Actually Boyd followed a promotional Memphis video to the tune of "Green Onions," and he was at the podium and makeshift stage to introduce a bunch of dignitaries celebrating the newly renovated stadium. The place looked great inside and out, with a fountain, colored lights, and grand entrance at the end of Tiger Lane and the new turf, freshly painted stands, and the big board over the south end zone. What a change from the cow barns and fairgrounds clutter of two years ago.
On Saturday night, the Memphis Tigers and their new coach Justin Fuente will take the field against U-T Martin, a comedown from previous openers against Southeastern Conference teams but a winnable game for a Tiger team that has won five games in three years.
For Memphis to get a good return on its investment, which was heavily leveraged by donations from FedEx, the Tigers will have to get respectable and at least half-fill the Liberty Bowl regularly, which looks doubtful until Memphis joins the Big East Conference in 2013. The other two ramrods and beneficiaries, the Southern Heritage Classic and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, should set the bar at 50,000 butts in seats.
The stated goal of city master planner Robert Lipscomb and his team is to make the fairgrounds a 365-day facility for ordinary Memphians as well as elite athletes. A worthy aspiration, long overdue, but about as possible as the Tigers going undefeated. For now, the Children's Museum is the closest thing to a daily draw, and it is not really part of the makeover. The Kroc Center on East Parkway will give Midtown a convenient and low-cost alternative to suburban fitness centers under the direction of the Salvation Army. I'm eager to see what all will be in the mix and how Memphians respond.
The high school football field and track should continue to get regular use from the future unified school system. The Bridges Kickoff Classic matching public and private schools moved from the Liberty Bowl to MUS in 2009. The smaller stadium costs less to rent and is a better fit, but the location is far from the center of the city.
Tearing down the Mid-South Coliseum was part of the aborted Fair Ground plan of Henry Turley and Bob Loeb and is a part of Lipscomb's plan as well. What's the rush? Sentiment isn't the point. The fact that Elvis once played there is as irrelevant as the fact that Gordie Howe once made a promotional visit for the River Kings. But don't tear down a building that is safe enough to host graduations in recent years and is surrounded by parking until someone comes up with a better idea and a paying customer to make it happen. It's not like there's no open space to build on at the fairgrounds.
Baseball fields at the Fairgrounds would return baseball to the inner city, the foundation of the Memphis Redbirds 12 years ago. Nice to see Tim McCarver making a big donation to his old home town but baseball is not the city game. How much farther can you take RBI than the Redbirds did with ex-major leaguer and Memphian Reggie Williams giving it their best shot?
The competition for baseball tournaments comes not only from Snowden Grove and First Tennessee Fields but also from multi-field complexes in Jackson, Jonesboro, New Albany, and Batesville. The competition for festivals, outdoor concerts, and packaged pay-for-fun ala the Mud Island LuvMud benefit will come from downtown, Shelby Farms, and other venues. There is no single sports and entertainment center in Memphis if there ever was one.
A Target store, a Hampton Inn-style motel, housing, and a Tourism Development Zone to capture sales taxes were also part of Fair Ground. What's done is done, but I think it's too bad that someone of Turley's talent, vision, and track record is working in Jackson, Tennessee and not in Midtown, Memphis. Is the city as developer a real deal or pie in the sky? We will see.
Sometimes, though, the danger is the police car itself. Last Sunday, a speeding police car slammed into another car on Crump Boulevard south of downtown and killed two of its passengers, a 54-year-old woman and her 13-year-old daughter from Senatobia who were visiting relatives in Memphis. Two other passengers were critically injured and the officer was also injured but is no longer hospitalized.
"With a heavy heart," a grim Mayor A C Wharton and Police Director Toney Armstrong met with reporters Tuesday, 48 hours after the accident. Wharton said the crash is under investigation by the city and the Tennessee Highway Patrol and did not give out any key details. He said he would press to get the investigations done quickly.
