An Equal Chance for Education (Harold Baron, 1962)

Synopsis by Chelsea Birchmier

“An Equal Chance for Education” is a policy report for the Chicago Urban League (CUL) prepared by Harold Baron in March of 1962. The report was written as a guide for individuals and organizations concerned with children’s educational quality and equality. Baron aimed to provide a basis for understanding school segregation that would inform action, writing, “comprehension is a prerequisite to effective action.” He argued that the schools were obligated to use every possible resource to provide equal educational opportunity for children, and that when segregation, both in schools and in housing, prevented such equal opportunity, schools had the responsibility to compensate for those conditions.

Baron traces the segregation in U.S. schools to slavery, when slave states forbade Black education, followed by a Jim Crow pattern of segregation until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, after which legal, or de jure, segregation began to decrease. However, extralegal, or de facto, school segregation continued in Northern cities via residential segregation and other policies supported by boards of education and school administrators, resulting in little difference between Northern and Southern states regarding the actual experience of segregation. This pattern of de facto segregation was evident in Chicago as of 1960, where only 10 percent of Black elementary school students attended integrated schools. Two major cases challenged the legality of segregation: the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which established that de jureschool segregation was unconstitutional, overturning the “separate but equal” standard established by the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case and the 1961 Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education case, which established that de facto school segregation via gerrymandering and intentionally drawing school boundaries so as to contain Black residents was unconstitutional. The New Rochelle case, however, did not establish a positive policy of integration that would require school boards to actively promote integration. Despite the New Rochelle case and Illinois laws that had forbidden student assignment to schools by race since 1874, de facto segregation continued in Chicago schools. According to Baron, the distinction between de jure and de facto segregation made little difference when it came to its effects on children.

Baron details some of the psychological and educational effects of segregation. He points to research showing the feelings of inferiority and motivation for education that Black children experienced due to segregation, which reinforced their acceptance of second-class status. Segregation also had harmful impacts on white children, teaching them values that conflicted with moral, religious, and democratic principles, as they absorbed ideas of superiority. Black children were often “doubly handicapped” by socioeconomic status. The handicaps faced by Black and low-income families were compounded by educational practices, which provided them materials and tests based on white middle class experiences and values and denied them out-of-school experiences and high quality educational resources. This mandated that equal educational opportunity could only be achieved if “the schools compensate for the inequities perpetrated by our society.” The educational system then served to reproduce race and class differences and to contribute to an intergenerational cycle in which Black job seekers moved from a discriminatory educational system into a discriminatory labor market, to then raise children who would enter a segregated school.

Baron then examines the history of segregation and integration in Chicago schools from the 1860s onward, revealing a pattern of segregation followed by community protests challenging segregation. In 1863, an Illinois ordinance required that Black and white children attend separate schools. A sit-in campaign was organized in which Black parents continued sending their children to the nearest school despite the ordinance, and Black residents occupied the Board of Education’s and the mayor’s offices; in 1865, the ordinance was repealed. At this time, the South Side community was just beginning to form. It wasn’t until the Great Migration during World War I that the South Side community expanded, as Chicago’s Black population doubled from 1920 to 1930. During this time, the Black Ghetto was formed by practices of the Chicago Real Estate Board and restrictive covenants, agreements between property owners to not sell or rent homes to Black residents. By 1940, primarily Black schools became overcrowded and increasingly operated as double-shift schools, in which one group of children came to school during a morning shift and another during an afternoon shift, reducing the amount of time Black children spent in school, while white schools began to accrue underutilized space. The Chicago Board of Education maintained these conditions by implementing a neighborhood school policy and freezing school boundaries at the Ghetto, allowing white but not Black children to transfer to underused white schools, districting Black elementary school graduates into Black high schools, decreeing neutral areas, and spending less on Black schools. In response, the Black community again organized protests, alongside The Citizens Schools Committee, The Better Schools Committee and the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Their protests ultimately helped to oust the corrupt regime of Board of Education President James McCahey and Superintendent of Schools William Johnson, who were investigated by the National Educational Association and accused of collaborating with the Chicago Real Estate Board in creating poor conditions for Black students. There was some improvement when Herold Hunt replaced Johnson as Superintendent in 1947. With the help of a committee led by Professor Louis Wirth at the University of Chicago, elementary school boundaries were shifted to help with overcrowding and many neutral areas were removed. However, this plan operated on a colorblind principle and altered boundaries without taking into account race. According to Baron, programs had to become “positively ‘color-conscious’” instead of colorblind to bring about significant change. Hunt was succeeded Benjamin C. Willis in 1953, who did not continue with the plans of the committee to address unequal high school usage.

