Christian Schools & Racial Realities
Hunter Baker on Desegregation & the Rise of Christian Education in the South
I live in Jackson, Tennessee. Our town of about 100,000 people sits between Memphis and Nashville. One of the outstanding features of Jackson is that it features an unusually large amount of Christian and other private schooling. Three public-school-sized parochial (or semi-parochial in one case) entities occupy positions on the north side of town. Another smaller one with a Great Books emphasis (the paradoxically new thing in Evangelical Christian education) is the proud owner of a smaller building outgrown by one of the three flagships. It also happens that the public schools of Jackson only recently gained their independence from federal supervision dating back to the racial tensions of segregation and desegregation.
Many view Christian schools with suspicion because a significant number of them began operation in the period when the United States was grappling most earnestly with desegregating American school systems in the hopes of vindicating our fundamental belief in equal opportunity. Statistics buttress this suspicion. From 1961 to 1971, enrollment in non-Catholic private schools doubled. The natural inference is that enthusiasm for Christian schooling was little more than a cover for racism. Some even referred to emerging Christian schools as “new segregation academies.”