Following the news conference, the mayor's office identified the officer as Alex Beard, commissioned in March 2011.
Asked if the police car had its lights and siren on, Wharton said "that is the crux of the investigation." Witnesses have told reporters the police car was speeding and did not have lights or siren on.
Armstrong said Beard was responding to another officer's call for backup. He said that officers are "mandated to operate their vehicles in a safe manner." In emergencies they are supposed to have their siren and lights on. Otherwise they are supposed to follow the same laws as other drivers.
Wharton said he is aware of community complaints about police officers speeding when they seemingly don't have to. He said even before the accident he had decided the city should take additional measures to see that policies are followed because of an "unacceptable" number of accidents involving police and other city vehicles. He said he will press the City Council for approval of more tracking technology.
But on the particulars of the crash, Wharton and Armstrong, who were joined by City Attorney Herman Morris, provided little new information. Armstrong acknowledged that speed appears to have been a factor. He said the call for backup involved a mental health issue. He said that, nationally, more officers are injured in traffic accidents than in violent crimes.
The scene of the crash is a tricky intersection of Crump, Walnut, and Georgia, with a traffic light on Crump controlling traffic in six directions.
State law 2920-403 passed in 2007 requires cities to have a minimum of $700,000 in liability insurance. Memphis attorney Lanier Fogg said the city could have more than that, and recommended that motorists get a $1 million umbrella insurance policy that covers uninsured motorists in addition to the standard policy with a maximum payout of $300,000.
"Why did it take 47 years?"
I wish I knew. I tried unsuccessfully to reach U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton, III in Memphis and Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez at the Justice Department in Washington and Mitchell Rivard in the communications office of the Justice Department. Stanton and Perez were quoted in the press release calling the Fayette County case "a significant landmark" in desegregation and enforcement of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in school districts "a top priority" of the feds.
So important that it was announced in a handout that nobody was available to discuss. But that is another story for another day.
The Fayette County settlement is interesting for a couple of reasons. Its proximity makes it a potential flight option for unhappy residents of Memphis and Shelby County. And the settlement (consent order, in legal language) requires the district to implement a "controlled choice program" to racially rebalance schools. Carrots and sticks, but no busing.
And the timing? Mere coincidence?
The rebalancing standard is a racial ratio within 15 percent of the ratio of black and white students in the county school system as a whole. Readers may remember seeing this before in 2007 when then-U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald ordered it (with some allowances) for the Shelby County School System which she refused to release from the grip of the federal court. She was overturned by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009 in a 2-1 decision, and in 2011 she was elevated to the appeals court herself.
Depending on what happens the rest of this year with the Shelby County Commission suit on municipal schools, maybe she will get a Shelby County do-over.
It's not like judges are not human, not subject to political pressure, don't get it wrong sometimes, and don't change their minds. There is plenty of evidence of all of those things in the court records of school desegregation in Memphis and Shelby County.
Court-ordered busing in the Memphis case in 1972 was upheld 2-1 by the appeals court, but history would show that it was dissenter Paul Weick who got it right: "The burden of eliminating all the ills of society should not be placed on public school systems and innocent school children."
Donald was openly critical of herself and "the court" in her 2007 ruling. She wrote: "The court's failure to adopt clear and unequivocal guidelines for achievement of the court's goals is in large part responsible for the fact that the county is seeking unitary status some 44 years after this suit was first filed, at a time when the county system is in some respects more racially polarized than in the distant past."
But her order for a "special master" to oversee school-by-school rebalancing, scary as it sounded to some people, never came to be. She was overturned on appeal: "Racial balance is not to be achieved for its own sake. It is to be pursued when racial imbalance has been caused by a constitutional violation. Once the racial imbalance due to the de jure violation has been remedied, the school district is under no duty to remedy imbalance that is caused by demographic factors."
