Slavery. The Civil Rights Movement. Segregation. I’m sure you could list off half a dozen facts on those topics without blinking an eye. Now, what about redlining, blockbusting and racial covenants?
Before joining the Diversity Club at the beginning of last year, I had a vague sense of what “white flight” and racial restrictions in Kansas City were. But after spending a year completely submersing myself in the history of integration in this city, I came to understand the racial divisions that have continued to plague Kansas City communities, as well as ours at East.
I didn’t find this in a textbook or in-class discussions–and this is precisely the issue. I’ve lived in Kansas City my entire life, yet I had to do extensive outside research to learn about the racial division in my city. Students should be educated by our teachers on this history, not forced to learn entirely outside the classroom.
Educating myself on this history has changed how I see my city as a whole. Now, everywhere I go throughout Kansas City, I find myself thinking about what came before what is here now. Students would gain knowledge that isn’t just relevant to this city. It would help explain parts of the history of race in this country that haven’t been previously talked about.
Race has been a strong talking point for the East administration in the last few years especially–Diversity and Inclusion Committee was founded, and the infamous Jane Elliott who came to talk about race in the eyes of others.. Yet, we as students don’t know why this has become an issue. The lack of diversity and race hasn’t recently become a problem. This lack of diverse student body has been an issue since the establishment of East in 1958.
Before Brown v. Board, Colby says, “Kansas City ran a strictly segregated school system based on racial attendance zones.” Following the forced compliance with Brown, however, the city was required to integrate their schools based on neighborhoods as a whole. It just so happened that these neighborhoods were conveniently all black or white in the first place. By using restrictions in deeds for houses, real estate agents were able to control where black families lived.
Schools around the city were affected by the forced integration by the government, but some like East remained sheltered by the state, in a bubble of white students. While schools like Central and Paseo were completely racially reversed between Brown v. Board in 1955 and 1965, places such as East and Southwest High School, remained almost 100 percent white. According to Tanner Colby in his book “Some of My Best Friends are Black,” real estate agents used racial restrictions in deeds, and by doing so were then able to control the movement of minorities, especially black people, “protecting” white homes and schools.
While it may seem like these issues are 60 years in the past, they continue to affect us as members of the Prairie Village and East community. Restriction of housing based on race were outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but according to the Kansas City Star they are still in thousands of deeds across the city–possibly including yours. This history hits home for many of us in the East and surrounding suburban communities. That is why it is so abhorrent that we don’t even speak of this history.
I understand that teachers are responsible for following a set of curriculum. While AP and standard American history classes include Brown v. Board, it excludes the effect that case had on both black and white students almost entirely. The ripple of that historic court case is never mentioned. They have to cover certain aspects of history with the limited time they are given, but why can’t the history of integration in the city in which they are teaching be a part of that? Providing students with an expanded history of race, not just in reconstruction or court cases, allows students to learn about something that has and will continue to be a pressing issue in the country as a whole.
Even if students wanted to read about this history, resources other than the textbook would have to be used. Segregation in real estate and in schools just simply isn’t mentioned in the history textbooks that are used here at East. One paragraph regarding Brown v. Board, buried in a single chapter on the Civil Rights Movement doesn’t nearly cover the complex and ongoing history of integration in America.
Students, especially in this city, deserve the right to learn about Kansas City’s history–not just about its role in slavery or reconstruction, but about how it did and still does negatively affect an entire group of people. School shouldn’t be a place of selective learning. Instead, students should have the ability to learn and discuss all topics, not just ones that make our school or city shine in a positive light.