Breaking Away:  A Louisiana Public Square Special Presentation

Would the breakaway City of St. George quash Baton Rouge’s school desegregation progress?

More than fifty years after six black children integrated an all-white elementary school in Louisiana, racial balance in the state’s public school system remains an elusive goal. Critics of efforts to create a breakaway school district in Baton Rouge say the move will only exacerbate a growing racial divide. Proponents of the St. George city incorporation say the measure is necessary to provide quality public education for their children. Louisiana Public Square brings together leaders from both sides of the issue on a special presentation, “Breaking Away”.

Listen to LPB President/CEO Beth Courtney talk about the programs on the Jim Engster Show.

Learn more about the Frontline program at FRONTLINE: Separate and Unequal.

Press Release (pdf)

Additional Resources:

Louisiana’s Desegregation Timeline
Individuals Interviewed/Discussed/Clips

1. Plessy v. Ferguson, 1892

Homer Plessy – Arrested in New Orleans after boarding “whites only” railcar due to being of mixed race; filed suit against arrest
Judge John Howard Ferguson – Original judge in Plessy v. State of Louisiana; ruled against Plessy stating that his 13th and 14th Amendments were not violated and that rail companies had the right to segregate seating

Judge John Marshall Harlan – US Supreme Court Justice who was the sole judge to side with Plessy; stated that “law regards man as man”

PBS - Jim Crow Laws: Plessy v. Ferguson

Cornell Law – Text of Supreme Court Ruling with Opinion and Dissent of Justices

Encyclopedia Britannica – Plessy v. Ferguson

2. A.P. Tureaud, Jr. Attempts to Integrate LSU, 1953

A.P. Tureaud, Jr. – First African-American undergraduate student at LSU
Roy S. Wilson – First African-American admitted to LSU Law School
A.P. Tureaud, Sr. – Civil Rights attorney from New Orleans; filed suit against LSU for its discriminatory admission policy, won suit and was able to enroll his son, A.P. Tureaud, Jr. at university

Louisiana State University – A.P. Tureaud, Jr. Interview Segments

LPB – Journey for Justice: The A.P. Tureaud (Sr.) Story

3. Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education, 1954

Rupert Richardson, Louisiana NAACP
Judge Edwin F. Hunter, US District Judge
J.D. Deblieux, attorney & former state representative (1956-60) – proponent of civil rights for African-Americans despite being white; often the sole legislator at state capitol who spoke out against and voted against segregation in Louisiana
William Shaw, attorney
John Garrett, state representative, Haynesville

PBS – Expanding Civil Rights: Brown v. Board of Education

Cornell Law – Text of Supreme Court Ruling with Opinion of Justices

University of Missouri-Kansas City – The Brown v. Board of Education Trial & Notes

4. Ruby Bridges Integrates New Orleans School, 1960

Ruby Bridges Hall – One of four students who were first African-Americans to integrate New Orleans schools
Maurice “Moon” Landrieu, former New Orleans mayor & state legislator
Risley “ Pappy” Triche, former state representative

KnowLA: Encyclopedia of Louisiana – New Orleans School Crisis (1960) – News Article on Integration in New Orleans with Interviews & Images

Federal Judicial Center – Desegregation of New Orleans Schools

Ruby Bridges: The Story

5. Judges, Louisiana Lawmakers, Politicians Reflect on the Era of Segregation

Risley “Pappy” Triche, former state representative
Rev. T.J. Jemison, Mount Zion First Baptist Church
Judge Revius Ortigue, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice, retired
Judge John Minor Wisdom, US Court of Appeals, 5th District – ruled against Orleans Parish School Board in its attempt to keep schools segregated
A.P. Tureaud, Sr. – see above
J. Skelly Wright, US District Court for Eastern District of Louisiana - ruled against Orleans Parish School Board in its attempt to keep schools segregated

KnowLA: Encyclopedia of Louisiana – Jim Crow / Segregation (1865-1970)

6. Feds Relinquish Control of Baton Rouge Schools, 2003

Willie Johnson, Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce
Judge James Brady, US District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana - oversaw end of EBR schools desegregation case
Jacqueline Mims, EBR School Board President