As in Memphis in 1972, there was a powerful dissent to the Shelby County case (Robinson v. Shelby County Board of Education) in 2009. In light of the pending federal lawsuit on the constitutionality of municipal schools, it is worth quoting at some length: "Nothing — not the agreement of the parties jointly to seek dissolution of the desegregation decree, not the number of years that this case has been pending and the general progress in race relations nationwide that has occurred in that time, and not the eagerness of the courts or school boards to restore local control over community schools — can substitute for evidence showing the Board's compliance with the desegregation decree. The evidence in fact reveals that among the forty-four schools for which the Board has data, two thirds of them are not in compliance with the flexible benchmark set forth by the district court for measuring racial balance . . . Because the parties have not carried their burden of showing that the racial disparities that continue to plague the County's schools are not the vestiges of past unlawful discrimination, I would affirm the district court's judgment."
The Fayette County settlement (the Justice Department in Washington has domain over all cases involving enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in schools) suggests that the plus-or-minus 15% standard could be back in play, along with "controlled choice programs."
Attorneys for the Shelby County Commission argue that muncipal schools would amount to segregation, or resegregation.
You don't have to read through a pile of legal briefs and judicial rulings to get some perspective on this. You just have to look at the brief history of Southwind High School.
It was built in 2006 and opened in 2007 after Shelby County built and opened Arlington High School in northeastern Shelby County. Arlington is majority white. Southwind was nearly all-black the day it opened. It is in a Memphis annexation area. A planning official once stated in an affidavit that if Memphis completed the annexation (which it has not), the black enrollment in Shelby County schools would be 7.6 percent, not 35 percent as it was in 2007.
Southwind was located on an expensive piece of land at Hacks Cross and Shelby Drive. A less expensive site was rejected. That site was farther east and would have changed the demographics of the new high school.
Southwind High was a joint project of the city and county school boards. The understanding was that it would become a city school, meaning it would not be "racially identifiable" — a key legalism — in a system that was 90 percent minority. The Memphis superintendent at the time, Carol Johnson, signed off on it, then left a year later. The annexation was delayed, giving residents of Southwind and Windyke subdivisions another six years of no Memphis property taxes. Mayor Herenton disavowed annexation, saying "mayors don't annex." The City Council disavowed it too, after agreeing on annexation boundaries that excluded certain subdivisions under development next door to Southwind High School. The Office of Planning and Development was left holding the bag. It was politics at its finest.
Bernice Donald mentioned it in her order, and the appeals court mentioned it in their reversal: "The annexations by the City of Memphis, along with voluntary housing choices made by the public, have drastically altered the racial composition of the school district. In addition, school construction and student boundaries (including the new Southwind High School) approved by the district court over the past few decades have affected the present racial unevenness. Although the district court now faults itself for “rubber-stamp[ing]” school construction and zoning requests, its role in managing and shaping the school district cannot be ignored."
Judge Donald never explained her curious ruling, self criticism, or change of direction. And to this day, no city or county mayor or school superintendent has explained the hows and whys of Southwind High.
Everybody's baby is now nobody's baby.
Long answer to a short question, but that's why school desegregation cases hang around for 45 or 47 years. And we are not done yet.
It helps to be in western Montana, a place where, it is said, 20-somethings go to retire and, it should be added, parents go to mooch off them.
Thank you, smartphones and iPads. If you don't have one, going off the grid has never been easier. My hosts had no televisions, no wireless, no land lines, and no newspapers. But they did have pickup trucks, a small boat, and a lot of know-how about the Hiawatha Trail, Wild Horse Island, Flathead Lake, and the mountain ranges around Missoula. More than fair trade.
I got through an Anne Tyler novel in three sittings, spent less than three minutes thinking about the unified school district, drank four huckleberry milk shakes, and ate three pounds of black cherries. Puttered around Flathead Lake, the biggest freshwater lake in the West, on a fishing boat. Saw a forest fire close up and watched planes skim the lake to scoop water to dump on the fires.
