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Thurgood Marshall, the legendary civil rights giant, used to think segregation would wither away by 1963. That miscalculation by the late Supreme Court justice was recalled by Leland Ware, the law professor who holds the Redding Chair at the University of Delaware, when he spoke last Thursday to about 130 members of the Wilmington, Del., Rotary Club. “America is still two nations — one black, one white, separate and unequal,” Ware said. The focus of Ware’s remarks was Delaware’s Neighborhood Schools Act, the latest repudiation of court-ordered desegregation that lasted from 1978 to 1995. While legislators say it is intended to let students attend schools close to home, Ware warned it could lead to resegregation if a Wilmington-only district is created. Ware’s talk was part of what he is supposed to do as the Redding professor — continue the unfinished work for equal justice advanced by Louis L. Redding, the state’s first African-American lawyer who worked with Thurgood Marshall. Redding’s legacy includes Delaware lawsuits that helped lead to Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark school integration decision. Brown was decided May 17, 1954. Nearly 47 years later, far beyond Marshall’s prediction, there was Ware at the Rotary Club, still talking about school segregation. He noted the Supreme Court in recent years has lowered the standard for determining school districts’ compliance with the law. Instead of a duty to eliminate segregation “root and branch,” the schools must remove it to the “extent practicable” — meaning they are not responsible for correcting for housing patterns or other factors not their fault. As the court has shifted, so must the battleground. “This means that civil rights activists will have to focus more on fair housing issues,” Ware said. Housing remains largely segregated, with research showing one in four African-American families encountering discrimination in renting, sales or lending practices, Ware said. “It is not an accident, and it is not — as many people believe — attributable to economic status or private choice,” he said. As long as African-American families are isolated in poorer neighborhoods, out of sight and out of mind from white families, their opportunities for education, employment and advancement will be restricted, Ware said. “The quality of schools, property values, exposure to crime and the quality of public services are all affected by a location in which a family resides,” he said. “They are cut off from the informal networks through which employment and opportunity are communicated. The physical distance separating these areas from other neighborhoods is small, but the psychological distance is enormous …. “Restrictions on individual liberty caused by illegal segregation undermine their social and economic well-being.” What happens, Ware said, is that segregated housing patterns lead to segregated schools that provide poor preparation for economic advancement. “It’s all a vicious cycle,” he said.

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