After detailing this history, Baron locates the continued existence of residential segregation and Ghettoes as a major social factor affecting de facto school segregation in Chicago. Residential segregation remained consistent despite the increase of Chicago’s Black population from 492,000 to 813,000 from 1950 to 1960. Ghettoes helped to maintain segregated, overcrowded Black schools via neighborhood school policies in the South and West sides of Chicago. In turn, school segregation also served to maintain housing segregation, such that white families began to move out as soon as Black children entered a school in the area. After 1953, segregation increased as the Black school population grew, such that, by 1961, 90% of Black elementary school students attended all-Black schools. The Board of Education’s school building program placed new schools according to the neighborhood school policy, building more segregated schools and only shifting boundaries within the Ghetto. The educational facilities continued to be unequal, with Black schools overcrowding and students on double-shift, facing a lack of lunch rooms or even library rooms and textbooks in contrast to white schools with underutilized rooms, and unequal assignment of teaching personnel and expenditure per pupil. While less pronounced in high school, segregation along with diluted curricula in mostly Black schools continued, particularly in vocational and trade schools. These conditions negatively impacted the academic performance, dropout rates, and test scores of Black elementary and high school students.

Baron suggests that the effects of separate and unequal education were cumulative and intergenerational and points to the inadequacy of the policies of the Chicago Board of Education in addressing the conditions producing such effects. Neither their school building program nor Superintendent Willis’ plan relieved overcrowding or double shifts in Black schools. Schools instead attempted to reduce overcrowding while maintaining neighborhood boundaries by creating mobile classrooms outside schools in the Ghetto, placing children in classrooms without teachers, and using floating classrooms that roamed the hallways looking for an open room. From 1957, public protests and pressure from Black residents, PTAs, the Urban League, NAACP, and the Citizen Schools Committee challenged these conditions. In 1960, parents at Gregory School picketed the Board of Education and organized a campaign called “Operation Transfer” with the NAACP, attempted to enroll students in overcrowded schools into white schools, and filed a lawsuit in the Federal Courts. With public hearings of the Board of Education in 1961, protests increased. Parents of children at Burnside School and Parker Elementary adopted sit-in tactics from the Civil Rights Movement, and parents in the South Side went on strike in response to an attempt to make an old dangerous building a mobile classroom. Baron writes that schools had become a “focal point” in the struggle for equality in Chicago, and that if the Board continued its inaction, Chicago might become known as “a Little Rock on Lake Michigan.”

Baron then provides examples of integration programs that Chicago should aspire to, such as New York City. After a study of the status of public education for Black and Puerto Rican children in New York City found patterns of separate and unequal education, school boundaries were rezoned to create integrated schools. Open Enrollment policies allowed children from overcrowded schools to attend schools with underused facilities out of district, and the Board covered transportation costs. A strong human relations program and training ensured buy-in from stakeholders so that the program was implemented smoothly. Special programs such as the Demonstration Guidance Project were designed to compensate for children who were behind in studies and provided remedial reading, extra counseling, as well as out-of-classroom experiences, resulting in major increases in reading level, academic performance, and school attendance. He mentions several other programs in various cities that attempted to address separate and unequal education, such as the St. Louis Banneker Project, which combined motivational counseling with students and parents and remedial summer reading, resulting in increases in reading and math performance.

Baron concludes by considering what Chicago could do. First, he makes it clear that nothing would change without participation and pressure from the community. Next, he argues that the Board of Education had to adopt and implement a strong policy and program of integration and for quality and equality of education, The first step for the Board in developing such a policy would be a survey of public schools, advised by a citizen’s advisory community representing major groups in Chicago. Additionally, boundaries had to be redrawn to promote integration, transportation had to be provided for children from overcrowded schools to attend underutilized schools, personnel had to be integrated, educational quality and standards had to improve with no watering down of curricula, and psychological and social work services had to be offered. Extra facilities and programs also had to be provided to children who had been disadvantaged by the educational system. A strong human relations program would be necessary to ensure the implementation of the policy. For Baron, the realization of such a program was only a first step toward democratic education; once those reforms were adopted, Baron writes, “the efforts of many others can be called upon to support a real educational crusade for democracy.”

Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Federal Controversy in Chicago, A Memorandum (Harold M. Baron, 1965)

Synopsis by Madeleine McQuilling

Sixteen months after the Civil Rights Act was signed into law, Hal Baron watched administrators riddle it with loopholes. Without immediate and decisive action, he argued, the U.S. would consign the new act to the same ineffective fate as that of Reconstruction legislation. In this 1965 memo to Chicago Urban League director Bill Berry, Baron voices his fears by detailing two Title VI complaints filed in Chicago––one alleging discrimination in public education and the other, discrimination in public housing. The choice of complaints specifically from Chicago was strategic. As Baron explains: “Since the Chicago complaints were among the first to deal with major types of urban segregation that receive Federal aid, and […] the Office of Public Education’s delay in granting funds to the Chicago public schools became a national issue, we feel that the disposition of the Chicago complaints might unfortunately become national precedent.” Baron continues to outline these complaints and explain the various ways in which their dispositions were unfortunate.

Baron first addresses the complaint on the Chicago public schools, filed July 4, 1965 by the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO). This complaint alleged that the Chicago Board of Education was in violation of Title VI as they are “segregated and unequal because of racial discrimination.” While members of the CCCO acknowledge the probable short term harm that a withdrawal of funding would cause the Chicago public school system, they assert that their complaint will, in the long run, more than compensate for the temporary embarrassment. “We are confident,” the complaint concludes, “that Federal intervention in this matter, through the withholding of funds, will help underline the high fiscal cost, as well as the immeasurable social cost, of segregation to Chicago and to the rest of the nation.” The complaint is addressed to Commissioner Francis Keppel, who put a tremendous amount of effort into investigating the issue and holding the School Board accountable for their actions. Unfortunately, he was thwarted at every turn from people in various governmental positions––all the way up to, and including, president Lyndon B. Johnson. Men such as Superintendent Willis, Mayor Daley, and Congressman Pucinski insisted on maintaining federal funds without desegregating Chicago schools; when the Johnson Administration joins the fray, Baron accuses them of striving to “end the controversy rather than ensuring broad enforcement of Title VI.” Referencing Washington correspondent Joseph Kraft, Baron asserts that Mayor Daley was intentionally inflaming race relations in Chicago as a re-election strategy. “If Commissioner Keppel expected voluntary and informal conciliation,” Baron remarks, “he made a serious error in judgement.” Baron concludes this section by underscoring a presidential responsibility: “Unless there is positive encouragement from the White House itself, it is doubtful that we will see the use of the sanctions of Title VI except in the most flagrant and egregious cases.”

Baron next addresses the complaint on Public Housing Sites filed by the Westside Federation. This complaint alleged that the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), was in violation of Title VI by continuing to build massive public housing projects “in the heart of the Negro ghetto.” “With a high degree of assurance,” Baron paraphrases, “it could be assumed that projects at [these] new sites would become all-Negro.” The Public Housing Administration argued that the CHA was not in violation of Title VI by interpreting it “in the narrowest possible manner.” In essence, if the entity receiving federal funds, such as the CHA, is under the complete power of an entity not receiving federal funds, such as the City Council, then the first entity cannot be held accountable to Title VI if they do not have authorization from their superiors to comply with its provisions; the second entity is exempt from Title VI because they are not a direct recipient of the funds. While the Public Housing Administration felt “that CHA did very well within the bounds placed upon it by the City Council,” Baron considered such an interpretation detrimental to the efficacy of Title VI, and its potential as a force for desegregation. For Baron, this would amount to “a national disaster.”

Throughout this memo, Baron calls for “sweeping and imaginative interpretation of the Title’s provisions” that would allow it to effect positive change, particularly in urban centers. As unlikely as it sounds, Baron managed to set just such a precedent by turning this Westside Federation housing complaint into the celebrated case, Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority.


Northern Segregation as a System: The Chicago Schools (Harold Baron, 1965)

Synopsis by Chelsea Birchmier

“Northern Segregation as a System: The Chicago Schools” first appeared in the journal Equity & Excellence in Education, formerly Integrated Education, in 1965. In this piece, Baron argues that racial subjugation in the northern U.S. was tied to peculiar northern racial institutions rather than being inherited entirely from the South. Additionally, he emphasizes an institutional framework of northern race relations in contrast to a framework dominated by individual white prejudices and Black adjustment difficulties. While the origins of U.S. race relations lay in the southern plantation economy, the northern metropolis had developed and perpetuated its own racial institutions. In contrast to southern segregation, which was upheld by law and its enforcement by state police, Chicago had achieved a high level of segregation in schools in the absence of legal segregation. This, he suggests, was maintained via a “complex of interacting and mutually supportive institutions whose combined effect is greater than the sum of the effects of each institution considered singly,” a framework he further develops in “The Negro Worker in the Chicago Labor Market” (1965) and “The Web of Urban Racism” (1968). Racial segregation in schools, then, was supported and reinforced by the dual labor market, job discrimination, housing segregation, the lack of Black power, and an ideology of racism.

