Lincoln School Desegregation Today (Part VIII): Counting Seats to Present Day

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lincoln plaque.jpg

Editor’s Note: This is Part VIII, the last 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, New Rochelle gerrymanders the Lincoln school district starting in the 1930s to create a “Negro elementary school”. In Part II, the Board of Education’s hire consultants who recommend desegregation. In Part III, as white voters approve a plane to build a new Lincoln School, black parents mobilize with the help of civil rights attorney Paul Zuber. In Part IV, parents engage in civil disobedience at New Rochelle Schools, Zuber files Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education. In Part V, Zuber presented his case to Judge Irving R. Kaufman. In Part VI, Judge Kaufman made his ruling. In Part VII, the District responds to the Ruling.

Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part I – Early Gerrymandering
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part II – The Dodson Report
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part III – Frustration Grows
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part IV – Civil DIsobedience
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part V – The Trial, Plaintiff’s Case
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part VI – The Defense Presents and Judge Kaufman Decides
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part VII – Desegregation Today: Part VII – The Plans and the Ruling

We continue with Part VIII…

The School District React

Merryle Stanley Rukeyser, president of the Board of Education said compliance would cause “chaos” in the school system. He said the board would appeal to the United States Court of Appeals. The judge refuses to stay his order pending an appeal unless the board obtains a stay from the higher court.

Only 375 Seats

On June 14th, 1961 the New York Times article “New School Crisis in New Rochelle” said that the transfer application forms were distributed to the parents of the 485 Lincoln students. The parents of 350 want transfers. School officials reported that only 375 empty seats would be available in September in schools to which pupils could transfer.

“Dr. Herbert C. Clish, Superintendent of Schools, said the construction of new homes in the north end of the city had canceled the prospects of empty seats in the Davis and Ward Schools, reduced the number at Roosevelt and Barnard Schools and cut deeply into vacancies elsewhere, especially at the Jefferson School amid new apartment houses in the south end of the city .. Only at the Washington School, which is 52 percent Negro, were vacant-seat prospects called abundant. The Lincoln parents said they would not accept transfers to that school.” (New York Times, “New School Crisis in New Rochelle”, June 14, 1961)

Attorney Paul Zuber said he would ask Judge Kaufman to investigate the seat counting. The New Rochelle Board of Ed then sought to stay the order, meaning delay the execution of Judges Kaufman’s orders pending their appeal. They also asked for a priority hearing.

267 Students

By early July 155 parents had signed applications for transfers and that 67 had said they would stay at Lincoln. By early September the Board of Education transferred 267 students from Lincoln to eleven other schools. Lincoln was left with only 187 students compared to 454 the previous spring. The district boundaries remained the same.

“The Roosevelt school, which has a Negro principal, Dr. Barbara Mason, but less than 1 percent Negro pupils, will receive 80 pupils from Lincoln – the largest number of transfers. Mayflower, which has 30 percent Negro, will receive 63 former Lincoln pupils; Webster, which as been 25 percent Negro, will get 28. Even Washington School, which had been more than 50 percent Negro, will receive 14 pupils from Lincoln.” (NY Times, “267 New Rochelle Negro Pupils Are Transferring From Lincoln”, September 7, 1961)

Even at this late date the Superintendent was adamant that the district had not gerrymandered schools and promoted segregation. He cited the integrated high school and junior high schools. He said “It is ironic that now we have been lynched by people who use words loosely.” he declared. “You can’t desegregate a biracial school.” “Mr. Rukeyser said that if the white children attending private schools in the Lincoln District attended Lincoln the percentage of white pupils there would be 24 percent.” (NY Times, “267 New Rochelle Negro Pupils Are Transferring From Lincoln”, September 7, 1961)

The NAACP chapter created a nonprofit transportation fund to pay for the bussing of the Lincoln children. They raised $16,000 the first year. (Sweet Land of Liberty, by Thomas J. Sugrue, page 198)

The Boys and Girls Club of New Rochelle

The Second Appeal

At this time, July 1961, the appeal was argued before three judges of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The plaintiffs (Lincoln families) were defended by Mrs. Constance B. Motley. She had previously joined Attorney Zuber. Attorney Weiss argued for New Rochelle. Weiss said that the case should be appealed because: (1) gerrymandering had not been defined; (2) the plaintiffs had not provided actual counts of black and white residents in the Lincoln district; (3) if a school is 94% Negro, it has not necessarily been gerrymandered.

