Hughes, Arkansas, the second-largest town in St. Francis County, has by all accounts been a resilient town. It was the home or birthplace of many great blues musicians, including Johnny Shines. It survived the Flood of 1937, an event so severe that it sticks in the memory of the area, and it has survived fires and the decline of agriculture. But it could not survive the decision of the Arkansas State Department of Education last summer to dissolve its school district and forcibly consolidate it with West Memphis, over 26 miles away on poor, two-lane highways. Hughes is merely the latest town to be victimized by a vicious state law that ought to be repealed, which requires the dissolving and merging of school districts whenever a school district falls below 350 students. The law makes no provisions for the wishes of the town’s residents or the students, either with regard to keeping the local school district open, nor with what district they would prefer to attend if their district must be closed. Nor does the law require the receiving district to keep local schools open, even when students would otherwise have to travel long distances, such as the 50-mile roundtrip per day that Hughes students now face, unless their parents decide to relocate to West Memphis, which is why this law is a town-killer. Hughes has lost an estimated 400 residents since 2010, and doubtless are losing many more by the day, largely because of the school situation. The local shopping center, which contained the town’s only food store, is now completely abandoned. Downtown looks even worse, with many old, decrepit and abandoned buildings. Hughes High School is abandoned, including the football field that was renamed for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn with such fanfare just two years ago. And even more shocking is the ruins of Mildred Jackson Elementary School, the campus of what was once the Black high school in Hughes. Not only is it abandoned, but in ruins, as part of the building has collapsed, likely from fire after it was abandoned. It is clear that the building has been vandalized and broken into. Not that the school situation is the cause of everything that has happened in Hughes. There is little industry there, and St. Francis County is not a rich county. Agriculture is not what is was, opportunity is limited, and close proximity to West Memphis and Memphis has encouraged many young people to move away. But the close proximity to Memphis could have been an asset rather than a curse. With proper planning, a better road link to Memphis, and a local school system, Hughes could conceivably have become a bedroom community for those who work in Memphis. It has many historic buildings and homes. But first, the draconian law that caused this kind of destruction needs to be repealed. Local communities that want to retain their own school districts should be allowed to do so. And in areas like many counties in Eastern Arkansas, where declining populations are wreaking havoc on local school districts, the state ought to consider the formation of county-based school systems, such as those in Tennessee and Mississippi, which would allow local high school like the one in Hughes to remain open. Without schools, no town can ever be renewed.
When I got up early for breakfast on Grambling’s Homecoming Day, the weather was grey, but it wasn’t raining, so I was hopeful as I went to Lea’s of LeCompte in Monroe for breakfast. But no sooner had I left Monroe headed toward Ruston than the rains came down fiercely, and it was a cold and miserable rain at that. Even though I made my way to the area of Grambling where the parade was to begin, I could not find any place to park, and the rains were coming down so heavily that I decided to forego the parade and head to the Lincoln Parish Library in Ruston instead to do some historical research. About noon or so, I left the library, but the rains were continuing, so I headed over to Johnny’s Pizza House on Cooktown Road for a pizza buffet lunch. After that, it was still raining, and evident that the storms were not going to let up enough to let me attend the football game. I had no umbrella, no raincoat and no poncho. So I headed back to West Monroe, visiting the antique malls along Trenton Street, but really not finding much of anything of value. At dinner time, I headed to the Waterfront Grill, my favorite restaurant in Monroe, for a shrimp dinner, and then headed back over to Grambling to briefly hang out with my friend Dr. Reginald Owens, a journalism professor on the faculty at Louisiana Tech. But the rainy day had also been election day, so he had to go and comfort his cousin, who had lost his campaign for the Lincoln Parish Police Jury. Even worse, David Vitter had won the primary for governor, and was attacking his opponent on television as a proxy for Barack Obama. Altogether, it was a thoroughly depressing day.
During the tailgating day at the Southern Heritage Classic, the ultimate destination is the official City of Memphis party sponsored by Coors Memphis, on what is roughly the site of the old Tim McCarver Stadium. The event is technically private and invitation only, but fortunately, I have never had a problem getting inside. There’s always an appearance by Mayor A. C. Wharton, and other politicians, and a big stage with plenty of live blues and soul. This year the featured band was John Williams and the A440 Band, playing lots of great blues and soul for the crowd, and Coors had set up some really cool portable bars complete with upstairs lounges with couches and an awesome view of the entire Fairgrounds. Great food, drink, music and weather- you couldn’t ask for a better time.
