[COMM-ORG] new book on school desegregation and race

Discussion list for COMM-ORG colist at comm-org.wisc.edu
Sat Sep 4 11:14:10 CDT 2010

Howell Baum <hbaum at exch.mail.umd.edu>

Dear colleagues,

I am pleased to announce the publication of Brown in Baltimore: School 
Desegregation and the Limits of Liberalism. The book tells the history 
of Baltimore school desegregation and argues that school officials’ 
liberalism limited their ability to understand race and act effectively 
to end segregation. The analysis has implications for contemporary 
difficulties dealing with race.

The book’s story is this: A liberal school board voted right after Brown 
to end segregation. However, they chose open enrollment, or freedom of 
choice, as their strategy. The policy made desegregation voluntary, and 
it explicitly disregarded students’ race: all students would be seen as 
raceless individuals free to choose any school in the city. School 
officials said they did not care what racial makeup resulted, so long as 
students had the freedom to choose. Significantly, black leaders urged 
the board to adopt this policy, took credit for the board’s actions, and 
continued to endorse the policy for two decades. No civil rights group 
ever sued the school board to do anything more.

The analysis interprets school officials’ actions as a good-faith 
expression of their explicit liberalism. They saw society as made up of 
individuals, emphasized a procedural right to choose over any specific 
outcome, and believed government should not intervene in individual 
decisions. Free choice embodied these culturally normal American 
principles. The book argues that the Baltimore desegregation case shows 
the weaknesses of liberalism in grasping race conceptually and in 
developing deep strategies for redressing racial inequities.

Regards to all,
Howell Baum

Below is a description of the book from Cornell University Press and a 
link to the Press:


In the first book to present the history of Baltimore school 
desegregation, Howell S. Baum shows how good intentions got stuck on 
what Gunnar Myrdal called the "American Dilemma." Immediately after the 
1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the city's liberal school 
board voted to desegregate and adopted a free choice policy that made 
integration voluntary. Baltimore's school desegregation proceeded 
peacefully, without the resistance or violence that occurred elsewhere. 
However, few whites chose to attend school with blacks, and after a few 
years of modest desegregation, schools resegregated and became 
increasingly segregated. The school board never changed its policy. 
Black leaders had urged the board to adopt free choice and, despite the 
limited desegregation, continued to support the policy and never sued 
the board to do anything else.

Baum finds that American liberalism is the key to explaining how this 
happened. Myrdal observed that many whites believed in equality in the 
abstract but considered blacks inferior and treated them unequally. 
School officials were classical liberals who saw the world in terms of 
individuals, not races. They adopted a desegregation policy that 
explicitly ignored students' race and asserted that all students were 
equal in freedom to choose schools, while their policy let whites who 
disliked blacks avoid integration. School officials' liberal thinking 
hindered them from understanding or talking about the city's history of 
racial segregation, continuing barriers to desegregation, and realistic 
change strategies. From the classroom to city hall, Baum examines how 
Baltimore's distinct identity as a border city between North and South 
shaped local conversations about the national conflict over race and 
equality. The city's history of wrestling with the legacy of Brown 
reveals Americans' preferred way of dealing with racial issues: not 
talking about race. This avoidance, Baum concludes, allows segregation 
to continue.
"As a major city just below the Mason-Dixon line, Baltimore won approval 
when it became one of the first cities in the country to comply with the 
Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. Unlike their 
southern neighbors, white officials in Baltimore led the effort that 
resulted in the relatively peaceful desegregation of its public schools. 
Yet, in this wonderful book, Howell S. Baum digs deep into Baltimore’s 
history of school desegregation to uncover how the city’s 'liberalism' 
actually led to a pattern of political and civic abandonment. Baum 
illustrates how 'liberalism' muffled racial conflict and consequently 
weakened the city’s capacity to address issues of race and equality in 
its public schools. Brown in Baltimore is a genuine tour de 
force."—Marion Orr, Director of the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public 
Policy and American Institutions and the Fred Lippitt Professor of 
Public Policy, Political Science and Urban Studies at Brown University, 
author of Black Social Capital: The Politics of School Reform in Baltimore

"In this sensitive, readable, and well-researched book, Howell S. Baum 
shows how Baltimore officials tried and failed to integrate the city 
schools. Baltimore City officials honored freedom of choice in the 
abstract, but that notion proved inadequate to produce schools in which 
whites and blacks studied together. Baum writes with particular insight 
about the working-class ethnic whites of East Baltimore, and he shows a 
fundamental understanding of the workings of federal regulatory agencies 
and the peculiar pace at which the courts manage social conflict. The 
result is a wonderful combination of social science and history that 
illuminates one of America's key social concerns."—Edward D. Berkowitz, 
George Washington University, author of Something Happened: A Political 
and Cultural Overview of the Seventies

"Howell S. Baum carefully traces the long arc of struggle over school 
desegregation in a distinctive American city. With a storyteller's sense 
of narrative and a scholar's attention to detail, he adroitly assays the 
limits of classic liberal solutions to the nation's long-standing 
dilemma of race and sociospatial inequity in urban education."—John L. 
Rury, University of Kansas, author of Education and Social Change: 
Contours in the History of American Schooling
About the Author
Howell S. Baum is Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the 
University of Maryland. He is the author most recently of Community 
Action for School Reform and The Organization of Hope: Communities 
Planning Themselves.

Howell S. Baum
Urban Studies and Planning Program
University of Maryland
1229 Architecture Building
College Park, MD 20742
phone: (301) 405-6792
fax: (301) 314-9583
email: hbaum at umd.edu

More information about the Colist mailing list