Nola.com recently published an editorial expressing regret for the stand it took more than 64 years ago on the issue of school desegregation. The media outlet detailed how it, along with the White business community, pushed against the integration of public schools in New Orleans, editorializing that the 1954 Supreme Court decision that was to end the practice of separate but equal in public education would do nothing to “service either education or racial accommodation.”
In other words, the city’s only daily newspaper at the time was happy with Jim Crow and helped set a tone that kept our school system segregated six years after the Supreme Court ordered an end to it. Then on Nov. 15, 1960, after Ruby Bridges, Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne finally integrated schools in New Orleans, the paper’s headline declared that the “Dreadful Day Comes at Last.”
In the recent editorial, however, nola.com admits that The Times-Picayune was wrong on the issue back then and went further, thoughtfully recognizing that it had “missed an opportunity” to show more leadership and even speculating that had it taken a different stand—had it been on the side of right those many years ago—the plight of public education in New Orleans may have been altogether different.
Of course, we all know what happened to public education post integration in New Orleans. It’s the same thing that happened to many public schools across the nation, especially in urban centers. White parents divested, moving their children and the money that followed them to the suburbs or to private schools. Public schools, especially those that found themselves serving more Black students, were easily and quickly neglected. And decades later, we find our schools as separate and unequal as they were 64 years ago.
DREADFUL DAYS, INDEED
Still, there are those who think there is something to be said for having the courage to admit when one was wrong. Perhaps, it does take some measure of mettle. But let’s be honest, an apology 58 years after declaring “dreadful” the day that four little Black girls were finally able to exercise their right to sit in the same public school classrooms as a little White boy or girl rings hollow to us. What exactly is accomplished by admitting you were wrong more than a half century later? Anyone that knew right from wrong back then, understood that segregation was wrong. Anyone who didn’t believe that then or who couldn’t or wouldn’t say it out loud or in print in 1954 or 1960, can just hold that now. Really, y’all could have kept that.
Why did it take six decades for the T-P to admit that its position was ill-conceived and unwise? Are folk just now experiencing this awakening? For real, no one on the T-P’s editorial board went home on Nov. 15, 1960, slept on it, woke up the next morning and considered retracting such a horrid statement? No one contemplated the negative impact it could have at the time? Well, what about a year later? Five years later? Ten? Twenty years, even? Perhaps if the paper had announced a 180-degree turn at any of those earlier stages, the New Orleans community could have rallied, rectified and redirected the winds of change. Who knows what could have happened?
But nearly 60 years later, “sorry” does not cut it for us and many others. Regret does not go back and erase the images of White mobs standing in front of schools intimidating little Black girls. It does not erase the abandonment and desertion of our public schools. Right now, this regret doesn’t do much more than make for an eye-catching headline and interesting reading fodder that leaves us questioning whether it is less of a genuine apology and more more of a poorly-disguised attempt to boost readership by feigning contrition.
To be honest, we don’t think that Nov. 15, 1960, headline was off the mark at all. New Orleans has had its share of dreadful days in the more than half century since those words were written—but not for the reason that the writers had in mind back then.
The lack of action and leadership on the part of the individuals and institutions that hold influential space in our community to stand for what is right and do what is just has infused our days with dread.
In fact, we are in the midst of some dreadful days RIGHT NOW. And we have to wonder just how genuine the nola.com apologetic reflection was based on other statements written in the same column, such as the sentence that declares that there are more successful public schools in New Orleans now than there were before Hurricane Katrina.
Say what now? How so? And by what standard?
Because when we look at current school performance data, we find that only six schools have school performance scores higher than 87.4—the pre-Katrina minimum SPS needed to keep a school from being deemed failing and taken over by Recovery School District long before the state legislature dropped it to 60 to make way for the takeover of almost every school in Orleans. And let’s be reminded that, for the most part, those schools that are top performers today were top-performers before the storm. For those who have have forgotten, Lusher, Ben Franklin, Warren Easton and the like—they were the selective-admissions programs that attracted the district’s best and brightest students of color while also serving as a haven for any White families that remained in the otherwise neglected local public school system.
RIGHT NOW only six schools have school performance scores that would have kept them from being considered failing even before Katrina. Yet, nola.com says that there are more successful schools in New Orleans now than there were then.
