Re-Segregation In Omaha?

The New York Times had an article yesterday on controversial proposal to reorganize the Omaha school district, “Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska.”

Instigated by Ernie Chambers, the longest serving member of Nebraska’s unicameral legislature and once described as the “angriest black man in Nebraska” (a friend described him to me as “the Louis Farrakhan of the midwest”), the new measure, as related in the NYT,

calls for dividing the Omaha public schools into three racially identifiable districts, one largely black, one white and one mostly Hispanic.

The law, which opponents are calling state-sponsored segregation, has thrown Nebraska into an uproar, prompting fierce debate about the value of integration versus what Mr. Chambers calls a desire by blacks to control a school district in which their children are a majority.

Civil rights scholars call the legislation the most blatant recent effort in the nation to create segregated school systems or, as in Omaha, to resegregate districts that had been integrated by court order. Omaha ran a mandatory busing program from 1976 to 1999.

For a deeper, more nuanced analysis of this issue, read this thoughtful blog posting by Geitner Simmons, the editorial page editor of the Omaha World Telegram, which quotes from some World Telegram editorials. An editorial that ran last Thursday, for example, noted:

Chambers said that people misunderstood his original wording, which directed that the new districts be aligned with the students’ “community of interest.” [The Legislature later voted to remove term from the legislation, but only days after it had been originally approved. — GS]

But if any member of the Legislature is known for his extraordinary precision of language, it is, of course, Ernie Chambers.

No, the meaning of his words, like the meaning of his intention behind his amendment, was clear. He wants to encourage racial and ethnic balkanization. He wants to dwell on racial alienation and fixate the minds of fellow African-Americans on it, rather than build bridges across the racial divide. Such has been the theme throughout his career in public life.

To get a complete picture of this issue, however, you really need to read Mr. Simmons’s entire post. Race, it turns out, was not the only issue involved. There were arguments both in favor of and opposed to the new proposal that had nothing to do with race, and thus proponents and opponents could not be identified by race. As the NYT article pointed out, some black leaders in Omaha are opposed.

“This is a disaster,” said Ben Gray, a television news producer and co-chairman of the African-American Achievement Council, a group of volunteers who mentor black students. “Throughout our time in America, we’ve had people who continuously fought for equality, and from Brown vs. Board of Education, we know that separate is not equal. We cannot go back to segregating our schools.”

I hesitate to state a firm opinion here because there are so many local, non-racial considerations involved. Although I don’t hesitate to say that I find the World Telegram editorials quoted by Simmons, and the integrationist values to which they appeal, to be appealingly powerful and impressive (and quite similar to the anti-segregation slant of the NYT news article), based on the material cited here I’m reluctant to jump on this particular pro-integration bandwagon.

My advice (not that anyone, as usual, asked) is that the question of whether the Omaha school district should be unified or somehow divided should be decided (like just about everything else, in my opinon), without regard to race. That is, if smaller, decentralized school district organization makes sense on educational or fiscal or other grounds, it should not be opposed simply because that might result in districts that are “racially identifiable,” and I say that even though apparent racial rabble-rousers like Ernie Chambers support such an outcome for racial reasons. On the other hand, a legislative intent to create “segregated” districts presumably would (and certainly should) be unconstitutional. As I said, it’s complicated.

Busing, after all, was defended with the same integrationist rhetoric that is so appealing here, and it was a disaster.

Say What? (7)

  1. Anita April 19, 2006 at 9:14 am | | Reply

    “a desire by blacks to control a school district in which their children are a majority”

    This statement says so much about what blacks want, but can’t get. We are a minority and becoming more of a minority in regard to other groups. We can create institutions for us only, but they have to be private institutions. The government should not be paying for any group to artificially segregate itself. If black people want all black schools, we should create them with out own money. Muslims have all muslim schools. There are some things in life that can’t be changed and that is the fact that in the US most people are not black.

  2. Toni Heard April 19, 2006 at 9:42 am | | Reply

    How could Nebraska do this? It is putting everything that has been put forward for intergration on the back burner. I don’t see how a black school will differ from a white school. We are all the same underneath the skin, so why is the skin or the color the reason for the segregation. In Millard and the other school districts they have new laptops for their students. In OPS we never had that. WHY????????????

  3. Cheryl April 20, 2006 at 4:29 pm | | Reply

    Brown vs. Board debate over separate but equal was determined by a judicial trial with layers far more astute than the Senator Chambers and his cohorts. It doesn’t work! Following this logic, if segregation is empowerment why stop at schools? Let’s bring back all of Jim Crow complete with separate water fountains. Sounds STUPID ? Yes, it was then and it is just as STUPID now as it ever was. I’m certain the honorable Justice Marshall would be at 25000 revolutions per nanosecond if he could witness to this madness. How pathetic that human beings can’t move beyond the color of our skins.

  4. John Wilson April 21, 2006 at 8:14 am | | Reply

    I do not believe in seperate but equal. Bottom line we are all of one people. But, if Senator Chambers is trying to control what is being taught in an already racially divided school system I see no problem. And bussing is definitely not the solution now…riding a buss to a school an hour out of your way to only be ridiculed and made to feel lower than you are because you are not from a particular neighborhood…come on what sense does that make.

  5. Brian April 21, 2006 at 11:25 am | | Reply

    I think that this proposal to re-segregate the school systems will never work, but it is bringing light to the subject. which may bring about a reasonable solution. Thank you Ernie Chambers for throwing a match in a powder keg that needed to be lit.

  6. bob May 31, 2006 at 3:48 pm | | Reply

    i believe people are reacting to the situation in omaha without knowing the facts, understanding the situation and too often using a “feel good” filter to respond with their thoughts. omaha schools are becoming more segregated under the current plan. throughout the history of US race relations integration works for a while but after a while the situation polarizes into the same geographic reality which integration was supposed to rectify. who believes black children can not be educated unless they are sitting next to white children in a classroom? who thinks it is segregation when white people control their own districts and the districts which minorities live in? what is wrong with black people having control over the education of their own children. the proposed plan still contains the provision that any child can attend any school in nebraska which they choose. however, the city/state will not provide transportation to any school (this is the same as the current plan). there is no forced segregation in omaha only de facto segregation and this plan aims to get to the real goal of schools, giving our children a better education.

  7. Donald Brewer May 3, 2007 at 5:10 pm | | Reply

    Hi, I hope this gets to Ernie Chambers our City Council Member in Omaha Nebraska… I would like your email address Mr. Chambers, I would like to send you a essay I just finished writing at the public library, most of it is in my own words. The title is “What is the definition of a Cheerful Person.” Please get back with me as soon as possible. Or you can call me at home too; I live in Omaha, my phone number is 553-4364.. I’m usually home in the evenings. I don’t go anywhere anymore. I’m trying to come with some creative solutions to end all of this aggressiveness, conflict and strife across the globe and beyond! Thank – You very much.. Respectfully Yours, Donald A Brewer

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