Fithawee Tzeggai

Race, Inequality, and the Strategic Limits of Desegregation: Symbolic Struggles over School Reform in the Wake of Chicago’s Civil Rights Movement

This project analyzes the articulation and evolution of an official agenda for student desegregation in the context of ongoing struggles over race and inequality in Chicago’s public schools during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Unlike the more high-profile debates between state actors, national organizations, and expert attorneys over the appropriate racial mix of students across schools, neighborhood-level struggles over desegregation interventions in racially changing areas related desegregation to the material and organizational concerns of struggling ghetto schools. In Chicago and nationwide, public officials and their allies often adopted a sanitized discourse of desegregation that deflected these material concerns over educational inequality, which animated the anti-school segregation struggle that peaked in Chicago during the early 1960’s. Drawing on archival research spanning multiple political debates and policy struggles over educational equality in 1970’s Chicago, this project asks how the specific desegregation interventions of the Chicago Public Schools framed educational challenges and objectives without conceding to popular interpretations of racial inequality. This investigation examines the larger hypothesis that desegregation reform, by marking select spaces for black achievement, helped define and legitimize a separate domain of segregated ghetto schools, designated for depoliticized, poverty-oriented reforms.