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“Your Father Works For My Father”: Race, Class and the Politics of Voluntarily Mandated Desegregation

by Stephen Samuel Smith, Karen M. Kedrowski, Joseph M. Ellis & Judy Longshaw - 2008

Background/Context: Unlike the situation nationally where desegregation progress is faltering, the school district in Rock Hill, South Carolina, has recently undertaken measures to increase balance in pupil assignment despite considerable local opposition to these measures and the absence of a court order requiring the district to do so. Moreover, while other districts that are also pursuing desegregation increasingly rely on voluntary strategies such as magnets, the Rock Hill school district has relied more on adjusting the boundaries of mandatory attendance zones. This article investigates the conditions and developments that facilitated the school district’s voluntarily increasing its desegregation efforts through the use mandatory strategies. In so doing, the article expands upon our previous work that raises the possibility of a new politics of school desegregation.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this essay is to clarify the meaning of voluntary desegregation; to understand the political, demographic, and other conditions that affected desegregation efforts in Rock Hill; and to relate these conditions to broader issues such as the changed (since the civil rights era) relationship between the federal government and local school districts on issues involving desegregation, the relative merits of race- versus class-based public policy, citizen participation in desegregation planning, and the Supreme Court’s consideration of voluntary desegregation.

Setting: Rock Hill South Carolina

Research Design: Case study

Conclusions/Recommendations: We find that Rock Hill’s school desegregation efforts were facilitated by a change in school board elections, the current relatively loose coupling of policy venues on issues involving desegregation, the overlap between the interests of Blacks and working-class Whites in the development of a high school reassignment plan, citizen participation in desegregation planning, and effective leadership from the district’s administration. The findings from this case study suggest that in some situations class-based public policy is more effective than race-based public policy, but they also caution equally strongly against making any sweeping claims for the generic effectiveness of class-based public policy. The findings also suggest why and how, contrary to the situation in the civil rights era, the workings of local politics in southern school districts may currently be consistent with the pursuit of school desegregation, not antithetical to it. Because of this consistency, a Supreme Court ruling against voluntary desegregation may be viewed as undermining not only the pursuit of equality of opportunity, but also the democratic ideal of popular sovereignty.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 5, 2008, p. 986-1032
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12787, Date Accessed: 7/28/2021 3:14:16 PM

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About the Author
  • Stephen Smith
    Winthrop University
    E-mail Author
    STEPHEN SAMUEL SMITH is a professor of political science at Winthrop University. He served as an expert witness for NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund in the reopened Swann litigation and is the author of Boom for Whom? Education, Desegregation, and Development in Charlotte (SUNY Press 2004) and, with Jessica Kulynych, of “It May be Social, but Why is it Capital? The Social Construction of Social Capital and the Politics of Language” (Politics & Society, 2002).
  • Karen Kedrowski
    Winthrop University
    KAREN KEDROWSKI is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at Winthrop University. Her research interests include political communication, health policy, and education policy. Her publications include Cancer Activism: Gender, Media and Public Policy (forthcoming from the University of Illinois press), with Marilyn Stine Sarow. She is currently working on a book on breastfeeding rights in the United States with Michael E. Lipscomb.
  • Joseph Ellis
    University of Tennessee-Knoxville
    JOSEPH M ELLIS is an instructor of political science at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and a Ph.D. candidate at Temple University. His primary research interests are in post-Soviet economic and political transitions, especially issues relating to emerging market economies and taxation. He is the author, with Stephen Samuel Smith and Karen M. Kedrowski, of “Electoral Structures, Venue Selection, and the (New?) Politics of School Desegregation,” (Perspectives on Politics, 2004).
  • Judy Longshaw
    Winthrop University
    JUDY LONGSHAW is journalist who previously covered education policy in Rock Hill. She is active in the district’s educational affairs.
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