It took this Texas school district 48 years to desegregate. Now, some fear a return to the past.
At the first Friday football game in the first school year since the school district in this East Texas town had been declared racially integrated — nearly 50 years after a federal court order — thousands of spectators dressed in forest-green Lobos gear filled the stadium anticipating a win.
Enduring the late-August heat, fans piled out of haphazardly parked cars and filed into creaky fold-down seats they’d reserved for years. Some who had attended segregated white or black schools in Longview decades ago now shared the same rows. When the marching band played the school’s fight song, most of the crowd formed an “L” with their fingers and rocked them back and forth in unison.
Opting for the bird’s eye view from the press box, Ted Beard, a longtime Longview Independent School District board member, watched the football players race across the field to the cheers of a rapt and raucous crowd and wondered how long the commitment to integration would last.
The district is at a pivotal moment now that a federal court has released it from decades-long supervision of its policies for educating students of color. It has made progress to topple the barriers still holding black and Hispanic students back from the same academic success as white students. It has poured millions of dollars into a new Montessori program for its pre-K and kindergarten students, launched advanced International Baccalaureate courses starting with first grade and constructed its own meat processing lab for kids who don’t plan to attend college.
But whether it continues a commitment to student equity now depends solely on the collective will of a school board that could change with a single election cycle. And that worries Beard, whose father was part of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 and faced threats and violence along the way. Beard is black and had two kids go through Longview schools. He knows the progress he’s helped fight for in Longview is fragile.
Ted Beard, pictured at an August board meeting, has served on the Longview ISD school board since 1998. Ted Beard, pictured at an August board meeting, has served on the Longview ISD school board since 1998. Callie Richmond for The Texas Tribune “That attitude can turn at any moment,” Beard said gravely, against a sports announcer’s booming narration. “The board could change and then the direction could change, and those that are ultimately affected are going to be the students.”