Dodson discusses efforts to end segregation in New York's public schools following the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Dodson claims that a segregated school cannot provide an adequate education to its pupils so long as American culture continues to view "Jim Crow" schools as inherently inferior. He discusses some of the various means by which schools have integrated or might consider integrating, and he also considers the demographic shifts that have led to desegregation efforts in and around New York City. Dodson discusses the need for African Americans to be integrated into the economy, and he also discusses political and educational leaders' roles in improving New York's public schools. In particular, he describes Rev. Milton Galamison's and Kenneth Clark's positions concerning desegregation. Dodson also discusses Congressman Adam Clayton Powell. Dodson considers the alleged "psychological disengagement of Negroes from interracial participation." Dodson closes by making several predictions concerning future developments in New York's public school system.
Photo courtesy of New York University Archives.
Dodson is consistently quite audible in these recordings, but Warren is faint, often difficult and occasionally impossible to hear. Fortunately, Dodson does the majority of the talking by far.
Transcripts 1 and 2 are missing.
Audio courtesy of Yale University.
Dan W. Dodson
Dan W. Dodson (1907-1995) was a sociology professor and long-time critic of segregation in education. A native of Panther's Chapel, Texas, and the son of a sharecropper, Dodson completed his undergraduate studies at McMurray College in Abilene, Texas. He later received a graduate degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. In 1936 Dodson joined the Educational Sociology Program at New York University and, but for a short period of leave, remained affiliated with the university until his retirement in 1972. He also served as director of New York University's Center for Human Relations Studies. In 1944 Dodson began a four-year stint as the executive director of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia's Committee on Unity, which La Guardia formed to deal with intergroup conflicts. A report that Dodson produced while serving on the Committee on Unity was credited with ending the practice of using quota systems to admit Jewish, Catholic, and black students to universities in New York. Dodson also helped author integration plans for public schools in Washington and elsewhere. In addition, he worked with Branch Rickey, president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, on plans to break the color barrier in baseball, encouraging the Yankees and Giants to follow the Dodgers' lead after Jackie Robinson took the field in 1946. Dodson returned to Texas and settled in Austin upon his retirement.
TAPE 1 Searchable TextCollapse
[These digitized texts are based upon typed transcripts created in 1964. Errors in the original transcripts have not been corrected. To ensure accuracy, researchers should consult the audio recordings available on this site. Time stamps are included in the retyped transcripts to aid in this process.]
…Unintelligible word or couple of words
Italicized words– sounds like
Hmm hmm – positive
Uh uh – negative
RPW: Robert Penn Warren
DD: Dan Dodson
[00:00:05] RPW: This is a conversation with Dr. Dan Dodson of NYU, April 8th. Let’s see how we’re doing. Well, we’re in business.
DD: All right. I hardly know where to begin. I suppose you’re more interested in the school, the background of the school fiasco here
[00:00:28] RPW: Yes.
DD: right now then you are in the other parts of it.
[00:00:33] RPW: I’m interested in any kind of background and
[00:00:34] RPW: attitudes and
[00:00:35] RPW: circumstances you can give me
DD: Yes. All right.
[00:00:38] RPW: and analysis, too.
DD: All right. I have worked since Christmas with the Board of Education as a consultant and, of course, I’ve been around here for 28 years now as an alleged sociologist of some sort or another so whatever I say you have that for a background. Between 1950 and 1960, of course, we lost a middle-class white population in this city about the size of Washington D.C. and gained a low-income, low-socioeconomic status, ethnically identifiable population of Negro and Puerto Rican background about the size of Pittsburg. And the thing didn’t start then nor did it stop for them so what we’ve had in New York is a tremendous breadbasket turnover in a sense in the inner city, the concentration of minority peoples and the outmigration of the white, relatively easier to educate, the higher-motivated people.