East Baton Rouge Parish Library - EBR School Desegregation Timeline

Tulane University: Cowen Institute – Louisiana Desegregation Cases: East Baton Rouge

Public Affairs Research Council – EBR Post-Desegregation Study

7. White Flight

Gary Orfield, Harvard Civil Rights Project
John Silber, former Boston school Superintendent
Clayton Wilcox, EBR school Superintendent
Gideon Carter, NAACP attorney

Data Research Center –White Flight: New Orleans – News Article: Migration map shows families leaving East Baton Rouge

We want to know your opinion! Leave your comments in the box below.

A parish-wide school system provides economies of scale and increased specialization. Every child learns better when in a diverse environment. To break down to neighborhood districts would be more expensive for everyone and reduce educational outcomes.

Posted by Zelda  on  07/15  at  10:09 PM

Ms. Pat is correct in stating that the community schools are everywhere not just EBR. Also, she’s 100% correct that we must look at the child holistically. That doesn’t mean our education system has to do it all but it does mean that we have to hold parents accountable. As a teacher, there’s no other solution. Require parents to be accountable.

Posted by Kelly S  on  07/15  at  10:24 PM

I appreciate the coverage on this controversial topic in our city and parish. I hope and pray that civic leaders and citizens on both sides of the issue continue to stay in dialogue with each other to avoid animosity and work together for the benefit of all of our children.

Posted by Mike Cavell  on  07/15  at  10:35 PM

Why was the Better Together group not included in the documentary? I want my address to remain Baton Rouge, not St. George. St. George will need to build a governing entity as well as more schools to accommodate the 17,000+ students that will be moved to the “new” school system. This means more taxes.

Posted by John E Chandler  on  07/15  at  10:38 PM

The show was too short - it was very goo and very informative, moderation was excellent.  Since the discussion was about Frontline - I’ll go ahead and say it was portrayed more in favor of EBR than the St. George movement- which was not so with the “Square” show - which gave both sides equal coverage. I don’t have children in school but I’m very aware of the violence in the EBR public schools, the struggles of both the students & teachers as well as the quality of teaching. I do see that the problems may come from the poorer areas of EBR where children there likely struggle with home life issues and those issues are brought to school. This is the reason St. George is breaking away. I believe people have the right to vote on what they want.  Why EBR has allowed it’s public schools to deteriorate speaks to it’s problems. I am in favor of St. George movement and I will vote for it, if given a chance.

Posted by Jeanie Champagne  on  07/15  at  10:51 PM

In the 90’s and 2000’s, our 2 children attended EBR Parish Schools, private, and parochial schools, graduating from Baton Rouge Magnet High and Tara High.  What we found:

Non-public: The quality of the non-public system is more even.  There are virtually no absolutely horrible teachers, no extremely violent students, no nasty facilities, but also fewer highly qualified, masters’ degree teachers and specialized programs. The facilities are clean albeit usually simple, in adequate repair, and the environments are safe.

Public: The EBR public system has some amazing special programs and highly qualified teachers. It also includes some very substandard facilities, and some students whose behavior would not be tolerated for one single day in the non-public schools. Perhaps worst of all, public schools include a few poorly performing teachers who simply should not be allowed to be around children. 

For us, for a number of years, we found the negatives of the EBR system outweighed the positives when the kids were “too young to stick up for themselves”, so we left the public system.  We know because our first child went to regular public school for first and second grade, in one of the “better” schools. Unlike many parents, we were willing to try public school again later and found it to be adequate.  But we certainly understand parents who decide not to experiment with their children’s education and safety, and come back to public school. 

