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DIVIDED WE FAIL by Sarah Garland


The Story of an African American Community that Ended the Era of School Desegregation

by Sarah Garland

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8070-0177-6
Publisher: Beacon

A freelance journalist from Louisville, Ky., returns home to chronicle litigation that would end public school desegregation—a lawsuit filed by African-American parents on behalf of their children.

Hechinger Report staff writer Garland thought it confusing at first that African-Americans would sue if the result would mean a return to all-black schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. Eventually, the author realized that long-distance busing of African-American children into Caucasian neighborhood schools did not always benefit those students, and it also often ripped the fabric of African-American neighborhoods. During the Jim Crow era, Central High School was all black and had a proud academic tradition. Because of court-ordered busing based on racial-enrollment quotas, Central ended up with a significant white student presence. Yet not all the white students desired the opportunity, and numerous black students who wanted to attend Central were denied the opportunity. Garland’s narrative is filled with interesting individuals, including the previously nearly anonymous Caucasian lawyer who represented the African-American plaintiffs and the Republican-appointed Caucasian judge who defied stereotypes as he considered the complicated arguments. The author occasionally loses the narrative thread as she jumps from the Louisville situation to a broad history of school-desegregation policy. Garland also discusses her personal educational experiences in Louisville, during which she left her mostly Caucasian neighborhood each day for a long ride to a mostly African-American neighborhood. The author’s back story gives the book added resonance.

A useful journalistic examination of a troubling societal phenomenon.