Monday, May 01, 2006


Under a bill swiftly signed this month by Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, the Omaha school district in 2008 would be carved into three new districts: one mostly white, one mostly black and one largely Hispanic. The law doesn't say that outright, but its mapping requirements make such an outcome inevitable, given the city's housing patterns.

The proposal was introduced to the legislature by Nebaraska's only black state senator, Ernie Chambers. Chambers has been described by some as the angriest black man in Nebraska.

Chambers is far and away the legislature's most liberal member and is a long time advocate on behalf of the downtrodden. He is not your typical state politician. He wears sweatshirts and jeans on the floor of the senate. Every year at the start of the session he introduces legislation to abolish the death penalty. He fought against an amendment to the state constitution to protect the right to hunt.

According to Mother Jones magazine, "He cajoled his colleagues into abolishing corporal punishment in schools, correcting the state pension system so that women would be treated equally with men, and back[ed] a switch from at-large municipal elections to district-based voting so that nonwhites would have a chance to serve. Under his sway, Nebraska led the nation in the 1980s in divesting in companies that did business with apartheid-era South Africa."

So what with his proposal which most see as an ugly throw back to Jim Crow days.

Chambers says the schools are already segregated in realtiy. He says that Omaha is already divided economically, socially and racially. The de facto segregation, he says, has resulted in an inequitable distribution of resources that leaves minority students on the short end of the stick. Minority students are receiving a poor quality education as a result. He argues, the change in the district lines would allow each minority group to control its own schools. That would give them the ability to allocate resources in a way that would give minority students a chance at a better education.

Segregation has always been here and always will be here, so ... how can you mitigate the harm it does to our children?" Chambers told Knight Ridder Newspapers. "The only chance they've got is if parents control the schools. ... It's as American as apple pie."

Rush Limbaugh seemed to agree when he commented on a recent show, "You know, I also remember, I've had a couple -- well, a lot more than that -- I've had a lot of discussions with Dr. Sowell, Dr. Thomas Sowell who is also black and he grew up in Harlem and a lot of other places. I'll never forget one time he told me that when he grew up in Harlem before Harlem became what it is today, he said it was black, but you had black professionals, including teachers, and they were educated. They had values. They were all oriented around the church. The culture was intact, it was superb, and they held their own in academic contests with kids from white schools around New York and so forth, and once the integration came along, all that just disintegrated for some reason, and apparently what's happening is that they've finally owned up to the problem in Omaha, and so they're going to go back and try to fix it by turning back the hands of time."

However, the proposal did not sit well with most black leaders in Omaha.

"This is a disaster," Ben Gray, a television news producer and co-chairman of the African-American Achievement Council said in the New York Times. "Throughout our time in America, we've had people who continuously fought for equality, and from Brown vs. Board of Education, we know that separate is not equal. We cannot go back to segregating our schools."

The following is taken from the Afro-American Newspapers.

Black leaders silent on Omaha school plan
By James Wright
AFRO Staff Writer

The leaders of Black and civil rights organizations have yet to comment on the controversy regarding the Nebraska legislature dividing Omaha's school system into three districts, Black, White and Latino. The NAACP is the only organization that has issued a statement regarding the matter.

"We strongly oppose the Nebraska law that divides the Omaha public schools along racial lines," Bruce Gordon, CEO and president, said. "The Supreme Court ruled those 52 years ago that separate but equal schools result in inequality and poor education for minority children. We will use every advocacy tool, including legal, at our disposal to fight this unconstitutional law."

Gordon noted that in 1976, a federal court, ordered the 45,000-student Omaha school system desegregated. The city ran a mandatory busing program from 1976 to 1999.

"To think that in 2006, after all that has been done to desegregate schools, a state legislative body would pass, and a governor sign into law, a bill that intentionally segregates students based on their race or ethnicity is unconscionable," said Gordon.

Sen. Ernie Chambers (D-Omaha) introduced the legislation. In a previous edition of the AFRO, Chambers said the schools in his city were already segregated and his plan is a way for Black parents to have more control over their children's education.

A spokesperson for the Congressional Black Caucus said that Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), chairman of the group, has not made a statement regarding the controversy. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund said they were still studying its options.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson has not had time to study the matter, but will be doing so soon, said a spokesperson for the Rainbow-Push Coalition. When the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights was asked for comment, a spokesperson referred to the NAACP statement.

The National Education Association, led by Reg Weaver, did not comment on the controversy.

"We have decided to let our affiliate in Nebraska handle this matter," said Ramona Parks, senior spokesperson for the association.

University of Maryland political scientist Dr. Ronald Walters said that Chambers is trying to remedy public policy that says that Black children are not important.

Omaha's plan will be implemented July 2008 unless the legislature makes changes, Chambers said.

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