“The Neo-Lunch Discrimination Controversy: Fifty Years Later”

By Rev. Charles Mock, Executive Secretary of the Home Mission Board |  June 30, 2011

Fifty years after the 1960 lunch counter incident involving discrimination at the F. W. Woolworth store in North Carolina the NAACP has found it necessary to file suit because of discrimination. This time the lunch discrimination controversy involves some very unusual suspects—Black Americans in an intra-racial scenario.  Fifty years later some of the issues are the same, namely, space, education discrimination, and place. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP, (per his op-ed in the Washington Post, June 3rd, 2011),

“Students in the traditional public school must now eat lunch at 10 a.m. so that charter school students can enjoy lunch at noon. The regular school’s children had library access for a little over four hours so that the ‘new charter school’s kids’ could have access for almost seven. Traditional school students were moved to a basement, where they were next to the boiler room, to make room for their charter school peers, and teachers of the regular students were forced to teach in the halls due to lack of space."

The issues of space, education discrimination and place are accentuated by the NAACP’s research findings that no aggressive and affirmative strategy has been applied to assure parental engagement in decisions leading to these monumental changes in how New York does Public Education. The fact that lines have been legally drawn in this lawsuit is sad commentary on the state of “parent-student-community” relations.

In 1960 four freshmen from North Carolina, Agricultural and Technical College in Greensboro staged a protest because of racial discrimination. The four students not only expanded to over 300 students, they gave birth to a major protest movement that included boycott, sit-ins, demonstrations, arrests and negotiations. In six months the students were served at the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter.

We are challenged to view and understand the NAACP’s lawsuits against a historical background of divide and conquer. We must not be oblivious to attempts by enemies of education excellence for all students to develop policies and practices that create deeper divides within communities of color.

While people of color fight each other over space, education equality, and place, we might want to stop long enough to read about the long term impact certain national policies are having on public education. Dr. Michele Alexander in her latest and provocative book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, reveals quite clearly the deadly impact. This battle on the local level is rooted and derivative of a deeper battle, the present and future role of federally financed Public Education in America in the face of federal deficits in trillions of dollars. Secondly, we cannot forget the expensive price children of our public education system are paying because of expensive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

In many ways this battle that is pitting people of color against each other within their community is one in which no one wins. Unfortunately the deep wounds of this battle--further estrangement, more intensive blame games, faith based tension among Christians, deeper political divides, etc., add insult to existing injuries from other battles on social and economic battlefields. Collectively, these intended or unintended consequences will further strain our capacity to come together to discuss common ground values, objectives, strategies and direction for the amelioration of many ailments of urban life. So what’s the answer?

Whatever the answers they might include: 1. A decision to not allow others and disagreements to keep one from coming together, 2. A commitment to transparency and truthfulness in communicating the conflicts, 3. Faith-based sponsored community forums, 4. Focus groups dedicated to researching evidence-based and community-centered strategies, 5. The development of Parent-Student-Community Teams undergirded by historical and non-historical human rights organizations dedicated to education excellence for all students, and 6.Public and private financial commitments based on genuine efforts and demonstrated success.

Fifty years later, it should not take boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations and arrests to get where we all say we are trying to get to equity in space, education and place. It will take negotiations as we remember that our enemy is not the NAACP, not parents who want educational choice and certainly not children that choose a Charter School over a public school. When shall all students be served? It will take more than six months. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another fifty years!

Rev. Charles Mock,
Executive Secretary of the Home Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
Email:  cjenmock@gmail.com   Phone 814-504-5597