Baron then details how this system of northern segregation operated rather overtly in the Chicago Public Schools via dual Black and white sub-systems that were spatially and socially distant. In Chicago, only 18% of elementary schools were integrated; while high schools were more integrated, they were internally segregated via track systems. Similarly, faculty and administrators were segregated such that Black teachers and principals were concentrated in Black-segregated schools. One feature of northern segregation systems was the presence of exceptions to patterns of separation, in contrast to the absolute separation characteristic of legal segregation, exemplified by the presence of a few integrated schools in Chicago. Yet, even these schools were often transitionally integrating from white-segregated to Black-segregated schools. A second feature of such systems was the inferiority of the Black subsector. In Chicago, Black schools were inferior in inputs—more pupils per class, less money spent per pupil, less concern for needs of the community, lower expectations—resulting in inferior outputs—lower grades, higher dropout rates, lower self-esteem. The Civil Rights Movement, however, led to some improvements in inputs, which helped the disparities in outputs from increasing. Third, the system operated as one of racial subjugation. While Black people were able to improve their absolute conditions via education, their position relative to white people remained stagnant or worsened.

Baron lays out the other barriers that reinforced and were reinforced by the school system in Chicago. First, residential segregation maintained school segregation via a neighborhood school policy, while school segregation maintained residential segregation by the movement of whites out of integrated neighborhoods to avoid inferior schools for their children. Second, the dual labor market upheld school segregation through impoverishment and family instability while the schools produced inferior outputs in skills that upheld Black workers’ degraded relative income and occupational status as part of the dual labor market. Third, the ideology of racism legitimized school segregation while school segregation indoctrinated children with racist ideology. Fourth, the lack of Black political power made it so that the strong and continuous organization of Black Chicagoans against school segregation had not achieved necessary change, while the school system perpetuated and established this lack of power as a norm. Finally, racial discrimination, while not the fundamental basis of racial segregation, served to uphold institutionalization by punishing people who did not conform to defined role expectations.

That racial segregation in the Chicago school system continued after reducing blatantly racist policies and implementing colorblind boundary drawing policies was evidence for Baron’s argument that the Chicago Public School system was institutionalized, subjugated Black youth to second-class status, and was reinforced by a constellation of other racial institutions. Given these features, Baron investigates the potential of state and federal legal means to fight school segregation. At the state level, the Armstrong Law of 1963, which forbade racial separation in drawing school boundaries, did not contain enforcement provisions and had little to no effect on Chicago schools, in contrast to the Massachusetts law of 1965, which provided for the withholding of funds for schools that did not make progress toward reducing segregation. He then describes two federal laws relevant to school segregation. The first, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, responding to public pressure from the Civil Rights Movement, offered compensatory education funds for children from low-income families, which helped to redistribute funds but did not address segregation directly. The second, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, included provisions for withholding federal funds from discriminatory institutions. The success of this act in a northern system relied on a broad interpretation of discrimination that included institutions and not just individual discrimination and clear public policy, which was rare from a federal government with a history of accommodating segregation. When the Office of Education attempted to follow through on Title VI sanctions against Chicago schools, they were attacked by Illinois congresspersons, Superintendent Benjamin C. Willis, and Mayor Richard J. Daley, who asked the President to restore the funds, resulting in a settlement favoring the Chicago Public School system.

Baron concludes that the ability of the Civil Rights Act to make change in the Chicago School System had been hindered by these limitations, and that public policy and national leadership would have to do more to create serious change in northern segregation systems. In turn, changes in public policy required “an increase in the effective power of the Negro and civil rights forces.”

