[Marxism] Nebraska's sole Black stater senator wins Black school district

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Apr 15 09:44:28 MDT 2006

First of all, I don't think that Brown vs. Board of Education is the
foundation of the overthrow of JIm  Crow, including in the field of
education.  The movement for Black rights, Black freedom, and Black
liberation was the basis. Nor do I equate Roe v. Wade with women' right
to abortion.  It registered the victory, or the necessity to grant a
concession of major proportions to a fight waged by women and their
So I am not at all put off by the idea of a Black School District, if it
means that Black parents, Black youth and children can be heard in the
school system.  I need to know more of how much movement there is around
this.  Secondly, I need to know if there is  a demand among Latinos for
their own school district.  Is this perhaps a proposal that would allow
kicking Latinos out of predominantly Black schools into "their own"
schools. Is there motion comparable to the motion in the Black community
for a ::Latino district.  Are we looking at a coalition or a conflict
between oppressed peoples with varying and intertwined pariah statuses.
I dom't know, and I need to know more.
And finally -- I know this is almost my personal construction of Black
sovereignty but I think the idea has a future -- what about the Black
students who are not in the district?  Who is responsible for assuring
their education and rights as part of the process?  Who is responsible
for assuring that they are not discriminated against or blocked from
expressing their culture and national consciousness in school
environments where they are minorities.  Shouldn't the Black School
District do this?
Fred Feldman
April 15, 2006

Law to Segregate Omaha Schools Divides Nebraska 

/index.html?inline=nyt-per> DILLON

OMAHA, April 14 - Ernie Chambers is Nebraska's
ssions/nebraska/index.html?inline=nyt-geo>  only African-American state
senator, a man who has fought for causes including the abolition of
capital punishment and the end of apartheid in South Africa. A magazine
writer once described him as the "angriest black man in Nebraska."

He was also a driving force behind a measure passed by the Legislature
on Thursday and signed into law by the governor that calls for dividing
the Omaha public schools into three racially identifiable districts, one
largely black, one white and one mostly Hispanic. 

The law, which opponents are calling state-sponsored segregation, has
thrown Nebraska into an uproar, prompting fierce debate about the value
of integration versus what Mr. Chambers calls a desire by blacks to
control a school district in which their children are a majority.

Civil rights scholars call the legislation the most blatant recent
effort in the nation to create segregated school systems or, as in
Omaha, to resegregate districts that had been integrated by court order.
Omaha ran a mandatory busing program from 1976 to 1999.

"These efforts to resegregate schools by race keep popping up in various
parts of the country," said Gary Orfield, director of the Civil Rights
Project at Harvard
vard_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , adding that such programs
skate near or across the line of what is constitutionally permissible.
"I hear about something like this every few months, but usually when
districts hear the legal realities from civil rights lawyers, they tend
to back off their plans."

Nebraska's attorney general, Jon Bruning, said in a letter to a state
senator that preliminary scrutiny had led him to believe that the law
could violate the federal Constitution's equal protection clause, and
that he expected legal challenges. 

The debate here began when the Omaha district, which educates most of
the state's minority students, moved last June to absorb a string of
largely white schools that were within the Omaha city limits but were
controlled by suburban or independent districts.

"Multiple school districts in Omaha stratify our community," John J.
Mackiel, the Omaha schools superintendent, said last year. "They create
inequity, and they compromise the opportunity for a genuine sense of

Omaha school authorities and business leaders marketed the expansion
under the slogan, "One City, One School District." The plan, the
district said, would create a more equitable tax base and foster
integration through magnet programs to be set up in largely white
schools on Omaha's western edge that would attract minority students. 

The district had no plans to renew busing, but some suburban parents
feared that it might. The suburban districts rebelled, and the
unicameral Legislature drew up a measure to blunt the district's

The bill contained provisions creating a "learning community" to include
11 school districts in the Omaha area operating with a common tax levy
while maintaining current borders. It required districts to work
together to promote voluntary integration.

But the legislation changed radically with a two-page amendment by Mr.
Chambers that carved the Omaha schools into racially identifiable
districts, a move he told his colleagues would allow black educators to
control schools in black areas.

Nebraska's 49-member, nonpartisan Legislature approved the measure by a
vote of 31 to 16, with Mr. Chambers's support and with the votes of 30
conservative lawmakers from affluent white suburbs and ranching counties
with a visceral dislike of the Omaha school bureaucracy. Gov. Dave
Heineman, a Republican facing a tough primary fight, said he did not
consider the measure segregationist and immediately signed it.

Dr. Mackiel, the Omaha superintendent, said the school board was
"committed to protecting young people's constitutional rights."

"If that includes litigation, then that certainly is a consideration,"
Dr. Mackiel said.

Some of Nebraska's richest and most powerful residents have also
questioned the legislation, including the billionaire investor Warren
uffett/index.html?inline=nyt-per> Buffett as well as David Sokol, the
chief executive of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, which employs
thousands in Nebraska and Iowa.

"This is going to make our state a laughingstock, and it's going to
increase racial tensions and segregation," Mr. Sokol said in an

The Omaha district has 46,700 students, 44 percent of them white, 32
percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 3 percent Asian or Native
American. The suburban systems that surround it range in size from the
Millard Public School District, with about 20,000 students, 9 percent of
whom are members of minorities, to the Bennington district, with 704
students, 4 percent of whom are members of minorities.

Parent reaction is divided. Darold Bauer, a professional fund-raiser who
has three children in Millard schools, said he was pleased that the law
had eliminated the threat of busing, although he said he was not
thrilled about sharing a common tax levy with the Omaha schools. 

"What this law does is protect the boundaries of my district," said Mr.
Bauer, who is white. "All the districts in the area are now required to
work together on an integration plan, and I'm fine with that, because my
kids won't be bused." 

Brenda J. Council, a prominent black lawyer whose niece and nephew
attend Omaha's North High School, said of the law, "I'm adamantly
opposed because it'll only institutionalize racial isolation." 

Whether the law goes unchallenged is unclear. "We believe the state may
face serious risk due to the potential constitutional problems,"
Attorney General Bruning said in his letter.

But Senator Chambers, a 68-year-old former barber who earned a law
degree after his election to the Legislature in 1970, was unmoved. He
lists his occupation as "defender of the downtrodden," and suggests that
is precisely what he is doing.

"Several years ago I began discussing in my community the possibility of
carving our area out of Omaha Public Schools and establishing a district
over which we would have control," Mr. Chambers said during the debate
on the floor of the Legislature. "My intent is not to have an
exclusionary system, but we, meaning black people, whose children make
up the vast majority of the student population, would control."

During an interview in his office, Mr. Chambers took time out to answer
calls questioning the plan. He told several people bluntly that they
were misinformed, but he remained polite.

"You call me anytime, whether you agree with me or not," he signed off
one conversation.

He acknowledged that he had nursed a latent fury with the Omaha district
since enduring the taunting of schoolmates during classroom readings of
"Little Black Sambo" when he attended during the 1940's. He also accused
the district of returning to segregated neighborhood schools when it
ended busing in 1999, although no high school is more than 48 percent

Other black leaders in Omaha criticized the new law.

"This is a disaster," said Ben Gray, a television news producer and
co-chairman of the African-American Achievement Council, a group of
volunteers who mentor black students. "Throughout our time in America,
we've had people who continuously fought for equality, and from Brown
vs. Board of Education, we know that separate is not equal. We cannot go
back to segregating our schools."

Copyright  <http://www.nytimes.com/ref/membercenter/help/copyright.html>
2006 The New York Times Company <http://www.nytco.com/>  

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