Fifteen days later, on August 2nd, 1961, the appellate court gave its opinion and affirmed the lower court ruling by a 2-1 vote. Judges Clark and Smith affirmed and Judge Moore dissented. Judge Clark wrote the opinion for the majority. He agreed that the school district had been gerrymandered. He said that the school district accelerated segregation up until 1949 and the actions taken after 1949 froze the condition at Lincoln School. Judge Clark wrote “This conduct clearly violates the 14th Amendment and the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka”.

The 14th Amendment (July 9th, 1868) says, in part:

“Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Judge Clark wrote that the plan for desegregation was fair and a similar plan used in Baltimore with fair success. He wrote “It can be put into operation with little administrative difficulty or public expense”.

The dissenting opinion by Judge Moore criticized the testimony of Bertha White, calling it hearsay, though the defense did not object. Judge Moore compared the transferring out of Lincoln students into other schools to the transferring out of white students from Lincoln pre 1949. He also argued that “the court order discriminated in favor of the residents of a heavily Negro area and against Jewish or Italian children who might wish to transfer out of their ethnically unbalanced schools.” (Civil Rights USA, John Kaplan, p. 86)

The Third Appeal

The school board still felt they were not at fault on this issue. School Board President Merryle Rukeyser called a meeting to vote on whether to appeal further to the US Supreme Court. Three board members were absent and the vote was 5-1 to appeal. The attorneys for New Rochelle asked for a stay of Judge Kaufman’s decision again to delay the school transfer plan while they appealed to the US Supreme Court. The motion was quickly denied. The attorneys moved for a stay from the Supreme Court. The request was denied by Justice William Brennan.

(On October 26, 1961, the school board filed its petition in the United States Supreme Court. In the petition the attorneys questioned whether it was a segregation case and whether they had been given a fair trial. On December 11th the Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case.)

Playground at Lincoln Park

School Board Upheaval

There were nine members of the school board. At this time the Mayor of New Rochelle appointed school board members. Mayor Stanley W. Church was the mayor. The school board was divided on many opinions by a 5-4 vote. When the four members were not present the five remaining voted to hire Dr. David G. Salten of Long Beach, LI as Superintendent of Schools, the salary was $27,000 per year. Board members were upset and three quit, including Rukeyser and a 4th who had previously resigned but remained on until a replacement was found. (NY Times, “Four Quit Board at New Rochelle”, April 20, 1962)

Evaluation of Results

According to John Kaplan on page 90 in Civil Rights USA, “many of the problems which had been predicted did not materialize. There was no administrative chaos. Lincoln did not become more racially imbalanced; … Nor were transferring Lincoln students greeted with hostility or treated as those who had unfairly won a special privilege; on the contrary they were received warmly, and every effort was made by both teachers and students to bring them into the life of their new schools.”

John Kaplan writes “a number of observations can be made. Some Lincoln children transferring to schools nearby were stimulated by their new environment. There were those who had always been reluctant to go to the Lincoln school, but who, once admitted to Webster or Mayflower changed their attitude toward school completely. They experienced an increase in motivation and interest which was reflected in their school work. Other students showed improvement in attitude and discipline, but showed no gain in academic performance.”

“The problems in the Roosevelt school, which received the largest numbers of transferees, are a subject of dispute in New Rochelle. Much of the argument centers on the personality and policies of Dr. Barbara Mason, the principal of Roosevelt school. The supporters of Dr. Mason contend that the following comparisons aside from race are a measure of the problems encountered. The average income of the Roosevelt families was approximately $25,000, while that of the transferees was about $4,000. In the great majority of the Roosevelt families both parents were college educated, while high school graduates were rare among the parents of the Lincoln children. The Roosevelt children came from stable homes where divorce was rare, while some 50 percent of the transferees had no male parent living at home. Lastly, while the median IQ of the Roosevelt children was approximately 125, that of their classmates from Lincoln was below 100.” writes John Kaplan

“The Negro leadership of New Rochelle takes issue with these comparisons. They admit that there is a difference between the Roosevelt and the Lincoln children, but say that this difference has been grossly magnified. The Lincoln children may be deprived, they admit, but the children are not that deprived … the income of the Roosevelt parents has been overestimated by one-third and that of the Lincoln parents has been underestimated by one-fourth … the majority of Lincoln parents are high school graduates, and while these critics are vague on the percentage of fatherless children, they assert that it is nowhere near 50 percent. Lastly, they point out that IQ tests are known to discriminate against lower income children by reflecting cultural environment as much as ability.” writes John Kaplan.