Back in the early 1970’s, Shelby County formed their own housing authority and built a housing project called Horton Gardens, at the dead-end of Horton Road near Northaven. In 2009, ignoring Federal laws and housing policy, they evicted the remaining residents and abandoned the complex altogether.
The internet is full of blogs that offer pictures of abandoned sites, buildings and whole towns. Much of it is intended to titillate the viewers. But I posted these pictures I took at Horton Gardens in the hopes that you who see this will get mad. I want you to get mad that in a city with as much of a homeless problem as Memphis, our elected officials saw fit to abandon this complex that probably could house a couple of hundred people. I want you to get mad that these sturdy, well-built apartments were allowed to rot and be burned by vandals. I want you to get mad at the complete waste of taxpayers’ money, which was used to build this complex in the hopes that it would offer a solution to very real housing problems in our community. I want you to get mad that funds were available for rehabilitation of these units, but that Shelby County chose to abandon them anyway, and misused the funds according to a government audit. I want you to get mad that they left the personal financial information of the former tenants strewn about the complex at one point. I want you to get mad that the complex has apparently been sold twice at auction since its abandonment, yet there has been no effort at rehabilitation or replacement. Yes, I want you to get mad, because unless you are mad, nothing in our community will ever change. Horton Gardens, as it is in 2015, is an example of everything that is wrong with Memphis and Shelby County. And it will never get any better until you are mad enough to vote the traditional leaders out and select new ones.
A few days after the Tate Street Block Party, the anti-violence group Freedom From Unnecessary Negatives (FFUN) sponsored a youth rally at Foote Homes, the only remaining public housing project in Memphis. Toys were distributed to the younger children, hot dogs and chips were given out, and horseback rides were given to young people. A DJ provided the music for the occasion, and of course some politicians showed up as well.
Dear Governor Jindal, you are quoted this week complaining about the emphasis minorities place upon their background and heritage. You decry their refusal to assimilate into some “American” culture that you assume exists. To put this issue in proper perspective, it is important to go back and look at American history from a time long before you were here, and long before your ancestors had immigrated to America.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, the southern states quickly set about enacting laws that were called “Black Codes.” These laws made a distinction between whites and Blacks, and set up a standard of second-class citizenship for Black people. The passage of these laws helped bring about a period of so-called “Radical” Reconstruction, where, for a brief period of time, Black people were permitted to vote and hold office. But even then, most of the Reconstruction governments authorized separate and segregated education at primary, secondary and college levels. After the era of so-called Redemption, Blacks were summarily stripped of their right to vote, and then harsh laws requiring separation and segregation of the races were enacted in all Southern states, and by the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, these laws were expanding to many northern and western cities and states. Clearly the white majority in America did NOT want Black people to be assimilated into American culture, because in reality, assimilation is a two-way street, and they rightly understood that elements of Black culture would influence whites as much as white culture would influence Blacks.
Nor was the desire to prevent assimilation restricted to Black people. Many businesses in northern cities denied service or employment to the Irish or Italians. These communities were often viewed with suspicion because of their extreme poverty, because they came to America in large numbers, and because they tended to be Roman Catholic in their religious orientation. Laws were passed in the 19th Century to forbid immigration by Chinese people altogether, presumably because, once again, the culture of Asian people was thought to be “foreign” to America and its form of government.
America also denied the chance of assimilation to the native peoples whose land this country was founded on. Despite a long history of self-government, the native tribes were forcibly removed from the South and restricted to reservations in Oklahoma or other western states.
As for African-Americans, by the time laws requiring segregation and separation were dismantled, bitterness and disillusionment had already set in. Black people had largely grown up in segregated, all-Black environments, and many of the unpleasant incidents of the 1960’s only reinforced their discomfort with attempting to blend into mainstream society. And for the last 30 to 40 years, incidents continue to occur which remind Black people that they are really not welcome in America, and that they are not merely separate by choice, but by design of those who have engineered America’s social and economic structure.
In closing, let me point out, Governor, that nowhere in your comments did you address the considerable amount of damage done by white people who insist on holding on to their “heritage.” Many conservative organizations openly state that America’s heritage is a legacy of white, Anglo-Saxon protestants, and that this legacy is under attack from “diversity” and “multi-culturalism.” If it is necessary that all other races give up their pride of race and heritage in order to be “good Americans”, should not white people have to do the same? And if not, why not? Such a double standard is indeed a glaring proof of the racial hypocrisy that has always been a part of the United States.
