Monday, April 13, 2009

School Desegregation in Peoria, Illinois


A Staff Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, June 1977.

In 1966 when initial planning for desegregation began, minority students were concentrated in 9 of Peoria's 39 schools. Twenty of the city's schools had white enrollments of more than 98 percent, indicating the most minimal percentage of minority students in more than half the city's schools. Four schools were totally white.

The Board fully realized that the Peoria Public Schools must be integrated promptly to insure quality education and equality of educational opportunities for all children.

The plan was quickly put into effect to coincide with the fall 1968 opening of Peoria’s schools. A few incidents of limited physical violence occurred but the Peoria Journal Star, in its account of the desegregation process noted, "There were no major incidents. Busing, at least on a limited basis and as long as it did not involve advantaged whites, seemed to work well in Peoria.

In some respects, the Peoria schools during the 1970s began to look more segregated than even prior to the initiation of desegregation. In 1966 Peoria's minority students were concentrated in nine schools; eight of these schools failed to meet State guidelines because they had an over population of minority students. By the 1975-76 school year, the district had a total of nine schools which had an overpopulation of minority students by State standards.

[...]

On January 8, 1976, the Illinois Office of Education announced that Peoria District 150 was not in compliance with State desegregation guidelines. The State found 20 Peoria schools not in compliance and ordered the district to submit detailed desegregation plans. The order noted that failure to do so could result in a loss of funding and further legal action by the State. A new plan from the district has now been received by the State and is currently under review.

Superintendent Harry Whitaker agreed that Peoria's schools should be within the State guidelines, but has also argued that the district should not be made to bus white students to predominantly black schools to achieve this end:

"We believe in integration. There's no question about that," Mr. Whitaker stated, "but we don't believe in integration to the point that we have to move youngsters back and forth. We think that that is going to be detrimental....My goal is not to re-segregate District 150, but, hopefully, to maintain the community as it is now."

Read the entire report here.

6 comments:

EMERGE said...

On January 8, 1976, the Illinois Office of Education announced that Peoria District 150 was not in compliance with State desegregation guidelines. That was 33 years ago.

To date, three generations of inner city families have been grossly underserved by Dist. 150.

Now we see the results, children who are filled with hopelessness and parents who don't know how to help them.

Read the report and then tell me - who do you think is to blame for current state of education in Peoria, Illinois?

If you were alive and living in Peoria when the school boundary changes (desegregation) initially took place - you owe it to the children in this community to pay attention to what is happening now.

Sharon Crews said...

I was alive and teaching at Roosevelt Jr. High (7-9 grades) which was 98% black; its counterpart was Trewyn, which was primarily white. Adrian Hinton and I began our teaching careers at Roosevelt in 1962 after we both had just graduated from Bradley University. I remember clearly the day that Adrian told me that he had been asked to begin teaching at Manual--as the first black teacher at the high school level. Audrey Gipson (whom I didn't know at the time) had been at Irving) and was asked to go to Woodruff as its first black teacher; she later came to Manual as a counselor. At the time Adrian told me that he didn't want to take a job just because of his race. I remember telling him not to worry about it because many other teachers got their jobs because of whom they new or to whom they were related. Before I got to Manual, Adrian returned to Roosevelt as our dean and then to Whittier as its principal. Then the 1968-1969 year of integration began. Manual became a four-year high school for the first time. Roosevelt's black students and Trewyn's white students (and those from Calvin Coolidge and Whittier) were to come together for the first time as Manual's first freshman class.
I realized much later that most black students had never made it to high school before--most dropped out before the 10th grade. Actually, I have no statistics to bear that out, but I believe it was so because when all of us arrived at Manual, who didn't feel all that welcome--teachers as well as the students.
That is the history I remember--that whole process of integrating Manual High School.
I realize now that I didn't pay much attention to what was happening to the K-8 schools--my whole focus was on helping my black students acclimate to a very new and for many of them a fairly uncomfortable experience at first. Consequently, that particular group of kids have remained new and dear to my heart.
Of course, I remember so many of those early years as we all became a part of history.
Unfortunately, I know that that era was also the beginning of the major white flight from District 150--flight to surrounding communities that grew by leaps and bounds. Also,enrollment in Peoria's Catholic schools and at Peoria Christian (which was a relatively new school) went up.
Strangely enough, I just ran into to some of that history on the Internet a few days ago--and began to ask myself the same question Emerge is asking now.
I'm not sure how to answer the question as to how we got where we are today. All I know is that--in my opinion--Manual got better and better until the late 1980s, and then everything started falling apart.
Also, by 1955 when I graduated from Woodruff High School there had been only two black students enrolled during the four years that I was there. I believe that integration at Woodruff began when Taft Homes was built. There were no black students at Longfellow and Kingman--the primary schools that I attended.

Sharon Crews said...

I have one more thought to add. There wasn't only white flight from Peoria's southside; there was also black flight. For the first time, the real estate market began to open up and black families were free to move to other parts of the city--and, of course, they did. The drug trade and gangs also made their entrance, further complicating the situation.

EMERGE said...

@ Sharon: In the report (which by the way Valeska Hinton helped prepare) this black/white flight was referred to by Superintendent Whitaker as "...the natural
integration that has been taking place because of an open
job market and open housing..."

From the report:
"Natural Integration"
Superintendent Whitaker's optimism with regard to
"natural integration" is subject to a degree of scrutiny in
view of the mixed record on residential desegregation in
Peoria. The city's open housing ordinance has been credited
with producing some positive change in residential patterns.
However, these gains are offset by the fact thatr over the
years, the city's public housing population has grown
increasingly black. Thus, for instance, school
desegregation on Peoria"s far south side must now be
entirely reprogrammed in light of the high concentration of
black families who have moved into the once predominantly
white, blue-collar Harrison Homes project, which is located
in the area. The middle-school concept (which has not been
implemented in Peoria) still offers the potential, through
careful planning, for serving as a means of drawing city
residents into multiracial living situations as an outgrowth
of the involvement and interest of parents in the middle
schools. The city's central urban renewal area offers one
possible site for new middle-school construction and
residential development.

Sharon Crews said...

Emerge: I definitely didn't agree with Whitaker's approach to integration--waiting for housing to open up would have taken much too long. Today's problem is much greater though--at least, as great. I really don't know of any effective solutions. I don't see that there is any way to integrate the south side at this point. Not many agree with my suggestion to close Manual(actually to make it an alternative school)--I fear the reason is that too many would not favor placing Manual students at the other high schools.

Anne Thulson said...

I'm one of those white kids who "stayed put" while black children were bused to my school (Rolling Acres). Desegregation changed my life. My friendships with two black girls, Ann Cooper and Elaine Butler (I wonder where they are now?) helped me start an awareness of racial discrimination and helped realize some of the invisible privilege I possessed as a white girl. These little girls befriended me and I learned from them. I often wonder, am I in their story as much as they are in mine? I am indebted to them.
Anne Moser Thulson