The health of the public schools is a primary indicator of the health of an entire community.

Thanks to my Tweeps, especially Melinda D. Anderson (@mdawriter), for making sure I did not miss this major piece on why the Mississippi Delta remains one of the poorest places in the United States, and what that means for our youth and our schools.

Alan Huffman’s, “How White Flight Ravaged the Mississippi Delta,” quite accurately describes how decades of systematic, concerted efforts to maintain white supremacy through segregation and finally through abandonment, has left many Delta residents in almost intractable poverty.

Huffman makes an extremely important observation that few, even in our state, have yet to acknowledge: Those Mississippi towns that chose to confront their history of racism and made a genuine effort to integrate their schools, are the more prosperous and still flourishing communities (he highlights Philadelphia, MS site of the infamous kidnap and murder of three civil rights workers in 1963). Those in which the leaders fought to maintain segregation and block economic development for Black residents, are today impoverished and struggling to survive. It is a classic example of cutting off one’s nose to spite the face, and it’s the children of the Delta–black and white–who are paying the price.

As former Mississippi Secretary of State, Dick Molpus observes in the article:

“When federal court-ordered school integration came during the 1969–70 school year, Philadelphia chose not to establish all-white private academies as other nearby towns and cities had done. “I think the people had examined their souls, really, and the decision was made to keep the schools integrated,” Molpus said. Louisville, 30 miles down the road, was culturally and economically similar to Philadelphia, but its white residents decided to send their children to private academies,” Molpus said. Today, Louisville is economically depressed.

There is a parallel narrative to the story Huffman tells, which is the story of the sacrifical work of generations of Delta teachers and parents against tremendous odds and under conditions we can barely imagine. Ironically, it is still the schools of the Delta that are the key to its future. The article quotes Molpus again as he observes:

“Businesses are not going to go to a place where there are not strong public schools,” Molpus said. “That says the community is ill. If the poor are in public schools and the affluent go to private, that community is ill. The public schools in virtually every town in the Delta were abandoned by the whites. That will take decades to fix—it’s a historical legacy. The poverty cycle hasn’t been broken.”

That’s a powerful concept: The health of the public schools is a primary indicator of the health of an entire community. I encourage you to read the full article and ponder its implications for our nation and our profession.

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