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Support for segregation as a youthful indiscretion

Elaine Woo's excellent obituary of James J. Kilpatrick noted that the onetime  supporter of school segregation moderated his views on race, pleading in an interview that  "I was brought up a white boy in Oklahoma City in the 1920s and 1930s. I accepted segregation as a way of life. But I've come a long way. Very few of us, I suspect, would like to have our passions and profundities at age 28 thrust in our faces at 50."

Maybe not, but Kilpatrick made it sound as if his position on segregation  -- that states could override the Supreme Court -- was something of a youthful lark. Instead, it was a considered constitutional theory in service of a social system that many sophisticated and erudite adults defended.

One of the unfortunate aspects of the passage of time is that many young people imagine that segregationists were all potbellied sheriffs and vulgar race-baiters. It's important to know that the obstructionists included a lot of Kilpatricks, which makes the achievement of the civil rights movement all the more radical and remarkable.

-- Michael McGough

Photo: James J. Kilpatrick prepares to debate Martin Luther King Jr. in 1960 about the propriety of sit-ins. Credit: AP file photo.


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I suppose the modern equivalent would be African Americans raising their children to believe that white people are holding them back.

Mitchell Young

But segregation is absolutely okay again, at least if it is the right sort of segregation.


"This mission is a direct response to the urgent need to reverse abysmal graduation and college completion rates among young men in urban centers, *particularly African-American males.* [my emphasis] Urban Prep’s tailored curriculum is based on the developmental stages and *learning styles of boys* as well as the unique challenges facing urban youth."

You won't be surprised after reading the 'code' in that mission statement to know that this school is 100% black. This is a publicly funded charter school and it practices de facto segregation, not only racial but gender segregation. It seems to be showered with federal, state, and private largess. Its first graduating class was addressed (via videolink) by none other than Arne Duncan. Can't get much more federally-approved than that.

Funny thing is, the argument used by the promoters of these sorts ventures -- that blacks, particularly black males -- learn better in an environment of their (racial) peers, is pretty much the same argument used by old school segregationists. To accept the one is to accept the other.


Mitchell Young, while you seem to believe that what is being promoted is the equal of what happened in the past, you could be no further from the truth. Seperate but unequal was the order of that day. Along with the acceptance of murderous mobs that took glee in finding someone, to take offense with if for no other reason than their skin color to hang by their neck until they cease breathing was also the past time then. What you want us to believe is that the seperation by race to provide a nurturing approving education, that caters to the needs of a race is wrong. A race of people that has had to adapt to a country without maintaining any ties to a culture protraying them in a positive light. After enduring 30 years working with some very racist whites I welcome something like this to allow for healthy self esteem to develope than hateful angry whites that find fault in anything black.

Eric Mulfinger

To Mr. Young: I don't know much about the Urban Prep school that you introduced, nothing in fact aside from what you posted. It may be a good school or maybe not. But one of your concluding statements caught my attention:

"that blacks, particularly black males -- learn better in an environment of their (racial) peers, is pretty much the same argument used by old school segregationists. To accept the one is to accept the other."

I think that's a bit off the mark. The term 'segregation' did not just imply separate facilities for black and white. It involved a whole social system of hatred and bigotry... and vast inequality of opportunity. This school's policies and practices are hardly morally equivalent to the segregationist past in this country. That is clear misreading of the historical record.

Mitchell Young

"It [segregation ]involved a whole social system of hatred and bigotry... and vast inequality of opportunity."

Maybe it wasn't primarily motivated by hatred, or even blind bigotry -- though certainly some segregationists must have been pure 'haters'. But modern perceptions of segregation and segregationists are distorted repeated replays of dramatic and sensational events, perhaps most white southerners were simply trying to do the best (according to their perception) for their children. Perhaps some even believed segregation was best for black children. If so, this segregated (de facto, and intentionally) publicly funded prep school in Chicago is a mirror image of the southern segregationists ideology.

And remember, the court held in Brown v. Board that it was segregation itself that was the problem -- any segregation was unconstitutional. I suspect if the equivalent of Urban Prep was set up for white working class boys, it too would be getting the attention of federal officials, except they'd be Justice Department Lawyers rather than the Secretary of Education.

Eric Mulfinger

Mr. Young: I will restate that your reading of the historical record of race laws and segregation is incomplete at best.

The Brown decision was not race-neutral for one thing. The evidence presented focused on the damage done to black children, not white. Your attempt to paint segregationist policies in a more benign and peaceful color again has no basis in fact.

This Chicago school is hardly a “mirror image” of segregationist ideology – you cannot make a plausible argument for moral equivalence. Segregationist schools of the past were based on the common belief that whites were superior to blacks and should not mix. From what you have described, this school does not rely on that kind of ideology. Rather, it sounds more like a shelter from a failed system. That is a very different social reality.

Mitchell Young

" I will restate that your reading of the historical record of race laws and segregation is incomplete at best."

Well, like all public school educated Americans, I've been exposed to the conventional narrative on such laws, but I have also read dissenting views. You can too, as Kilpatrick's work on this subject is online.


Eric Mulfinger

Mr. Young: Thank you for the reference. Kilpatrick's take on this subject is indeed thorough and well-researched. But clearly his priority is to re-establish constitutional principles that were effectively wiped away with the convulsion of the Slaveholders' Rebellion of 1861-1865 and then the post-war amendments.

The reason the issue of states' rights came to such a boiling point was, fundamentally, the issue of human slavery and forced labor in a free republic. The conflict was inevitable at some level.

What I said originally still stands: the basis of segregation and race laws was a firm belief in the inferiority of blacks. And on that, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree....



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