Panelists take on segregation

by Mark Henle | 11/18/03 6:00am

Much progress has been made since Brown vs. Board of Education toward desegregation, but a lot of work remains, said four panelists convened for Part II of the Diversity Dialogues, "Segregation Now Vs. Segregation Then."

The panel was organized on the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education to study its effects by comparing segregation before and after the issuing of the landmark court decision.

Upperclass Dean Sylvia Langford, who is African-American, described being pelted by ashes and eggs as she participated in a 1960s sit-in to protest segregation.

Langford, who grew up in Chicago but attended college in Nashville, went on to describe a reality of segregation far removed from most Dartmouth students' experiences: a South where blacks sat behind whites on trains and schools were segregated by law.

But she noted that opponents of segregation today face a much more difficult challenge. They are fighting a segregation that is "harder to spot," because it isn't defined by laws but personal prejudice.

Another panelist, Nelson Armstrong '71, described Dartmouth's lack of diversity in the years he attended. When he arrived on campus in 1967, he was "one of only 17 African Americans in the class of 1971" and at times felt alone as one of only a handful of black students.

Professor Andrew Garrod addressed the tension between the idea that minority students should be fully integrated into the Dartmouth population and the idea that they should seek out support by meeting members of their own race.

He told the story of one Native American student who said he would not have survived in his first year at Dartmouth without being able to retreat to Dartmouth's Native American House. Knowing he could return the house the student felt more comfortable exploring the campus at large.

History professor Vern Takeshita spoke about the effects on all races. "Segregation is not only an African-American legacy, but one shared by all non-white people," he said.

He drew attention to the undertakings of Asian people in the fight against segregation. As evidence, he related an 1886 court case brought by an Asian-American in which the Supreme Court ruled to prevent San Francisco from applying one of its segregation laws.

Takeshita also said that the Supreme Court mandated the Brown vs. Board decision be implemented "with all deliberate speed" one year after the initial case.

He hypothesized that while the court's landmark decision laid the groundwork for desegregation, the lethargy with which the court provided for its implementation set a dangerous precedent for slow integration.

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