Lincoln School Desegregation Today (Part III): Frustration Grows

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Roosevelt School Turned Away.jpg

Editor’s Note: This is Part III in an Eight-Part series on school desegregation in New Rochelle presented in anticipation of the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the U.S. Court’s Landmark Decision in Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education one year from now.

Previously: In Part I , the New Rochelle Board of Education proposes addressing complaints from black families over segregation at Lincoln School by authorizing construction of a new building to replace the aging structure. New Rochelle votes overwhelming in favor of new construction; the Lincoln District votes overwhelmingly against. In Part II, the Board of Education hires consultants who shock members by recommending the district desegregate.

Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part I – Early Gerrymandering
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part II – The Dodson Report

We continue with Part III…

Board of Education Response to the Dodson Report

Despite the report findings and the years of ongoing pressure from the black families in the Lincoln district, the school district decided to ignore the report.

Then, “This, then, completes the picture of Board intransigence and refusal to act through the years. The “freeze” placed by the Board in 1949 on the already gerrymandered boundaries of the Lincoln district remained unchanged, despite … years of public agitation, pleas and advice from distinguished educators and sociologists. And, what is more the Board has not evidenced any intention to change its policies in the future.” (Crisis in the Public Schools, based on the Reports by Dan Dodson, page 26).

Black families marched in protest to Lincoln School for two days at the beginning of the 1959 school year. Parents had their children boycott classes, 200 out of the 497 did not attend school. In November a 400 person rally opposed the construction of the new Lincoln School. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP addressed the group.

50 Sickles Avenue

School Board Votes

By 1960 the structure of Lincoln School was really deteriorating. The school board had a vote. They were deciding what to do about Lincoln. They narrowed it down to three choices: “(1) the closing of the Lincoln school and the distribution of its students by rezoning of nearby school districts; (2) the building of a k-3 school on the site … to provide a neighborhood school for the kindergarten and the first three grades while allowing the top three grades to be distributed to the surrounding schools; and (3) the rebuilding of the Lincoln school on the same site.” (“New Rochelle, New York” by John Kaplan, page 7 of Crisis in the Public Schools). The votes were as follows (1) 2-7 failed; (2) 5-4 failed; (3) 5-2 passed. The minority members then proposed a compromise to make it a smaller new school to only accommodate 400 out of the 500 students to give 100 students the opportunity to go to racially balanced schools. So then the board proposed the referendum to rebuild Lincoln on the same site again.

Parents Petition the State

The Lincoln families were enraged. Because the families found no progress within the New Rochelle School District, they petitioned the New York State education commissioner. They brought an action before the New York Commissioner of Education to restrain the school board from attempting to rebuild the Lincoln school and to require it to take steps to end the racial imbalance there. They wanted the Lincoln School closed and their black children put in other schools in the district. The state didn’t support them either and ruled against the parents. The state, missing the focus of the dispute, said that the board was within general jurisdiction to decide to rebuild on the same site.

Rochelle Place

Whites Respond

As black parents argued, white families responded. “The white parents of New Rochelle countered, in an argument that would gain traction over the coming decades, that they were colorblind liberals acting in the best interests of all New Rochelle children, black children included, by refusing to adopt a transfer policy based on race. “Nothing makes my blood boil more,” said New Rochelle’s school board president, “than a letter from the white citizens’ council saying ‘keep up the good work.'” The response was typical: by 1963, 75 percent of Northern whites said they supported the Brown decision–in effect, disassociating themselves from archsegregationists–but few supported desegregation measures in their own backyard.” (The Nation, “Off Camera: Civil Rights in the North” by Scott Saul, June 22, 2009)

Attorney Paul Zuber

The black families in the Lincoln district needed help. New Rochelle activists went to the Hastings on Hudson home of Paul Zuber. “Just thirty-five, the son of a postal worker who had migrated from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to Harlem, Zuber fought in the army, attended Brown University on a football scholarship and went to Brooklyn Law School … He was bold and willing to take risks.” (Sweet Land of Liberty, by Thomas J. Sugrue). He encouraged the black families to boycott Lincoln School.

He had experience in school segregation cases in Harlem. His plan was to combat de facto segregation. De facto means “in fact”. De jure means “by law”. Schools were not segregated by law, but were segregated in policy and practice. The school district kept insisting that the schools were not segregated by law, but Lincoln was 94% black.

In the next post of this series I will write about the civil disobedience that resulted from the black families frustrations.

Morris Street Houses — Dominos Pizza is on the corner of North & Morris Street. There is no street name sign currently

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