Bolling v. Sharpe at 60

As Steve has noted, we are nearing the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. This means we are also nearing the 60th anniversary of Bolling v. Shape, which was decided the same day (May 17, 1954).

Bolling held that that racial discrimination in the public schools of Washington D.C. denied blacks due process of law in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This was important because Brown was decided under the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus didn’t apply to D.C.

The decision was consequential for me because I entered the D.C. public school system a few months after Bolling was decided.

My elementary school, Stanton, had a main building and an “annex” which wasn’t much to look at. I was told that the annex was where, until recently, the African-American kids (referred to at the time as Negroes) had attended school.

My recollection is that about 20 percent of the students were Black that first year. When our family moved to Maryland in April 1957, the percentages had nearly flipped. By 1967, according to an article I think I remember reading in the Washington Post, there was only one white student in the graduating class at Anacostia High, the school into which Stanton fed.

Talk about white flight!

Was there racial tension at Stanton School in 1954-55? I recall some among the older students. Among the newbies, I recall none. I had several Black friends, although my best friends were all kids I knew from my neighborhood, which was all white.

The D.C. schools have had a rough go of it in the 60 years since Bolling v. Sharpe. So, of course, have the students who attend them.

President Obama and his fellow Democrats have done their part to make things worse by killing the D.C. voucher program and the Washington Scholarship Fund.

Sixty years ago educational progress in Washington D.C. seemed to be all about having black students attend integrated public schools. Now, progress seems in part to be about providing options that will enable them to leave the same schools.

But that’s a story for another day.


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