Ferguson’s Other Tragedy: School Segregation Still Leaves a Mark in Missouri

Before his tragic death, Michael Brown had just graduated high school and was headed to college -- a path more promising than most of his peers. But Brown’s academic experience was far from perfect, ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones shares on this week’s podcast. His school was part of the Normandy district, one of the poorest, most segregated and lowest performing in Missouri.


In her latest report, Hannah-Jones takes the story of Ferguson beyond the police shooting and protests after Brown’s death, and investigates St. Louis metro area's history of segregated school districts and how housing discrimination played a major part in paving the racial lines that divide black and white communities even today.

St. Louis has a history of white residents trying to keep black residents out of their neighborhoods through prohibiting home sales and limiting the building of more affordable rental properties in the suburbs. Black families were then unable to move out of urban areas to attain better schooling for their children, Hannah-Jones tells Editor-in-Chief Steve Engelberg.

Even after the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education deemed separate schools for black and white students unconstitutional, the 24 school districts in St. Louis remained heavily segregated until a 1983 federal court order launched one of the most successful desegregation programs in the country: black students would ride the bus to the predominantly white suburbs and attend higher-ranking schools.

But it didn’t last, and the desegregation program became voluntary by 1999. Even today, the majority of Missouri’s black students are stuck in lower-ranking schools and just a few are accepted into the busing program or able to transfer to another district.

“We’re not living up to our 1954 promise to integrate kids,” Hannah-Jones says. “As we look at how the demographics of our nation’s schools are changing, we’re at a point where about 50 percent of children in this country are children of color. I think we need to really examine what that means when so many of these kids are going to graduate from inferior schools. If they graduate at all.”

Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For more on this investigation, you can read Hannah-Jones' full story, and tell us about your experience with segregation.

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