The Web of Urban Racism (Harold M. Baron, 1968)

Synopsis by Madeleine McQuilling

In this chapter, Hal Baron spends a few pages on each of his main themes (history, housing, labor, education, politics) and explains how they all represent different aspects of what he terms the “web of urban racism.” The web of urban racism, a phrase Baron uses in his writings from the late 1960s onwards, denotes the network of institutional racism intrinsic to American society (1). Baron explains: 

 The impersonal institutions of the great cities have been woven together into a web of urban racism that entraps Negroes much as the spider’s net holds flies – they can wiggle but they cannot move very far. There is a carefully articulated interrelation of the barriers created by each institution. Whereas the single institutional strand standing alone might not be so strong, together the many strands form a powerful web. But here the analogy breaks down. In contrast to the spider’s prey, the victim of urban racism has fed on stronger stuff and is on the threshold of tearing the web. 

 Written in 1968, Baron’s sympathies for the black power movement surge beneath his calm prose. The “Long, hot summer of 1967” shone a spotlight on the problematic racrelations in America; by its light, the web of urban racism becomes more visible, and thus, more vulnerable. Baron is confident that its victims have “fed on stronger stuff,” and are now capable of “tearing the web.” In order for readers to fully appreciate this anticipated moment of liberation, Baron details how the web of urban racism came about, and how it continues to impact every sphere of daily life.   

 Baron starts his history of urban racism in America with the Civil War, declaring that the “abolition of slavery did not mean the abolition of racism.” To the contrary, the racism decreased only in its visibility, taking “on a new institutional form in which it was still effective in subjugating blacks and politically disarming poor whites.” In other words, the racism starts shifting from de jure to de facto. Baron sees de jure segregation, or legalized segregation, as a largely southern system; in contrast, he considers de facto, or automatic segregation a predominantly northern one But, Baron observes, “as the southern population becomes more demographically similar to the northern population, the nature of racism is beginning to assume greater similarities, especially in metropolitan centers.” The difference between de jure and de facto segregation is the difference between a school that forbids the enrollment of black students, and a school built in such a way that no black students live within its district. The great migration of the early 20th century made it painfully clear that racism survived the Civil War; it was alive and well––northern as well as southern.  

For Baron, the demographic shift represented a “push-pull phenomenon.” “The push,” he argues, “was the displacement of Negroes from southern agriculture, occasioned first by soil exhaustion, then by boll-weevil destruction and crop diversification.” The labor opportunities in the agricultural south were further diminished by the rise of tractors, herbicides, and agricultural machines. The pull of the city,” Baron continues, “has primarily been exerted through wartime labor shortages,” and the demand for unskilled labor that they occasion. The northern cities further appealed to black people because their system of de facto racism was “less obvious than the South’s Jim Crow.” Baron emphasizes that the demographic shift from rural to urban spaces is just as important as the one from south to north. This urbanization is important to Baron, because: “The great racial conflict now so manifest in the city is both generated and restrained by its major institutions.”  “Indeed,” as Baron declares in no uncertain language, “the white suburban noose around the city is drawing tighter.” 

 In this report, Baron advances the thesis that de facto segregation is actually worse than de jure segregation: “As the specific barriers become less distinctive and less absolute, their meshing together into an overriding network compensates so that the combined effect of the whole is greater than the sum of the individual institutions.” Baron clarifies: 

 For examples: the school system uses the neighborhood school policy which combined with residential segregation operates as a surrogate for direct segregation; suburbs in creating very restrictive zoning regulations, or urban renewal developments in setting universally high rents can eliminate all but a very few Negro families on the basis of income; given the racial differentials produced by the school system, an employer, by using his regular personnel tests and criteria, can screen out most Negroes from desirable jobs. 

 This is the web of urban racism. Although these racial controls represent a web from a structural standpoint, “from within the Negro community,” Baron explains, “it tends to appear that there is just a massive white sea that surrounds a black island.” This analogy brings to mind Du Bois’ cave allegory in Dusk of Dawn (or Myrdal’s reference to it in An American Dilemma), while echoing Martin Luther King’s “lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity” (2). As though to emphasize this socioeconomic aspect, Baron now moves from a broad discussion of the web of urban racism to its role in the dual labor market specifically.  

 While the education gap between black and white workers had nearly closed by the 1960s, the gap in salary, employment, leadership opportunities, and socioeconomic status has only grown. Baron notes that even “the United States Department of Labor has had to conclude that social and economic conditions are getting worse, not better’” for people trapped in slum sectors. For Baron, this inequality results from a dualism in the labor market that divides job openings along racial lines.  Contrary to other reports at the time, the Chicago Urban League’s “own studies indicate that the Negro job-seeker is quite the rational economic man, and thus the financial discrepancy exists because the black worker faces a very differently structured set of opportunities” than his white counterparts. Baron elaborates:  

In effect, certain jobs have become designated as “Negro” jobs. Negro workers are hired by certain industries, by particular firms within these industries, and in particular jobs within these firms. Within all industries, including government service, there is unmistakable evidence of occupational ceilings for Negroes. Within establishments that hire both Negro and white, the black workers are usually limited to specific job classifications and production units. An accurate rule of thumb is that the lower the pay or the more disagreeable and dirty the job, the greater the chance of finding a high proportion of Negroes. 

