Alan Singer is the teaching director of social studies at Hofstra University and the author of New York and Slavery: Time to Teach the Truth (SUNY, 2008). Follow him on twitter @AlanJSinger1 .
Local residents protest the proposed integration of Malverne High School, c. 1963. Photo courtesy of Malverne Historical and Preservation Society
The 1960s struggle to racially integrate the Malverne, New York school district was revisited by CBS News as part of its report on Black History Month. Schools in Malverne have recently made headlines again because secondary school pupils are demanding the name of a street in the town be changed as it is named after Paul Lindner, a local property developer, who was Great Kleagle of the Nassau County Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and a senior Klan official at the state level.
There are times when story twists open up new possibilities. The 1960s struggle for a more racially integrated society in the United States and Malverne was one such moment. Today we live with the political and social consequences of our failure to achieve a more just society sixty years ago.
The demographics of the Malverne School District and Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island made Malverne one of the few areas where an inclusive school plan model could be implemented. Long Island’s two suburban counties form a checkerboard of 124 small, racially, ethnically, and economically segregated school districts. Part of the problem was how the suburbs of the New York metropolitan area grew after World War II and part of the problem was intentional segregation. Before the war, most of Long Island was farmland with a scattering of small towns and a few vacation estates for the wealthy. The boundaries of predominantly rural school districts corresponded to local communities. With the proliferation of suburban developments on Long Island, neighboring towns that had been separated now met, but the old school boundary lines remained. Meanwhile, home values often depended on school performance and demographics, while local taxes based on home values funded schools, all of which contributed to school segregation and inequality.
But an important factor was redlining. After World War II, veterans were entitled to government insurance for residential mortgages, but mortgages had to be issued by local banks. Banks and real estate brokers conspired to maintain racial segregation in neighborhoods and schools. Black families could settle in communities that banks and real estate agents already considered devalued (and sometimes marked red on maps), but they weren’t shown houses or given mortgages in places. other localities.
The city of Malverne is still split between two school districts, with areas of Malverne south of Franklin Avenue or west of Cornwell Avenue supplying neighboring Franklin Square schools, including students in grades 7 through 12 at Valley Stream North High School. Inter-district school integration on Long Island has always faced too much parental and political opposition, but the Malverne School District was in a unique position on Long Island because it included two different neighboring communities, Malverne and Lakeview.
Lakeview was an area to which black families were largely relegated by redlining and other restrictive practices after World War II, so the community’s school-aged children were largely African American. Today, Lakeview’s population remains at approximately 85% African American.
The campaign to racially integrate schools in the Malverne School District began in earnest in September 1963. Pro-integration families boycotted public schools in Malverne, and temporary “Freedom Schools” were established in community churches and at the Jewish Center. White parents opposed to an inclusive school plan won the support of state senator Norman Lent, who unsuccessfully introduced two bills in the state legislature banning the transportation of students by bus to reach racial balance and the assignment of students to schools based on race, color, religion or nationality. origin.
When the first efforts were made to reassign students to racially integrated elementary schools in 1965, a large group of white families demanding the retention of “neighborhood schools” boycotted district schools and created their own independent classes for their children. . As a compromise, in August 1967, the Malverne School Board and the state Department of Education finally agreed to a new “4-4-4” plan. Students were split between two schools in kindergarten through 4th grade, then assigned to a district-wide middle school and high school.
In many ways, the Malverne Schools’ final racial integration plan was doomed from the start. Intense white opposition to school integration plans, including picket lines, school boycotts, and lobbying in Albany, led to white flight from Malverne public schools and the gradual re-segregation we see today. today.
According to the 2020 United States Census, the population of Malverne is 78% white, 5% black, 5% Asian and 8% Latino. Next to Lake view is 79% black, 8% white and 6% Asian. Lakeview and part of Malverne feed into the Malverne School District. Eighty-two percent of students who attend school in the Malverne Union Free School District are members of minority groups. The student population of Valley Stream North High School in Franklin Square, where many Malverne students are zoned, remains interracial, but with a declining white minority. Meanwhile, the student population of Our Lady of Lourdes, a Roman Catholic K-8 school in Malverne is 85% white. The student population of chaminadea nearby all-boys Roman Catholic high school is 90 percent white.
At a time when school reform and budget savings are championed by representatives of both major political parties, Long Island cannot economically, politically, or culturally afford to maintain small, racially segregated school districts. Schools in Malverne and schools in surrounding communities shall not be racially segregated. In nearby Rockville Center, 80% of students are white. If Malverne, Lakeview, and Rockville Center were combined into one school district, the student population would be 53% white, 30% black, 13% Latino, and 4% Asian. If we think even more broadly and Malverne, Lakeview, Rockville Centre, West Hempstead, Lynbrook and East Rockaway were combined into a manageable sized district with less than eleven thousand students, the student population would be 69% white, 14% black , 13% Hispanic and 4% Asian.
Long Island’s diversity is one of the region’s greatest resources. It is high time to racially integrate its schools.