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Race, class, disadvantage

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Leland Ware's book examines 'A Century of Segregation'

 
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Leland Ware is the Louis L. Redding Chair for the Study of Law and Public Policy at UD. Redding, a pioneering lawyer and civil rights champion from Wilmington, was part of the legal team that argued the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case before the Supreme Court.

Many people who have taken an American history class probably learned about Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found racially segregated schools to be unconstitutional.

What University of Delaware Professor Leland Ware wants people to know more about is what came before and after the Brown case and how a century of legal action on civil rights continues to shape lives today.

I think everybody knows about Brown, but I dont think everybody knows about the 10 to 15 years that led up to it, Ware said. There were years of lawsuits over segregation in public schools and in graduate and professional education, including legal action against the University of Delaware.

To provide that historical context, Ware, the Louis L. Redding Chair for the Study of Law and Public Policy at UD, has written a new book, A Century of Segregation: Race, Class and Disadvantage. Published by Lexington Books in late 2018, A Century of Segregation has been praised by reviewers as well-crafted, provocative and insightful and providing a wake-up call to all Americans.

In the book, Ware said, he seeks to explain how race, class and spatial isolation intersect in ways that uniquely disadvantage African Americans and other racial minorities.

He begins with the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation was legal if the separate facilities for whites and blacks were equal. But, Ware points out, from hospitals to schools to graveyards, facilities for blacks were always separate but never equal.

He goes on to trace the efforts by the NAACP to challenge school segregation, beginning in the 1930s, through a long-term campaign of equalization lawsuits demanding that schools for black children be improved to the same standards as those for white students. The eventual result was Brown v. Board of Education, followed in the 1960s by civil rights activism and legislation and, in 1968, the Supreme Courts Green v. School Board of New Kent County decision insisting that schools stop delaying and immediately desegregate.

Although most of the book deals with entrenched racism in educational policies, Ware also includes a chapter on housing discrimination. He focuses on the growth of Americas suburbs from 1950-75, noting that redlining and other discriminatory policies prevented most African Americans from moving to these new developments.

Segregation in the suburbs virtually guaranteed school segregation, Ware said. Instead of just writing about schools or about housing, I wanted to show how these two issues interact to perpetuate disadvantage.

Public schools today, he said, are as segregated as they were 50 years ago.

A Century of Segregation concludes with an examination of racial disparities today, which Ware said remain stark, although conditions for ethnic minorities as a whole have improved in recent decades.

For those able to take advantage of the opportunities created by the Civil Rights revolution, the gains have been dramatic, Ware said. For those left behind in the nations impoverished communities, the obstacles to advancement are more daunting today than they were a generation ago.

 Article by Ann Manser; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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