Parker High: Integration's Unfulfilled Promise

Once a Bastion of Black Pride, School Has Fallen on Hard Times

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Detail from the class photo of 1943 graduates of Parker High School.

Detail from the class photo of 1943 graduates of Parker High School. Students left with the best education available in the South -- to blacks or whites -- at the time. hide caption

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Riot police hose student protestors in Birmingham, May 1963

Three students protesting segregation join hands to build strength against the force of water sprayed by riot police in Birmingham, May 4, 1963. Many Parker High School students were arrested in the protests. Corbis hide caption

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The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education brought sweeping change to public schools, opening the path to integration and equal access to opportunity. At least, that was the goal.

For schools that had long served black students during segregation, the Brown decision allowed the best teachers and most motivated students to seek better opportunities elsewhere. It's a familiar scene in America's inner cities: All-black schools that were pillars of excellence under segregation have now become painful victims of "bright flight."

A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham, Ala., is one of those schools. With a long list of distinguished graduates and a 100-year history, it's still a symbol of pride. But it's also a case study in the paradox of integration.

Famous Parker Grads

Fred Horn, Class of '43: Former Alabama state senator

Justice Oscar W. Adams Jr., Class of '40: In 1980, became first black to serve on Alabama Supreme Court

Alma Johnson Powell, Class of '54: Wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell

Nell Carter, Class of '68: Tony Award-winning actress; starred in 1980s sitcom Gimme a Break

Annie Jo Edwards, Class of '66: TV and Broadway veteran, known for performances in Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo and Bullets over Broadway

Source: Birmingham News, May 7, 2000

In a special two-part report, NPR's Michele Norris, host of All Things Considered, looks at Parker's experience with racial integration, as viewed by three generations of students — those from the 1940s, the tumultuous 1960s and today. For Norris, the story is personal: Her father and five uncles all attended Parker.

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