One Anti-Racist Action You Can Take Today: Learn The History of School Desegregation

One Anti-Racist Action You Can Take Today: Learn The History of School Desegregation

By Eric L. Masi, Ed.D
President & CEO

Many in Massachusetts remember or have studied the horrible stories of school desegregation in Boston. I didn’t grow up here but experienced a different kind of desegregation when I lived in Arlington, Virginia in the mid-1960s. In the fall of 1965, I started eighth grade at Gunston Junior High School. The previous year Gunston had been 90-95% white students, as were four of the other five junior high schools in Arlington at the time.

There was one junior high school in the Green Valley section of Arlington that was 90-95% Black students. Of course, that school had been allowed to fall into significant disrepair, so when Virginia schools were finally ordered to desegregate, the school serving Black students was closed and those students were bused to the adjoining white schools (note – it was only the Black students who experienced busing, because their school had been neglected and eventually torn down). Interestingly, school administrators held no meetings of students or parents in preparation – probably to avoid confrontations with white parents – I just showed up in September and the 8th grade class was now almost 50-50 Black and white students!

The next city over from Arlington is Alexandria which took a similar approach to desegregation (rarely is what occurred considered to have been “integration’), which is reported as mostly accurately portrayed in the movie, ‘Remember the Titans.’

Alexandria consolidated its high schools into one high school, T.C. Williams High School (unbelievably named for a segregationist school superintendent from the 1950s. Alexandria only just voted to rename the school in December). I had white friends who attended T.C. Williams the year they integrated, which was also 1965. In both cities, to no one’s surprise, while there was a lot of racial tension and fighting in the schools, there was far more difficulty among the adults then there were among the students.

‘Remember the Titans’ portrays sports, football in particular, as a potential bond for students and possibly a school and community at large, but that was over-dramatized. I remember the local Pop Warner football and Little League baseball teams being all white as the coaches and local business sponsors resisted Black players joining. Fortunately, there were teams on the other side of the city that were not white-only teams.

I was a preteen, so I had no idea of the importance of that time. And I know for most of you the 1960s is ancient history, but I encourage you to ask family members who were alive then about any experiences they had with desegregation, here or elsewhere in the country.

It tells the story of something that’s really going on right now, and even before the pandemic and during this pandemic,” said Donald Faison, who played Petey Jones. “We’re still dealing with fear in America.”

While the adults had the more difficult time with desegregation, a wonderful benefit that I experienced was not only having Black classmates and teammates but having Black teachers and coaches. I have many memories of the great role models for us as kids – similar to the coaches reflected (somewhat accurately as reported) in ‘Remember the Titans.’ The movie story lines were overdone to create drama, but the reality of the tone and tension is 100% true.

I hope we can all invest the time to learn more about desegregation, and Black History in America – all 402 years since the first slave ships arrived – as we strive to hold ourselves more accountable to pursing a more just and equitable world.

Read more about school desegregation here:

Washington PostWhen a Va. County closed its schools rather than admit Black students

ESPNTwo decades later, ‘Remember the Titans’ is still relevant

The AtlanticThe lasting legacy of the busing crisis

Washington Post – Petey Jones, star on ‘Remember the Titans’ football team, dies at 65.



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