The following is the first of two excerpts from an article, “My journey to race realism,” to appear in the Summer issue of The Occidental Quarterly. Prof. Ray Wolters is Thomas Muncy Keith Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Delaware.
In the 1960s and 1970s I forged through the academic ranks. My dissertation received favorable notice when it was published in 1970, and another book of 1975 received even better reviews. At the age of 36, I was promoted to the rank of full professor at the University of Delaware, and I began to think about research for yet another book. At that time, civil rights lawyers had brought a lawsuit seeking metropolitan busing for racial balance throughout the northern portion of New Castle County, Delaware. From reading the local newspaper, I learned that the largest city in this region, Wilmington, had been one of the first five jurisdictions that the Supreme Court, in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education (1954), had ordered to desegregate its public schools. Wilmington complied immediately, but desegregation led to inter-racial scuffles and a decline in cultural and academic standards. This touched off White flight, and enrollment in Wilmington’s public schools tipped from 73% White to 90% Black. I then learned that much the same had happened in three of the four other “Brown districts” — in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in Summerton, South Carolina, and in Washington D.C. Only in Topeka, Kansas, where Blacks made up only 8% of the students, had the majority of Whites continued to patronize the public schools. And desegregation had been problematic even in Topeka.
In my best-known book, The Burden of Brown (1984), I told the story of how public education had fared in these five districts where desegregation began. In the introduction and conclusion, and in a few statements that were interspersed in the text, I maintained that the misbehavior of Black students had created serious problems and that federal judges had made matters worse by redefining desegregation to mean something quite different from the original understanding. When the implementation order for Brown was handed down in 1955, the Supreme Court defined “desegregation” as assigning students to public schools on “a racially non-discriminatory basis.” Similarly, in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress defined what “desegregation” meant and what it did not mean: “‘Desegregation’ means the assignment of students to public schools and within such schools without regard to their race, color, religion, or national origin, but ‘desegregation’ shall not mean the assignment of students to public schools in order to overcome racial imbalance.” Read more