In the 1970s, court-ordered public school desegregation transformed the Deep South’s classrooms, stadiums, and teachers’ lounges into America’s most integrated spaces, at least for a while. The Supreme Court called for an end to the region’s nearly two decades of post-1954 Brown v. Board of Education stonewalling. Racial history shifted in one sweep. Black and white, children and educators, lives changed. Old patterns shattered. The transformation, wrapped in historic moral purpose, affected over 11 million children.
An estimated possibly 750,000 of us opted out. We became alumni of the white segregation academies that sprouted up around 1970 in 13 states to defy the ideal of racial equality.
As the roles of whiteness and unconscious racial bias are being confronted in the U.S. today, it’s past time to talk about the training and messaging of the academy experience. The conversation is unsettling and uncomfortable—for most of us, family and adults we loved backed the idea—yet the past shapes the present. This project is a space for public reflection on the persisting impact of the South’s academies on its past and present.
In its first three months, The Academy Stories will be publishing first-person accounts from academy alumni of the 1970s and 1980s. (By the 1990s, a number of academies had closed, while others had begun to admit a few black students.) The accounts will stand as primary documents of history; this initial effort is funded by the Mississippi Humanities Council. In future cycles, the project will look at how the Deep South academy movement continues to shape society today.