A Gainesville, Florida, native focuses on his hometown and Alachua County to examine that state’s challenging task to end segregation.
As Gengler, a former corporate lawyer in Boston and Chicago, points out, that move was one of the most significant social changes in the United States since Reconstruction. Unfortunately, there was no road map and no magic tool kit to make it work. It all began with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which gave rise to freedom of choice, whereby students could apply to attend specific schools. The NAACP never accepted that as an end point, and few blacks moved to white schools. Funding problems, failed bond issues, a teacher’s strike, busing, and racial balancing were just some of the difficulties. In 1970, the Supreme Court ordered true integration of schools, which forced changes in curriculum and extracurricular activities and led to what the author calls episodic outbreaks of on-campus violence. Gengler, whose legal explanations are often prolix, focuses mostly on the courts and the herculean attempts of both black and white educators to ease the transition. The end of black schools seriously dampened the sense of community as well as the resources and creativity that created a wholesome environment. Brown was only the first lawsuit regarding desegregation; it was followed by Brown II and, more importantly, U.S. v. Jefferson County School Board in 1966. In that case, the judge ruled that the schools must take steps to end the dual-race model, but he gave no standard to evaluate the effectiveness of those steps. The Civil Rights Act restricted that ruling to de jure segregation—i.e., it didn’t carry over to schools segregated by residential patterns. There are few details or statistics omitted from this book, and explanations are exhaustive, but Gengler brings the characters involved to life, demonstrating their patience and dedication. After many failures, it was clear that reforms and rulings could only go so far; school leaders, teachers, parents, and students had to demand and work for change.
A thick, thorough history as only an attorney could present.