Desegregation: Who really benefited?

November 1, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Oral history, Social history

Who really benefited from desegregation? This may seem like a foolish question in light of what many suffered during the Civil Rights era to where we are today. This question arose after hearing from most people of color, especially women about their post segregation experiences.

Alice Monyette Wilson, interviewed for KET Living the Story

Alice Monyette Wilson (from Mayfield, KY) tells her story on the KET website - click on her picture

Many black students, like Alice Wilson, who went to integrated schools stated that their white teachers were not very interested in their educational well being. If students were sent to schools where they were not welcomed or cared about was this good for them.

Sit-ins were a popular form of civil disobedience to force the integration of public places. When she wanted to join in protesting a local restaurant, Joyce Hamilton, now Dr. Joyce Hamilton Berry, was told by her father, “why would you want to go into a place that did not want you?” It seemed like good advice to her, so she did not join the protest.  Marching to spend your money where you were not welcomed was ludicrous as far as her father was concerned. This may have led to closure of many “black” businesses after desegregation because many took their business to those places. 

Jackie Robinson’s entrance into the Majors, many believe, led to the downfall of the Negro League. Many blacks lost a lot of the money they invested in the league when that happened.

In Lexington Kentucky, most black owned businesses in the Martin Luther King, Jr. neighborhood closed after integration. Women and children suffered the most as result of the economic hardship that hit that community. It still has not recovered after all these years.

The place to showcase their artistic expression in the community was also closed after desegregation. The Lyric the only African American theater in Lexington would be closed for a generation.

 Was desegregation a good thing? Many would answer yes. The question remains, who really benefited?

6 responses to Desegregation: Who really benefited?

  1. I’ve never really contemplated desegregation enough to consider all the negative consequences it had on society, especially the black community. This is the reason why the question you are asking is a very interesting one, because it allows for the further contemplation of desegregation and the affects it had on society.
    I have always considered desegregation to have had a positive effect on society because I was looking only at what desegregation had accomplished in our current time and not really considering all that had happened to arrive at this point. But after reading your post and considering all the negative consequences of desegregation, I’m finding myself more reluctant to say yes, because your post has uncovered some of the unfortunate consequences of desegregation, such as the closure of black businesses and other buildings that were at one time central to the black community.
    As for who benefited from desegregation? It would seem as though the white business men would have benefited from the increase in a black customers. Whether or not the white store owners would accept the new business without tensions arising is questionable.

  2. A Personal Response to the Benefits of Desegregation

    Who really benefitted from desegregation? That is a very difficult and very encompassing question, so I will only speak to it from a very personal point of view. My Father and Mother were both raised in Kentucky, specifically Jackson County. They were raised in the old school fashion where people of color stayed to themselves. My father moved to Ohio for work and that is where I was born.
    By the time I came of school age desegregation of the school systems were in full effect. I began school in Dayton, Ohio in the 1960’s. I was bussed to different schools to meet school quotas of race. I enjoyed going to mixed schools because I learned so much from the different cultures. One thing I learned is that we are all the same with the same hopes and aspirations to succeed. I hope that in return people of color that were bussed to schools in my area learned or experienced the same things I did. Many white people with money typically fled the areas of desegregation, usually to the suburbs. I am glad that my family did not have the means to do so. If my parents were racist, the desegregation of the school system taught me not to be.
    So who really benefitted from desegregation, I did.

    • This personal response is great. Being able to read a first hand account of desegregation allows for a better perspective. Th closing of black business and the ill treatment of the black community post segregation is sad, but why would the black community have pushed for desegregation if they were content with the separation of society? Any society in history that has attempted to have two different societies co-exist has had major issues and conflicts. Desegregation may have had negative effects, but ultimately the positive effects greatly outweigh the negative. Yes, some of the black community suffered directly following desegregation, but look at the institutions promoting specifically African American causes today. The black community of today is represented in all aspects of society , yet is also able to maintain some individual groups for people who identify themselves as African American. By having representation and involvement in all aspects of society and maintaining race specific groups or enterprises African Americans have drastically branched out from their segregation based isolation, while maintaining groups or enterprises directly associated with race.
      So who really benefited??? Everyone, by eliminating racial barriers the entire society has been able to grow and learn from one another.

  3. desegregation took strong brave people, to have the procees of segregation to degregation. at first when schools where first degregated, whites treated black kids in school very harsh, even in public places black where still a treated harsh. the forming of desegration took a long process, whcih includes the 1954 supreme court ruling, sit-ins in, and school integration. people in the older generation still have a problem with racial issues then the younger generation becuase they was raised the racist equality.

  4. I believe that this is a really important subject to discuss. A lot of times as historians, or even just as humans looking back at the past, we find ourselves focusing on a certain aspect of an issue, rather than the entire issue as a whole. One of my professors puts it elegantly as, “History is remembered from the perspective of those who conquer it.”

    While we often get caught up looking at it as a triumph over an injustice, we seldom see the other side which you pointed out. With desegregation came added competition for black businesses. The effect of segregation would then become the catalyst to the failure of black owned businesses after desegregation. The reason Brown v Board ruled the way it did was because they determined separate but equal was an impossibility and the reality of the time was very separate and very unequal.

    I do believe, however, that the injustice of segregation was something that the country had to come together and throw aside. The practice in and of itself was unconstitutional and never should have been allowed to be employed.

  5. This piece was quite the read. I had never stopped to think about any implications that would have so negatively affected the black community from desegregation. I had always seen desegregation as a very positive change for the black community, one that put blacks on the edge of equality with whites in America.

    It is sad that so many businesses were closed due to integration. I am sure that while blacks would be willing to work under whites, the same would not be true for whites (working for blacks). As far as education, almost all of the black teachers and other staff lost their jobs because of desegregation. The black students would have probably been better off being homeschool by that point.

    The “downfall of the Negro League” doesn’t seem that it would have had too much negative effect. Yes the league for blacks was gone but I’m sure many went to the Majors after Jackie Robinson’s entrance. The white player would have also lost their spots on teams because of this. It would the top players, black or white, that would find themselves still playing.

    It is strange that whites did benefit from integration more directly than blacks. Maybe Equality is worth it though. Maybe it’s not about what you own, but how you are seen. Great things usually have their draw backs. So I guess it is up to the individual whether it is worth their communities economic position is worth equality.

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