Racial separation in Tuscaloosa’s schools!


How pernicious is it: Taken at a glance, Nikole Hannah-Jones paints an unappealing picture in her lengthy report about the Tuscaloosa City public schools.

The lengthy piece was written for ProPublica. It also appears in The Atlantic.

Hannah-Jones is largely concerned with the alleged “resegregation” of the Tuscaloosa schools. Early on, she paints a rather gloomy picture of this “resegregation:”
HANNAH-JONES (4/16/14): Tuscaloosa’s schools today are not as starkly segregated as they were in 1954, the year the Supreme Court declared an end to separate and unequal education in America. No all-white schools exist anymore—the city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students. But while segregation as it is practiced today may be different than it was 60 years ago, it is no less pernicious: in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere, it involves the removal and isolation of poor black and Latino students, in particular, from everyone else. In Tuscaloosa today, nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v. Board of Education never happened.

Tuscaloosa’s school resegregation—among the most extensive in the country—is a story of city financial interests, secret meetings, and angry public votes. It is a story shaped by racial politics and a consuming fear of white flight. It was facilitated, to some extent, by the city’s black elites. And it was blessed by a U.S. Department of Justice no longer committed to fighting for the civil-rights aims it had once championed.
In substantial detail, Hannah-Jones tells a fascinating story about the way the racial balance of Tuscaloosa’s schools came to be as it is. The story tales us from Brown v. Board (1954) up through the present day.

We’ll briefly review that story tomorrow. (We can’t evaluate the accuracy of Hannah-Jones’ detailed account.) But that early passage by Hannah-Jones certainly paints a gloomy picture of current arrangements.

We’re told that Tuscaloosa’s “resegregation” is “among the most extensive in the country.” Its schools are “not as starkly segregated as they were in 1954,” Hannah-Jones writes. But the “segregation as it is practiced today...is no less pernicious.”

That strikes us as a rather strong overstatement.

Gloomy pronouncements of this type can make liberal hearts feel very glad, especially when such statements are aimed at southern targets. But those statements strike us as semi-perniciously wrong. These would be the most obvious objections:

“Tuscaloosa’s schools today are not as starkly segregated as they were in 1954?” That is a very strong the understatement.

In 1954, all of Alabama’s schools were legally segregated by race! No child attended public school with any kids from other races. Schools were either all-white or all-black, as was commanded by law.

It isn’t like that today. “No all-white schools exist anymore,” Hannah-Jones writes. “The city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students.”

That’s quite an understatement on the high school level, the level Hannah-Jones focuses on. As we showed you yesterday, this is the racial breakdown for Tuscaloosa City’s three high schools:
Tuscaloosa City high schools:
Central High:

765 students
100 percent black

Bryant High:
944 students
75 percent black, 19 percent white

Northridge High:
1226 students
61 percent black, 35 percent white
“The city’s white students generally attend schools with significant numbers of black students?” At the high school level, the city’s white students all attend schools with substantial majorities of black kids!

For various reasons, Hannah-Jones is troubled by the existence of all-black Central High. We’ll discuss her concerns tomorrow, then again next week.

But is this current arrangement really “no less pernicious” than the legal separation that existed in 1954? We’d call that a rather large stretch—and outside the city limits, elsewhere in Tuscaloosa County, black kids and white kids attend six other public high schools together, often in robust numbers, as detailed yesterday.

Did Hannah-Jones mislead her readers about the degree of racial separation in Tuscaloosa’s schools? We’d say she drew a somewhat misleading picture. (She was writing about Tuscaloosa City only.)

In fairness, racial separation is greater in Tuscaloosa City’s elementary and middle schools, where the city reverted to a form of neighborhood schools around the year 2000.

Especially given her very long article, Hannah-Jones doesn’t go into much detail about elementary and middle school enrollments. But these are the white enrollment figures for the middle schools, as best we can determine:
Tuscaloosa City middle schools:
Eastwood Middle: white students, 12 percent
Rock Quarry Middle: white students, 73 percent
Southview Middle: white students, 3 percent
University Place Middle: white students, 10 percent
Westlawn Middle: white students, 0 percent
The bulk of white kids in the city attend Rock Quarry Middle. Quite a few black kids go to schools which are all-black or almost all-black.

For ourselves, we’d like to see black kids and white kids going to school together. You can see photos of Tuscaloosa's black and white kids together at the web sites for Bryant High and Northridge High.

Out in the Tuscaloosa County schools, where there are a lot more white kids, you can see a lot of smiling students posing for pictures with their black and white classmates.

To see photos of what we mean, click here, then continue clicking. All in all, a lot of kids in Tuscaloosa County (of which Tuscaloosa City is a part) are going to school with lots of kids of both races.

Hannah-Jones raises a lot of valid concerns about the “resegregation” of Tuscaloosa City’s schools. We also think she may have her thumb on the scale a tiny tad at times.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the basic parts of the history she tells. Next week, we'll examine her thoughts about what makes a school good, bad or even “hopeless.”

That said, is the current situation “no less pernicious” than it was in 1954? That strikes us as a fairly large stretch, and we'll guess it proved a bit misleading for many of Hannah-Jones’ readers.

Why do we liberals sometimes seem to want to say things like this?


  1. Nobody cares about this.

    1. Nobody cares about you.

    2. Too bad you didn't care about "this" either.

    3. RevolutionwillnotbetelevisedJanuary 21, 2016 at 9:02 AM


  2. "Perniciousness" is difficult to pin down. Is a school with 50-50 and 95% of the black students in low-track classes, and with virtually no interaction between white and black students in the lunch room, any less pernicious than separate-but-equal schools? There's an argument that the latter, by giving the appearance of no problem, is more pernicious.

