One of the key points I try to stress in my book is that, while schools were greatly affected by housing segregation in Rochester, they were by no means passive victims in the creation of school segregation. Over and over in the middle of the 20th century, school officials made choices — drawing enrollment boundaries, siting new buildings, responding to overcrowding — that affirmatively upheld and furthered racial school segregation.
One example among many: School 3 for most of the history of the Rochester City School District was the building with the greatest proportion of Black children. That was still true in the 1950s as the Black population of the city began to grow. Housing discrimination led to overcrowding at School 3, which had kindergarten classes with 40 students each. The district responded to the overcrowding by putting up portable classrooms outside the schools or renting basement space at the church next door. At the same time, the nearby, mostly white School 17 had eight empty classrooms — an entire wing of the building sitting unused.
Ansley Erickson, a historian at Columbia University, did a fantastic job of making this same point in her book on Nashville, Making the Unequal Metropolis.
As she wrote in her introduction: “The causal roots of educational inequality … can be found in the interactions between schools and the basic political and economic structures of the city and the metropolis. Segregation and desegregation depended on hundreds of small choices made by local, state, and federal officials.”
I admire Erickson’s work a great deal, and so was very honored that she agreed to read my book and provide a blurb. Here’s what she wrote:
“Justin Murphy adeptly analyzes school segregation in the City of Rochester by carefully blending sources from the era of the Great Migration up to the 21st century. Your Children Are Very Greatly in Danger is a resource to local educators, community members, and students seeking to understand and improve Rochester schools.”
As a reminder, the book comes out March 15. It’s currently being laid out for final proofreading. Stay tuned!