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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 19th May 2017 > WHY JOHNNY CAN’T INTEGRATE


From Birmingham, Alabama, to Malibu, California, rich communities are bringing back school segregation. Did you forget that one of the three R’s is ‘racism’?
WHITE OUT: Integration of schools has been a battle for almost 60 years. White students in Queens, New York, boycotted their school after it was forced to participate in an integration plan in 1964,

On a winter afternoon that threatened tornadoes, retired federal judge U.W. Clemon stood at a window 31 floors above Birmingham,

To the west, railroad tracks snaked between warehouses, vestiges of boom times, when Birmingham was known as “the Pittsburgh of the South.” On the horizon rose Red Mountain, a slight green ridge. Clustered on the other side of its hump, outside the city limits, are some of the wealthiest suburbs in Alabama: Mountain Brook, Vestavia Hills, Hoover and Homewood.

They have the best schools in the state, and although Alabama has some of the worst schools in the nation, those suburbs frequently make it onto national best-schools lists. Many medical center faculty members live in these “over the mountain” suburbs, as do older Southern families. Clemon did not go to school over the mountain. His grandparents were sharecroppers in Noxubee County, Mississippi.

His parents moved to Alabama, where his mother worked as a domestic for a white Birmingham family, while his father was a bricklayer’s helper. He went to the Dolomite Colored Elementary School. “We had outside privies,” he remembered over lunch at City Club Birmingham. Other than the servers, he was the only black person in the room. At one point, two white men came over, and one of them greeted “the judge.” The other asked if the judge was famous, and the first one said yes, he was.

Clemon later went to Miles College, right outside Birmingham, and became involved in the civil rights movement, working with Martin Luther King Jr. He jokingly recalled unfavorable coverage on the movement from Newsweek back then. When I mentioned that I hoped to do research at the Birmingham Public Library, Clemon chuckled. “I desegregated that,” he said.

WE SHAN’T OVERCOME: Clemon won a huge victory against school segregation in Jefferson County in 1971, but he had to argue the case again this year, after yet another community fought to split from the county’s school system.

looking south. In the foreground was the University of Alabama at Birmingham, whose medical center powers the city’s economy.

Clemon went to Columbia Law School in New York City, then returned to Birmingham to practice civil rights law. In 1971, he argued Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education, in which a black parent sued the county school system, which she claimed was segregated by race. The federal judge ordered the schools to integrate. The schools of Jefferson County (the schools of Birmingham are a separate entity) remain under that decree.

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MACRON STRONGER THAN LE PEN, BUT FRANCE’S WORRIES FAR FROM OVE It was the day the world didn’t end, the day that the tide of populism that gave the world Brexit and Donald Trump turned, the moment when French voters chose pragmatism over protest. That, at least, was the judgment of Europe’s establishment at the victory of centrist Emmanuel Macron in the May 7th French presidential election. It’s not hard to see why the defeat of the Euroskeptic, anti-immigration Marine Le Pen was so vital to the West’s future. A victory for Le Pen’s far-right National Front party would likely have heralded the disintegration of the European Union and the end of the continent’s grand experiment with open borders. However, with Macron's victory, establishment Europe shouldn’t feel too relieved about right-winger Marine Le Pen’s defeat in France.