And ate lunch near a curious herd of big horn sheep on mostly uninhabited Wild Horse Island in Flathead Lake. My son, an avid hunter, is going to hike several miles in rugged back country next month, risking life and limb for a chance to get a shot at a ram. On Wild Horse Island we hiked within 100 yards of three of them.
The Great Rivers and Underground Railroad trails go through Mississippi and Middle Tennessee; The Southern Tier goes through Mississippi and Alabama; and the TransAmerica Trail goes through Kentucky. But Memphis is not on the North American biking map of transcontinental trails, at least as far as Adventure Cycling is concerned, or at least not yet. The Harahan Project could change that.
As Matthew Frank wrote in Montana Headwall magazine, "cyclists hate the interstate as much as headwinds and hemorrhoids" but in some rural state like Montana and North Dakota that's all there is. For the first time in its history, Adventure Cycling rerouted major sections of the Northern Tier and Lewis & Clark routes from state highways to Interstate 94 because of the oil boom that has drawn a steady stream of trucks to western North Dakota and eastern Montana.
Interstate cycling, legal but discouraged in several states, can be dangerous. A cyclist in West Memphis was killed in an accident earlier this month on Interstate 55 three miles from the river. In Missoula, I ran into a grizzled cyclist making his way from North Dakota to Santa Cruz, California on a bike that looked like it had been salvaged from a junkyard and loaded with bags carefully balanced from the handlebars.
He had stopped in Missoula to have his picture taken at Adventure Cycling, adding to the hundreds of snapshots posted on the wall. But his was not a particularly happy tale. He had been deliberately forced off the shoulder by cars and trucks, shouted at, and worn down by the heat so much that he hitched a ride, bike and all, on a flatbed truck and hopped a freight car on another leg.
"I couldn't stand the heat so I got off 40 miles outside of town," he said.
He had 1,206 miles to go.
On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court in Memphis approved a settlement of a 47-year-old case that U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton called "a significant landmark in this desegregation case." The NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund and the Fayette County Board of Education also signed off on it.
What relevance might it have for Memphis and Shelby County, which have a combined enrollment of about 150,000 students? Stanton said in a prepared statement that the settlement will ensure that students "are educated in a manner consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," which is also at issue in the upcoming case of the Unified Shelby County Schools and the municipal school systems that voters approved earlier this month. The trial is scheduled to begin in November.
School resegregation was also an issue in the Shelby County Schools in a federal court order by then U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald in 2007. Her proposed remedy involving a special master and a realignment of school boundaries and attendance zones to create schools with a racial mix within 15 percent of the black and white percentages in the county system was overturned on appeal.
The ten Fayette County schools are each more integrated than the Memphis City Schools, which are over 90 percent minority and 87 percent black. The highest white percentage for a Fayette County school is 65 percent. The highest black percentage is 80 percent. Southwind High School, a Shelby County school, was nearly all black the day it opened because of the way the boundaries were drawn. The Shelby County school system at the time was about 37 percent black. Donald is now a federal appeals court judge.
The consent order for Fayette County requires the district to implement a "controlled choice program" by the start of the 2014-2015 school year. Here's how:
BUILD NEW SCHOOLS: And close two existing elementary schools.
CREATE A CONTROLLED CHOICE REGION: And use a random selection system to assign students to schools based on their ranked preferences, provided that racial diversity is achieved in each school. The term "student racial diversity" means within 15 percentage points of the racial balance in the district as a whole.
ENCOURAGE MAJORITY TO MINORITY TRANSFERS: Black kids can transfer to white schools and vice versa.
FEDERAL MAGNET SCHOOLS ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: If the number of applicants exceeds the number of spaces, there is a random lottery selection process.
FREE TRANSPORTATION TO NON-ZONE STUDENTS: So long as this does not "negatively effect" the students' willingness to apply to the magnet school.
EMPLOYEE RACIAL DIVERSITY WITHIN 20 PERCENTAGE POINTS.