The Supreme Court decision in ’54 raised new expectations for education and new, set new perimeters in a sense of what was to be expected in face of de facto segregation of a sort which we have. Result of it has been since that time a mounting pressure that these de facto segregated schools be dealt with. Now there’s, the whole, one facet of what we’ve gone through has been the legal dimension of it in which we started with the philosophy of law that was Justice Harlan’s famous phrase in 1896 that any arm of government dealing with people should be colorblind; the notion that you behaved toward people as if color, you were not conscious of color. But as we went along it became clear that as Judge Kaufman said, you can’t be that blind if you’re going to take into account the differences of background and the trauma of heritage and do anything with it. Consequently, there’s been this melting body of legal activity that began in many respects with the New Rochelle decision. And incidentally, I led a team that did the study of New Rochelle and if you want that report, I can share that with you.
[00:03:34] RPW: I’d love to see it.
DD: But my testimony went into that decision. He made a finding of fact, however, in that there had been gerrymandering in the past and consequently, they were entitled to relief. But as we moved along, I am happy to say, in New York and New Jersey the issues moved much more from the de facto, the, the parent going in search of his civil rights for his child to Commissioners of Education taking positions that de facto segregating schools did not provide a quality of education which children had a right to, the state had a right to expect the community to provide for children. So that in Englewood and Orange in New Jersey, and both of these I was involved and I can’t help you those, but in both those communities and in Malverne, the Commissioners have said there’s no evidence of discrimination in these schools but the de facto dimension of it provided an undesirable pattern of education. So now we’re back much more to say it’s the responsibility of the school system to provide meaningful encounters of peoples as an education experience than, than is it now a matter of civil rights. So I think that this is important in understanding the kinds of pressures that, that have come.
Now in Malverne the Commissioner got slapped down by the higher court saying that he exceeded his authority and I suppose this will appealed. I don’t know. But the pressure has mounted that because of the fact that the Negro group in, being the newcomer at the bottom rung of the ladder and with the heritage of what Jim Crow has meant, has not been content to accept the de facto segregated situation and say community is segregated, consequently schools are segregated and on this we can do nothing. I would contend that the school system is much more vulnerable on this because it has never had the boom lowered on it to require it to close this academic gap between the newcomer, marginal, rural heritage person in the past and the other people because primarily, except for the Jewish group which was not rural in heritage, it was urban and had high motivations. Except for that group, the others have almost universally in the past been people who relied on parochial education quite heavily for the training of their leadership and it didn’t; if they had born down to make the school come to grips as a dynamic force in closing this gap between them, they would have been too competitive with their own schools and consequently, it was glossed over.
[00:06:59] RPW: Yeah, public schools.
DD: That’s right. But there was a Negro group so completely dependent upon public education, this is a different problem and it’s visible. So that Keppel is right, Commissioner, United States Commissioner Keppel is right in a sense in saying, thank God for the boycotts and so on because last, I mean we’re forcing these communities to provide education. Now, I, I’m much farther to the so-called left or much farther to then I think a lot of people in the community are about some of this. I, I have not yet seen a segregated school that provided a standard of education. And I just don’t believe that it can be provided in the segregated situation. As long as the culture sees a Jim Crow school as something inferior I believe this, in fact, makes it so, and that to require youngsters to attend it is a violation of their, of their rights. Whether it can be, ever be made so, I think depends upon what happens to the Negro community. When it ceases to be a symbol of powerlessness,
[00:08:32] RPW: Let me interrupt.
DD: I think it will be a different thing.
[00:08:34] RPW: Let me interrupt at this point for one question. The question of what is possible,
[00:08:41] RPW: when you have
[00:08:43] RPW: a massive
[00:08:43] RPW: Negro population like Washington D.C.
DD: Yes. This I’ll come to.
[00:08:47] RPW: You’re coming to that.
DD: I’ll come to that.
[00:08:48] RPW: That’s fine.
DD: But what I’m talking about now is the ideological dimension
[00:08:53] RPW: Yes.