The judge’s decision has been rendered in the contentious “stop-and-frisk” case in New York City, but a quote from Judge Shira A. Scheindlin’s decision in the case raised my eyebrows, because, taken at face value, it could possibly have a bearing on whether municipal schools can open next year in Shelby County. Here is the quote:
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees to every
person the equal protection of the laws. It prohibits intentional discrimination based on race.
Intentional discrimination can be proved in several ways, two of which are relevant here. A
plaintiff can show: (1) that a facially neutral law or policy has been applied in an intentionally
discriminatory manner; or (2) that a law or policy expressly classifies persons on the basis of
race, and that the classification does not survive strict scrutiny. Because there is rarely direct
proof of discriminatory intent, circumstantial evidence of such intent is permitted. “The impact
of the official action — whether it bears more heavily on one race than another — may provide
an important starting point.”
In other words, if I read Judge Scheindlin right, when a “facially neutral” law or policy has been applied in an intentionally discriminatory manner, it is illegal and unconstitutional. And the only proof needed of discriminatory intent is that the “impact” of the official action bears more heavily on one race than another. So the “facially neutral” municipal schools law in Tennessee may be found to have been applied in a biased way if it results in Black students being isolated in an all-Black school district. And the plaintiffs would need prove only that the municipal district adversely impacted Black students in Shelby County more than whites.
Does the formation of municipal schools in Shelby County violate Federal court orders pertaining to the rights of Black children to attend integrated schools? It certainly seems to, based on this quote from the Supreme Court’s holding in Cooper vs. Aaron (1958): In short, the constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this Court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted “ingeniously or ingenuously.” Smith v. Texas, 311 U. S. 128, 311 U. S. 132.
Now it is obvious that the formation of municipal school districts is not a DIRECT attempt at nullifying Brown vs. Board of Education. But it is the second phrase that is more concerning- “nor nullified INDIRECTLY by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted “ingeniously or ingenuously.” In other words, in the light of Cooper vs. Aaron, actions that would ordinarily be perfectly lawful and constitutional are not if they result in school segregation. And the courts in my opinion cannot merely look at how diverse the new municipal districts would be. By that standard, Millington, Bartlett and Germantown would likely pass constitutional muster, although I still am not sure how many of those communities’ current Black students actually reside in those towns. Arlington, Lakeland and Collierville will likely run into problems on the diversity issue within their own districts.
But courts in the past have also looked at the effect the new districts would have on the district that is being left behind, namely the Shelby County Schools. And nobody has denied that the net effect of the new districts will be to leave SCS almost entirely Black and Hispanic, which is a clear violation of those children’s rights under Brown vs. Board and related cases, including Northcross vs. Memphis Board of Education. The municipal district supporters claim their motives have nothing to do with race, and if that indeed is the case, they should be prepared to prove it in court, not only by agreeing to allow all students who currently attend suburban schools to continue to do so, but also by agreeing to allow a certain number of inner city Memphis children into the new districts. Both would greatly increase the likelihood of Federal court approval for the municipal districts. But I doubt that suburban residents will support either, particularly when a certain Arlington municipal booster is making threats to limit enrollment to Arlington residents only unless their district is given the school buildings for free.
http://thefrontlinemusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/008-memphis-united1-300x224.jpg 300w, http://thefrontlinemusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/008-memphis-united1-1024x768.jpg 1024w, http://thefrontlinemusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/008-memphis-united1-400x300.jpg 400w, http://thefrontlinemusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/008-memphis-united1-800x600.jpg 800w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> At the well-meaning Heart of Memphis rally Saturday morning, speaker after speaker praised those of us who had braved the weather to show a different set of values than the Ku Klux Klan. “You are the true heart of Memphis,” was said more than once. Unfortunately it was all wishful thinking, and on Monday, the county commission meeting revealed the bitter truth about the real “heart of Memphis.” After an observer pleaded for a referendum in the county to abolish the residency requirement for all public school teachers, Commissioner Walter Bailey said that would allow outsiders to “absorb” jobs that should go to county residents. Commissioner Terry Roland saw fit at that point to remind his colleagues that he can go to the Republican-controlled state legislature and get the residency requirement overturned. That was followed by Commissioner Henri Brooks complaining that she had been disrespected by her white colleagues on the Commission, comparing their actions to the Ku Klux Klan. So, it is past time that we halt any absurd notions about peace, love or brotherhood being the true heart of Memphis. If it were, we would elect leaders who exemplify those values in their public lives. It is no accident that the KKK repeatedly comes to Memphis to stage rallies. They know fertile ground when they see it.