REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Rebecca Roberts sitting in for Debbie Elliott.
The public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas are back in the news. It's been almost 50 years since Little Rock became the flashpoint for school desegregation. In 1957, Arkansas's governor called in the National Guard to stop black students from integrating Central High. And President Eisenhower responded by sending in federal troops.
(Soundbite of protest)
ROBERTS: The Little Rock school district then came under federal court supervision and remained there until yesterday. That's when a U.S. District Court judge accepted a promise by the Little Rock School Board to track the progress of black students without federal oversight.
This day seemed a long way off in 1957, when one of Central High's first black students spoke to a television reporter.
(Soundbite of broadcast)
Ms. MINNIJEAN BROWN-TRICKEY: I'm Minnijean Brown. I'm thankful for the many people who have stood by us and (unintelligible)...
ROBERTS: Minnijean Brown-Trickey joins us now on the line from Little Rock. Welcome to the program.
Ms. MINNIE JEAN BROWN TRICKEY: I'm pleased to be here.
ROBERTS: In that little clip of tape we just heard, you seemed pretty upbeat. It must have been much harder for you that year than you were letting on.
Ms. BROWN-TRICKEY: It was very difficult. The whole idea was that something would change. I think even at 14 and 15, we thought that we were there to make a great change, so we took that responsibility and kept it with us.
ROBERTS: Do you agree with the judge's decision yesterday to end federal supervision?
Ms. BROWN-TRICKEY: No, I don't. I think if we consider public schools a social experiment, I guess this one failed. We don't see the screaming mobs today, but we are continuing to see school segregation based on color, class, ethnicity. And it's upheld by our institutions, including and especially the courts. And it's demoralizing.
ROBERTS: So why do you think integration efforts have failed?
Ms. BROWN-TRICKEY: Well, we're still dealing with segregated neighborhoods and segregated head space. I think we haven't thought it out. We haven't changed what we believe.
ROBERTS: When you look at Central High today, what is different and what is the same?
Ms. BROWN-TRICKEY: Well, the word on the street is that Central High is segregated, that it's got a few black kids in AP classes and most of the black kids not. And again, we have separate and unequal. And you know, it's not really about Central. It's about the whole nation. I think we've spent more effort maintaining segregation than we ever did to create integration. So I've decided that based on my observation that segregation is probably one of the highest values in the United States. We've done a really good job at it.
ROBERTS: Minnie Jean Brown-Trickey was one of the Little Rock Nine. Thanks so much for joining us.
Ms. BROWN-TRICKEY: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Yesterday's decision was hailed as a victory by Roy Brooks, the superintendent of Little Rock's public schools. Roy Brooks joins us now.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. ROY BROOKS (Superintendent, Little Rock Public Schools): Thank you.
ROBERTS: Why do you think its taken 50 years for your school district to be released from federal supervision?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, I don't know. A lot of hard work remains before us. Certainly we can be happy and we can celebrate this day, but we know that work still remains.
ROBERTS: There's as much as a 40 point difference between white students' scores and black students' scores on some standardized tests. Is that what you're referring to with work still remains?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, I think that Little Rock, Arkansas, Philadelphia, Washington - I don't think that it's just a Little Rock problem. I think it's a national problem. When we look at the achievement gap that exists between advantaged and disadvantaged youngsters, yes, it's something that we need to work on nationally and we're certainly going to do our hardest here in Little Rock to close it.
ROBERTS: And how is the school district different now than it was 50 years ago?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, it's different in the demographics. Fifty years ago, only 28 percent of the youngsters in our public schools were black. Today, 68 percent of the youngsters in the Little Rock school district are black. So it's changed over the years, yes.
ROBERTS: And so what will the lifting of federal oversight mean for how you can supervise the school district?
Mr. BROOKS: Well, I think that the federal court has given this school district back to the people of this community. We gratefully accept this challenge and we'll do everything we can to help the children of this community. I think that for a long, long time this school district has gone through a lot.
ROBERTS: Roy Brooks is the superintendent of the Little Rock, Arkansas School District. Thanks so much for joining us.
Mr. BROOKS: Thank you.