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FIGHTING OVER THE SACRED TEXT OF BROWN To the editor: Both supporters and opponents of racial preferences are communicants in the Church of Brown v. Board of Education, fighting a religious war over the meaning of its sacred text. Thus when Tony Mauro writes [ "The End of an Era?"] that “civil rights pioneers” were “shocked” to see that “the arc of the landmark Brown decision took a stunning turn” in recent Supreme Court arguments — Brown was invoked to justify invalidating school policies that use race to assign students — he is implicitly excommunicating those of us who see a straight line running from Brown to what we hope will be a majority opinion barring such policies. The question of whether Brown, properly understood, requires the absence of discrimination or the presence of integration remains as indeterminate as any sacred text. But surely it is relevant to recall that the complaint of Linda Brown, the Topeka third-grader who gave Brown its name, was that she was barred from attending her neighborhood school and forced to attend a distant school because of her race. Ethel Louise Belton, the 10th-grader whose case was consolidated with Brown’s, was also assigned to a school nine miles away in Wilmington, rather than allowed to attend a school a short walk from her home, because of her race. Even less well remembered is that Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), which upheld busing to promote racial balance, began when James Swann was not allowed to attend the school closest to his home because of his race. Those of us who see the Louisville and Seattle plaintiffs as embodying both the flesh and the spirit of Brown are not heretics. We are true believers in Brown‘s commandment: that the state should treat all its citizens without regard to their race, creed, or color. John S. Rosenberg Crozet, Va. www.discriminations.us
IF THEY KNEW THE TRUTH ABOUT SEATTLE’S PLAN To the editor: As one who taught high school in Seattle for 36 years, I wonder what those who criticize the Seattle plaintiffs in the Supreme Court school desegregation case [ "The End of an Era?"] would think if they knew certain crucial facts, many not in the briefs or the decisions below: that Seattle’s plan lets each student make two racial designations and change either at any time, thus favoring those who have both white and nonwhite or Latino ancestry; that elementary and middle school integration is given a lower priority, despite the evidence that desegregation has its most profound effects at younger ages; that Seattle established an African American Academy knowing that it would be segregated; that two high schools, each more than 90 percent nonwhite, may actually become more segregated; that the oversubscribed schools are already integrated by any common-sense understanding; that some white parents are given exemptions when they threaten to enroll their children in private schools; and that whites and nonwhites are denied unique educational opportunities based on their race and are acutely aware of that. This, when combined with the invitation to strategically deploy one’s race to gain a favorable school assignment and the favored position of those who are both white and nonwhite, can only result in the politics of racial hostility. Neither Brown nor its progeny supports what Seattle has done. As one whose heroes are Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall, I would enthusiastically support a desegregation effort that does not deny individuals educational opportunities because of their race, a plan that may be race-conscious but is narrowly tailored to the inarguably compelling interest of each student learning to judge others not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Rick Nagel Mercer Island, Wash.

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