 This dual labor market works in tandem with the dual housing market to keep black people financially subordinate.  

 It goes without saying that ghettos are suboptimal places to live. As Baron clarifies: “The ghetto is bad not because it is inhabited by black people, but because it operates as a subjected enclave.” It exists specifically to trap black people, both physically and psychologically. As Baron proves for the Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority case, many black families have little to no choice in their housing arrangements. “Overwhelmingly,” he explains, “real estate brokers refuse to show Negroes properties outside the ghetto or transition neighborhoods. Lending institutions refuse to grant them mortgages for properties beyond these confines.” Furthermore, the CUL found that housing units in the Chicago ghettos cost 10% more than comparable housing in white sectors. This so-called “color tax” extends to retail prices, allowing “merchants operating in the ghetto [to] charge more for goods and credit or sell inferior quality merchandise at regular prices.” When the lower wages and higher cost of living cause black people to depend upon welfare, “the bureaucrat machinery” degrades and infantilizes them, treating them “like wards of the state, rather than responsible adults.” The web of urban racism intentionally erodes black peoples’ power and credibility; the housing market threads are perhaps the most insidious, as physical location dictates one’s political and educational opportunities.  

Neighborhood school districting and gerrymandering systems prevent conditions in the ghetto from improving. As Baron remarks, “educational institutions which provide markedly different [inferior] results for black and white children are key to the structure of urban racism.” Children of black workers are almost always districted to underfunded, overcrowded schools, whose students lag years behind their white peers, thus trapping them in the same unskilled labor market as their parents. “Educational systems have become a major pillar of racism,” Baron observes, “precisely because education has become so important in the total scheme of our society.” That said, Baron is far more concerned about the psychological impact these schools have on their students than he is with reduced academic achievements. For Baron, ghetto schools exist “as extremely efficient training institutions” designed to instill in black children the role of “a subordinate ‘Negro.’” These children grow up surrounded by middle class black teachers and principals who can only maintain their positions of relative power by inculcating their “lower status black charges with the idea that they are unteachable.” This environment “conditions the individual Negro youngster to expect a subordinate position for the rest of his life” and so he is not surprised to find the exact same pattern in the political sphere. Baron describes how black office holders can be elected (in predominantly black districts), but that any effort to improve the lives of their black constituencies represents career suicide. “Even where skillful politicians have risen to the top, as in Harlem with J. Raymond Jones and Adam Clayton Powell,” Baron explains, “they have been cut down or circumscribed basically because they were black.” From this, Baron concludes that people working within urban institutions are unable to dismantle the web of urban racism precisely because they themselves are trapped inside it.  

“The Web of Urban Racism” is one of the last reports Baron wrote for the Chicago Urban League, as he left later that year. This document––which is uncharacteristically radical for the CUL––shows Baron’s shift from the integration model of the civil rights movement to the more radical one of black nationalism. Indeed, Baron argues that the student led black power movements have the greatest chance of tearing through the web. Today, under the slogans of black pride and black consciousness’” Baron observes, we are witnessing a revolution in the role expectations of high school and college students. They are disrupting the whole racist system by categorically refusing both the role of unteachable student, and that of token official. Baron explains that, the development of these new role concepts will bring the black youth into conflict with the racist norms and methods of operation in our major institutions,” and in doing so, places them on the “the threshold of tearing the web.” Baron believes that the success of these youth led movements will “depend upon the social, economic and political strategies” implemented, which is perhaps why he supported Detroit’s League of Revolutionary Black Workers after a short stint as a research associate at Northwestern University.  

In the final section, Baron draws on W.E.B. Du Bois to detail a possible future in which black and white cultures exist symbiotically. He explicitly rejects “the assumption that the dominant white society, which exercises racism’s controls, is the healthy organism into which the sick ghetto should dissolve.” Baron concludes the article with this evocative, prophetic paragraph: 

 White men and black men are locked together in this nation so that they determine one another’s fate. Since the day has come when the darker brother will no longer suffer trustingly like Job, a new destiny awaits them both. Racism’s cancer, disturbed by the resistance, can feed upon itself and bring greater destruction in its wake. Or, the healthy elements in the two cultures can contend and react upon each other, creatively transforming themselves in the process. The one possibility denied to each culture is to operate in isolation as though the other were not there. 

