Old Dominion University welcomed Dr. Charles H. Ford to speak as part of its month-long celebration of Black History Month on Feb. 11.
Marking the sixtieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case in 1954, Ford presented “Sixty Years After Brown — The Triumphs and Tragedies of Public School Segregation.”
Ford, Norfolk State University professor and chair of the history department, is also the co-author of “Elusive Equality: Desegregation and Resegregation in Norfolk’s Public Schools.” His presentation featured research from the book which illustrates data he has compiled over the past eight years regarding some of the “myths” of school integration, why these political movements were met with much enduring hostility and why some of the alleged implementations of progress in Norfolk public schools are difficult to reconcile with the city’s apparent disparity in relation to race and class.
Sponsored by ODU’s Office of Intercultural Relations, the event took place at 11 a.m. in the Future Monarch Presentation room. Ford advanced a compelling lecture, paired with a slideshow, scrutinizing the stories of participants. He told the story of Ilene Black, a chemistry teacher who brought her case to the Supreme Court. Black was given a wage lower than the school’s white janitor, despite her outstanding qualifications, raising criticisms of America’s public image.
Ford said that Norfolk received its heaviest level of racial backlash during the ‘50s in what is known as “Massive Resistance,” a policy declared by former Virginia Senator Harry F. Bird. Many of the city’s schools were shutdown, a testament to the intersecting economic factors within the local community that complicated the fight for educational equality.
Norfolk is often overlooked in the history of school desegregation, due to what Dr. Ford refers to as the city’s “selective memory” when it comes to reconsidering some of its previous stigmas. Ford believes the fight for equal educational opportunity is an enduring struggle. He claims the movement’s loss of vitality is an unfortunate circumstance of what happens when a group becomes satisfied with its political aims. However, the current state of school integration is a definite landmark improvement compared to the 1950s.
Ford followed his seminar with a signing of his book “Elusive Equality.” His talk is one of many events hosted by the Office of Intercultural Relations to celebrate the beauty of black history month.
By David Baah