Students demonstrate in New York City during a one-day school boycott to protest racial imbalance in the public school system, Feb. 3, 1964.
AP Photo/John Lindsay
antecedent / place

Segregation Has Been the Story of New York City’s Schools for 50 Years

Low black and Hispanic enrollment at Stuyvesant High School has reignited a debate about how to finally integrate the city’s schools.
New York City is starkly different today than it was 50 years ago. It is politically more liberal, and far more racially diverse. Yet one aspect has barely changed: The city’s public schools remain among the most segregated in the nation.

The deep racial divide was highlighted last week, when eighth graders who had taken the specialized high school admission test received offers to attend New York’s highly selective public high schools. The statistics were striking: out of 895 slots in Stuyvesant High School’s freshman class, only seven were offered to black students.

Racial and socio-economic segregation is even more pronounced in some parts of the city now than it was a five decades ago, though research released in the intervening years has shown that integration benefits all children.

How did we get here? Why have schools remained so segregated for so long? And what can the city’s leaders do to change a fifty-year status quo?

‘A serious split’

On the morning of Feb. 2, 1964, students hunched over signs they would hoist the following day at a massive school boycott by hundreds of thousands of parents and children. They filled in bubble letters that spelled out “Fight Jim Crow, Boycott Schools,” and “Integration Means Better Schools for All.”

The boycott was led by local civil rights activists frustrated with the city’s fitful efforts to integrate schools, a decade after the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education rendered school segregation unconstitutional.

Then, as now, the strongest supporters of integration believed the city’s efforts hewed too closely to a separate-but-equal ideology that the Supreme Court had struck down.
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