Post-integration problems in Charlotte
In this excerpt, Irons describes his senior project, an essay on the resegregation of Charlotte's public schools. He concluded that neighborhood schools would signal the resegregation of Charlotte, and that such resegregation would make these schools unequal. Irons worries that Charlotteans are not as concerned as they should be by the larger issue of integration, and are too caught up in their own children's education. Black parents, who are more likely to have less money than white parents, have the least time and resources to advocate for their children.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Ned Irons, March 16, 1999. Interview K-0170. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
PG: Well, tell me about your senior project.
NI: My senior exit essay is about the resegregation of public schools and neighborhood schools. There’s been a ( ) in Charlotte, not necessarily in neighborhood schools, but for Charlotte to be divided up into a certain number of quadrants, and within your quadrant being able to select the school that you go to. My paper isn’t directly towards that, but it’s more of an issue of there’s a big outcry for neighborhood schools in Charlotte. It kind of worried me because I thought I’ve been to predominantly white schools in Charlotte, and I’ve been to predominantly black schools in Charlotte, and predominantly white schools generally have more of an advantage in educational resources. So I looked into it. I found that if Charlotte was to go directly to neighborhood schools that nine schools would be out of racial balance which is between twenty-five and fifty percent black population. Seven of those schools would have over, I think, sixty percent white population, three of those having over eighty or something. And then two schools would have over eighty percent black population. What I really found was that in terms of economic backing to have neighborhood schools provides an inequitable situation for kids that would go to predominantly black neighborhood schools and kids that would go to predominantly white neighborhood schools, in terms of their opportunity to receive an education. Of course, that all goes back to Brown v Board of Education where basically it was found that separated schools don’t work. You can’t have white schools and black schools because of equity of opportunity for education. Basically my thesis is that neighborhood schools are unconstitutional.
PG: What do you think about this whole debate that’s going on?
NI: I think the best way to deal with desegregation of schools is a tough question, because I can’t see a way that it has worked without flaw yet. But I’m worried that if Charlotte is divided up into precincts or sections and people choose the schools they want to go to that Charlotte is going to get resegregated. Basically kids that go to predominantly black or predominantly minority schools are not going to have the education, or the ability to get the education, that children are receiving a predominantly white schools. But I think in terms of Dr. Smith’s plans there are ways to get around that and to try to maintain racial harmony as it’s called.
PG: Do you think that’s the major issue in school, desegregation/quality of education?
NI: I don’t think it is, and I think that’s the problem. I think people are more concerned about just getting their kid to the best school possible and not worrying about the rest of it. And I think a lot of educators on the higher level are too much politicians instead of true educators. They want to please the majority instead of really looking at education as the primary goal of the educational system. I don’t see anybody saying, “Well, how is my child’s education going to be affected by this?” It’s, “Who is my child going to go to school with, and where are they going to go to school? And I don’t think that’s the right question to ask.
PG: What do you think is the right question to ask?
NI: I would say universally the right question to ask is, “How good of an education is my child going to receive?” However, I think that can be voiced more loudly by white parents with lots of money and lots of political power in terms of their job or their friends. And I don’t think it’s as easily voiced by African-American parents who work two jobs and live in the inner city. I think in that case it’s the responsibility of everybody involved in education to stick up for the rights of those who don’t have parents to do it for them, because, obviously, the parent is a large, large part. I haven’t seen an editorial written by a child yet in the Observer. So I think it’s a lot of parent influence. So I would say that the main question to ask is, “What is the quality of education going to be?” firstly. And second of all, “Is that going to be for everybody, or is it going to be for a select group of people.” Yeah, it’s great if you can educate a few people, but it’s even better if you can educate everybody.
PG: Well I think when people first were talking about integration and desegregation in Charlotte schools there was the idea that the legal basis was inequity, that the schools weren’t equal. I think that at least among some people there was also a kind of wish that desegregation would go some ways toward uniting Charlotte as a community, that it would reach beyond the schools.
PG: Do you think that that has happened from your experience?
NI: To some extent I would say yes in terms of PTA conferences and, obviously, there’s more interaction between black and white parents. But in terms of more social circles, I think the way that Charlotte as a whole looks at race, obviously, has changed from the 1970s, but I don’t think it’s done a lot to unite Charlotte racially. I don’t see black and white parents going to dinner parties together or having Christmas dinner. In terms of a social circle I think it’s still mainly you stick with your race. I think that’s unfortunate but, again, I don’t think it’s based on, “I don’t like black people, therefore I’m not going to socialize with them.” I think it’s socioeconomic background. If they have the money to join my country club, I’d love to have dinner with them. But if they don’t, then I don’t want to eat with them, and visa versa. Who’s this posh guy in this Mercedes coming down here trying to eat dinner with me? He needs to just go on like he doesn’t know what it is down here. So I think it’s more of a socioeconomic problem than a racial problem.
PG: So what has it done? You were going to say, again, you’ve talked to some extent but you wanted to sum up in some way.
NI: I would say that it’s provided a much better opportunity for education for black children, and it’s opened the eyes of many, many white kids. For, I guess, twenty-six years now, about, so for twenty-six years it’s been making kids who might not have been aware earlier of how it is to live in this country and be a minority, or to at least help in the process of letting kids be aware of their surroundings, and be aware that the world is not seen through just their eyes. There’s a whole lot of perspectives out there, and you’re never going to know them all, but it helps to try to understand a few of them.