DD: of it and consequently, this becomes one weight in a series of factors you take into account in doing school assignment. And the issue then is much more how much weight you give it rather than whether you’re for it or against it. Now in one of these pieces I have given you which is a speech I made at the New School for Social Research a few weeks ago, I said that I didn’t believe that in the foreseeable future we could desegregate the elementary schools of Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant and perhaps, Jamaica. This does not detract from what I said about the, the ideological pattern of it. I think we just have to reconcile ourselves that, that this will be a factor mitigating against these children and problems related to it for a considerable period of time.
Now, and I’d, I’d say this goes for Washington. I helped design the desegregation pattern for Washington and we were operating then under the colorblind philosophy. And I told Superintendent Corning that I thought we should just divide the community office as well as we could to send kids to the nearest school irrespective of color and so on and without regard to who they were and this was what was done and this was the point we were at that time.
Now, today, in the New York City’s, and the Cleveland’s, Chicago’s, and large places, I think that there are a lot of children who will just, we’ll just have to reconcile ourselves the fact they’re going to be educated in segregated schools but this does not preclude placing a tremendous weight on the factor of desegregation as a part of school assignment and it’s much more where that weight would be set today I think than a matter of whether it had more weight than others. But, but I would be, I would be convinced that at some point, the desire to achieve a desegregated school would put you to so much trouble that it would cancel out the other; it would be canceled out by the other factors of growth and development of children. Now having said that, I, I would, I would go much further than a lot of folk are going and partially for some different reasons, too, I think. I have very little sympathy for the concept of the neighborhood school as such. I believe that it has become a divisive element in American life. I do not believe you can teach community in one of these fragmented, segregated patterns. It’s become a hiding place in which whites get and shield themselves from encounters with others and all that goes into it. That, and in Mount Vernon, I recommend they change the whole structure of education and have; and it’s a small town in a way, territorially, geographically, and organize it on a completely different basis because I do not believe that the people on the north sides of the tracks there will ever, you’ll ever get them to generate the amount of concern that’s necessary to provide education for everybody as long as they’re shielded from the encounters with them.
And in my little study of the open-enrollment program in New York City which has not been released yet, one of the most useful parts I’d say of the open enrollment as I observed it was that it, it drove home to the white people in these neighborhoods where these children, where all Negroes were sent out to these communities, it drove home to them the notion that, that they would say they send us all these children with all these problems, so on, they’re behind reading norms, this kind of thing, send us no resources with which to deal with it. And then comes sobering realization that this is what the principals were putting up with in the segregated area all the time. In other words, the only way that a person can be sure that he and his are not living with privileges that are unshared with the rest of his community is to be willing to share the facilities his enjoy with, with the others. And consequently, I, I, I, I don’t know whether the Princeton pairing business is a better way of doing it. It might have been better to take an area, for instance, like Washington Heights, we’ll say, part of the district and have several schools thrown together like you would have, for instance, in Greenbergh in Westchester which I hope you’ve heard about, and maybe have two grades in one building and two in the next and two in the next rather than have just these two schools paired with each other. Or it might have been better to have paired schools leaving; having one segregated school and then one integrated one and then one all-white on the other side. Might have been better to have some kind of operation leapfrog that would have jumped the middle school that was already integrated, I don’t know. But, but anyway, I would, if I were, I said that I thought one of the major; if I could do it like I’d like to do it, I would like to see them build an education park in the middle of town, cover that railroad track that runs through there which is an enormous ditch and divides the town psychologically as well as physically, and have the community’s children all come to school together and then you would educate for community which I don’t think, I don’t think you could do in this context. Now, this is, this, I’m not sharing with you what I think you want to get except in my
[00:15:52] RPW: It’s all interesting, though.
DD: It’s, it’s a part of a background. The thing that I see happening in this town is that the Negro group is beginning to take power, beginning to move from a sense of inner direction. It has to take power. Power can’t be given it.
