that made us go forward. We were never intimidated. If you give up, you fail."
"Fear can be a real immobilizer if you allow it to be," said Sandra, who is of mixed heritage with a nearly white complexion. "You either let it control you, or you decide to control it."
She was inspired by the legal fight to enroll in George Mason University's law school, where she studied the case in a constitutional law course. She has passed bar exams in Washington, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Said Curtis: "Mike has seen the barriers his mom and dad have had to overcome. We don't try to run his life, but he knows his parents will fight for him. We're a family that's very oriented toward executing goals, and we've always said we'd be there for him. We think that's very important.
"There's no question in our minds that Mike is where he is because of it."
Pub Date: 8/05/97