Segregation Forever

How Dallas got what it wanted

There were a few black radicals in Dallas, typified by former city Councilman Al Lipscomb, and they pushed for a more aggressive stance on busing and physical integration. And every American city in the early '60s also had a much more conservative black bourgeois leadership. The difference is that Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders blew the bougies out of the water in other cities--"Tom"-ed them out of the deal. Here, the bougies ruled.

Cloutman sees his role as a lawyer as listening to his clients' wishes, not pushing them where they do not want to go. He said, "A few years ago I was kicking around the idea of writing something [a book], and the premise was that we were too far out in front of the parade."

The parade, in terms of the civil rights movement, was never viewed as indigenous here. Even now when former school board president Gilliam talks about busing and integration, the view that emerges from between the lines is of a malignant force inflicted on the city from without. She explains why a coalition of black professional and business groups, social and service fraternities and sororities--the cream of the old segregated black leadership--went to court in the early '80s and asked the judge to end busing. "The lead was taken by African-American citizens," she says. "It wasn't what white folk wanted to do. It was what they [black parents] decided was best for them and their children. That's when the coalition was organized, because of the hue and cry from the African-American parental community that enough of that mistreatment of the young people is enough. And something needed to be done. It [busing] took its toll on our youth population. Some of those youngsters after going out into some of those hostile territories, they just turned off. They didn't go to school at all."

Superintendent Mike Moses says it's possible to change the culture of a school district in a couple of years, and he's done it.
Mark Graham
Superintendent Mike Moses says it's possible to change the culture of a school district in a couple of years, and he's done it.
School district lawyer Robert Thomas says Dallas schools are "integrated" even if they never were "desegregated."
Mark Graham
School district lawyer Robert Thomas says Dallas schools are "integrated" even if they never were "desegregated."

Cloutman argues that busing, a difficult experience for everybody else in the country, was a peculiarly grudging, mean-spirited thing in Dallas. "Never underestimate the racism of the Dallas white community," he says. "And I mean that in the broadest sense I can say it."

In Charlotte-Mecklenberg, North Carolina, equal numbers of black and white students were bused. Students were met at their new schools by welcoming committees of parents. Here only black kids were bused, and they got off their buses in white Dallas to a reception of violence, kangaroo-court discipline by school officials and overt contempt from teachers. In 1974 after weeks of testimony, U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes found the district guilty of institutional racism, reinforcing the sense of many black parents that school integration was a rigged deal forced on them by radical blacks from the Old South and by white people.

But ever since May 17, 1954, when the "separate but equal" doctrine was thrown out by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, black kids across America had been butting heads with white bigots in the name of freedom. It's what was called "The Civil Rights Movement." In most places the fact that white people weren't very nice about it was not a reason for giving up on integration: It was the reason for going on.

The Dallas deseg suit started out as a straight-up integration fight. Sam Tasby, an African-American construction worker and cab driver, sued the Dallas school system in 1970 to force it to let his black sons attend a nearby white school. In response to Tasby, busing began in Dallas in 1971.

But today the idea at the core of the Dallas lawsuit--the issue debated in court this spring--has evolved into a complicated doctrine of educational reparations. In order to get out of court, the school system has doubled efforts and spending to educate poor black kids. The thesis is that the way to compensate the bad effects of segregation is not to integrate but to educate. But that part--extra education to make up for segregation--was an add-on, a fillip tacked on to the deal to make separatism legal.

Kathlyn Gilliam was a leader in the Black Coalition to Maximize Education (BCME), which went to court in the early 1980s to ask for an end to busing. Under its "Minority Neighborhood Option Plan," BCME asked simply that black students be allowed to opt out of busing and return to all-black schools. The BCME made no mention at first of compensatory measures, only of the fact that many black parents and students, having given integration a try, no longer wished to be involved with white schools or white people.

But BCME didn't wind up taking this notion to court. The white-majority school board and its lawyers, who had been battling court-ordered busing tooth and nail for decades, seized on the BCME's plan for an end to busing as if it were the blessed, long-sought, God-given Holy Grail. In a very helpful mood all of a sudden--they "recognized the wedge," as Cloutman puts it--the school district agreed to present the BCME's plan to Judge Sanders.

Sanders chided the district that this brilliant idea--an official policy allowing black kids to return to all-black schools--suffered from being illegal in the post-Jim Crow era. "The theory and practicalities of the DISD neighborhood option plan collide with the command of the law to achieve maximum school desegregation," he said.

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