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Did Brown vs Board of Education do more harm than good for Black people?

By A. Peter Bailey
On June 9, 2016

( – When the Supreme Court’s Brown vs Board of Education was handed down on May 17, 1954, I was in my junior year at Nuremberg American High School, a school for the children of U.S. military personnel in Nuremberg, Germany.

My family moved there in March 1953, in the middle of my sophomore year. This was my first time going to school with White students. From first grade until that move, I attended school in segregated Tuskegee, Alabama, in which every student was Black. The only Whites I dealt with regularly were the Irish catholic nuns who taught me at St. Joseph’s Catholic School.

In Nuremberg, at age 15, I was the oldest Black student in grades 7-12. I ended up being voted treasurer of my junior class and president of the senior class. Not only was I not behind my White peers academically, I was ahead of 95 percent of them. By the way, I don’t remember any discussion while there about Brown vs Board. The military newspaper, not wanting to rile up soldiers in the recently-integrated U.S. Army, either ignored or down played any kind of racial conflict news back in the states.

In 1962, having become a strong supporter of the racial positions of Brother Malcolm X, especially his commentary about persistent White supremacist attacks on the minds of Black folks, I began to question the Brown vs Board’s position that all Black schools were “inherently” inferior. In fact, those schools were in bad condition because of state policy and the White supremacist attitudes and actions of the majority society.

In the late 1970s when on the staff of Ebony Magazine, I sent a memo to managing editor, Charles Sanders, proposing that Ebony publish an article taking a critical look at the decision that had been welcomed with so much joy by most Black folks. Charles called me and said there was no way they could publish such an article because it would outrage the civil rights leadership.

Since then, my concerns about what I considered the negative psychological aspects of Brown vs Board have grown considerably. It has been interpreted by most all Whites and way too many, if not most, Black folks to mean that not only were/are all Black schools inherently inferior, but also all Black businesses, all Black professionals, all Black colleges and universities, all Black churches, all Black hospitals, all Black neighbors, all Black anything is inherently inferior.

It got so bad that any all-Black neighborhood – regardless of the value of the homes - was called a ghetto. Many Black folks gave up the importance of the neighborhood school, no matter how sharp its students, and began busing their children all over cities and towns just so they could sit in classrooms with White children. Most didn’t even consider the psychological damage done to their children and their institutions by such negative attitudes.

People instilled with such attitudes since 1954, have little if any commitment to supporting Black-owned businesses or institutions. After all, if all-Black, they are inherently inferior. People tell me that’s not what Brown vs Board meant. Maybe not. But that’s the way it was and continues to be interpreted by way to many Black folks.

Such people should take heed of an observation made by brilliant journalist and historian, Lerone Bennett, Jr., in his 1967 must-read book, “The Negro Mood.”

“There is little or no hope for the Negro in this country if he continues to accept, uncritically and completely, the values and goals and ideals of his oppressors. To cite only one example: the Negro who accepts the ideal of blondes must, and inevitably does, hate himself. And again: the Negro who accepts completely the success and power ethic must also hate himself, for there is no defense for an unavenged defeat in a power ethic. Hence, it is that some Negroes hate themselves and their history because their forefathers were slaves and not slave owners.”

A. Peter Bailey, whose latest book is “Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, the Master Teacher,” can be reached at

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