Expectations and Surprise: School Segregation and Tracking in the 1960s

by Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin

 

Story Summary:

 Andy experienced school desegregation in the 1960s but students were “tracked” which led to a more subtle form of segregation. However, racial tracking led Andy to unexpected friendships.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Expectations-and-Surprise-School-Segregation-and-Tracking-in-the-1960s

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did legislation such as Brown v Board of Education bring about real social change?
  2. Do you think schools would have ever integrated without being forced to by law?
  3. How can tracking lower the expectations of students’ achievement?
  4. What legislation and school policies do you think are needed today?

Resources:

  • After “Brown”: The Rise and Retreat of School Desegregation by Charles T. Clotfelter
  • Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality by Jeannie Oakes
  • A list of popular books on segregation:https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/segregation

Themes:

  • African American/Black History
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Andy Offutt Irwin. In 1967, at the end of my third-grade year, Mrs. Smith, my teacher, wrote on teacher’s comments there in the spring, with Sheaffer blue washable ink, fountain pen ink because she didn’t believe in ballpoint pens even though they existed. She wrote, “Andy is just slow.”

Now this story isn’t about me but it is about how this white boy experienced some of the feelings that my black friends felt during desegregation. I’m not saying that I felt what they felt but I certainly felt. By the end of my fourth-grade year, I mean, my second fourth-grade year (you heard me), um, they closed the black school during that summer. So, when my fifth-grade year came along, um, the black kids from the black school moved into the white school and, therefore, they tracked us into five groups.

Group five were the smart kids; group one were the dumb kids. I was in group two. All of the black kids from the old school came into groups one and two. They had a short interview with some white person who I’m sure scared ’em. And that’s where they were put. That’s how they segregated the schools within the school.

Well, most of my friends were black because there were only a couple of white kids in group two and they’re both in prison. And we became friends. I became friends, in particular, with a guy named Johnny Norrington. And then in my fourth-grade year, I mean fifth grade year, uh, there was Cynthia Banks. Cindy and I both moved up to third group together and then she went on to group four. I could tell she was one of the smartest kids that I knew in those groups. She went on to be one of the smartest kids in high school and went on to be our class president in 1977.
And that’s kind of how desegregation worked – the legal integration of schools worked. When we came into the eighth grade, all of the kids in the same county from the eighth grade were in the same school. That school had been the old black high school and, therefore, half the faculty, at least, had taught at the all black high school. And desegregation and integration were working. I’m not saying we were plural yet but it was happening. And by the time we were seniors, my friend Terry Kelly (who’s black), he and I were the leads in “Bye, Bye Birdie.” I played Albert Peterson; he played Birdie. And by the time Terry and I went to college together (and we were roommates together all through school), we crammed four years of college into six years to get people to stop forgetting about that he was black and I was white.

And by the time “now” happens that people my age have grandchildren (not that I have grandchildren) but the people who got married when they were 10 years old, they have grandchildren. Those grandchildren don’t remember what it was like and don’t even really know what happened. In my town Covington, Georgia, we have a black Superior Court Judge; we have an African-American sheriff. We’ve had a black mayor, sitting mayor, when the previous mayor had to step down. And the mixed city council elected him mayor to fill out the term. And that’s what’s going on in my new South, thanks to legalized desegregation.

Everybody and Nobody: Racial Default Thinking

by Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin

 

Story Summary:

 When Andy was a child living in the Deep South, he visited some of his family in Colorado. A woman out there told Andy, “Everybody in Georgia is a bigot.” This put him on the road to thinking about Racial Default Thinking. Every day this informs his storytelling.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Everybody-and-Nobody-Racial-Default-Thinking

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what ways may you be guilty of “racial default” thinking and conversation?
  2. What does an “all-American” person look like?
  3. What does it mean to be ethnocentric? What are ways we can rise above ethnocentrism?

Resources:

  •  Discrimination by Default: How Racism Becomes Routine by Lu-in Wang
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Report – Structural Racism and Community Building
  • The Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change
  • https://www.aspeninstitute.org/sites/default/files/content/docs/rcc/aspen_structural_racism2.pdf

Themes:

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Andy Offutt Irwin and I call this little talk “Everybody and Nobody.” When I was, uh, uh, 12 years old in 1970, the summer that I was 12 years old, my adult cousin flew me out to Denver to spend a whole month with him and his wife. This is a very big deal for me and it was the very first time I was on an airplane. But, most importantly, it was the very first time I was ever out of the South. He had a lot of kids in his neighborhood and I played with those kids and we had a great time. And it was Kool-Aid time or whatever and we went into one of the kids’ house and we were all full of chatter and my accent really flew through. My accent was very, very thick when I was a kid. And one of the moms, the mom there in that house, looked at me and she said, “Where are you from?”

I said, “I’m from Georgia.”

And she said, “Everybody from Georgia is a bigot! Everybody from Georgia is a bigot!”

I didn’t have the tools to respond to her and I couldn’t go on and express how hurt that made me feel. But that “everybody” stuck with me. Everybody’s a bigot.

A lot of years later, I was talking to my very nice aunt, who is a very kind person and she and I, actually, are very close. And she was talking about the home that she and her husband had built in 1940, way out in the country, in Southeast Newton County and it was a rural area.

She said, “Well, when we built it, there were no suburbs around here that… like there are now. And there was only a black neighborhood. Nobody was out here.”

Nobody was out there. It was just a black neighborhood; they’re nobody. And that “everybody” and that “nobody” came together. Everybody’s a bigot. Nobody is out here!

And that set me to thinking about racial default thinking. Racial default thinking is a sociological term coined by the great sociologist of DeRee Univ… It’s sensible. All right. I made it up. Racial default thinking informs my main character, Marguerite Van Camp.  Now Marguerite is a white lady; she is 85 years old and only recently graduated from medical school. She named her hospital, “Southern White Old Lady Hospital” and she explains it like this.

“Well, when I was 40 years old, my girlfriends and I, we all decided to go to New York together. No husbands, no children, just the girls who were turning 40. And none of us had ever been north of Virginia. We had never been out of the South. And we got in my husband Charles’ Plymouth and we drove all the way up and we encountered nothing but nice people. Because if you go around the world expecting people to be nice to you, they’ll usually be nice to you. It’s true, young people. Anyway, we… everyone was nice until we went to the Broadway show that we were going to go see and I went to the box office and I talked to the lady at the box office. I said, “We’re here to see this play “Man of La Mancha.”

She said, “It’s not a play; it’s a musical!”

“Oh, bless you for telling me! Well, these ah in the name of Marguerite Van Camp.”

And she said, “Where are you from?”

I said, “We’h all from Georgia.”

She said, “Everybody from Georgia’s a bigot.”

“Oh,” I said, “Oh! Oh, do you mean the white people or everybody?”

And I get to have Marguerite do that for me. And she gets to do that for the 12-year-old kid in me. And that’s why she’s around. And that’s why she helps us all with understanding racial default thinking. Marguerite, being a recovering racist.