Reading, Writing, and Reparations: Systemic Reform of Public Schools As a Matter of Justice
Verna L. Williams
University of Cincinnati - College of Law
April 25, 2005
U of Cincinnati Public Law Research Paper No. 05-11
This Article examines reparations as a means of supporting systemic reform of public education, focusing on a recent enactment of the Virginia General Assembly, the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program and Fund (Brown Fund Act). This provision seeks to remedy the state's refusal to integrate schools after the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education by providing scholarships to persons denied an education between 1954 and 1964, a period known as massive resistance. Under this regime, the state's executive and legislative branches colluded to develop laws that defied Brown's mandate, including authorizing the governor to close public schools. One locality, Prince Edward County, went so far as to keep its schools closed for five years, but provided state-funded scholarships to enable white children to continue their learning. Black students, however, went without an education, or had to leave the area to get what state officials denied them.
The paper examines the Brown Fund Act within several contexts to assess its efficacy as a remedy and as a form of reparations. Specifically, the paper examines key aspects of Virginia's history and finds that state imposed limits on educational opportunities were part of larger systemic subordination of African Americans. Thus, for example, laws proscribing literacy for slaves, limiting the franchise for Blacks, denying integration in schooling, and enabling Black taxpayer dollars to be diverted to white schools combined to maintain a caste system in which Blacks perpetually would occupy the lower rungs. Viewed in this light, the Brown Fund Act is only a partial remedy and not truly reparative.
The paper thus concludes by building upon the work of Professor Eric Yamamoto, and others, who have posited that reparations should emphasize material change by, inter alia, repairing institutions that have been tainted by state-sanctioned, state-enforced subjugation. The institution in need of repair in this instance is public education. In this regard, the paper explores a variety of legislative measures the state should pursue to effectuate such change and provide justice that it so long denied its Black citizens.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 67
Keywords: Reperations, Public Education, Brown v. Board of Education, Slavery
JEL Classification: K19, K39, K40
Date posted: April 27, 2005