Educate All Students, Support Public Education

May 12, 2014

Sixty years after Brown decision, a new Jim Crow doctrine is rising

Filed under: General,Milwaukee Community Devastation,Racism,segregation — millerlf @ 3:43 pm

By James Hall and Barbara Miner May 10, 2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

It is time to fulfill the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education — the most important Supreme Court decision of the 20th century.
Sixty years ago, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Equally important, the court’s decision overturned the Jim Crow doctrine of “separate but equal” that had upheld segregation in all aspects of life, from jobs to buses to drinking fountains.
“The movement for African-American civil rights began long before the Brown decision and continues long after,” the Smithsonian National Museum of American History notes. “Still, the defeat of the separate-but-equal legal doctrine undercut one of the major pillars of white supremacy in America.”
Jim Crow took aim at the gains of African-Americans after slavery. Today, this country is witnessing a “New Jim Crow” that attempts to undermine the gains of the civil rights movement. This New Jim Crow fosters both racial and economic inequities.
Segregated schools and housing are the norm. Voting rights are under attack. Mass incarceration is destroying families and communities. Deadly “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” laws are proliferating. Deportations and anti-immigrant prejudice are on the rise.
Milwaukee, unfortunately, has become a poster child for the New Jim Crow. Consider:
■Black-white residential segregation in greater Milwaukee is the worst in the country.
■Greater Milwaukee’s residential segregation based on poverty is the worst in the country.
■Wisconsin is last among all the states in protecting the well-being of African-American children, based on 12 key indicators ranging from birth weight to family poverty to teen pregnancy to high school students graduating on time. (Most of the state’s African-Americans live in Milwaukee.)
■Wisconsin locks up a higher percentage of African-American men than any other state — in a country that incarcerates more people than any other nation.
■The achievement gap between African-American and white students, based on what is known as “the nation’s report card,” is the worst in Wisconsin in every test category.
■The disparity gap in African-American and white employment among women in Milwaukee is the widest in the country. For men, is it the widest among the top 40 metropolitan areas.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that a growing number of people throughout the Milwaukee region want to do something. Two indications:
First, on May 17, the Schools and Communities United coalition is holding events to honor public education and to underscore the inherent links between strong public schools, healthy communities and a vibrant democracy. (Its forthcoming publication, “Fulfill the Promise,” has details on the issues outlined here.)
The coalition includes community, education, civic, student, labor and religious organizations — from the NAACP to Milwaukee Inner-City Congregations Allied for Hope, Centro Hispano Milwaukee, Voces de la Frontera and the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.
Second, an initiative known as “Greater Together” is launching a summer-long media campaign focused on dismantling segregation and promoting social justice throughout greater Milwaukee. This unprecedented campaign is a unique collaboration between the creative and activist communities.
America’s journey of democracy always has been a work in progress. This is the challenge of the 21st century. Will we build a multicultural democracy, or will we build ever-more sophisticated structures that divide white from non-white, rich from poor, city from suburb, Democrat from Republican?
Predictions are that by next fall, for the first time, most of the children in our public schools will be non-white. By 2050, the majority of the U.S. population is expected to be non-white.
America has a chance, once again, to prove to the world that we are a beacon of hope and inspiration. We have a chance to build a multicultural democracy. But it is not a foregone conclusion.
Which brings us back to Brown.
In the decision on segregation in the public schools, the court noted that “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.” The justices went on to recognize “the importance of education to our democratic society,” calling education “the very foundation of good citizenship.”
Milwaukee, unfortunately, is not just a poster child for the New Jim Crow. It also is a poster child for school privatization— in particular the school voucher movement, under which public tax dollars pay the tuition at private schools.
Milwaukee, perhaps more than any other city, forces the question: If public education is a bedrock of democracy and an essential governmental function, why are we privatizing our public schools?
May 17 provides a chance for a new beginning throughout the Milwaukee region — to learn from the past to build a better future. The time has come to work together to dismantle segregation, rebuild our public schools and ensure equal opportunity for all.
As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said 50 years ago when he visited Milwaukee: “The time is always ripe to do right.”
James Hall is president of the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP. Barbara Miner is a writer and photographer. Both have been involved with Schools and Communities United and the Greater Together initiative.

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January 15, 2012

Milwaukee, the New Birmingham

Filed under: Poverty,segregation,Voter Suppression — millerlf @ 8:52 am

James E. Causey Jan. 14, 2012 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his letter from the Birmingham City Jail in 1963.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed a year before I was born, but I’ve always felt like he was a part of my family.

Today, his picture still hangs on my parents’ living room wall because King provided many African-American families with hope.

Many of the problems King cited in his April 16, 1963, letter from the Birmingham City Jail still exist in Milwaukee today.

I would even say that 2012 Milwaukee mirrors 1963 Birmingham in a lot of ways.

Milwaukee leads the nation or ranks near the top in several negative categories for African-Americans. Many of the problems are amplified by the city’s hypersegregation, high black male unemployment and 50% dropout rate for African-American boys.

Sunday is King’s birthday (Monday is the federal holiday observing his birth). The slain civil rights leader would have been 83. If he were alive, there is no doubt he would have visited Milwaukee to address its similarities to Birmingham.

He would have addressed:

Segregation: In his letter from the Birmingham Jail, King wrote: “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States.”

In 2011, Milwaukee earned that dubious distinction.

There are many reasons 90% of the African-American population lives on the city’s north side. Some of the reasons stem from race and economics, but you can’t rule out factors such as suburban opposition to affordable housing, either. In New Berlin, for example, it took a federal lawsuit to get the city to rethink a workforce housing development.

The assertion that “people live where they feel comfortable” is not an excuse for the city’s hypersegregation. Race is more complicated than that. If King were alive, he would point out that segregated neighborhoods are not only bad for the health of adults; they are also unhealthy for our nation’s youngest citizens – our children.

Voting: Wisconsin voters this year could be voting in a recall of the governor, president of the United States and any number of key races that will impact them.

In December, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit stating that Wisconsin’s voter ID law “imposes a severe and undue burden on the fundamental right to vote under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”

Their biggest fear is that the law will essentially disenfranchise poor blacks, Hispanics, elderly and first-time voters from having a say in what could be tightly contested races.

In his letter, King wrote: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.” King would have fought any laws restricting one’s right to vote.

I also believe King would have been more proactive by encouraging churches to get involved with the communities they are supposed to serve and register to vote those who are the hardest to reach.

Nationally syndicated radio host Joe Madison agreed.

Madison, who was active in the civil rights movement when he was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, told me that black organizations can best honor King on Monday by taking his holiday “beyond the mall.”

“It’s nice to be off on Monday to celebrate King’s legacy, but we can’t just use that as a day off. Monday should be a call-to-action day,” Madison said.

Black churches and organizations should canvas neighborhoods that will be affected the most by the voter ID law.

The best gift that these groups can give to the people of these communities is a voter registration card. Let’s make sure that everyone who can vote is registered to have his or her vote and voice heard.

Poverty: The grip of poverty got even tighter in Milwaukee in 2011 with nearly 30% of its residents labeled as poor. Nearly half of the city’s children were listed as poor.

In King’s letter, he said it’s hard to understand why “20 million Negro brothers (are) smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.”

It starts with family-supporting jobs, but elected leaders must have the will and creativity to change the city’s status quo. Milwaukee should not be the new Birmingham.

For those who don’t believe this is their problem, King said it best: “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Think about that, and happy birthday, Dr. King.

James E. Causey is a Journal Sentinel editorial writer, columnist and blogger. Email Twitter:

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