August 7th, 1970, Durham City Schools sent out letters to every student in its school system, both black and white. All printed letters read, “Your child, ________, has been assigned for the 1970-71 school year to _______ School. Yours very truly, Lew W. Hannen, Superintendent, Durham City Schools.” The blanks were filled in the with hand-written notes assigning each student to one of the officially desegregated schools.
Today, August 7th, marks the forty-seventh anniversary of the Durham City Schools' desegregation.
After the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sued Durham City School System in 1968, the courts ruled that the Durham County School Board must initiate a plan to desegregate the schools. The approved plan marked 1969 as the year for the initiative to begin, but a judge offered an extra year for elementary students.
Now, forty-seven years later, LaHoma Smith Romocki and Cynthia Waszak Geary — both teenagers at the time — reflect on receiving their letters in their co-authored memoir, Going to School in Black and White. Their experiences, recounted in alternating first person narratives, are the embodiment of desegregation policies, situated in a particular time and place. Cindy and LaHoma’s intertwining coming of age stories are part of a bigger story about America, education and race — and about how the personal relates to the political.
"The arrival of the 'letter' confirmed my worst fears. My mom says I brought the notice that 'it' was coming soon, but we didn’t receive official notification until early August. The knowledge that the unwanted school re-assignment was coming
hovered over me like a pesky fly, ruining that summer for me." — LaHoma
"The letter I nervously retrieved from my front-porch mailbox late that summer had 'Cynthia Claire Stock' and 'Hillside High' handwritten in green ink in the two blank spaces. I was disappointed but not surprised." — Cynthia
LaHoma and Cindy tell their stories, aware of the country's return to de facto school segregation, achieved through the long-term dismantling of policies that initially informed their school assignments. As adults, they consider the influence of school desegregation on their current lives and the value of bringing all of us into conversation about what is lost or gained when children go to school in black and white.