NEW SCHOOLS CANNOT CAUSE ANY EXISTING SCHOOLS TO FAIL TO ACHIEVE RACIAL DIVERSITY STANDARDS.
The largest private schools in Fayette County are Rossville Christian Academy and Fayette Academy in Somerville. What the consent order cannot control, of course, is the impact of those schools and smaller private schools in Fayette County as well as future changes in the school system(s) of Shelby County.
"They are making more demands of Fayette County than they ever made of Shelby County," said Louise Mercuro, former deputy director of the Memphis and Shelby County Office of Planning and Development. "I don't get that at all. God knows how many students will be going from Shelby County schools to Fayette County schools."
Okay, so Tennessee is maybe a border state and not part of the "Deep South" that includes Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and South Carolina. Cohen, who faces Republican Dr. George Flinn in November, is a politically popular white congressman in a majority-black district. And he's a liberal rather than a conservative "blue dog" Democrat, to boot.
The Journal story by reporter Naftali Bendavid says "In a stark realignment, voters in the Deep South have divided into an increasingly black Democratic Party and a mostly white Republican Party." Like Tennessee, each of those states also has a Republican governor.
Quoting from the story: "Leaders of the two parties interpret the phenomenon differently. Republicans say white voters are increasingly voting Republican, turned off by what they say is the Democratic Party's growing liberalism. Democrats blame Republican leaders for redistricting actions that Democrats say are concentrating black voters in a smaller number of districts."
White Democrats are a vanishing breed in Memphis and Shelby County. If he wins in November, Senator Jim Kyle will be the only white Democrat in the Shelby County delegation in the state legislature that included such names as Cohen, Dan Byrd, Pam Gaia, Mike Kernell, Elbert Gill, David Shirley (who switched parties), Beverly Marrero, Carol Chumney, and Chris Turner in the mid-1980s and 1990s.
According to the most recent U.S. Census data, Tennessee's population is 80 percent white, Shelby County's population is 44 percent white, and the population of Memphis is 29 percent white.
Jane Roberts of the Commercial Appeal, Les Smith of Fox 13, and I were the only ones who showed up at the office on McLemore across from Soulsville and Stax Academy. That's a small showing compared to, say, a mayoral press conference. I think it shows some uncertainty about exactly where Stand for Children stands, who they are, and how much clout the group has. We wound up having more of an informal conversation with Tennessee director Kenya Bradshaw and three of the candidates than a press conference.
The uncertainty was reflected in our choice of adjectives. I like "upstart" group. Les went with "education advocacy organization" and The CA has gone with "education reform group." One thing we agreed on is that Stand For Children is unusually well funded and spent more than $150,000 on the school board races, which is a huge amount. It doled out some $90,000 to campaign workers who were paid $10 an hour.
"We want to make sure that Germantown continues to be the community of choice," said Dick Vosburg, a member of the steering committee for the "Yes" to municipal schools vote, at a celebration at Garibaldi's pizza restaurant Thursday night.
Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy said the overwhelming approval was "a piece of the journey that began January 11th" when a bill was introduced in Nashvillle.
In the long view, the journey began some time around 1973 or 1974 with white flight in response to court-ordered busing. Or in 1982, when Memphis City Schools threw in the towel on busing. Or 1995 when county school enrollment topped 45,000. Or in 2010 when the city school board surrendered the charter.
No matter, it's the first day of a new era. Barring a setback in federal court next month on the constitutionality of the state law, Germantown and its sister suburb Collierville will zoom to the head of the suburban pack as they elect school board members, lay claim to school buildings at low cost or no cost, and entice students in private schools to try the public option. What will happen long term to the students now attending those suburban public schools (and boosting their minority enrollment) but living in unincorporated parts of Shelby County remains to be seen.
