Desegregated or Integrated: Is There a Difference?

Panelists at today’s “Brown at 60” symposium at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute tackled the question of the difference between schools being integrated and those that are desegregated.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.–  On this the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that supposedly desegregated the nation’s public schools, some have suggested the schools were never really integrated.

The U.S. Supreme Court on this date in 1954 declared “Separate but equal” is unconstitutional.  Later on the court ordered schools to dismantle desegregation “with deliberate speed” by working in five areas:

  1. facilities
  2. staff
  3. faculty
  4. extracurricular activities
  5. transportation

Wait a minute.  Did the dismantling of separate schools for whites and blacks mean those institutions were “integrated” or just “desegregated?”

You’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask.  During a panel discussion at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute today at a symposium “With All Deliberate Speed; Education Equity 60 Years After Brown,” University of Alabama at Birmingham Education Professor Tondra Loder-Jackson posed the definitional question to panelists.  Loder-Jackson directs the Center for Urban Education at UAB.

Here’s how they responded:

Samantha Elliott Briggs
Samantha Elliott Briggs

DR. SAMANTHA ELLIOTT BRIGGS, Consultant and Curriculum Specialist, Professor, Samford University
Integration conjures up ideas of assimilation.  Desegregation is more “all-encompassing.”  It provides choice, opportunities, and options

“I was part of a desegregation program.  I was part of the first generation of a group in 1984 to desegregate St. Louis County (Miss). Schools.

The schools were already INTEGRATED.

There were black students there, who lived in suburban neighborhoods.  But they wanted to provide a choice opportunity for students who were coming from an inner city urban environment to desegregate to have rare opportunity not only for inner city students going to the suburbs, but for the suburban students to come into the city.

“Integration will allow for us to come together and have a ‘kum ba yah,’ but without desegregation, we’re not really dealing with some of the walls, some of the attitudes and some of the behaviors

Michael Wilson
Michael Wilson

DR. MICHAEL WILSON, Principal Glen Iris Elementary School in Birmingham, Ala.

“I believe that integration should be a very natural thing.  It should be like integrating ideas.

It’s coming together being a human race rather than looking at skin color and things like ethnicity and where you’re from. .. Like in desegregating the workforce, we were forced to INTEGRATE because it was not happening naturally.

It should come from our hearts, souls and who we are.   The other one (desegregation) someone has to come to tell you do it because you’re not doing it.”

Margaret Zimmerman Beard
Margaret Zimmerman Beard

MS. MARGARET ZIMMERMAN BEARD, integrated Jefferson County, Ala. School System, now retired after 51 years and 10 months 

I think there is a difference.  Desegregation is simply a dismantling or un-doing the segregation.

No thought about the mechanics of the situation, no effort to change things.

We closed black schools and showed a lack of respect for their culture and their tradition.   The culture that existed in those walls.
Integration is fine.  That’s what happened with us.

Cameron Young
Cameron Young

CAMERON YOUNG,  Senior, Spain Park High School, Hoover, Ala.

At my school, we are integrated.  We have different types of races, different colors of skin at my school.

But, there still is segregation in the lunchroom.  You have white people over here.  You have Hispanics.

And then you have black people over here in different parts of the room and they don’t really come together and speak to each other.

They’re just kind of separate.  The only time you see them coming together is in the classroom… I think we should just come together and basically be one.