West’s remarks were partially correct

Published 11:28 pm Sunday, July 30, 2017

In a recent letter to The Natchez Democrat, I denounced the outrageous rejection by the Natchez-Adams School Board of the voters’ will in the recent bond referendum for a building fund for schools. While I stand by my remarks, there is another side to this dispute. There was an elephant in the room during that confrontation, and elephants are dangerous things to ignore.

During the meeting, Mr. Phillip West vehemently objected to attempts to limit the board’s funding authority as “racist.” He claimed that opposition was led by white people who had sent their children to private schools to avoid integration.

Though his presentation may have been offensive, in large part, Mr. West was correct. After integration in the 1970s, schools were established all over the South to subvert Supreme Court decisions. They were called “segregation academies.” White parents found the money to send their children to such schools. While some local private schools had been long established (Cathedral, Trinity), others — chiefly Adams County Christian School — were created in that moment. White parents, by withdrawing their children, also withdrew their support of the public school system. This was, and remains, a tragedy.

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The result is a fractured educational system in which white kids are separated from the interracial community in which they must live. In such segregated environments, they learn that black kids are “different,” and black children learn the same of whites. White people regularly denigrate the quality of schooling in the public schools.  They withhold their support of these schools. They indirectly teach their children to distrust public institutions and black people in general. White parents also resent mightily having to support two school systems — public schools through taxes, and private schools through tuition. That resentment is enacted by opposing all funding, no matter how justified, to the public school system. It voices itself in the recent opposition to the bond issue.

Mr. West was, on the other hand, only partly right. While some who signed the petition undoubtedly did so out of racially prejudiced views, some surely did so out of concern for higher taxes, and in opposition to a school board which seemed to be out of control.

Here’s a suggestion: put together a report on the vital repairs and remodeling needed for public schools. Include specific actions and the cost of each. Publicize that accounting and hold public hearings over several months to invite comment and discussion. Those funding requests should be sufficient but moderated. Heed the voters’ will and abandon talk of a new high school. Fix what’s broken. Improve what’s outdated. Such a moderate funding request is much more likely to earn the approval of the majority of voters, black and white.

If reactionary elements then oppose such a more modest proposal, I’ll be first in line to oppose them.
Don Simonton

Natchez resident