Monday marked the 60-year anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, which integrated an all-White secondary school in Little Rock, Ark.
For the first time in U.S. history, nine Black students entered the doors of Central High School on Sept. 25, 1957. The history-making decision came three years after Brown v. Board of Education (1954), a landmark ruling that made it illegal to keep public schools segregated, but very little has changed.
Ernest Green vividly remembers coming face-to-face with White Southern opposition after integrating Central as part of the Little Rock Nine.
“[It was] like going to war every day,” he reflected during an interview with the Associated Press. “I thought to myself, ‘Good, because I think the face of the South ought to change.’”
Unfortunately, the Little Rock Nine’s victory was short-lived as the school closed its doors the following year rather than allowing more Black students to attend.
Fast-forward 60 years, and not much has changed. While legal segregation remains history, few White and minority students share a classroom.
The Little Rock School District has seen a proliferation of charter schools that opponents say contributes to self-segregation. The district is about two-thirds Black and has been under state control since 2015 regarding the academic performance of some of its schools.
For the 2016-2017 school year, the average Little Rock Black student went to a school with the following demographic percentages: 14 percent White, 14 percent Hispanic and 68 percent Black, according to an analysis of Arkansas Department of Education. In 1997, a Black student in the city would’ve gone to a school that was 27 percent White, 1.7 percent Hispanic and 70 percent Black, show historical data from the National Center for Education Statistics.
Little Rock is but a shadow of a national issue regarding desegregation. Nationwide, the average African-American student attended a school that was 36 percent White. For the 2014-2015 school year, an African-American student would’ve attended a school that was 27 percent White.
Overall, public school attendance and enrollment are on the decline, and according to NCES, the racial gap has widened. In 2004, 58 percent of students enrolled in public schools were White, 17 percent were Black and 19 percent were Hispanic. In 2014, 49.5 percent of public school students were White; that’s less than half for the first time since researchers started collecting such data. Sixteen percent were Black and 25 percent were Hispanic.
“One of the important lessons we should take away from Little Rock is just how hard and difficult desegregation has been,” Ohio State University historian Hasan Kwame Jeffries told the news outlet. “Little Rock does a lot of foreshadowing. It anticipates the efforts by Southern states to find public money to defray the cost and expense of sending White children to private schools. This becomes part of the agenda for the next half-century.”
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