WXXI AM News

Segregated Schools

Segregation has become a charged national issue once again, due to the political scuffle between former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris. Biden was one of many lawmakers who opposed busing as a way to help integrate America’s schools, following the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Today, our country remains largely segregated, and northeast cities like Rochester are especially segregated. What could have prevented that? What might change it now? Our guests discuss both the history and the future:

  • Bill Cala, former superintendent of the Rochester City School District
  • Paul Hypolite, political strategist
  • Eamonn Scanlon, education and policy analyst for The Children’s Agenda

Carlotta Walls LaNier was 14 years old when she and eight other African American students walked through the doors of the formerly all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The year was 1957 and the move was a test of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. Walls LaNier graduated from Central High after surviving verbal and physical attacks and a bombing of her home. 

She will be in Rochester next week as a guest of the YWCA for its Empowering Women Luncheon, but first, she joins us on Connections to discuss school desegregation and her place in history. Our guests:

In 1943, students of Mexican descent were required to enroll in separate schools from white children. In 1944, when Sylvia Mendez was in third grade, she and her brothers were denied access to 17th Street School, the “white school,” near their Orange County home. They were told they were “too dark.” Her lighter-skinned cousins were told they would be allowed to attend. Sylvia was thrust into the civil rights movement, and has become an iconic figure.

A new play called Separate Is Never Equal is based on the book that tells her story, and it will be performed in Rochester this weekend. We talk to Sylvia, as part of our panel:

  • Sylvia Mendez, civil rights activist
  • Annette Ramos, founder and executive director of the Rochester Latino Theatre Company, and co-writer of Separate Is Never Equal
  • Don Bartalo, director and co-writer of Separate Is Never Equal
  • Jose Cruz, member of the Rochester City School Board

Thomas B. Fordham Institute

In this Q&A interview, Michael Petrilli, Executive Vice President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and author of  The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent's Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools, talks with WXXI's Hélène Biandudi Hofer about the case for diverse schools in the US today. Petrilli says the fight for integrated schools has in some ways lost its salience to many people. He says surveys show the preference for and attachment to neighborhood schools seems to be of greater importance. But he adds the case for diverse schools is strong - in particular for low income and minority students.


Part Three of the Series, "Rochester Remembers the Dream."

All this week, WXXI News presents a five part series called "50 Years Later: Rochester Remembers the Dream," to coincide with the anniversary of the historic March on Washington. In Part 3 of our series, WXXI's Hélène Biandudi Hofer reports on the decline of one of the major efforts of the civil rights movement - racially diverse schools. She looks at the current state of a Rochester-based school desegregation program that began in the '60s.