Sunday, May 18, 2003


Forty-nine years ago yesterday (that's May 17, 1954), the US Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Brown v. Board Education: of states could no longer maintain separate school systems for each race. Virginia invented a tactic called "massive resistance" to avoid fully integrating. Until June 1965, King William County, Va., maintained three school systems: black, white, Indian. In 1972, I started first grade (the Commonwealth -- or the county? -- did not have public kindergartens) in Henrico County with a bunch of other white kids. When we moved to Chesterfield, I started to have black classmates.

On the one hand, the court's decision (eventually) made it possible for a kid like me to go to school with and have teachers of different races. I learned to see people as having individual characteristics -- smart, dumb, cheerleaders, athletes, band kids -- that are not connected their race.

On the other hand, the schools in which I have been substitute teaching remain nearly segregated, forty-nine years later. The east end schools are mostly black; the far west students are mostly white and Asian -- a new demographic since my school days. And I regretably reach generalizations: the east end kids are rougher and less interested in learning; the far west end kids use less aggressive language, do what a mere subsititue asks, and listen to the lesson. CB and I have talked about class, culture, and family settings driving this: it just appears to be race.

"Class, race, gender: difficult issues," the late-1980s director of the Valentine Museum memorably said. It's my shorthand for "I'm not sure we can figure it out."

I do know that the Upper Mattaponi Tribe will dedicate the historical highway marker for its school on Sunday, May 25 at 12:30 p.m. Do join us. The powwow begins at 1:00 (admission is about $5).

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