Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Legacy of Brown

BOND: Now, in the years from '54 until today -- the year 2000 -- what does Brown mean today in your estimation?

MARSH: Well, I was in Charlotte over the weekend, and the city of Charlotte had engaged in a massive choice – choose your own school plan. They have spent millions of dollars, and they had a fair planned where the people would shop for schools. They spent four and a half million dollars just for that one event. When the Fourth Circuit came down with the decision reversing the district judge, setting aside this choice plan, saying that the Charlotte schools had not been desegregated and they could not go to a choice plan, they could continue to use race as a factor, everyone was shocked. The school board voted five to four to discontinue the choice plan and go back to the previous plan. So, struggle to implement Brown is still going on. And it's affected the whole community of Charlotte. The superintendent was very upset that the board voted five to four to go back to the old plan and use race. But apparently the new plan would minimize the amount of desegregation. So the struggle to implement Brown and to eradicate the vestiges of slavery is still going on.

BOND: What about here in Virginia?

MARSH: Well, a similar case in Norfolk was lost, and the Norfolk school board was permitted to abandon the desegregation plan. I had a hand in getting – I was the lead council that got the Norfolk schools desegregated. The Supreme Court denied cert of a case that said that once Norfolk achieved unitary status they could go back and basically do what they want to do. So, the Norfolk authorities are basically dismantling the desegregated systems, going back to the segregated system.

BOND: Have they achieved unitary status in Norfolk or in most places that you know of?

MARSH: Well, let's put it this way -- they achieved it for a while because we had each school balanced to the precise mathematical distribution between blacks and whites, each faculty balanced. But over a period of time, it eroded so that now the schools are segregated again.