Resegregation is a Judicial Dead End

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William Raspberry
  • William Raspberry
As suburban voters vote on municipal school systems and federal judge Hardy Mays sets court dates to decide constitutional issues, here are some pertinent comments from this obituary in the Washington Post.

William Raspberry was from Okolona, Mississippi, about 20 miles south of Tupelo. He grew up in the segregated South and became a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist. His words speak to Memphis today.

From the obituary: "Mr. Raspberry derived some of his core principles from a bedrock belief in self-reliance and the importance of education. He often cited the example of his parents, both of whom were teachers. He challenged prominent civil rights figures to put their words into action to help build a better world for the poor and disenfranchised.

“Education is the one best hope black Americans have for a decent future,” Mr. Raspberry wrote in a 1982 column. “The civil rights leadership, for all its emphasis on desegregating schools, has done very little to improve them.”

"Although he considered himself a liberal, Mr. Raspberry often bucked many of the prevailing pieties of liberal orthodoxy. He favored integration but opposed busing children to achieve racial balance. He supported gun control but — during a time when the District seemed to be a free-fire zone for drug sellers — he could understand the impulse to shoot back."

“It’s not racism that’s keeping our children from learning, it’s something much nearer home than that,” he told Washingtonian magazine in 2003. “We need to remember that the most influential resource a child can have is a parent who cares. And we need to admit that sometimes parents are the missing ingredient.”

The framework for the unified Shelby County School System will be decided by suburban referenda and by court rulings on the constitutionality of the state law on municipal schools and the federal issue of equal protection in a resegregated school system. But the makeup on the student population and the individual schools cannot be dictated by the courts. People vote with their feet. Resegregation is a career killer for a federal judge. William Raspberry knew that.

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