Education Equity a 140-year fight
New York has the most segregated schools in the country, according to the UCLA Civil Rights Project. Congressman Mondaire Jones is one of the leading House Democrats introducing the Strength in Diversity Act. This proposal sets out to help fulfill the promise of equity in education by supporting districts that are developing, implementing, or expanding school diversity initiatives.
The Strength in Diversity Act is designed to carry out Brown v. Board of Education’s unfulfilled purpose to provide fair and equal access to education for all children. Jones, a Rockland native and educated in the East Ramapo School District, knows firsthand about its inequities. The Strength in Diversity Act would establish a grant program that provides federal funding to support voluntary local efforts to increase schools’ diversity. In other words, a financial incentive to do the right thing.
Blacks in Rockland County have been on a treadmill to obtain educational equity since 1880. Jones is taking on a 140-year fight that has rendered the East Ramapo Central School District in Rockland County the “Last Disintegrated School District.” According to Jones, 97% of public school students are Black and Hispanic, and East Ramapo is one of America’s most segregated school districts.
The fight for fair and equitable education did not begin with Brown. Thurgood Marshall is a fearless civil rights lawyer for the NAACP who took on Brown v. Board of Ed. and won. Little is known of his battles eleven years earlier in a small segregated community. Hillburn, a stone’s throw away from where Jones grew up, was segregated. There were two schools and two churches, one black one white. In 1943, Marshall was summoned to Hillburn by the local NAACP to help striking Black parents fight segregation at Brook S
Since 1880, this segregated school was the first place of education for Blacks and children of color. Brook School was not unlike any other separate but equal school. Its curriculum sent a mixed message to its students to embrace the notion that they were inferior even though their teachers exemplified excellence. Black educators, graduates of Talladega College came to Rockland to improve Rockland Blacks’ plight in the early 1900s.
Black children in Rockland County and other children of color know firsthand, segregation was not just a southern problem. Segregationists and those who established the segregated school system in Hillburn did not want the federal government or anyone to tell them how to run their segregated school system. New York State had outlawed segregated schools in 1938, but Hillburn ignored the law and decided to keep their segregated schools. Local officials went so far as to gerrymander, control the boundary lines, to stop Black students of Hillburn from attending the Main School, the school for the white children of Hillburn.
The Brook School and Hillburn New York’s courageous Black parents’ battle to end segregation in their small upstate town is a story missing from the pages of American history books. Brook School was New York’s “Last Disintegrated School.”
Rockland County’s plan to deal with segregation in the early 1970s was the typical one-way plan, bus black children into white neighborhoods. For example, the East Ramapo School District bused black children from the segregated so-called “Hill” Section of Spring Valley into white neighborhood schools. Discriminatory housing patterns fostered a racial divide that kept schools segregated. Today it’s no wonder East Ramapo Central School District in Rockland County is 97%, Black and Latino. It’s the Last Disintegrated School District in Rockland.
Ironically, Rockland County would become crucial in setting the groundwork for the strategy in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education. Even more pivotal now, Jones’ legislation can potentially bring much needed financial resources to the East Ramapo School District.
Alice T. Crowe is a writer, filmmaker, and producer of Secrets of the Hollow: Last Disintegrated School, a documentary film directed by Alicia M. Crowe, narrated by Chuck D, leader of the legendary hip-hop group, Public Enemy. Music composed by Sam Waymon, award-winning music composer, and brother of music icon Nina S
Alice T. Crowe- Opinion columnist
My passion is correcting the missing pages in our history books. Secrets of the Hollow is my latest film series. The first segment, Last Disintegrated School, the untold story of Thurgood Marshall’s fight to desegregate the Brook School in Hillburn, NY, in 1943. This untold story happened eleven years before Brown v. Board of Education. Infobase distributes Last Disintegrated School. Visit my website for information at www.acroweflyz.com. I am currently editing the revised edition of my book, How to Get Black on Track. Follow me on Twitter.