Commentary on Christopher Bonastia’s “The Southern Attack on Northern Hypocrisy in Education” by ARC Student Fellows Deshonay Dozier and Rakhee Kewada

Christopher Bonastia urges that integration, as a strategy for unearthing the unequal foundations of United States institutions such as education, is not expendable. In his presentation, “The Southern Attack on Northern Hypocrisy in Education,” Bonastia however sheds light on some of the contradictions of progressivism as part of his broader critique and historical analysis of Northern education intergrationist movements in the 1970s. Bonastia challenges conventional narratives of the Civil Rights Movement, asserting the movement’s longer history and continuation into the 1970s as well as the movement’s fight for integration as a tactic to achieve great equality rather than a moral good or good unto itself.

After the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision (1954) banning intentional segregation in schools, most of the white South spent the next decade evading the mandate to create desegregated school systems. New York City and many of its purportedly liberal Northern counterparts denied that they intentionally fostered school segregation and vowed to redouble their efforts to increase integration. Yet, their deeds fell fall short of their rhetoric. Infuriated by sanctimonious Northern criticism of segregation and racism in the South, Southern white newspaper editors, anti-integration activists and politicians sought to expose Northern hypocrisy via scathing editorials, publicity stunts such as the “Reverse Freedom Rides” and the introduction of legislation to compel school desegregation nationwide. Bonastia presents a wealth of original archival data detailing these efforts to expose Northern hypocrisy all the while asking: Did white Southerners have a point?

For example, while Northern liberal newspapers at the time did not report on race tensions in the North, through their critiques of Northern hypocrisy, Southern newspapers such as the Montgomery Alabama Advertiser revealed that there was fierce resistance to school desegregation in the North in places where there was a large black population. The “Reverse Freedom Rides” where the White Citizens Council – informally known as “the gentlemen’s klan” – offered to pay one-way fares for Southern black people to travel North presented an attempt to force liberals in the North to take on welfare rolls and provide employment. And, when a Southern senator attempted to introduce a bill to amend the desegregation school bill so that it would be applied uniformly nation-wide, a Northern liberal senator effectively resisted the bill. Thus, Bonastia reveals the ways in which the politics and rhetorical gestures of both Southern conservatives and Northern liberals maintain inequality.

Bonastia’s interrogation of the hypocrisy of the liberal North is still relevant today as the pendulum of United States politics continues to swing between conservatism and progressivism while inequality remains rooted in institutions such as education. Indeed, Bonastia asks whether school integration in a place like New York City was ever possible opening up a fruitful discussion with the audience where questions around the scale of the New York City school system, “white flight” and the role of private schools arose.

We are very excited about the possibilities of Bonastia’s study to uncover the parallels between liberal and conservative approaches to institutional change. We are interested in how both of these reformist approaches repeatedly fail, as Bonastia outlines, and the possibilities for non-reformist reforms (See Golden Gulag by Ruth Wilson Gilmore) that can enable us to move effectively towards freedom and democracy.

A professor of sociology and public intellectual we are confident that Bonastia’s accessible research on U.S. politics will not disappoint as it will make an invaluable contribution to a wide-range of students and scholars.

~Deshonay Dozier and Rakhee Kewada