How else to explain the pep rally at Hollywood Community Center Thursday night? Nice crowd of over 200, nice attentive atmosphere. Either by design or because of no-shows, it was a one-sided pro-merger panel of past and present elected officials including Willie Herenton, Henri Brooks, Martavius Jones, Hubon Sandridge, and Sidney Chism plus Thaddeus Matthews and Cardell Orrin.
Granted that one of the first responsibilities of a speaker is to put on a show. Granted that every argument needs a bad guy, hence the references to David Pickler, who wasn't there but has attended other hostile forums. Granted that, as Brooks said, it's still about race. And granted that most of the hot rhetoric was followed by a wink and a grin.
I still don't get the argument, if you can call it that, of Brooks, Herenton, Chism, Matthews, and Sandridge that black Memphians should feel one way about schools and that Kenneth Whalum Jr., Lasimba Gray, Freda Williams, Dwight Montgomery, and the leadership of the teacher's union to name just a few are out of step with the program. The notion that black or white people will and should vote a certain way on charter surrender is simplistic, stupid, and wrong and these panelists know it. But they talked like it was 1980 or 1970.
This is what passed for argument: If David Pickler is against it then you must be for it. The Commercial Appeal, aka "the newspaper," is playing up fear and wants to confuse "you." The day the vote is certified "we" are going to make sure "they" have no control. "We" are the majority in the city of Memphis so there is no way "we" can lose. To those leaving Shelby County, "don't let the door knob hit you where the good lord split you." And special school district status in Shelby County Schools means those residents won't have to pay county taxes, some of which support Memphis schools — which is simply not true. Special school districts pay twice.
Quoting from the 2008 University of Memphis study: "Property Tax Alternative 2: Each district would levey its own property tax as a primary funding source. Shelby County government would discontinue using property tax to fund the MCS and special school district; and the two school districts would utilize property tax each collects from their respective territories."
Anyway, on this night the show was the thing, and it was a pretty good one, with the audience getting into it. But like most meetings, it went too long. I left early to see the Central-White Station basketball game at the Spartan Palace at WSHS. I parked half a mile away but was surprised when I got inside to see the gym only about three quarters full. And it was basketball homecoming, too. When I was a regular at games during the Dane Bradshaw and J. P. Prince years, a sellout was really a sellout, especially when Ridgeway or Raleigh-Egypt were in the house.
Anyway, the basketball was high quality. Central has two really big guys who can play. White Station looks a year or two away. WSHS Principal David Mansfield roamed the sideline in a coat and tie and twinkling green headband. There was not a single white player on either team. The student section was packed, with guys in the front row with painted chests spelling out "Spartans." Central won a clean, hard-fought game.
This is integrated public education in Memphis in 2011. Take a good look. It's years may be numbered.
Memo to my fellow Memphis residents: the 'burbs are not kidding. There are legal complications to setting up a new municipal school district, but they have the numbers in the legislature and anything can happen in the courts, which follow public opinion to some extent. If Mr. and Mrs. Suburb put a pencil to it, the extra $1 on the tax rate or additional $1500 a year in property taxes will look pretty good compared to $12,000 or more for private school per year per kid and declining home values. The majority of suburban residents — and Tennesseans outside Memphis — see Memphis as black city that thinks one way. A simplistic, no-win, wrong generalization that some here are nevertheless promoting.