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The landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954, and its subsequent implementation, offer an essential question: Are segregated schools inherently evil, and is integration the only solution to unequal education? The statistics that illustrate the effects of segregated schooling are indeed staggering. According to a 2016 Government Accountability Office study, the number of schools segregated along racial and economic lines doubled between 2000 and 2013. In New York City, the achievement gap between Black and white students has continued to grow. In 2018, the National Assessment of Achievement Progress reported that 48 percent of white fourth-graders were proficient in math, while only 16 percent of black students met the standard. With a gap of 32 percentage points—growing 5 points since 2015—Black children in New York are consistently behind their white peers in academics. Sixty years ago, New York's Black and Latino parents parents grappled with this same issue as they fought to desegregate the city’s schools.
This Honors Project will discuss segregated schooling in New York City during the 1950s and 60s, and the actors who fought to disrupt the system. Throughout this work, I will attempt to illustrate the power of community in New York City, for both good and evil, for equality and bigotry. Parents—Black, white, and Puerto Rican—function as key players in this story, as they continually fought local and state Boards to access the education they believed to be rightfully theirs and their children’s. I will also assert the notion that segregation was not solely a Southern issue: the similarities between the fight for school integration in both North and South are striking, and highlight the far reaches of prejudice in the nation both then and now. Most importantly, I argue that unequal education may not be solved by integration alone, and that believing in integration as the only viable option perpetuates the incorrect notion that children of color require proximity to white students in order to be academically successful.