Lynne Varner / Times editorial columnist
Rosa would give her an earful
The two people I'd most want to dine with are Magnolia mom Kathleen Bose and Rosa Parks. Parks died Monday at her Detroit home at age 92...
The two people I'd most want to dine with are Magnolia mom Kathleen Brose and Rosa Parks.
Parks died Monday at her Detroit home at age 92.
Brose is president of Parents Involved in Community Schools, or PICS, the group that has kept the Seattle Public Schools entangled in an expensive, protracted court battle over its use of racial tie-breakers to maintain integrated classrooms.
Parks is an icon of mythical proportions. She entered American history one wintry day in 1955 when she refused a bus driver's orders to give up her seat to a white man. Parks' stoic defiance as she was arrested moved a 26-year-old Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. to launch a successful 381-day boycott of the bus company.
My selections are wickedly delicious. I'm not looking for pleasantries over tiramisu. I'm looking for a way to stop Brose from taking Seattle backward, to a time when everyone knew their place, which for minority children was the struggling schools in the South End.
My weapon of choice is Parks.
Most know that Parks' arrest and the subsequent Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, coming one year after the Supreme Court's landmark declaration that separate schools for blacks and whites were "inherently unequal," marked the start of the modern civil-rights movement.
Brose hopes to make history in a vein both similar and dramatically different. She is taking her lawsuit against the district's use of racial tie-breakers to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court rules in her favor, it would dramatically alter the landscape of public schools in a way as profound as Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark ruling that ended formal school segregation. Unwittingly or not, Brose's victory would reintroduce segregation at some Seattle schools.
Public schools nationwide would have to examine their diversity plans — such as forced busing, use of magnet schools or tie-breakers — to ensure they pass the court's smell test. Sadly, many would be frightened off and abandon diversity efforts altogether.
An appropriate choice, in Brose's mind.
"If our society is to move beyond race, we need to move beyond judging people by race," Brose told me. Diversity efforts such as affirmative action never work out, she said, because "you have to deny someone something to give someone else something."
If the three of us were chatting over dinner, this is the point where Parks would put down her fork and things would get really interesting. Parks would deliver a lecture about America's obsession with race. It would be a talk culled not from some history book but from Parks' perch when it all went down.
Since the 1940s, Parks was a faithful member of the NAACP, whose lawyers argued and won the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. As one of the organization's youth advisers, Parks helped young people organize protests at the city's main library because libraries reserved for blacks had fewer books.
In the 1930s, Parks worked with her husband, Raymond Parks, an NAACP activist, for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine young African-American men pulled off a train, falsely accused and found guilty of raping two white women in 1931.
Leaning forward, her grandmotherly gray bun softening her steely voice, Parks would sum up her reflection on the significance of race in the public schools by repeating a remark she made in 1992 when someone asked her what made her stand up to segregation by refusing to give up her seat on the bus.
"I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger," she said. "We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."
Like any parent, Brose has a duty to advocate for her children. But this case lost its steam when the child for whom Brose launched the lawsuit — the one allegedly kept out of Ballard High School because there were already too many white students — graduated and moved on. A second daughter is happily enrolled at Ingraham High School. Magnolia and Queen Anne parents crowded out of Ballard got their own school, The Center School at Seattle Center.
The point of continuing to battle the district — which has discarded the tie-breakers, mounting up legal costs to be borne by taxpayers — becomes one of revenge.
"My child was emotionally hurt," Brose said to me. "When your child hurts, you hurt. How do you explain to your 14-year-old that she can't do something because of her skin color?"
At my fantasy dinner, this would be the moment to exit into the kitchen for more coffee and let Parks speak of the historical inequalities that refuse to die and of the human responsibility to mitigate them.
Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org