63 years after Brown v. Board, ‘white flight’ weighs on local family’s school choice

Today, Bibb County private schools are generally 5 percent or fewer African-American, in a community that’s roughly 67 percent black, according to the last census / Ashley Kirklen (WGXA)

MACON, On this 63rd anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the remnants of segregation and deep-seeded racism in America still linger within our education system.

Across the country tonight parents will talk around their dinner tables, attend town hall meetings and petition their local politicians about the hotly-debated topic of school-choice.

A common debate is that school choice isn’t a choice for many parents of minority students. Some parents agonize about how to approach their own child’s education, while thinking of how it’ll affect someone else’s child.

"As a parent, this is the hardest thing that I've had to wrestle through is school," said Christy Freeman, a mother of five children ranging in age from 2 to 10. "I feel a lot of guilt."

Freeman's two oldest children attend the Academy for Classical Education, better known as ACE, in Macon.

"We love it. Our kids are doing great, they're learning Latin, the arts program is great. It's just such a great school," she said. "My concern is that by having our kids at ACE, we are contributing to the problem."

Freeman and her husband go back and forth about whether or not to send their kids back to public school so they don't contribute to "white flight."

"It is not the case that every decision to send a child to a private school is rooted in racial animus," said Dr. Thomas Ellington, a political science professor at Wesleyan College in Macon. "It is the case that having those schools in the position they are right now, makes it easier to act on racial animus."

Ellington says Macon’s not alone in the struggle of school choice and public vs. private or charter schools being closely tied to socio-economic status and race. He says the growth in popularity of private education in America was a direct result of desegregation.

"White people didn't want to go to school with black people and they'll deny it and say that's not the reason but that was obviously the reason" said Freeman, who grew up in Texas.

"This area, during that period from roughly 1960 and 1972, if there's a school that was founded during that time, you know why it was founded," Ellington said. "Interestingly, to this day, while you don't see any of those schools enforce that same policy of being all white, the demographic of schools founded during that time are remarkably different than both the public and private schools formed at other times, either before or after."

Within that 12-year time period, prominent schools like Stratford Academy (1960), Tattnall Square Academy (1969) and First Presbyterian Day School (1970) all opened.

Today, those schools are generally 5 percent or fewer African-American, in a community that’s roughly 67 percent black, according to the last census.

"Brown v. Board does not prohibit private associations from maintaining racial segregation within those associations," Ellington said. "If there's government money going to an institution then that provides some leverage, but it is actually legal for an institution that's not receiving government funding to maintain explicit racial segregation."

Freeman said she tried to ignore the stigma of lower quality education attached to Bibb County Schools but when her oldest two children attended 4k, kindergarten and first grade at Rosa Taylor Elementary, her daughter began to slack off despite the family's attempts to make things work.

"My first thought was, this just feels like daycare. Why is she even here? What are they doing? It was really hard, it was like you're swimming upstream when everybody else is going the other way," Freeman said.

The Freemans and Dr. Ellington all say they don't fault parents who want to give their children the best education possible, but they challenge everyone to look beyond their own well-being to help the community as a whole.

"I think we got a lot of work ahead of us," Ellington said. "My hope would be that we have a lot of people of good will who are willing to engage in that work...that would be parents of public school students, parents of private school students and people who do not have school-aged children at all."

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