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Marianne Paskowski

Desegregation: 50 Years Later

September 25, 2007 1:20 PM

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the day that nine black teenagers, escorted by 1,200 soldiers, desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. This is something I would expect to see on the History Channel tonight, but it’s appearing on HBO in a quasi-documentary entitled “Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later.”

I haven’t seen a preview copy of this controversial film, but I’ve been reading about it a lot today. The film’s thesis is that 50 years later, the students there remain “self-segregated,” with the only difference being that today, African American students no longer have to have soldiers escorting them to school.

The documentary, according to what I’ve been reading, is more visceral than truly historical, consisting of footage from that momentous day and interviews with students who say nothing has really changed. According to the New York Times today, the film airs without statistics or comments by experts, or even narration, and some critics think the film’s producers could have dug deeper.

Bottom line: I’m glad some network at least attempted to scratch the surface to get to the unvarnished truth about desegregation. So today’s question: Is this a thought-provoking documentary or revisionist history?


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Comments (6)

Andy S.:

I haven't seen the documentary yet, but I can tell you that here in New Jersey research shows that our schools are only marginally more integrated now than they were fifty years ago. Some progress was made but much of it has disappeared.

More anecdotally, I can tell you that I got some experience working with a Little League baseball team this summer. The team I helped coach was entirely African-American except for one Hispanic player. Every team we played was either all black or all white.

Anyone who watched the Little League World Series on ESPN this summer could not help but notice that there were 16 U.S. teams in the series representing all geographic regions of the country, and there was not one black or Hispanic player on any of the teams.

I realize this is anecdotal information, not scientific, but to me the trend is clear and the implications for the future of the country are dramatic. As a society we are retreating into our enclaves rather than engaging with each other (not just racially, but economically and politically as well). History has already shown that separate is not equal and insulation only breeds greater ignorance. Whatever our better intentions might be, the trend toward resegregation is not a good one.

Marianne Paskowski:

Over the years I have seen many sides of racial intolerance. I grew up in Chicago and saw white flight and what real estate agents and banks to allow it.

Then for 23 years, I lived in White Plains, N.Y., in a much more diversified area. It was a great time, as I also commuted to Manhattan.

Now, I live on Cape Cod, for whatever reasons. But there is no diversity and that is a problem.

I know the story today has been all over the news and in print, but I found it disappointing that only HBO, as far as I know, took the time to make a documentary, flawed or real as it might be.

Thanks for the post,

West Coast Dave:

All the 9 were very sucessful people after 50 years. Makes Americans proud that the right things were done. What impressed me most was one of the ladies stated it was not about civil rights but...human rights....
Right on !!
Albert Einstein said in Facts and Opinions about 1934 that there always will be discrimination but to fail to try and stop it would be worse than having it? As O'Reilly would say..." what say you?"
regards WCD

Marianne Paskowski:

Hi West Coast,

I think of how brave those kids were to do what they did, heckled, jeered and pelted.

Thanks for the post,

Andy S.:

"I know the story today has been all over the news and in print, but I found it disappointing that only HBO, as far as I know, took the time to make a documentary, flawed or real as it might be."

It looked pretty real to me. But it's unfortunate that it airs only on a premium pay channel that many of its subjects probably can't afford. Hopefully it will find its way onto free TV at some point.

Marianne Paskowski:

Andy S,

HBO deserves credit for stepping up to the plate. I did not intend to take umbrage with History (believe me I got two phone calls after this blog appeared).

History documents racial relations all year long. My point of even mentioning them was a back-handed complement, saying in that net's hands, it could have been even more provocative.

Thanks for the post,


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