Two decades after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared segregated public schools unconstitutional, the race problem has shifted from a question of dual school systems to one of "dual cities," a leading jurist told a crowd of 150 at the Law School last night.
J. Skelly Wright, First Circuit Court of Appeals judge, said that busing of school children to achieve racial balance "can't by itself come close to erasing scars inflicted on all of us by the methodical division of our landscape along race lines."
Wright's speech in the Ames Courtroom introduced the Law School's two-day roundtable, entitled "Two Decades After Brown."
The boundaries of local governments, taxation schemes and public services--as well as school systems--must expand to cover whole metropolitan areas, Wright warned. Otherwise, "we risk making apartheid legitimate and irreversible by force of law," he said.
Wright cited the rapid movement of whites away from central cities as the major roadblock to the ideal of integration set out in the 1954 Brown decision. "Whites bring Jim Crow back by migrating from the city to the suburb," he said.
Wright characterized the 20 years since Brown as the "second Reconstruction," and said that current public debates over racial equality "echo the weariness of 100 years ago."
Although the zeal for racial equality dissipated after the first Reconstruction, Wright expressed confidence that "the future won't see the dismantling of the Second Reconstruction."
Wright quoted results of 1972 public opinion polls that showed 75 per cent of Americans believe race discrimination is morally wrong and 71 per cent favor total desegregation of schools and housing.
He also cited increases in black political and economic opportunity since the mid-60s as progress toward the ideals expressed in Brown.
He added, however, "If anyone finds these figures cause for raucous celebration, he should be gently committed."
Wright said that the movement toward racial equality has come mainly from public pressure and legislation--not from the judicial branch--but said that it has been on a steady decline since 1968. He also attacked the notion that court solutions are the source of the current apathy toward the race issue, specifically public resistance to busing.
"According to that line of thinking, the judiciary overstepped its normal bounds [in the Brown decision] and was run over by a school bus," Wright said.
Wright maintained that the Vietnam War split the coalition of blacks, labor, youth, the churches and congressmen that he cited as the moving force behind integration. "Our egalitarian revolution was run over by a war," he said.
In the context of the last 20 years, Wright said, the Brown decision provided a crucial forum in 1954 for the national debate over racial equality. "The Southern courtroom became a theater with the whole nation as its audience," Wright said