Racial Segregation and Death Through Secession — Jefferson County, Alabama Schools and the Rest of America

woodlawn school birmingham alabama boycott

We’re witnessing an social crisis in Jefferson County, Alabama — a county with one of the worst measures of income inequality [PDF, page 15] in a state with one of the worst measures of income inequality, nestled in a country whose Gini Coefficient among industrialized nations is embarrassingly topped by only Mexico and Chile — that runs deeper than the recent judicial approval for Gardendale, Alabama, a predominantly White town, to secede from Jefferson’s school district for racially motivated reasons.

In the Greatest Democracy on the Planet. In 2017.

Judge Madeline Haikala added to the surrealism when she observed how the bigotry behind Gardendale’s aspirations hits on themes that “assail the dignity of black schoolchildren” but still granted the secession so that the county’s Black students wouldn’t be caught in the middle.

So, we now nobly segregate communities for the dignity and protection of Black folks?

Plus — in the spirit of keeping it real — we’re talking about Alabama.

This is a state where we still have living officials who likely grew up in school districts that taught from the Learn Alabama textbook through the 1970s.

“Oh hell no,” some if you will say. “No one internalized those textbooks in grade school, especially not the part about the Ku Klux Klan only trying to ‘bring back law and order’ and ‘get the government back in the hands of honest men who knew how to run it!’”

Nope. We’re expected to believe none of that figures into adult Alabamian’s social lens at the policy layer …

Anyway, I’ve read enough patterns of White flight through the years to know that if Mars has gold and space travel becomes more affordable, Black folks would finally inherit the Earth.

But let’s save that for another time …

Let’s go back to Judge Haikala’s strange ruling — she seems to have her observations twisted. Black students have been and continue to be caught in the middle.

While much of the media’s attention has been placed on how racist Gardendale seems to be, we’re ignoring a recurring scheme to undermine one of the most essential paths to erasing income inequality: education.

Jefferson County Alabama poverty map
Student poverty rate in Jefferson County, Alabama is 49%.

Jim Crow only changed his name and never really departed from Jefferson County, where EdBuild has identified 13 mostly-gerrymandered school district borders and found six of them to be among the 50 most segregating borders in America.

Jefferson is also no stranger to school district secession.  Other towns have also separated from Jefferson over the years to create their own districts, which removes essential tax revenue from the county, thus further underfunding the school system and adversely impacting Jefferson students — most of whom are poor, people of color or both.

In other words, Black students have been caught in the middle for years.

The result becomes a death spiral. More families — if they can — leave in search of better-resourced school districts, and then Jefferson further deteriorates.

And that means income inequality remains the same or worsens.

I would love for any judge to explain how granting White secession translates into Black student success.

The difference between Gardendale, Alabama and its counterpart towns Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook (highlighted in above image) is that Gardendale made the press with its outward-facing bigotry.

But this sort of segregation and death spiral by secession happens across the country.

Like I’ve said several times before, you can’t legislate love for other humans.

Although I will add here that school curricula based on diverse ideas and teaching modalities can help to broaden horizons, as well as enable students to embrace the differences in others.

Equitable school funding, resource and education achievement plans also have prominent places in a solution set for addressing this crisis in education.

However, a harsh reality mitigates the effectiveness of those ideas — there are many more Know Alabama-oriented policymakers in counties across the US who make life-altering decisions about education everyday, but somehow manage to keep their names out of the Washington Post.

Still, all we want to do is rattle cans about Gardendale …

song currently stuck in my head: “remembrance” – yussef kamaal

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