 This message of hope, tempered as it is with Old Testament style warnings, rhetorically places both white and black cultures on equal footing. They are both valid, they are both locked, and both of their fates will be impacted by the other.  





1.Hal Baron uses the phrase “web of urban racism” in the following works––Public Housing: Chicago Builds a Ghetto (1967), Negroes in Policy-Making Positions in Chicago: A Study in Black Powerlessness in Chicago’” (1968), “Report on the Chicago Urban League, Annual Meeting 1968,” The Demand for Black Labor: Historical Notes on the Political Economy of Racism (1971), Building Babylon: A Case of Racial Controls in Public Housing (1971), “Institutional Racism in Modern Metropolis” (1973), Racism Transformed: The Implications of the 1969s (1982).

2.W.E.B Du Bois cave analogy:“It is difficult to let others see the full psychological meaning of caste segregation. It is as though one, looking out from a dark cave in a side of an impending mountain, sees the world passing and speaks to it; speaks courteously and persuasively, showing them how these entombed souls are hindered in their natural movement, expression, and development; and how their loosening from prison would be a matter not simply of courtesy, sympathy, and help to them, but aid to all the world. One talks on evenly and logically in this way, but notices that the passing throng does not even tum its head, or if it does, glances curiously and walks on. It gradually penetrates the minds of the prisoners that the people passing do not hear; that some thick sheet of invisible but horribly tangible plate glass is between them and the world. They get excited; they talk louder; they gesticulate. Some of the passing world stop in curiosity; these gesticulations seem so pointless; they laugh and pass on. They still either do not hear at all, or hear but dimly, and even what they hear, they do not understand. Then the people within may become hysterical. They may scream and hurl themselves against the barriers, hardly realizing in their bewilderment that they are screaming in a vacuum unheard and that their antics may actually seem funny to those outside looking in. They may even, here and there, break through in blood and disfigurement, and find themselves faced by a horrified, implacable, and quite overwhelming mob of people frightened for their own very existence.” W.E.B Du BoisDusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept. Edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 66.  

Race and Status in School Spending: Chicago, 1961-1966 (Harold M. Baron, 1971)

Synopsis by Chelsea Birchmier

“Race and Status in School Spending,” which appeared in The Journal of Human Resources in 1971, is an empirical study examining expenditures per pupil by race and socioeconomic status in public schools in the city of Chicago and suburban Cook County from 1961­–66. Baron begins by reviewing the existing literature, most of which studied differential education by status while “race was at best relegated to a minor position in these analyses.” It was only, he suggests, the Civil Rights Movement and Black community activity that led to any “extensive study of urban schools as instruments for maintaining racial subjugation.” Baron references sociological studies showing the institutional mechanisms by which status dictated treatment in schools and economic studies showing the inverse relation between expenditures per pupil and status, as well as between expenditures and race. He also points to a more hidden spatial form of race and class difference in school spending: the monetary advantage of the suburbs over the central cities, which predominated by 1960, precipitated by middle and upper class white flight to the suburbs. In the few studies that compared spending in individual schools within a city, expenditures were negatively related to race and socioeconomic status. Looking at education spending as an investment in human capital, institutional racism in and out of school meant a lower rate of return for Black people. When the relation between per pupil expenditures and test scores, a measure of rate of return, was measured, for the most part, achievement increased with expenditures. An exception to this finding was the Coleman Report from the U.S. Office of Education, which found little to no association between educational expenditures and achievement. Baron notes, however, several methodological critiques and contrasting findings using Coleman’s own data. Finally, Baron writes that financial resources limited what could or could not be done, but the decisive factors in education (in)equality were processes of education and socialization in individual schools. Schools preserved intergenerational privilege by training white students to be racist and Black students to accept racism; they effectively acted as “instruments of social control.”

Baron’s study breaks down educational spending by race and status in Chicago and Cook County public elementary schools in 1961, 1963, and 1966. While there were protests against school segregation and inequality in prior years, it was in 1961 that these became sustained through the Civil Rights Movement, making 1961 “the last year during which the Chicago Board of Education was able to administer without challenge a system of racial and class favoritism.” Prior to this, the Black community was not prioritized as stakeholders by the Chicago Board of Education, unlike business and political interests and “middle-class good-schools” organizations.