    1. There are also some studies showing that black students in mostly black schools have higher self-esteem, participate more in activities and do better on a variety of measures. It is when schools are bad that black and white students both have problems.

    2. Feel free to cite the studies.

    3. Powell, G.J. and Fuller, M. (1970). Self-Concept and School Desegregation, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 40, 303.

      G.J. Powerll (1982). Self-Concept in White and Black Children. In C.B. Willie, B.M. Kramer, and B.S. Brown (eds), Racism and Mental Health. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.

      See also:

      J.L. White and T.A. Parham (1990). The Psychology of Blacks (2nd Ed). Prentice Hall. Especially Chapter 5, Educational Achievement among African Americans.

      Key issues affecting self concept are not whether the school is desegregated or not but whether parents and teachers participate, whether values of the home are reinforced in the community and school, whether black culture and lifestyles are reflected in the curriculum, and whether achievement is encouraged regardless of social class. Powell found that this was more likely in schools with larger percentages of African American students than in integrated schools where they were a minority.

  3. "The bulk of white kids in the city attend Rock Quarry Middle."

    No, Bob. The bulk of the white kids are also in private schools, just like Hannah-Jones said. When the reach high school age, the tuition goes up and parents with more than one kid are faced with paying tuition in two schools, so many of them go to public high schools.

    But looking at those middle school numbers, it's hard to see how you could have more segregated schools if you deliberately set out to do that.

  4. More Human Than Hugh DownsApril 30, 2014 at 7:48 PM

    What's wrong with wanting your kids to have a peer group that largely reflects their own racial and ethnic background?

    1. What's right with it?

    2. more human than Hugh downsApril 30, 2014 at 9:21 PM

      Because children shouldn't be just pawns in social engineering experiments?

    3. Do you want a school full of people who have no idea what people who have no basis for what to believe about another group? We don't have to speculate. Fidel Castro said he grew up knowing very little Jews and believed some crazy things about them. Now expand that to the entire school system!

    4. Why is race so important to you?

    5. Name a society that is racially heterogeneous where it is not important culturally.

  5. OMB (BOB Reaps What He Sows)

    When you start an analysis of an article by saying in bold" Nobody cares about this as BOB did in the previous post on this story about Tuscaloosa, you might be right in ways you do not expect.

    BOB began his full blown theme that "liberals don't care" about the education of disadvantaged children ten years ago. It has taken a toll on his readers. Those who consider themselves liberal in large measure really do care no longer. But it is BOB's meme, not the education of poor or minority children, that they don't care about.

    You can summarize BOB's problem by minor modification to the key phrase BOB singles out to deplore in Nikole Hannah-Jones's article:

    "But while stupidity as it is demonstrated today may be different than it was 10 years ago, it is no less pernicious: in the Daily Howler and elsewhere, it involves harping on the negatives of a group in isolation from everything else."

    Pernicious means damaging. Not pervasive. BOB's meme has become so pervasive it colors his ability to see the validity of any liberal view that does not coincide with his own that it has kept him from articulating that view in a positive or persuasive manner. That has had such a pernicious impact on how he is perceived that if he tried to make a case for what we should do to improve education for disadvantaged kids, nobody would care to read it.

    "But while segregation as it is practiced today may be different than it was 60 years ago, it is no less pernicious: in Tuscaloosa and elsewhere, it involves the removal and isolation of poor black and Latino students, in particular, from everyone else."

    That is what Hannah-Jones said, BOB. Don't try to prove the kids aren't as segregated as 1954. Try to prove or disprove what is happening in Tuscaloosa since court ordered desegregation plans
    were eliminated is not damaging to the educational outcome of the kids you say liberals would rather jump off the Eiffel Tower than talk about.

    We believe, having reviewed a major series BOB wrote almost a decade ago, BOB may really believe education can succeed when
    poor kids, regardless of color, are isolated from everyne else. He should try and make that case. Because that isolation is what Hannah-Jones calls pernicious. Not the black-white head count BOB presents in this post.


    1. Bob seems to believe that a relentlessly hectoring, condescending, and ad hominem style is persuasive. We have no idea where he got that notion. Maybe at Harvard. We can't know. What we *do* know is, the approach leaves one utterly numb and, you're right, incapable of considering even well-reasoned arguments.

      We don't know where he learned this and how he came to think this is a good approach. Maybe at Harvard. We can't know. That said, we think he'd be much more persuasive if he applied the style of argument that he attributes to Martin, Mandela, and Malala.

    2. Thanks for displaying the lack of intellect commensurate with the level of your insults. Your practice of BOB induced Malalaism has changed our mind.

      Segregation today is less damaging than it was in 1954.
      Only a douchebag troll dumbshit would disagree with that.


  6. To Anonymous who begins with '"Not AS pernicious," dumbshits.' Huh, well aren't 'we' persnickety? Not disagreeing, but thought you'd enjoy Richard Mitchell, if unaware of his work it's Google ready for links and you, hell everyone ought to read The Underground Grammarian of the great and wonderful educator in English and other stuff, Richard Mitchell. He has 4 books and lives on as they are still relevant today though the man died years ago, but he was into really using words, since those are the only things to hang our thoughts and ideas onto. He goes after jargon, pompous Deans and others, and your beef with 'AS' made me think of him, and yes, I am a fan, intro'd to him on the 70s Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder, go figure, the highbrow source of the times in the 70s, better than Dick Cavette IMHO

  7. I agree with the opinion that when schools are bad both black and white students have problems. Everything depends on the staff. To my mind if the educator love his work he loves everything connected with it so children are a great part of it no matter what is their race and nationality. We know lots of black schools where students show amazing results while in others learners need additional help (here they can get Help On Essay ) I am proud of teachers who travel around the world teaching children from very poor countries moreover they gain a great success.