This Is America? Racially Separate, Unequal Public Schools Persist

Nat Hentoff


On May 17, 1954, when a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racially segregated public schools are inherently unconstitutional, I was elated. At last, the high court’s former, disgraceful, un-American decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) legitimizing “separate but equal” public education had been overturned. I had been following a series of court cases, particularly the one led by lawyer Thurgood Marshall that finally expelled Jim Crow from the lives and futures of American schoolchildren.

But over time, the gains made by Brown v. Board of Education disintegrated. The extent to which the Fourteenth Amendment’s “equal protection of the laws” is now denied to so many students was starkly shown in a May 16, 2014, New York Times report by Sheryl Gay Stolberg: “Today about four in 10 Black and Latino students attend intensely segregated schools, the federal Department of Education reported on its official blog Friday, adding that only 14 percent of white students attend schools that could be considered multicultural.”1

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