Established in 1982 at LaGuardia Community College/ CUNY with a mission to collect, preserve, and make available primary materials documenting the social and political history of New York City. We hold nearly 5,000 cubic feet of archival records and 3,200 reels of microfilm with almost 100,000 photographs and 2,000,000 documents available on our website.

Friday, May 16, 2014


Steven A. Levine
Coordinator for Educational Programs
Sixty years ago today in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), declaring in a 9-0 decision that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.  After the decision, Mayor Robert F. Wagner saw the need to act in New York City stating in a 1955 speech to the United Parents Association that
"We cannot oppose only segregation in the South . . . The studies and analyses of schools in the areas where our Negro and Puerto Rican children live reveal the inequality of physical properties and teaching personnel.  That is not true democracy in education and it is not the American way.  It is certainly not the New York City way."

Wagner spoke these words in earnest and in great contrast to the racist venom of leaders in the South, but segregation was real and difficult to confront in New York City. Racism had deep roots in New York and Mississippi and  desegregation faced resistance in both places.
Sadly, progress that occurred in past decades is being reversed.  A recent report by the UCLA Civil Rights Project found that "New York has the most segregated schools in the country: in 2009, black and Latino students in the state had the highest concentration in intensely-segregated public schools (less than 10% white enrollment), the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution with white students across schools.
 Heavily impacting these state rankings is New York City, home to the largest and one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation."

History books describe Brown v. Board of Education as a turning point in history. Joel Motley, the son of NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorney Judge Constance Baker Motley also stressed this in an Archives video. They are correct, but the battles for school desegregation have not only been lost, but forgotten.  Moreover, recent Supreme Court decisions have weakened municipalities' abilities to even address the issue.  And when was the last time any of our political leaders mentioned the issue of school segregation?  In Washington and Albany, policies have favored charter schools, despite the UCLA study showing that charter schools are among the most segregated schools in New York City and in the nation.

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