‘Segregation forever’ holds true in 2017
In George Wallace’s inaugural address as governor of Alabama in 1963, he famously declared: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
I personally dislike his statement, and the popularity of his sentiment has permanently colored my opinion of the entire state of Alabama. I will probably never go to Alabama.
I will forever hold the belief that Alabama is the mythical child of Southern racism that somehow still stands as it recovers ungracefully from the shame of slavery. I have never been there. I have never set foot on the land or seen any physical proof, and going there is a risk I will not ever, in the privilege of my post Civil Rights-era youth, visit the state of Alabama.
I wanted to see, however, if George Wallace was right in his guess at the longevity of institutional segregation. I, like you, believe that one day he will be wrong. But how many tomorrows will we lose to this institution when every second of its existence contributes to that of several others? And what kind of promises, as a nation, are we missing out on in the process?
Wallace was right about the “segregation now” part. Even though the courts banned segregation in the 1950s, an overwhelming majority of school districts avoided integration until the Supreme Court’s decision was enforced throughout the South.
What this column is most concerned with is the “segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” part. Integration enjoyed its heyday in the late ’60s until the ’90s. Since then, academic authorities have noted a subtle and undeniable trend of re-segregation in the United States.
A practice known as school succession might be to blame for the spike in segregation that Southern districts are seeing. It works thanks to policymakers who gerrymander white neighborhoods into their own school districts, restoring a white majority in several schools across America.
According to a 2015 investigation in The Atlantic, there are 179 school districts in the U.S. “involved in active school desegregation cases.”
As time limits on the bill that enforced school integration in the South have expired, school districts, left to their own discretion, are slipping back into segregation.
A big part of Wallace’s ideology was that he did not want integration because he was sure that it would lead to a “mixing” of the races and cultures in the U.S.
It could be argued that integration is losing some of the ground it gained in the 20th century. Black and white cultures seem to exist within one another. That, I think, will never go away, and I am comfortable saying that Wallace was wrong then, and he is wrong now.
An integrated school system saw a decrease in the achievement gap between white and black students. This has widely been attributed to the fact that schools in white neighborhoods tend to house more resources that those in black neighborhoods.
The year of Wallace’s speech as the new governor of Alabama also happens to be the year that my father was born. As he entered middle school in the 1970s, he was bused to a school in a different neighborhood.
In general, he has not disclosed much information to me about this time of his life. But he did tell me about one of the best friends he ever made precisely because he was sent to another school.
I think that my dad is a pretty open-minded guy. He is moral and has an exemplary work ethic. It would be hard for me to say that he might be a different person if he had attended a different school, but if integration even slightly influenced these qualities in his character, then I am personally grateful for it.
The most upsetting and feverish claims in Wallace’s cry is “segregation forever.” I think that we must concede that the tomorrow we are facing is imperfect, and that as we slide back into de facto segregation, we take for granted the realities of a frightening and relevant past.
In each moment, we create a legacy for those who will succeed us. As current students and future lawmakers, policymakers and parents, we have the power to end the institutionalized segregation.
Though I am pretty sure his address was meant more as a declaration of intent than anything else, I wanted to see if the U.S. has proved Wallace wrong in the 54 years that have since passed. The answer, I have gathered, is not quite.
Assistant opinion editor Mia Valdez is a creative writing senior. She can be reached at [email protected].