Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Academic Tracking in Memphis Schools

BOND: This series we're doing on black leadership, one of our launching pads for discussion is the Brown v. Board of Education suit in 1954, and obviously you were far from being thought of when it was decided, so you can't answer the question we ask most people, "What did it mean to you?" I wonder, if you have some sense of what it meant to you when you were able to understand that it had happened and were able to say, "Gee, because of this, this happened." Do you have any sense of that?

HALL: I learned about it very specifically with knowing that it overturned the Plessy vs. Ferguson case. I learned about it, say, my eleventh grade year of high school because I was taking an AP history course. And I must say, I was - like, "I don't think things have changed that much."

BOND: At the same time, here you are at the suburban school…

HALL: And let me explain why I say that.

BOND: Okay.

HALL: Because in this suburban school, we're still extremely segregated. You know, it was an optional school, so the class structure was like a pyramid, meaning, at the top—it was basically divided into levels, level one through six. At the bottom level, you had mostly, predominantly black students who have been bussed from other neighborhoods that were called New Chicago Park and Douglas, and these neighborhoods were, you know, working class or impoverished neighborhoods. So at the bottom, you had all these black kids that had been bussed, and then above that maybe you had black and a sprinkle of Mexican kids, then a bit above that mostly black kids—a couple of white kids. And as the pyramid went up, up, up to the top, the gradation of color got paler, meaning at the top, mostly white students in these AP classes, these college prep classes, and two or three black kids, me being one of the two or three, or four or five. So it's almost like, yes, Brown v. Board of Education created opportunities for people and separate but equal doesn't truly exist. You have to integrate these schools, but it's so funny that within the school system it was still segregated, in a way, internally, and then I would say Memphis specifically, in 1973 when they started the bussing, a slew of white parents took their children out of the school system and created their own private school system.