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Call Me Racist, I Don't Care: The Controversy Over School Desegregation in Englewood, NJ

Call Me Racist, I Don't Care: The Controversy Over School Desegregation in Englewood, NJ

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"Call Me Racist, I Don't Care": The Controversy Over School Desegregation in Englewood, NJ by Evan Goldfine
"Call Me Racist, I Don't Care": The Controversy Over School Desegregation in Englewood, NJ by Evan Goldfine

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Published by: Englewood Public Library on Sep 12, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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A thesis submitted to the History DepartmentRutgers, The State University of New Jerseyfor Undergraduate Departmental Honorsand to fulfill the requirements of the Henry Rutgers Scholars Program.Advised by Professor Steven LawsonNew Brunswick, New JerseyMarch 2000
This work is property of the author, and may not be used without his express permission.
This daunting task, twelve credits and a blank canvas, frequently caused my level of stressto soar. Professor Steven Lawson, my advisor, provided welcome relief. In our frequentmeetings, he helped me formulate a framework for this paper, challenged me to examineissues from a wide historical perspective, and urged me to question the social framework of our United States. I have never thought as well as I have this year, and much of that is dueto his guidance.
I am also in deep gratitude to the many people who took time from their busy schedules totalk with me. All of them significantly aided my studies by offering excellent researchmaterial.To all of the lawyers, Bernard Freamon, the Honorable Justice Virgina Long, Arnold Mytelka,James Rothschild, and Agnes Rymer: I admire each of your abilities to express complicatedconcepts with patience, cogency, and clarity. Your convictions are admirable. One day, Ihope to be able to share my ideas using phrases as artful as yours.
Sherri Lippman’s comprehensive research set me on the right track. Melina Patterson’sexcellent Master’s thesis on the Englewood case forced me to think about the case from a
geographical standpoint. Their deep understanding of these issues facilitated my own.
Amanda, your good humor and advice is invaluable. You’re to
o smart for your age. UncleDavid, thanks for trying to knock me Republican.This thesis is dedicated to the people who taught me the alphabet and had me reading (orat least sounding out) the front page of the
New York Times
at the ripe age of three. Mom,Dad, you are and always will be my two greatest teachers.
Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of theconditions of men
the balance-
wheel of the social machinery… [The Common School] will
open a wider area over which the social feelings will expand; and, if this education shouldbe universal and complete, it would do more than all things else to obliterate factitiousdistinctions in society.- Horace Mann, Report No. 12 of theMassachusetts School Board (1848)I want the white adults to recognize the intellectual equality of the Negroes as did theirchildren in the high school who elected Negroes to office in several of the organizationsthere. I want Englewood to be a national example of a perfect community.- Englewood High School student (November 27, 1947)Tenafly is our garden. Let us leave it for our children the way our fathers left it for us.- Tenafly Planning Board (1933)
Table of Contents
I was seven years old when my parents moved into a yellow aluminum-sided colonial housein Tenafly, New Jersey. Nearly five months later, in December 1985, neighboring Englewood
filed a petition to regionalize the school districts’ high schools in an attempt to achieve a
more racially balanced student population. At the time, I was considerably more concernedwith baseball cards than the intricacies of New Jersey education law, and I admit that I didnot pay attention to the matter.The gears of justice cranked slowly for the next ten years. I am not sure when I firstbecame aware of the lawsuit, most likely around age ten or eleven. When I did, I rememberthinking it was a very bad thing. Tenafly would have to give up control of its schools? Whatdid Tenafly do wrong? Englewood must have been covering up for its mistakes. Regardless,the suit hung like an ominous cloud over my entire public school education.I will never forget the night of October 18, 1995. Barbara Mann and I, the respectivepresident and vice-president of the Tenafly High School Student Organization, haddeveloped an action plan to convince students to attend a hearing at the high schoolgymnasium that night
to show their Tiger spirit against forced regionalization and for local
control of schools. The week was frantic. We constructed signs, dotted the school’s hallways
with flyers, and delivered public address announcements. We were on TV. Two days shy of 
my seventeenth birthday (and my first driver’s license), I shook off most of my nerves and
spoke before a state commission, a large press corps, and a wild throng of 3,000 boroughresidents, including half the THS student population. At the end of the evening, I felt greatlysatisfied. I had represented my constituency, the student body, to the best of my ability.Moreover, it seemed like our work was effective; soon after the meeting, there weresuggestions that the state would not order a regional district.Three years later, as a history major at Rutgers College, I decided to write a paper on themedia spin of the Tenafly/Englewood imbroglio for a seminar called, "The History of Race inNorth America." My original proposal focused on how the press deliberately diverted itsattention from the central issue of local control of schools and instead focused on race forsexier headlines. Hours of introspection and study shifted my perspective. Race, I realized,
play an important role in this case. There is something fundamentally uncomfortableabout a 97 percent black and Hispanic high school two miles from a school with a 3 percentblack and Hispanic population. As much as Tenafly residents tried to argue that there wasno racial component to their anxiety, race became cloaked in other issues: standardized testscores and classism.My new outlook truly startled me, and I have expanded my findings in this project. Many of my recent discoveries would have been unfathomable to me as a highly partisan high school
senior: the towns’ histories, dating back to their formations, include numerous incidents of racism; resistance to Englewood’s first desegregation suit in the 1960s is analogous to the
1990s resistance in Tenafly; and Englewood had the legal right to propose a regional districtas a remedy to
de facto
segregation. Though I remain unconvinced that a regional highschool would succeed due to the probable lack of wide public support for the new program,this lawsuit casts a light on the goals of American public schooling. As one judge noted,"this case implicates hard choices among important and occasionally competing state policyobjectives, including social justice, academic excellence, freedom of choice and home rule."
 This is a passionate issue, and combined with my own special perspective in this case, itmay be particularly difficult to disembody the voice of the author from his work ascompared to a more detached accounting of uncontroversial events. I have given my mostsincere attempt at being objective, and I apologize for any bias or partisanship impliedherein. It is an awkward experience to author the history of events that you have helpedshape.After contemplating the nuances of this issue to the brink of total mental exhaustion, I hadlost touch with what and how I thought about regionalization four years ago. So I gave acall to Barbara, my student government cohort. Our conversation was rewarding for myresearch, as what she said truly surprised me. I will share some of our discussion in theafterword. But first, I ask you to read the body of this paper, think critically about the socialand legal history of 
de facto
segregated schools, and contemplate what this long and painful

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