I am writing in response to your recent editorial about the Lowndes/Valdosta SCLC and whether its actions are encouraging racial segregation in Valdosta and Lowndes County.
Although I have appreciated the recent work of The Times, I am sad to say that your comments are misguided and inaccurate, both in terms of Dr. King’s work in the SCLC and our collective racial history. They also deny the fact that this community does not have to “return to segregation.” It is already highly segregated. That reality is evident in terms of where people live in Valdosta/Lowndes County, where they worship, where their kids go to school, what classes kids attend when they do go to school together, who controls area schools, who will graduate, and finally, who will go to college and who will go to jail. It is also true in terms of the income levels of different racial groups in the area and who has wealth here. It is true in terms of who runs any significant institution or organization that exercises power in this community, including The Valdosta Daily Times. If you would like current demographic data on this reality I will be glad to provide it to you. So we don’t need to return to anything. We are already there, Although changes have certainly occurred, we remain a highly racially segregated community. I encourage us all to stop pretending that we are not.
Turning to your other comments, first, let’s be clear, integration and desegregation are two very different things and your editorial fails to make that distinction. It is also a mistake many white people make. “Integration” was not the goal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because he knew it meant Black Americans would no longer control how their children were “educated” and who would be in charge of educating them. Again, integration was not the goal of Dr. King or the justice movements of the ’50s and ’60s. What people sought was “desegregation.” Desegregation efforts were about equal access, equal resources, equal power, and equal control. What instead happened, and it happened here, was “integration.” Consequently, black, segregated schools were closed and black children were shipped to schools that did not want them and who had no real ties to their segregated communities. Furthermore, skilled and successful black administrators and educators from those schools were not hired in mass by these white systems. Put simply, after years of struggle whites conceded, they “gave in” to integration not equitable desegregation. As a result black folks gave up significant control over how their children would be taught and who would teach them. They also relinquished control over whether or not their educational experience would instill in black children a sense of worth, pride, value, and place in this nation. As a result, integration and educational “success” became a matter of “passing” in a white dominated and controlled system. That educational model remains in place today.
What’s more, and contrary to your romanticized account of our racial history, we need to be clear that black and white people did not lovingly sit down together in the ’50s and ’60s to earnestly create school systems that would serve all children equally. White people did not want that or allow that to happen. What whites instead conceded to was again “integration,” which is simply another word for “assimilation.” In other words, white America said, “OK, you’ve complained long enough, we’ll let ‘you’ come to school with ‘our’ children. We don’t really want to but we will. Now be like ‘us.’ Learn ‘our’ history, do it our way, and we will ‘tolerate’ you, … as long as we remain in charge.” With this historical process in mind, is it any wonder our school systems are failing all across this nation?
Let’s also be clear that “integration” in Valdosta/Lowndes County was not embraced and it involved a multi-year struggle. It also was certainly not enthusiastically “heralded” as a way to “level the playing field of education” by white people here. The opposite actually occurred. It was resisted locally and had to be federally imposed here in 1968-1970, a full 14-16 years after Brown vs. Board of Education declared segregated schools unconstitutional. I encourage you to revisit the archived pages of The Valdosta Daily Times if you doubt what I say. In fact, not only did Valdosta and Lowndes schools drag their feet when it came to complying with federal law, many white citizens here joined forces and created the Valwood School in protest.
Lowndes County schools were not only sued by the federal Department of Health Education and Welfare, they had to lose $350,000 in federal funds (Fall of 1968) before they fully complied with federal desegregation law. With that history in mind, it’s a bit ironic that today we have students attending schools and watching football games in stadiums named after people (e.g. J.L. Newbern and Sonny Martin) who weren’t real excited about black children attending school with white children. I don’t know about you but it may be time to change the name of that stadium and a few schools?
As for whether the local chapter of the SCLC has “distorted” Dr. King’s dream and objectives, I encourage you to do more study on Dr. King’s life, philosophy, and movement strategies. If you do, you will find that he knew there could be no real racial reconciliation and racial harmony without equal control and power. He knew that no real relationship could ever occur when there is a gross imbalance of power between individuals or groups. He knew there could be no true “beloved community” if one group felt the need to control another. He knew we could not “get along” with one another without real justice and equity.
Allow me to offer one more comment on our history and people’s contemporary references to Dr. King. I find it curious when people now evoke and use the name of Dr. King, or reference his “dream,” to criticize current day social change efforts like the Lowndes/Valdosta SCLC. This tactic suggests that Dr. King was appreciated and listened to by white people when he was alive.
It suggests that he was not a pain in their side. This was not the case. Though some courageous white folk did walk along side Dr. King, most despised him, many called him a “communist” (sound familiar?), and many even celebrated the day his life was ended. So let’s not forget that when he and others were working to advance the cause of racial justice in this nation they were hated, criticized, judged, and dismissed as “trouble makers” and “outside agitators.” It is only now, now that he is physically gone that people love him and romanticize his memory. It is only now that people inaccurately reference him as the model all should use for social change.
In closing, as for the shame you think some of us should feel for wanting a change in our failing school system, please know I don’t feel any. However, I am sad that drastic measures sometimes have to occur before anything gets the attention it needs.
At the same time I do feel shame and embarrassment. I feel ashamed that in 2009 we still have so far to go. I feel ashamed that the leadership of the only newspaper here clearly doesn’t know their civil rights history or their local racial history yet they think they should speak to both? I feel shame that for decades The Valdosta Daily Times effectively censored and/or failed to report on the ongoing racial inequalities that plague this community, particularly as they related to our local schools, residential patterns, jails, and businesses. In fact, many of your advertisers have been the driving force behind the racial segregation we see today?
I feel shame that for decades many of the people I love in this community have sat aside and been silent as injustice has unfolded.
I feel ashamed that we are a community that consistently finds unlimited time and resources for athletics and but our committed educators go without the resources and supplies necessary to educate our children.
I feel ashamed that we can somehow fire a football coach because they lose a few games, but we have educational leaders with extensive failing records, over multiple years, and it’s unreasonable to ask for their resignation? I feel shame that when people and groups work to bring about Dr. King’s Dream of real racial reconciliation and real racial justice they are criticized for “going about the wrong way” by people and organizations that typically ignore these same problems. Such criticism, without honesty, action or alternatives, simply serves to maintain the status quo. Or as Dr. King put it, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” Finally, I am ashamed that over the course of the next 16 years best estimates show that 10,000 black students will not graduate from Valdosta City Schools and many of us don’t seem to care.
So please know, I do feel shame, not for the reasons you think I should, but I do. With my shame in mind, I invite you, the editorial staff of The Valdosta Daily Times, to do more to make others aware of our local history and the current, ongoing challenges our community faces. Please know that you have my full support and assistance in that effort. It is time we as a community dialog, make others aware of what is unfolding here, and collectively work fora better, more just future.
My thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Mark Patrick George resides in Valdosta and is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at VSU and Lowndes/ Valdosta SCLC Education Committee Chairperson. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.