Thursday, August 13, 2015

Elusive Equality by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford

Anyone who wants to understand the politics of Norfolk (and of Virginia) would do well to read Elusive Equality: Desegregation and Resegregation in Norfolk's Public Schools. The authors begin by setting the stage before World War II, introducing important characters, and themes like The Virginia Way: “In return for fewer lynchings and hate crimes, Virginia's blacks were supposed to be grateful and to show their gratitude by not challenging the separate and unequal status quo.”

That kind of paternalism shaped the accepted narrative of how desegregation finally occurred in the Norfolk public schools, obscuring the roles that the black residents of Norfolk played. The authors seek to redress that imbalance, and to show how the unresolved tensions contribute to the current problems in the school system. “The consequences of the district's gradual retreat from busing have been very predictable. By 2004-5, four of the nine middle schools in the city were over 80 percent African American.”

The tragic irony of this story is that without busing, Norfolk's schools never would have been truly integrated, and with busing, so many whites left the city that integration became virtually impossible.” But the authors still hope that with a fuller understanding of the past, parents and city leaders can create a different future.

Like me you may want to see how other perspectives compare to ElusiveEquality. The Virginian Pilot's editorial opposition to closing the Norfolk Public Schools is recounted in Standing Before the Shouting Mob: Lenoir Chambers and Virginia's Massive Resistance to Public-School Integration by Alexander Leidholdt in 1997. The Norfolk 17: a Personal Narrative on Desegregation in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1958-1962 is an authentic, unpolished memoir of integrating Norview High School by Andrew I. Heidelberg

Review by Carolyn Caywood, retired from VBPL 

No comments: