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Segregation Now, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever

Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace is shown in this Oct. 19, 1964 photo speaking in Glen Burnie, Md. at a rally supporting Republican presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater. (AP Photo)

Yeah sure that’s a George Wallace quote, but when it comes to schools, it’s the feeling of perhaps a majority of white people. This is a particularly gross story from Baton Rouge, but it could pretty much be anywhere.

The fight began with little subtlety. White, wealthy parents in the southeastern corner of East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, an area known as St. George, wanted their own school district. They argued that the schools in East Baton Rouge were routinely named as among the lowest performing in the state, and were unlikely to improve any time soon. So, in 2012, some of those parents went to the state legislature with a proposal: Create what would be called the Southeast Community School District.

The legislature shot it down. The parents needed a two-thirds majority for the creation of a school district, and they couldn’t marshal the votes. A similar push in 2013 was rebuffed as well.

The organizers were discouraged, but undeterred. They needed a new strategy—and they didn’t have to look far. In 2005, a nearby community, Central, was unable to gather support for a school district from the legislature, so it incorporated as a new city. That helped it gain legislative approval to create its own school district, Central Community Schools, which opened its doors in 2007. The St. George supporters launched a petition drive and, in August 2013, registered a new website: StGeorgeLouisiana.com. They would try to create their own city.

A pattern has emerged over the past two decades: White, wealthy communities have been separating from their city’s school districts to form their own. According to a recent report from EdBuild, a nonprofit focused on public-school funding, 73 communities have split to form their own school districts since 2000, and the rate of places doing so has rapidly accelerated in the past two years. St. George, which activists seek to incorporate as a city, is a textbook example.

Oftentimes, in these instances, predominantly white parents are trying to break away from a majority-minority school district, which in turn isolates their property-tax dollars in a new district. (Many public schools rely heavily on property taxes.) The argument, then, is that the parents can better dictate how their money is being spent.

St. George is no different. The proposed area is more than 70 percent white and fewer than 15 percent black, while East Baton Rouge Parish is roughly 46.5 percent black. St. George supporters decry the violence and poor conditions of the public schools in Baton Rouge. Their tax dollars, they have argued, aren’t being put to good use. (Representatives for the St. George campaign’s organizers did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article, including several emails, phone calls, and Facebook and LinkedIn messages.)

St. George organizers, however, see the separation as necessary for their children. “We’ve had enough of failing our children,” Rainey said in 2014. “We’re not going to do it anymore, and we’ll go to the length of creating our own city—to create our own education system—to take control back from the status quo.” In Louisiana, a group hoping to incorporate a city is required to wait two years and one day after an unsuccessful attempt before it can launch another petition drive. So in 2018, activists once again sought to create a new city.

In between the failed 2015 attempt and the new one, they tried to iron out a new strategy. They cut down the geographic area of their proposed City of St. George. The original map was roughly 85 square miles; the new area was 60. It would be easier to gain the signatures necessary for a new community with a smaller area. As soon as the proposed map was released, several people in favor of keeping East Baton Rouge Parish together noted that the new map, coincidentally, carved out several apartment complexes—places where black and low-income families lived.

But honestly, how is this any different than parents moving to the suburbs or sending their kids to private schools or doing whatever they can to ensure that either their kids go to all-white schools or schools with just the right amount of diversity–ideally a bunch of Asians and just a few Latinos and African-Americans so their kid can have their one friend of color? All Baton Rouge whites are doing is the country bumpkin version of the same thing that goes on in Denver or New York or Portland, where the whites know enough to speak about a bit differently.

The nation never really desegregated after Brown, not without direct court involvement. From Little Rock whites closing down their entire public school district in 1958 to the rise of suburbanization and the private Christian schools all the way to the Boston busing riots and up to today, whites maintain and actively reinforce racism based upon the principle of “doing what we need to for our children.” Just because you vote for Democrats doesn’t make you any less responsible for reinforcing racism than Baton Rouge whites.

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