We were most dismayed with the inability of public school principals to hire and fire——in one case, I guess the straw that broke the camel’s back—- an extremely substandard teacher was “dumped” on our child’s school by the school system. Though we repeatedly attempted to work with the teacher and the principal for months, our child lost an entire year of language and reading instruction at a crucial point.  Years later, we also saw how a regular, non-magnet, non-gifted public school principal—-Warren Drake at Tara High——offered an environment which was among best school environments any of our children experienced.  What did Mr. Drake do—-or was allowed by his superiors to do—- that was different?  Look at it a different way: what do the non-public schools do to keep their desks occupied, that public schools don’t or can’t do?  Some things are:  1) Discarded articles of clothing and litter do not stay on the schoolground for more than a few hours, certainly not for months on end, as they did at the elementary school a few blocks from our home.  2) Teachers must at least understand the curriculum for that grade level, they must not select certain students to pick on as examples (a common practice in the 1920’s and 30’s—-very “old school”), they must speak a reasonable approximation of standard English, and they must come to work on a regular basis.  3) Official attendance or grade records are kept by adult staff, and are never accessed by students. 4) Students who pick fights at school or who have a police record for violence or who carry weapons are not considered individuals that are able to be served by a traditional, “regular” classroom and are not accepted as students in the first place, or are asked to leave the school.  These are problem areas with which public schools continue to struggle, that parents who can afford alternatives refuse to tolerate. 

One of the participants remarked something to the effect that perhaps Woodlawn High would be an B or an A school instead of a C school if all the students in its district went there instead of to a variety of non-public schools.  That might be true, but what in return would Woodlawn High be offering these high-achieving students?  I can guarantee that their parents do not relish paying $5,000 - $12,000 a year PER CHILD on top of yearly property taxes to support public schools——to educate their children.  That hurts. 

So if EBR Public Schools would like to hang onto some of these high-performing, high-socioeconomic students (for lack of a better description), it needs to start doing this from the beginning, from kindergarten and grade school.  Perhaps it needs to better examine what it is offering with a more unemotional, clearer eye.

Though my children are grown and gone, it would please me greatly if the St. George effort resulted in better public schools for every child in the parish, not just those who can fit into some special program like magnet or gifted or arts.
I don’t really care if it’s via EBR Parish Schools, or the proposed St. George public schools.  Just get it done—-because the fellow who said near the end of the segment, and I paraphrase, “people are leaving because of substandard schools” is correct.  Those who can, vote with their feet. 

We want them to vote to move to our area, not away from it.

Thank you for addressing this issue,

Miriam Davey

Posted by Miriam Davey  on  07/16  at  09:22 AM

I hated this show.  About 12 guests, in 30 or fewer minutes, gives at most 2.5 minutes per guest, except Mr. Browning who slow-spoke twice.  No time for any real conversation or give and take, just “reaction” to the Frontline piece (no matter what question they were asked).  When Ms. Sanford asked what the St. George people thought about the admitted fact that their school system would be whiter, they got away with saying they never intended that it was just the fact that they drew a map, and that’s that, so who cares?  Maybe whittling it down to 4 guests would have given the moderator the opportunity to actually moderate.

Posted by Marcia M  on  07/16  at  02:37 PM

I tried to keep my piece short, but after reading other comments from both viewpoints, I want to add:  The subject is a very touchy, controversial & emotional one because it touches so many areas of all our lives.  But, I do believe the St. George movement is being unfairly portrayed and used as something that it is not.  And, I wonder why the proponents of the EBR- find it necessary to do that?  Why not accept what St. George wants and be done with it, rather than making up falsehoods because of the proven shortcomings of the EBR public school system.  Everyone already knows that when mudslinging occurs or name calling, it is because the one opponent has nothing useful, effective or productive to add.  And, I will add, that when accusations occur (as in the school system cheating accusation), there is always—- always a component of truth to it.

The Frontline piece was very one sided.  Anyone and everyone has a right to make decisions for their own lives without being ridiculed and called a racist.  Human nature is such that the more you cram something down someone’s throat, the more they will ‘break away”.  Just as the other break-aways - Zachary, Central or Baker—St. George will happen, maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but sooner or later, it will happen.  Accept it.

The arguments in the Frontline piece, the “square” show or the comments-  from the EBR proponents don’t make a whole lot of sense- when broken down:

EBR proponents state that:: “a parish-wide school system provides economies of scale & increased specialization” - IMO the problems of the EBR override any specialization which are offered to only a few and the “economies of scale”  are in place now and not being utilized - to clean it up.  For the majority of the students in the EBR, educational outcomes have long been reduced and will worsen because those in charge either do not know how or choose not to “straighten up” the system.