Non-residents would get a partial free ride if the sales tax increase isn't enough and suburbs have to raise property taxes. Will the municipal schools want them anyway to boost enrollment, state funding, diversity, or compliance with federal court orders on resegregation? Or must they be excluded because residents are the only students such systems are legally authorized to educate? In that case, could there be a significant increase in the black populations of the suburbs, in defiance of the trend described in the Washington Post article and supported by years of experience in Shelby County? This piece that ran in the Washington Post describes how Americans have settled into "like" communities.
A strong statement from the suburbs will require a strong response from Memphis and whatever becomes of the Unified School System. Only five percent of Memphis high school graduates are college ready. "Disgusting," said Stand For Children Tennessee Director Kenya Bradshaw at a press conference Friday.
The upstart organization supported four school board candidates (one of them unopposed) who were victorious Thursday. Bradshaw said Stand For Children spent about $150,000. The seven elected board members will be part of a 23-member board for another year.
The federal resegregation lawsuit is set for November 6th. Attorneys for the Shelby County Commission argue that the municipal school systems are racially motivated and would violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution and shortchange the Shelby County District. The filing does not say what remedy could be imposed to racially configure public schools when 22 percent of the students are white and the majority of them live in them live in suburbs that voted overwhelmingly against unification.
CORRECTION: Wyatt Bunker was misidentified in a photo caption. Apologies.
It's really important and really interesting how the suburbs vote on municipal school systems. The How Much Do They Hate Us Meter. Driving through Germantown and Collierville last Sunday, I saw lots of "Vote Yes" signs but no signs of organized opposition to what is, among other things, a self-imposed tax increase of an unknown amount. If I were a suburban parent of school-age children at, say, Houston High School (in which case I would need a lot more money to afford a house in the 'hood), I would be torn between smaller-is-better and "is this even necessary?"
The election outcome won't have that feel of finality. The Shelby County Commission gets two more bites at the apple. I like its chances on the unconstitutionality of the state law because it is narrowly drawn to, as its backers plainly said, apply to Shelby County. Judge Mays could so rule, and if he does, that would slow the muni train down but not stop it. The resegregation claim, as I have written, looks like a don't-go-there for the federal courts. If it comes to trial, the whole country will be watching.
As for that subpoena for commenters' names, The Commercial Appeal has overplayed its hand. How foolish its editorial writers look, puffing their chests and throwing their arms out of their sockets patting themselves on the back in righteousness. NEVER! We'll never disclose a secret. Trust us! Two words: Ernest Withers, the FBI informant that The CA outed. There are two times when I have learned the hard way that it is best not to write a column: when full of self-righteousness and when full of anger. Let it pass. Two people mentioned the irony of Withers to me within the last 24 hours.
Weird, too, was voting early. Memphians don't get to vote on munis. Turnabout is fair play. So I voted in one school board race and a couple of other races. And I still can't explain the school board "what ifs" and "but thens" to my wife and friends, not that they care much.
Jackson Baker and I were talking about the election and charter schools. Jack made the point that charter schools are not really public schools, they're more like private schools with public money. There is a concerted effort in the Department of Education in Nashville to vastly expand them. We agreed that it's the beginning of the end of public education as we knew it in our day and our childrens' day.
Which leads to the idea of a unified school system, which I supported 18 months ago and had hopes for. Like many others, I knew it was risky ("looking for a fight" as Kriner Cash said), knew the 5-4 school board vote was dependent on lame-duck member Sharon Webb, knew opponents such as Jeff Warren and Kenneth Whalum Jr. spoke from first-hand experience as MCS parents, and knew some suburbanites would bolt. I thought busing for diversity was off the table (as it is), but I underestimated the General Assembly and overestimated merger backers Martavius Jones and Tomeka Hart. They have not been the voices for compromise and school closings and efficiencies I hoped they would be. If all we (Memphians) get is a small property tax decrease offset by an increase in county taxes, it will not have been worth the effort. But to the extent that there is and can be suburban-city mixing, as on the Transition Planning Commission and unified school board, there's some hope. Diversity in public education has value, but it is more praised in word than in practice.