The City School District of New Rochelle is now following the recommendations made by Talk of the Sound last winter to create a year-long celebration to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Lincoln School Desegregation Case. Whatever else you read of this article please skip to the very bottom and note the brilliantly written 8-Part Series on the Lincoln Case by Karen Hessel.
As Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak recently “neglected” to mention my role in initiating this event and no one on the Board of Education is likely to want to admit it publicly it falls to me to tell readers of my role in bring this effort forward.
In 2006, I read a dissertation written by a teacher in New Rochelle who completed her doctoral work by researching and writing about the Lincoln case. I have had the anniversary marked on my calendar ever since, aware that the administration (not necessarily the Board of Education) would seek to ignore or downplay a significant milestone not only in New Rochelle history but in the history of the civil rights movement in education throughout the United States.
I had the opportunity to discuss the Lincoln 50th Anniversary in September 2009 with Elaine Jones, former president and director and counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She agreed that the New Rochelle Lincoln case could be ranked third on the list of most important cases behind Brown v. Board of Education and the Little Rock Nine case. More convinced than ever of the need to properly commemorate the case, I began researching the case further and eventually brought in another New Rochelle resident to do further research for an article on the history of the case. In January, Talk of the Sound published an 8-Part Series, brilliantly written by Karen Hessel. She and I made two presentations to the Board of Education, first me one week and then Karen at the next meeting. To her credit, Board of Education President Sara Richmond enthusiastically embraced the idea and the rest of the board joined her, overwhelming the rather apparent reluctance of Schools Superintendent Richard Organisciak (although even Organisciak appears to have come around).
In January 2010 Talk of the Sound published an article summarizing our reporting on the case and making a series of recommendation: 49th Anniversary of Lincoln School Desegregation Passes Unnoticed, Advent of 50th Anniversary Dawns: Jan. 24, 1961. The recommendations — which call for very public and lasting memorials to the case — still stand today.
In the following weeks I set up a meeting with Pastor DeQuincy Hentz of Shiloh Baptist Church who was, at time time, also the leaders of the Council of Black Churches in New Rochelle. Pastor Hentz, who is not from New Rochelle, was not aware that the 50th Anniversary of the Lincoln case was coming up but after listening to Karen and I talk about the history and the significance of the case, agreed to bring the matter to the other black churches in New Rochelle which enthusiastically supported making efforts to properly mark the event. I also met with Council Member Richard St. Paul who pledged his support while Karen Hessel met with Council Member James Stowe who offered his support as well. I am happy to say that both Pastor Hentz and Karen Hessel are on the Committee working on the Anniversary events, including the Monday open meeting.
With the ball now rolling, I stepped back from further involvement. This because I wished to see the commemoration go forward and knew that the Board of Education would be sorely tempted to be difficult simply because the idea had come from me. So, I dropped out last spring and things have now progressed to the point that the Board of Education is fully and formally committed to marking the occasion on the scale which it deserves.
Below is a re-print of the summary article published by Talk of the Sound in January 2010:
January 24, 2010 marks the 49th Anniversary of the U.S. Court’s landmark decision in Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education in which Judge Irving Kaufman found that the New Rochelle Board of Education has engaged in “de facto” racial segregation and ordered the desegregation of the Lincoln Elementary School in New Rochelle, NY.
Today is the beginning of the one year period which contains some of the most important dates in the history of New Rochelle, NY and more broadly the national civil rights movement. We got the ball rolling on this with a Eight Part Series in Talk of the Sound (see links below) tracing the history of segregation in New Rochelle up until present day.
This coming May will be the 50th anniversary of the vote on a referendum to address black concerns about New Rochelle’s “Negro School” (Lincoln Elementary) by tearing it down and replacing it with a new building — but keeping the segregation in tact (Lincoln was 94% black). In September is the 50th Anniversary of the protests and sit-ins and arrests which marked the beginning of the school year in 1960. October is the 50th Anniversary of the filing of a federal lawsuit by Paul Zuber (Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Ed.) January 2011 is the 50th Anniversary of the Kaufman ruling, March 2011 is the 50th anniversary of Thurgood Marshall handling the case at the U.S. Court of Appeals (and winning). The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, effectively ending the lawsuit in December 1961.
Major milestones in Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education
- May 1960 – Voters approve a school board referendum to tear down and replace the Lincoln School galvanizing opposition among the black community in New Rochelle
- September 1960 – In an orchestrated series of acts of civil disobedience, New Rochelle parents attempt to register their children at the predominantly white North End schools; parents are arrested when they refuse to leave the Ward Elementary School during a “teach in” protest.
- October 1960 – Paul Zuber, a civil rights lawyer, takes on the parent’s case and files Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education in U.S. Court in Manhattan.
- January 1961 – Judge Irving Kaufman decides for the parents and against the New Rochelle Board of Education, Kaufman finds that the school district has created a “de facto” segregated school through a series of policies designed to gerrymander neighborhood boundaries to keep black students in the school while giving variances to white students to get white students out of the school.
- August 1961 – The U.S. Court of Appeals affirms the lower court ruling in Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education.
- December 1961 – The U.S. the Supreme Court denied certiorari in the case, effectively ending the litigation.
It is our sense at Talk of the Sound that the school district would prefer to let these anniversaries pass unnoticed and forgotten. Perhaps the district is embarrassed. Maybe they should be. Although the BoE has 3 black members today, the ENTIRE central office administration of the school district is white so nothing has changed in in that regard from 1960-61. There is even one school that is 94% latino just as Lincoln was 94% black and that is justified for the exact same reason (it is a “neighborhood school”).
However, we believe the opposite should be the case. New Rochelle should be proud! All sides in the issue were from New Rochelle so rather than be embarrassed about the racists running the district back then they ought to celebrate the brave men, women and children who challenged them — and won. To date, the only commemoration of the transformational events is a plaque on pillar in front of Lincoln Park. This is simply not good enough.
Talk of the Sound contributors intend to spend the coming months advocating for the following:
(1) Formal recognition of the people behind that effort: the parents, the children, the lawyers, the pastors and their congregants who worked together to bring about change in New Rochelle.
(2) The commissioning of a work to be placed in a prominent, central location such as in front of New Rochelle High School or City Hall which also serves as the Central Office for the school district. [our preference is for a 3-dimensional bronze depicting this photo].
(3) Key dates to be formally commemorated over the next 24 months.
(4) A major celebration to be held to unveil the art (or a model if not ready) on the anniversary of the Kaufman ruling on January 24, 1961; given the proximity to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Federal and State holiday this anniversary should then be marked each year thereafter in conjunction with the King holiday.
(5) Incorporate a module into the high school history curriculum based on the the history of Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education; no student should graduate from New Rochelle High School without a clear understanding of the history of this case.
As noted, to mark the beginning of this period, Talk of the Sound has been running an eight-part series, “Lincoln School Desegregation Today”. If you have not been following the series we urge our visitors to read the entire series. 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. In Part VIII, the school board appeals the case repeatedly, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on December 11, 1961 decides for the parents and against the Board of Education.
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
Lincoln School Desegregation Today: Part VIII – Desegregation Today: Part VIII – Counting Seats to Present Day