Notes on How the 1968 Riots Stopped School Segregation in Baltimore

Baum, Howell S. “How the 1968 Riots Stopped School Desegregation in Baltimore.” In Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City, edited by Jessica Elfenbein, Thomas Hollowak, and Elizabeth Nix, 154–79. Temple University Press, 2011.

p. 155

  • late 1940s: Carl Murphy and Juanita Jackson Mitchell began pushing to desegregate Baltimore public schools
  • early 1950s: “small group of black leaders organized by Murphy and Mitchell began strategizing to push the school board to integrate as soon as the Court rules”
  • June 3, 1954: Baltimore school board, under leadership of new president Walter Sondheim, voted “unanimoiusly to end school segregation”
  • June 10, 1954: adopted policy proposal by Superintendent John Fischer to continue open-enrollment policy, “except that the race of the pupil shall not be a consideration”

Baum writes, “…desegregation would be voluntary. The board refused to assign students and placed responsibility for racial mixing on families… Explicitly, it would not discriminate against black children; implicitly, neither would it act on their behalf. … The NAACP took credit for board action and adoption of free choice…”

Three conditions limited choices for students:

  1. Segregated “colored school buildings were dilapidated, dangerous, outmoded, and poorly equipped.” Parents would not “choose such schools.”

  2. Discrimination left fewer black teachers with advanced training (most studied at from Coppin Teachers College”an unaccredited, segregated normal school with meager facilities and few faculty with graduate degrees”) and segregated black teachers at colored schools. (p. 156)
  3. Deeply segregated housing likely made many parents “uncomfortable” sending their children to a school associated with another race.

Enrollment after 1954 “showed two trends”:

  • “slowly growing but moderate racial mixing in the schools”
  • “transition from a majority white to a majority black school district”

p. 156

Year Total Students Percent of white students in integrated schools Percent of black students in integrated schools
1954 144,000 4% 3%
1961   35% 19%
Year   Black students participating in open enrollment White students participating in open enrollment Integrated elementary schools Integrated primary schools
1954   1,575 (2.7%) 6 (.007%)    
1961   31,983 86 32 of 146 16 of 40

Table uses the “prevailing definition” of integrated: “including at least 10 percent of students from each race”

1960: Baltimore school district became majority black; 33 of 143 elementary schools are all white; 45 all black; 3 of 39 secondary schools all white; 13 all black. Nearly 1/3 of black students attended formerly white schools.

p. 157

  • 1963: 28 Parents, a group of white and black parents, presented a report to the school board describing three practices maintaining de facto segregation.
    • “board located new schools in racially homogenous neighborhoods… sites made segregation likely”
    • limiting “overcrowded schools” to neighborhood children reinforced existing patterns of housing segregation
    • administrators: “Some white principals encouraged white parents to transfer their children out when black enrollment grew. Some principals rejects black transfer applications to predominantly white schools.”

“Within racially mixed schools, ability tracking put black and white students in separate programs. After a decade of legal segregation, most children attended class with majorities of their own race… By the time the board ended practices that limited choices, the desegregation policy had a ten-year history associated in the public mind with continuing segregation.”

p. 158

1964 Civil Rights Act created a federal interest in desegregating schools

McKeldin created the Mayor’s Task Force for Equal Rights in response to the CORE Target City program in summer 1966.

p. 159

1967 mayoral campaign elected City Council President Thomas D’Alesandro III, as Mayor; he had “defended busing to relieve overcrowding and to remove children from deficient schools and proposed replacing obsolete schools and building educational parks to draw students from across the region.”

Question: Who did Mayor D’Alesandro III defeat in the 1967 election?

At December 1967 inauguration, D’Alesandro “pronounced Baltimore ‘the city of hope’… promissed ‘to root out every cause or vestige of discrimination.’” Named Baltimore, “Education City, USA.”

Note: Baum includes a very concise and useful description of the unrest following the assasination of Martin Luther King (p. 159-160). I’ve noted a few key items here but may want to go back and look again.

By Friday:

  • 5,512 people arrested (nearly all black – about 1 in every 75 black residents)
  • 12,000 troops occupied the city (1 for every 75 Baltimore residents)
  • 1,208 major fires
  • 1,049 businesses destroyed
  • 600 injuries (50 police officers); 6 people killed[@baum_how_2011, 160]

Spiro Agnew invited 100 Baltimore black leaders (what he called “moderates” contrasting with the “circuit-riding, Hanoi-visiting type of leader”) to meet with him on Thursday to charge them with “responsibility for the riots”; most walked out, some drafted an “angry rebuttal”:

Agnew’s actions are more in keeping with the slave system of a bygone era.

By separating “good” moderates from “bad” militants, Agnew sought to divide black activists; by trying to tie moderate leaders to militants, a minister observed:

He’s forcing us all to become militants

Note: The full text of Agnew’s remarks appeared in the Sun. I think the full text of the response Baum references is in the Afro.

White Baltimoreans and others sent hundreds of telegraphs to Agnew’s office mostly praising his actions; one stated, “Thankful to hear that the white people still have a strong voice in government.”[@baum_how_2011, 161]

1968 ruling in Green v. New Kent County: “free choice had to produce results: it had to integrate schools to be constitutionally acceptable.”

After the city’s “top legal officer” submitted a opinon calling Baltimore’s school choice policy unconstitutional; Schaefer “had no interest in considering the Supreme Court decision and revisiting desegregation, because ‘immediately the question of race comes in.’”[@baum_how_2011, 162]

January 1970 incident:

A white teacher at Eastern High School reportedly used a racial slur with a black student. Students protests, and someone called the police, who allegedly mistreated students and eventually arrested eight. Students were sent home, and many went to Baltimore City College High School, where students joined the protest and City was also closed.[@baum_how_2011, 163]

Note: Baum continues to describe the proposal for busing in 1974.

White opposition to 1974 organized by the Southeast Desegregation Coalition (in part supported by the South East Community Organization?); then City Council member Barbara Mikulski wrote a letter to the editor of the East Baltimore Guide: “I am totally opposed to forced cross-town busing.”[@baum_how_2011, 164]

Edgar Jones, Evening Sun reporter contrasted 1974 with 1954:

In those days there was a fairly large reservoir of white goodwill toward Negroes. Many Baltimoreans knew that segregation was wrong and were willing to stand up for the School Board’s efforts to eliminate it. … The past few weeks have shown precious little evidence of white goodwill toward either blacks or the School Board… Except for a few neighborhoods trying to preserve some integration, Baltimore’s white residents by and large are buttoned up in their own diminshing sectors…[@baum_how_2011, 166]

Note: Baum continues to detail the Office of Civil Rights enforcement negotiation with Baltimore City and the threat of enforcement actions concluding with the loss of OCR’s threat of sanctions against Baltimore City schools in 1978.

“The school board, whose lawyers had told the court the city just wanted room to desegregated in ways suited to local conditions, did nothing further to desegregation…” By 1982, “the board valued peace above much else, including desegregation. No one ever sued the school board to do more to desegregated. Baltimore stood out from most Southern districts and many big cities in this respect.”[@baum_how_2011, 170]

The “riots” did not cause the changes to school desegregation efforts “as catalyze and punctuate shifts already taking place” (p. 171)

After 1954, the “open-enrollment policy probably added to racial anxiety… Parents could not know what a school’s makeup would be when classes started…. This uncertainty not only added to anxiety but also made leaving city public schools a choice with a more predictable outcome.” (p. 172)