[00:16:15] RPW: Power’s never given.
DD: That’s right. It has to be taken. And that the alternative to this kind of, the pressure that is being exerted is apathy. And I’ll take this in the place of apathy any time. Now the revolution this past summer jerked the rug out from under the leadership patters of this city and most of the others so that now there’s a big scramble for leadership in the Negro community and every person of any consequence is vying with each other to try to gain a leadership posture. Consequently, a very few can make negotiations with anybody else about the Negro community because
[00:17:10] RPW: Who can deliver?
DD: He can’t deliver. And none, very few of them could deliver to save their lives, any significant element of the community. Now when people take power, there’s no guarantee that they will not abuse their newfound power. The whole history of democracy is the socialization of power that is used arbitrary and capricious ends and we have to learn how to do that, I think, in all groups. I would not say that there have not been points in which bad judgment was used or power has been one of the most, cherish freedom and all have a capacity to participate worthily in the collective direction of destiny and we see it unfolding here before our eyes. And I think it’s all; I, I think it’s good and the alternate to it would be an apathetic situation that would be far worse.
[00:18:19] RPW: Yeah. Let’s, let’s, let’s take that is inthe bag
DD: Yes. Yeah.
[00:18:25] RPW: as a working principle.
DD: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:18:30] RPW: Then how does that apply psychologically and economically and otherwise ... now coming.
DD: That’s right. And the, the education thing stands, the segregated education pattern stands as a symbol of powerlessness. And it, it is tremendously symbolic but at the same time it symbolizes not only powerlessness but a sense of rejection by the wider community. Consequently, it is one of the things that, where there’s a greater sensitiveness than perhaps some others and consequently, here we’re getting the big, the big mobilization for action. Very rapidly the Negro community is bursting out of the ghettos, the middle class is at least, into these other communities and for that reason we have the Mount Vernon’s, the New Rochelle’s, the Orange’s, the Englewood’s and the others as these middle class people move to suburbs and are beginning to find housing for themselves. And this will proceed a pace I think with legislation that we have and so on. It’s, it’s a little harder to mobilize and I think Galamison was right several years ago when he said that you can, you cannot desegregate housing by fiat except public housing, but you can desegregate the schools by fiat. And instead of saying that you can’t do anything with the schools as long as housing is segregated, maybe the desegregation of schools is the first step to the desegregation of housing. And I think as I’ve looked at it in the suburb I would go along with this that almost by the time they look at the house, they look at the school. And many schools, if the children will attend the right one, many schools are; they, they advertise which school your children will attend to make sure you understand that they’re going to get in the right one.
[00:20:40] RPW: Somewhere it’s one thing and a big city it’s another.
DD: That’s right. That’s right. In, in the city here with the pressures what they are and all, I think that there will be the movement from the ghettos occupying the gray ring as they call it of housing which is the 50-80 year old housing around the perimeters of the ghetto. And then there is a significant redevelopment in the inner city which is bringing back people without children or people who can afford private schools which sorta is, is running a full cycle out to suburb, exurb, and so on and then back in and this is, this is taking place fairly rapidly. I don’t think it would take too much to tip some of these neighborhoods so that they came back as integrated neighborhoods of Negroes and whites living together and I think this is happening in some places of Bolton Hill in the Baltimore, Philadelphia back to town where 75% of the children in the public schools are Negro. There are more white children in the neighborhood than there are Negro children but they’re not in the public schools. In other words they live together as long as the school doesn’t have to be shared where there’s a heavy ponderance of Negro children.
Now at level employment, of course, we’re battling over this thing of preferential hiring and Whitney Young’s been talking about this. I’ve been on the, a program with him recently and a couple of radio things. My, I don’t know how with automation all going as it is and all, how we can; I don’t think you violate the laws and passing over well-qualified people for poorly-qualified people but I think it is possible.
[00:23:01] RPW: You do.