Houses in Lincoln School District

Change in 1963

It is early June 1963. Florence D. Shelley, President of the New Rochelle Council of PTAs, writes about the events. “On the evening that the new Board of Education in New Rochelle decided to close the Lincoln School, and demolish it, they had at hand not only the pressure of the Negro people, not only an historic call from the President of the United States that very evening for moral action in Civil Rights, no only the strong urgings of their own moral position … but the “experimental attitude” and leadership of their own Superintendent”. The board voted to close Lincoln school.

It is only two years after the court’s ruling. The school board of 1963 asked Judge Kaufman for permission to assign Negro students to the 11 other elementary schools on a racially balanced basis, rather than have them select schools. It had also asked for permission to provide bus transportation for all students living between one and a half to 10 miles of a school.

The judge granted the board’s request. The Judge thought that this new board was more enlightened. “Judge Kaufman said he was ‘gratified and heartened’ by the ‘wisdom and foresight’ of the board … praised Superintendent Salten as an ‘enlightened’ and nationally recognized educator’.” Judge Kaufman believed the board when they said that “strict compliance with the original decree, now that the Lincoln School is being closed down, will pose a serious threat of de facto racial segregation in those contiguous schools, if the remaining students at Lincoln are permitted to exercise a few choice of school to be attended.” (NY Times “School Plea Won by New Rochelle”, June 25, 1963)

On Monday, June 24th, 1963, the Standard Star had an article on the topic on page 1. The article mentions that the judge allowed the district to change the Lincoln School transfer policy so that Negro students from Lincoln may be assigned other schools. The article said “School administrators will have the right to assign Lincoln students to ‘prevent racial imbalance’ in any of the schools. The reason for the request, according to school counsel Murray Fuerst was “to prevent racial imbalance and provide equality of education for all children”. The school board “obtained permission to modify the modify the method of selection of schools so that it would retain the right of assignment where necessary to carry out the spirit of the Court edict.” wrote Florence D. Shelley.

Lincoln District Policy under Linda Kelly

In the 80s schools were closed due to declining populations of school age children. Racial imbalance was also a factor in the closing of schools. (The minority enrollment at the Stephenson school is 65 of 213 students; at Barnard, 130 of 190; at Mayflower, 148 of 201, and at Roosevelt, 84 of 322., NY Times, “Ruling Awaited on School Reorganization”, Aug. 9, 1981)

In 1997 the district created magnet programs at Barnard, Columbus and Daniel Webster.

In a May 17, 2004 Journal News article titled “Desegregation alive in New Rochelle”, the New Rochelle school district policy regarding the Lincoln district was explained.

The article quotes Linda Kelly, then New Rochelle Superintendent of Schools, “Students in the Lincoln district have a choice of four schools: Davis, Ward, Jefferson and Trinity. They also, as every other person in the school district, may enter the lottery for the two magnet schools: Columbus and Webster.”

Click here to see map of elementary school choices for Lincoln District families

School officials chose not to redraw the lines to eliminate the Lincoln attendance zone because the current plan works, Kelly said. “One of the philosophical underpinnings of the city school district in New Rochelle is our belief in the power of diversity,” Kelly said. “With neighborhood schools, sometimes you might not have a diverse neighborhood.”

Facts and Figures

Now we all benefit from easy access to technology.

Here is a map of the streets in the Lincoln School District.

Click here to open map

These streets are listed in the School Street Directory. Note that on page 1 of the School Street Directory the district indicates that if a junior high school aged child moved into the Lincoln district he is assigned to Albert Leonard Junior High. Otherwise, children attend the junior high school associated with the elementary school. Albert Leonard students come from Davis, Ward and Daniel Webster. Isaac Young students come from Columbus, Jefferson and Trinity.

Click here to see New Rochelle School Street Directory.

I traced the boundaries of the Lincoln School district and ran several demographic reports.

Report 1: Demographic report based on the age of the residents of the Lincoln School District

Report 2: General demographic report on Lincoln School District residents

Demographic programs have data based on the last census. The last census taken was in 2000. Each year experts take the census numbers and extrapolate based on numerous factors. Now the data is nine years old and is getting stale. When the new census is taken later this year and shared, we will have more accurate numbers.

New Rochelle School District Calendar 2009/2010

On the official New Rochelle School District Calendar the Lincoln School District is mentioned on page 4 under “Registration of New Students”. It says “When registering, students residing in the Lincoln District will be assigned a school by the Superintendent of Schools.” Also, the Lincoln School District is mentioned on the map on page 31. It says “Students who reside within the Lincoln district attendance area receive a school building assignment through the office of the Superintendent of Schools.”

Click here to see district calendar.