Today in the Americas, New York City Boycott

Integration 1959In a pre-Brown v. Board of Education America, racial justice in schools were often a problem. In a recent book, “Is This America?” Lawrence, Kansas in the 1960s by Rusty Monhollon, he displays a world I did not ever think about. Much of his book dealt with the beautiful town of Lawrence, Kansas, and the issues of race and classification in America. One would assume, possibly with good reason, that integration in the Midwest (and especially the Kansas that many people have in their heads) would be harder and more violent than in cosmopolitan metropolis’ like New York City. But in 1964 (45 years ago today), 464,362 of the city’s 1 million school children boycotted school today. That this protest followed the March on Washington and the height of the civil rights movement is no coincidence.

Why boycott? Schools in the ghettos of (non-white) New York City, like Harlem and Brooklyn were 90% black and Puerto Rican. TIME magazine puts it bluntly:

With ample evidence that such schools tend to “manufacture” retarded pupils because of overcrowding, poor teaching and lack of cultural stimulus, Negro leaders want compulsory integration with the better and often underused white schools.

The tensions of the time are palpable and exist today. TIME made it a point to tell readers of white fears – such as black and Puerto Rican populations expanding faster than their own populations (soon to be 3 to 1, the magazine stated). In many new books, like Monhollon’s and Rick Perlstein’s equally thrilling Nixonland have stressed the touchiness of “busing” – which was at the heart of this boycott. Plans were even being made to build segregated schools close to one another in order to nix the busing issue. Said disheartened Rabbi Myron Fenster:

What the whites are saying is: If the whole society is rotten, why start with me? I don’t want to take the first step. I want to take the last step.

The importance of this movement toward integration is extremely important in the history of civil rights in America. Tearing down a system where one school 87% white and one 97% black can be only six blocks apart is essential to today’s world. Unfortunately, Rabbi Fenster’s views are predominate from the world I come from. Why me? Why not them? If we learn to ask why, then the answer soon emerges and thanks to boycotts like these across the country, the dream of some kind of equality lives – if not in the hearts of the old, then at least in the minds of the young, who grew exposed to the world these boycott’s fought for.

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~ by Daniel on February 3, 2009.

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