Avowed integrationist Irons (Political Science/UC San Diego; A People’s History of the Supreme Court, not reviewed) powerfully summarizes Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and argues compellingly that subsequent court cases have effected resegregation and the resurrection of Jim Crow.
The author grieves for what he views as the abandonment of the ideals of equal educational opportunity so eloquently advanced in 1954 by Thurgood Marshall and so painfully sought by children, parents, teachers, and even a few courageous politicians. Irons begins his damning indictment of retreat and racism with a swift history of the “education” of slaves (whites sometimes punished those uppity blacks who dared to write by cutting off the offending digits). He proceeds with a case-by-case examination of the Supreme Court’s handling of issues relating to racially segregated schools. For a brief time, Irons sees the Court endeavoring to guarantee to black Americans what the Constitution requires. Although he admires the political skills of Chief Justice Earl Warren (who achieved a 9-0 consensus among his colleagues on Brown), he regrets the concession to Southerners Warren was forced to accept, which permitted the phrase “all deliberate speed” to become a speed-bump of alpine proportions on the road to social progress. Irons reminds us that significant achievements like Brown and the integration of Little Rock schools were accompanied by substantial white resistance and violence, which went on for years, nowhere more brutally than in Boston’s anti-busing riots. Two portions of the story are particularly wrenching and depressing: the Supreme Court’s turn to the right courtesy of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush I, resulting in subsequent abatements of Brown; and the author’s recent visits to the five schools whose cases were clustered as Brown. In all of them, Irons found de facto segregation, and no better evidence exists for the failures of today’s educational policy than his poignant interviews with current students.
A book of sorrows—and of surpassing importance.