DD: No. But I do think it is possible in the context of the law to do a lot of, to do, to, to begin to do a lot of things. For instance, the selective purchasing program in Philadelphia brought many large corporations around to find ways through which they could keep within the law and hire some Negro people. And this, this; a sound economy is based on everybody participating in the economy and I think that in terms of public policy, there has to be some, some leverage here that goes out of its way, even selective recruitment in giving some preference where qualifications are equal, this kind of thing, to get Negroes integrated into the economy. Now you take me where you want to go because I just talk all around the barn here.
[00:24:07] RPW: No. Now, all this is for the good. Let’s go back again to the matter of what practically could be done say in the Harlem schools, just in that.
[00:24:21] RPW: What is possible there?
[00:24:22] RPW: And what are the
[00:24:23] RPW: elements that are, lines of pressure there and where they aim to lead
DD: Yes. There are
[00:24:30] RPW: the economy. The vision of, the vision of policies
[00:24:35] RPW: that are involved there and where they lead and how they, and how they led. Who’s leading them?
DD: Yeah. There are
[00:24:41] RPW: And what their motives are, right?
DD: There are two problems related to this and this is where, as I see it, the Board of Education is hung up right now. And the first is, how far they will go with the desegregation part of it and on this, as in all of these issues, ultimately they will come to some kinds of compromises. I, June Shagaloff at the NAACP and some others keep pressing for an overall plan. I, I’m not sure I know what they’re talking about. I can see an overall strategy of one sort or another that you could commit yourself to but it’s almost like quicksand, the changes that are taking place with the shifts of population. But I think in this, like all others, ulti-, ultimately we come to some kinds of compromises in which high schools will be, will probably become specialized high schools of one sort or another. Junior high schools, the feeder patterns will be altered as far as they can. Some may remain segregated but others so much more desegregation than they have.
[00:26:11] RPW: Excuse me.
[00:26:12] RPW: By specialized high schools, what do you mean precisely when you say that?
DD: Well, I don’t believe in these things but this is the kind of thing that’s happening. The Bronx High School of Science, for instance, is specialized high school for science people. You take special examinations to get into it. Or the High School of Music and Art, presumably the only people who have talents in music and so on; now these would draw youngsters whose special aptitudes and abilities and this would come from all over and be a select group.
[00:26:45] RPW: From the whole city.
DD: From the whole city. Or some academic high schools where they give specialized examinations and require high levels of academic background for such school. The Clara Barton Vocational High School for girls specializing in training girls for nurse’s aides, for people dealing with early childhood, little children, this kind of thing, or beauty culture, at a vocational level. Or the Wingate High School, it is highly competitive with examinations on aptitudes in vocational education.
[00:27:35] RPW: Doesn’t this sometimes mean dooming a person to something he really isn’t talented for, even the top levels. It’s
[00:27:43] RPW: customized schools.
[00:27:45] RPW: It’s, it’s a premature freedom.
DD: Yes. I, I have no patience with it but this is the trend and I, I don’t believe that we will; I, I believe in a comprehensive, what we call comprehensive high schools where there’s no division between vocational and academic and where all the community’s children go to school together and you have some diversification but it’s all under the same roof. But the whole trend of education in New York is in the other direction for these specialized schools. Now I notice Dr. Gross on Monday suggested another such school in the heart of Harlem that would pull white kids in there maybe, this kind of thing. But this may, this may be a way in which you try to segregate on another basis, that is on the basis of interest rather than on base of race and hope they’ll cut across racial lines.
[00:28:40] RPW: But don’t you have practically, as they exist now and will exist for some time, this system’s actually supporting segregation, racial segregation?
DD: Yes. Yes. I’d say the Bronx High School of Science supports segregation. They’ve got a handful of Negro kids and there’s no discrimination against them in so far as I, I really suspect they favor a little bit the Negro youngster who performed well on a, on a test but
[00:29:10] RPW: I was told that by a Negro who’s been there.