Why do EBR proponents state:  “require parents to be accountable” -  why state we ‘should’ hold parents accountable - shouldn’t this already be in place?  Should not all areas of every child in the city already have a balanced life and “must look at them holistically”—so why is this not being done?  It is simply not being done.  A better question is:  Why start now?  Is it because of the St. George movement and it sounds good.  And, according to the St. George group, that is exactly what they are striving for—a more holistic approach to educating and raising their children.

“this means more taxes (for St. George)” - perhaps those wishing to breakaway do not see that as a reason to remain in EBR and perhaps St. George people feel it would be money well spent, but that is only speculation.  As far as EBR, expecting a group of people to stay, rather than “break away” because your taxes would rise, is just not a good enough argument.  I do not believe there are any hard #‘s published so far and that would not be possible, anyway, at this point - it could only be speculated on - by either side.

I believe Miriam Davey gave a very thorough overview and I appreciated reading a comment from someone who has experienced first hand the issues (and problems)  that are at the heart of the reason for the St. George “breakaway”—what stood out was “voting with your feet” made perfect sense to me.  I’ve lived in Baton Rouge for 12 years.  Where we lived when my children were in school could easily be compared to EBR and likely schools all over the country (from Frontline).  When I disenrolled my son from public schools, it was because everything was being stolen from this desk, his locker and even his backpack- right off his back - that was the straw.  I enrolled him into a Lutheran school and never fretted about the cost, it was worth it.  That was in 1994.  My personal experience and conclusion can only be that, here it is 20 years later—with no changes.  I’m sure the public school officials we moved out of wanted ‘holistic’ approaches for their kids, as well. 

I also found Miriam Davey’s comment to be spot on when it comes to: “Teachers must at least understand the curriculum and be able to reasonably speak the English language” - where I disagree here is that I believe “reasonably” is not acceptable.  I believe teachers must be able to speak, intelligently, the English language.  If you are a teacher, why would you not be able to do that?  If you are school officials, why would you not require that from your teachers, and for your students?

Lastly, the amount of time given to this controversial topic showed everyone that PBS does not want to touch it much, but just a little—- just give it a smidgen of time—but PBS was on board showing the one-sided documentary put on by Frontline.  Have to ask:  Could this have any effect on PBS’s bottom line?  And since it is a hot button, why not have a black person and a white person moderate (since that is already in place on some shows)—- since obviously, this is what is being portrayed as the bottom line for the St. George movement.

Posted by Jeanie Champagne  on  07/17  at  01:00 PM

The problem with the EBR school system is the school grading system,which has caused children who do not make passing grades in reality,to get passed through for the sake of a school getting a good “grade”. I used to live by LaBelaire elem.,I befriended many of the children who walked to and from school. I saw their test papers,it was atrocious how many passing grades were given when I saw mostly wrong answers.
I also agree that many parents are not involved with their childrens learning process,but,we have babies having babies now and most of the parents were the product of this faulty system.
The absence of corporal punishment has hurt our schools in my opinion,the discipline problem now is a joke. I was scared of getting paddled. My dad taught for 30 yrs,he used a paddle often. Grown men often tell him his firm discipline turned their lives around,got them on the right track. Now the adults want to sue a teacher for reprimanding their child.
I think we should go back fifty years and adopt some of ways things were taught then. Give the teachers back the right to teach.

Posted by Joan m.  on  07/20  at  05:24 PM

regarding St. George. I am a resident and I will vote no. I think it is a group of power hungry fanatics who want to break away so they can run their affluent section of town for their own profit. and I again, say profit and power is their only motive. The school argument is clearly a smoke screen for their tainted motives. What on earth does education have to do with creating a new city???????

Posted by Daryl  on  07/21  at  09:10 AM

Is this why City of central incorporated - to have its own school district?

Posted by Arnie  on  07/21  at  01:51 PM

Nice.. I think it’s a right strategy.
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Posted by mary  on  10/05  at  03:01 AM
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