Our house had a cottonwood tree in the backyard. It bloomed in the excruciating Texas summer, and cotton flew around the house like summer snow. It caked over theentering the house. Some neighbors had water cooler mist. I wouldn’t say I liked those fans and was grateful we couldn’t afford one. It made the whole place feel like a swamp and made everyone feel like they were trying to break the underwater. I can’t afford one.
We were poor, but not in the ways that mattered. No one went hungry. No one was homeless. There were no drugs. No gangs and no neighborhood blight. The front door to our house was never locked. And everybody owned the in. My parents purchased our home in the 1950s, a significant accomplishment for them. When I enrolled in elementary school, all of my teachers were Black, and they preached excellence like a well-rehearsed Sunday sermon. By the , I was a track star in sixth grade, held the first chair in the band, and was among the top five grade earners.
But all of that changed in 1974 when I was in seventh grade. As part of the mandate issued by the U.S. legal segregation in education and laid the groundwork to dismantle segregation in all sorts of other areas, including housing, transportation, voting, employment, and public accommodations.Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, my classmates and I were among the first Dallas students to participate in a new busing program. On May 17, 1954, the Brown case signified a cultural reconstruction project of enormous proportions for our country. It successfully ended
It is viewed as the most significant case of. However, the ruling was marred by violent confrontations, delaying its implementation in some parts of the country for over 20 years. But when the Brown command finally etched itself upon the country, the social stuff of that imprinting behaved in ways other than intended. My fellow students and I were bused to the north side of town to population. While riding through their neighborhood in the big yellow bus that took my neighbors and me out of our community to experience what educational authorities called “excellent education” and then back to our neighborhood to live where no good thing could come from, it occurred to me that something was wrong.
The scene outside my window rolled by in slow motion. The large, lavish houses struck me like a fairy tale. As I took in the palaces ofI passed, a question occurred: “Do I need new dreams?” The experiment only lasted one semester for me. For others, it or two years. My classmates and I were divided into three groups, based on where we lived, and assigned to different trial periods and schools. A seemingly random sampling of all three groups never participated in the busing program. What happened to the data from the experiment is still unclear.
After that trial semester at the predominantly white school, I returned to my neighborhood school, but it had changed. More than half the teachers had been replaced with younger whiteteachers, who seemed to have lost something. The academic program was weak; I went to 10% of my class.
I didn’t return to the running track or the band. I hadn’t been allowed to join the running team of my new school because, though I had been seen as talented in my old school, I was not at my new school. I wasn’t even allowed an opportunity to try out. And though I had been the first chair in the band at my old school, I was relegated to the eighth chair in my new school. So, I stopped doing both activities for the semester I was there. The break proved too disruptive, and I lost interest in theagain. I considered rejoining the track team at my old school, but my confidence had been unsettled, and I decided against it.
Five years after I graduated high school, just a decade after the Brown initiative was enacted in 1974, my mother sold the family home and became the neighborhood crack house. I moved to New next decade but could not find my house. It was simply missing.to attend Columbia University but returned home to visit my old neighbors and see where I grew up. The wretchedness of the block disoriented me. I had nightmares in which I tried to go home for the
My childhood neighborhood was a product of what happened when the 1970s “integration” replaced the 1954 fight for “equality,” which would have been better translated as “equity.” Black Americans, who were prepared to “integrate” into mainstream America, began to move out of Black neighborhoods in the ’70s — and these neighborhoods, as a consequence, began to deteriorate. Black neighborhoods across America were quickly and unexpectedly shifting as the professionals moved from homeowners to renters, from single-family homes to, and from professionals to low-wage earners. By the 1980s, found its way into many Black communities and rendered them utterly incapacitated.