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Segregation Forever

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"It's true," Thomas says. "They wanted to go home. They didn't want to be pawns in desegregation." He points out that it was a witness for the plaintiffs in the recent court hearing who praised Judge Barefoot Sanders for just that: "One of the witnesses said Barefoot was a pioneer in doing away with desegregation. We have a better system here that shows that transportation doesn't work."

Linden sees the end game in a less sanguine light: "Black leaders have always been a problem in this town," he says. "They don't want very much, really, because they don't think they can get very much."

Cloutman has been involved in the Dallas suit longer than any other individual except the plaintiff. Over the years he often has emerged as the master conciliator who held the suit (and perhaps the city) together. He concedes that much of what black leadership in Dallas told him it wanted from the suit was not the sort of thing he might have expected growing up as a '60s and '70s rad in the cauldron of the civil rights movement in Louisiana. The scene here was different. "The civil rights groups of the '60s and early '70s--SCLC, CORE, SNNC--never got a hold here. I moved here from Baton Rouge, and the civil rights groups were so much more prevalent and stronger than they were here. I mean, there would be parades once a week when I was in law school from Bogalusa to Baton Rouge, with thousands of people on the highways, most of them walking the entire 100 some-odd miles and raising hell. That never happened in Dallas."

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."

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.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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