[00:29:13] RPW: That they ...
[00:29:14] RPW: ...
DD: Yeah. He’s Exhibit A, but by and large, there’s not enough Negroes there to make any difference and won’t be for some time because, until you build a capacity of test-taking to get into it and this, this, don’t have.
[00:29:30] RPW: Have the whole economic and family background.
DD: Yeah, that’s right. And, and a whole orientation to a world of verbal symbolic communication rather than, rather than the more basic kind of things. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:29:49] RPW: Now what policies; let’s take Galamison, for instance, and all the elements and are pressing for change. How do you break up these types of pressures, these policies, these policies?
[00:30:01] RPW: What are they,
DD: I said, yeah.
[00:30:02] RPW: an aligned …
DD: I said while ago there were two of these facets: one is the pressure for desegregation and the other pressure is for facilities and services that the city is not now able to give. And you get the pressures then running almost across the board, almost a spectrum of them where the Public Education Association, which is not particularly concerned with the integration problem. It was not for boycotts; it was not for any of these things but would be fighting for enough funds to make a good school system. On one end of the thing and all the way over at the other end then would be Galamison who says, you’re not going to get these resources until the schools are desegregated because, until the whites have to share what the Negroes put up with in these segregated areas, whites are not gonna through and help us get the schools. And consequently, all the emphasis there would be, the strategy there would be on the, the desegregation and later at some point perhaps get concerned with, with the financial part of it.
[00:31:29] RPW: Does he know that the, the grave difficulty of having a total desegregation?
DD: Yes, I think he does but also I think you might find, and I wouldn’t charge him with this, but I think you might find as you look, some Negroes who would, who would hate white people sufficiently, this group self-hate business, that they might, they would push so far to make the integration fail so they could reaffirm the feeling they had that the whites wouldn’t anyhow when the chips were down.
[00:32:19] RPW: Yeah, yeah. The full circle of feeling
[00:32:20] RPW: that way.
DD: Yes. Yes. Yeah, I think there’s some of this but I don’t think it’s, it’s too pronounced. But I think that the, the kind of thing the Public Education Association study tended to say it would take 200 million dollars a year to bring the school system back to the competitive position that it had with the suburbs as of 1940. We have only 44 personnel for 1,000 children as contrasted to the average suburb that has 60 and many have 70. And every 5th one of those 44 are on, are not licensed rightfully. They’re teaching out of license. So you’ve got some notion and you added to this the, the 25 million perhaps it would, that you’d need to help make the difference between highly-motivated while kids who left and the lower-motivated kids who came in, you, and then another 25 million because as you raise your standards, the suburbs would raise theirs. It would probably take a quarter million dollars a year to bring us to erase the disadvantage of having to attend New York City schools. And part of the issue you see then revolves (tape 2 also begins here) around what Gross is asking for, a saturation program on the one hand and to not worry so much about the segregation thing, but enough resource to saturate the schools with resource. And on the other hand, this, this feeling that this isn’t the priority; the priority is the mixing of the kids and once this is done, the whole community then will come through and get this resource.
[00:34:17] RPW: Yes. I’ve read, I don’t know but I thought I did, that the cost for a child, these extra things, you know, Harlem is the highest in the city now and she has received nothing.
DD: Well, I think that; I think two things on this. Under that; this bears out the kind of thing that I think the civil rights people are saying that as long as they’re segregated and it’s a symbol of rejection and so on, it, it won’t achieve because the traumatization is there and others would say
[00:34:58] RPW: ... (talking over each other) beyond though,
[00:35:00] RPW: bad housing
[00:35:00] RPW: and everything else.
DD: Yes. But then there is the other side of it that I think we have to take into account and that is, and you’ll find it in that New School speech that I did there; as the Harlem community becomes frustrated, it lashes out at these representatives of the school system
[End of Dodson Tape #1]Collapse