So while on one hand finally admitting that thousands of Orleans Parish public students are still stuck in poor-performing schools, the writers of the Nov. 24 editorial use the same vehicle to keep pushing the muddied narrative that the so-called reform has done anything at all to actually improve educational outcomes for the students that need the most help.
Come one guys! You want to admit you messed something up, that you got something wrong, that you screwed the pooch and otherwise missed an opportunity to be a real beacon in the community, let’s start with the first sentence of the second to last paragraph of the Nov. 24 column! In your search for something to regret, you didn’t have to look back 60 years. Hell, you don’t even have look back 60 days. We’re betting you didn’t even need to hit the 60-minute mark.
And that is the thing that some would say is most troublesome about nola.com’s day-late, dollar-short mea culpa. How much courage does it really take to admit that you were wrong about something 60 years ago. Maybe a teensy-weensy bit, but not nearly as much resolve and strength of character as it takes to admit that you are smack dab in the middle of some foolery RIGHT NOW. That is harder, for sure, because admitting that you are wrong RIGHT NOW actually presents the opportunity, a mandate even, to fix it RIGHT NOW. And it requires one to put in THAT work RIGHT NOW.
So we get it. It’s much safer to reach back 60 or so years to reverse your position on an issue that was plain wrong from the start. That’s why nola.com writers went all in with a Throwback Thursday editorial although there are far more recent issues, challenges and opportunities to get some things right…RIGHT NOW.
Over and over again, institutions, individuals and organizations that should be standing for justice and fairness, those that ought to be speaking truth from their positions of power and influence, refuse to do so. And we’ll keep having dreadful days and regrets—60 years after their expiration date—at the rate things are going.
But we can change that RIGHT NOW. You could start by telling the truth about this farce of a education reform that has only been underway for a 12 or so years now. It too been driven by elite business interests that profit off of our children who are forsaken RIGHT NOW in poor-performing schools under the control of corporations masquerading as so-called education advocates, experts and organizations. Instead, you would honor its chief architect one of the 300 people you have highlighted as a part of your observance of the city’s tricentennial celebration. Yeah, right. Forgive us if your new-found regret sounds and looks more like crocodile tears us.
Despite what some believe, we say that there is still time and ways to push back against the so-called education reform movement that has hijacked our local public school system. And the voice of a major media outlet with more than 180-year history in this city, speaking the truth about what has and is taking place could have been just the fuel needed to get the engine moving.
How about a re-examination of the affordable housing crisis our city faces and an unveiling of the lies about so-called de-concentration of poverty used to justify the demolition of public housing when the true impetus was greed, capitalism and, quite frankly, a disdain for the poor? Maybe then the business elite and elected officials would be forced to stop blaming local property-owners just trying to make a few bucks in the short-term rental market for making housing out-of reach for working people in the city and place the blame where it really belongs. Maybe then, we can start focusing on real solutions, too.
Maybe if some of our venerable institutions and organizations would use their clout and credibility to break from the business elite and encourage higher wages for working people, we would see issues of economic inequity began to diminish in our city RIGHT NOW. We cannot categorically say that one does not exist. But so far, we have been hard-pressed to find a single nola.com/Times-Picayune editorial that outright supports raising the state’s minimum wage above the meager federal standard of $7.25/hr.
As we examine what has happened in our criminal justice system—from the disparate treatment of crack cocaine convictions when compared to powder cocaine convictions to the overrepresentation of Black and Brown people in a system designed to lock them up and then lock them out even after they have served their debt—we can only imagine how different our world might be now if institutions like The Times-Picayune spoken up while these injustices were happening instead of after.
Maybe with a little encouragement from centers of influence in the area of economic parity, we will see disparities diminish, such as the double digit Black make unemployment rate or an uneven poverty rate that impact Blacks worse than Whites.
The list goes on. When it comes to homelessness, healthcare, police brutality, and just about any area of social justice where change is needed—one of two courses of actions can be taken.
Option 1—You can say something RIGHT NOW. You could do something RIGHT NOW—even if it means bucking the system, even if it is at the risk of your own or your institution’s prominence and success because you realize New Orleans cannot afford for you to miss another perfect opportunity to be a leader RIGHT NOW.
Option 2—You could wait 60 or so years from now and write an editorial regret…and wonder what could have been.