In 1961, school spending was on average $77 more per pupil in white schools than Black schools and $67 greater in high status than low status schools. The expenditures for biracial schools fell midway between white and Black schools. The greatest racial disparity in spending was in low status schools, and the greatest status differential in spending was in biracial schools. Within each racial group, spending increased with status. This bias in funding was driven by a pattern of teacher assignment such that more experienced teachers with higher salaries were assigned to white and higher status schools, the number of teachers per pupil (greater for white schools), classroom size (with white high status classrooms being the least crowded and Black and biracial schools being the most), double-shift schools in which students, 90% of whom were Black, were forced to attend school in shifts due to overcrowding, and a wide range of administrative practices. Chicago’s centralized city education system did limit differentials when compared to the decentralized municipal suburban school districts. The $155 differential in spending between low-status and high-status schools alone in the suburbs was greater than the difference in spending between low-status Black and high-status white schools in the city. In the suburbs, the gap between medium and high status schools was larger than that between low and medium status schools. Overall, spending in Chicago schools fell between spending for low and medium status schools in Cook County.

Between 1961 and 1963, “the Chicago Board of Education was the target of the most hard-fought and extensive protest campaign that had taken place in Chicago since the end of World War II” and faced mass demonstrations and civil disobedience locally in tandem with a rising national movement. The response of Superintendent Benjamin Willis to build more de facto segregated schools in Black neighborhoods reduced classroom crowding somewhat. Additionally, some changes in teacher assignment and compensatory programs for Black schools led to a reduction of disparities such that in 1963 school spending was $48 more per pupil in white schools than Black schools and $41 greater in high status than low status schools (compared to $77 and $67 in 1961, respectively). While appropriations remained greater for suburban schools, the gap in spending declined in suburban schools relative to Chicago schools.

By 1966, racial inequality in education had gained national attention. In 1965, the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provided funds for special programs in school districts for children from low-income families and children with disabilities. Baron analyzes the change in expenditures without and with ESEA funds. When ESEA funds were not taken into account, the racial gap in spending remained the same as it was in 1963. In other words, the Chicago Board of Education did not continue its attempts to equalize expenditures across race and status. When the ESEA funds were taken into consideration, the racial and status disparities significantly narrowed or disappeared. Baron points out that the ESEA funds, which were meant to compensate for social inequalities and discrimination in the larger system beyond the schools, really only compensated for the inequalities still perpetuated by local and state school budgeting. These funds then served as an attempt to placate the demands of the Civil Rights and Black community organizations. In suburban schools, stratification by status and race continued with little impact from ESEA funds, which few Cook County schools were eligible for since most extremely poor families receiving public assistance lived in Chicago. The gap between medium and high status schools in the suburbs continued to widen. While in 1966 the gaps between low and medium status schools in Chicago reversed and disappeared relative to low and medium status schools in the suburbs, respectively, the high status, almost entirely white, schools in the suburbs increased or maintained their advantage relative to all status groups in the city and to the low and medium status schools in the suburbs. Baron argues that the advantage of high status school districts in the suburbs was not primarily due to taxes but rather to the higher property values per pupil in the high status suburbs.

Baron concludes that “protest paid off—somewhat.” In 1963, the Chicago Civil Rights Movement won a decrease in discrimination in school spending, although they did not achieve desegregation, their main goal. They also, as part of a national movement, won funding from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Racial oppression continued despite changes in school spending, however, via the socialization processes in Chicago schools; “a school program imbued with the general racism of the society is culturally oppressive of black children, regardless of the sums spent.” Additionally, funds were not necessarily spent on resources that improved educational quality, such as high quality staff or programs. Instead, many ESEA funds were spent in the form of “conspicuous consumption” which was more symbolic than beneficial to Black students and families. Finally, Baron concludes that high status suburban schools were able to maintain their advantage in school expenditures from 1961 to 1966 despite the changes wrought by the Civil Rights Movement and ESEA funds. Quoting Charles Benson in The Cheerful Prospect, he writes:

There is good reason that discussion about educational inequalities is muted. After all, the handsome couples in the suburbs who deplore de facto segregation in the large cities and who are so daring as to form local committees on fair practice in housing, are the ones who have a major stake in preserving the lifetime advantages that their privileged, though tax-supported, school offers their children (p. 20).