Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Opinion

Column: Political courage and school segregation

Sixty years ago today — May 2, 1957 — Gov. LeRoy Collins courageously decried a resolution adopted by the Florida Legislature that declared the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark public school desegregation decision in Brown vs. Board of Education "null, void, and of no force or effect."

In his own handwriting, Collins called the resolution "an evil thing, whipped up by demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice and hysteria." He went on to say: "If history judges me right this day, I want it known I did my best to avert this blot. If I am judged wrong, then here in my own handwriting and over my signature is the proof of guilt to support my conviction."

The legislation, known as an interposition resolution, was strictly symbolic. The fact is, states cannot "interpose" themselves between their citizens and the federal government. But interposition was a politically popular notion among Southern segregationists in 1957 who were horrified by the implications of the Brown decision. Most Southern governors and congressional delegations enthusiastically embraced the interposition doctrine.

Collins had no authority to veto the resolution. It could have been conveyed to Congress without comment, which was ordinarily the case. Instead, Collins took a politically risky and unpopular stand, but did so from the moral high ground. History has indeed judged him right.

The resolution had no effect, and Florida ultimately complied with the Brown public education desegregation decision. Yet to this day, the challenges of equal educational opportunity continue to bedevil our state.

At present, a full third of Hispanic students and a full third of African-American students attend intensely segregated Florida K-12 schools. Moreover, many of these students suffer double segregation — not only by race but also by class. It appears that meaningful desegregation remains an elusive challenge.

The LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University, established in Gov. Collins' memory to address public policy issues, is conducting research in collaboration with the Civil Rights Project at UCLA to examine in depth the status of desegregation in Florida's schools and to understand the student attainment and policy implications of the situation.

Today, we are reminded again of Gov. Collins' political courage in making a bold statement and in his willingness to take an unpopular stand on the basis of his moral convictions. In our time, we must summon similar political courage to address once again with renewed moral conviction the issue and the insidious effects of segregation in public education. The Collins' legacy calls on us to do just that.

Carol Weissert is director and Lester Abberger is board chair of the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University.

Comments
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18

Another voice: Why just Florida?

Cynicism has always been a part of politics, but rarely are politicians so brazen and self-serving as President Donald Trump and his interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, have been over the past week. First they announced a new offshore drilling plan that ...
Published: 01/16/18
Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Editorial: King’s legacy still relevant in digital age

Today’s holiday honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. couldn’t be more timely. At a moment when the nation’s civic dialogue is choking on personal and political division, it is hard to remember an earlier time when role models were role m...
Published: 01/15/18

Another voice: 38 minutes of fear in Hawaii

In 1938, Orson Welles panicked the nation with a false alarm about a Martian invasion in the radio broadcast The War of the Worlds. That was farfetched, of course. But what happened on Saturday, sadly, was not so hard to imagine — or believe.Authorit...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

Editorial: Florida’s chance to make it easier to restore civil rights

As it has for decades, Florida stubbornly clings to an inhumane, inefficient and indefensible system of justice that permanently sentences more than 1.5 million residents to second-class citizenship. This state automatically revokes the right to vote...
Published: 01/13/18
Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

Editorial: Speak out against Trump’s vulgar remarks

President Donald Trump’s vulgar outbursts during a White House meeting on immigration are racist and indefensible no matter how he parses them. They are not presidential, they undermine U.S. foreign relations and they do not reflect America’s values....
Published: 01/12/18

Editorial: Pinellas commission stands up for accountability

The Pinellas County Commission has gotten the message that it should not be a rubber stamp. Commissioners sent a clear signal this week they will demand more accountability of local agencies by refusing to approve nominees for the board for CareerSou...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Editorial: Progress on Tampa Bay graduation rates

Tampa Bay’s four school districts all reached a significant milestone last school year: achieving graduation rates over 80 percent. It’s believed to be the first time Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties all surpassed that threshold, a...
Published: 01/11/18
Updated: 01/12/18

Take deal; build wall

President Donald Trump says he is optimistic a deal can be struck to shield "Dreamers," the young undocumented immigrants whose lives he put in jeopardy by stripping them of work permits and deportation protection, beginning March 5. His price, and t...
Published: 01/10/18
Updated: 01/11/18