One can't imagine the fear in the hearts of the parents of those nine black students who walked past shouting placard-carrying mobs as they entered Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Each day, they were greeted with angry shouts of "Two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate." In some rural and urban areas, during the school desegregation era, parents escorted their 5 and 6-year-old children past crowds shouting threats and screaming racial epithets. Often there were Ku Klux Klan marches and cross burnings. Much of this protest was in the South, but Northern cities were by no means exempt from the turmoil and violence of school desegregation.
Most of the parents and civil rights leaders whose sacrifices and courage made today's educational opportunities possible are no longer with us. My question is: If they could know what many of today's black youngsters have done with the fruits of their sacrifice, would they be proud? Most schools identified as "persistently dangerous" are predominantly black schools. To have a modicum of safety, many schools are equipped with walk-through metal detectors, security cameras and conveyor belt X-ray machines that scan book bags and purses. Nationally, the black four-year high-school graduation rate is 52 percent. In some cities, such as Detroit and Philadelphia, it's considerably lower -- 20 percent and 24 percent, respectively. In Rochester, N.Y., it's 9 percent.
What black politicians, parents, teachers and students have created is nothing less than a gross betrayal and squandering of the struggle paid in blood, sweat and tears by previous generations to make possible the educational opportunities that were denied to blacks for so long.
Born in 1936, I've lived during some of our racially discriminatory history. I recall being chased out of Fishtown and Grays Ferry, two predominantly Irish Philadelphia neighborhoods, with my cousin in the 1940s and not stopping until we reached a predominantly black North Philly or South Philly neighborhood. Today that might be different. A black person seeking safety might run from a black neighborhood to a white neighborhood.