Monday, March 31, 2008

I took pictures of this school, even though it wasn't on the demolitions list. It is one of the few in the RSD's Planning District B to be spared this fate. Honestly, I was in the neighborhood, I took some photos of it, and moved on, paying little or no attention to what might have really brought me there.

It is in a condition that is not all that different from some of the other District B schools that are of the same age and have had about the same treatment - but I wondered what made this school exempt from the planned future that some of those schools were hurtling toward.

Well, in the case of Frantz Elementary, this might have something to do with it...

...1960 was the year when federally-sanctioned integration of the schools came to New Orleans, and it was not an easy transition at all. In many, many ways, this city is still reeling from the effects, which were not eased by past mayors, city councils, and school boards - or current ones, for that matter.

Because an entire white community was scared and filled with loathing towards the implications of a six-year-old black girl attending an all-white school - forget the fact that Ruby Bridges had some clue as to why the howling mobs were surrounding her every day, but was a tad more upset that she wouldn't be attending Johnson Lockett School with all her friends, something that all six-year-olds, no matter what color they are, have in their heads - it led to an exodus that many whites still make every time they can. It started with pulling their children out of the school, because God forbid anybody should be in contact with the beginnings of black people as equals. It graduated to the whites moving out of homes in the surrounding community, because, if blacks are on an equal footing educationally, it could lead to their having to be addressed as actual neighbors and fellow human beings.

In this way, many, many opportunities were squandered and crumbled to dust and ashes.

A serious consequence of these attitudes sits in the abandoned buildings that have sat there for two-plus years after 8-29-2005. In the wake of disaster, a school district is dissolved. A state takeover and a charter school boom has left these buildings neglected to the point where forty-seven of them are going to be gone, and, as of this writing, I have only found rebuilding plans for a small fraction of the schools that are going to go. Once again, if anybody has a source for plans that is NOT on a placard outside a demolition site, let me know, please.

Plans for Frantz Elementary are helping it stay off the RSD's list, after all.
Ms. Ruby Bridges formed the foundation as a 501(c) 3 in 1999. Today it has an active board of ten members, and a new and growing National Advisory Board. Ruby’s Bridges, the foundation's first national program initiative, completed its pilot phase in the spring of 2003 with the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

A second initiative is with the William Frantz School in New Orleans – the very school Ruby integrated in 1960. This project involves having the school declared a historical site, upgrading the library, changing the name to Ruby Bridges, and establishing a Ruby’s Bridges program at the school.

If you would like to know more about the Ruby Bridges Foundation or are interested in learning how you may help, please email us at

Would that the RSD and the BESE would endeavor to start applying the lessons that should have been learned and implemented by this city over forty years ago (going on fifty), and start looking more carefully at the neighborhoods that will be left behind if there are no schools rebuilt on the land where abandoned schools currently sit. The same ol' same ol' could well happen once the buildings are gone and the lure of easy money from the sales of that land is too great. First the schools will go - and then the neighborhoods.

"I can't play with you," a young white boy said to Ruby Bridges near the end of the school year, when some parents began to let their children attend Frantz Elementary again. "My mama said not to because you're a nigger."

The Ruby Bridges Foundation operates on the premise that "racism is a grown-up disease. Let's stop using our kids to spread it."

Ladies and gentlemen, there is more than one way to spread this disease. Teaching your kids to overtly leave "the Other" alone is one way. Putting a whole bunch of roadblocks in the way of that same "Other" and then claiming any number of excuses to squelch their protests and keep the roadblocks in place is another. Selling out public property in the name of the greater good and claiming this will help those who will have to schlep their kids a longer distance to school and/or have to keep track of every development in the admissions process, whether it is real or anticipated, is yet another way to kick the "Other" in the teeth...and that last one is a speculation that is grounded in a No-Cal anecdote from my mother-in-law. She took one look at the building summary statistics for a now-demolished RSD school and told me that was too valuable a parcel of land for the district to completely rule out the idea of selling it. It happened in her Silicon Valley 'hood - and it could damn well happen to us here.

All I'm saying is:

Empty lot + little to no concrete plans for complete replacement + recession + "Gimme My Money Back" measures on the part of the Winding Himalayan Goat Path...errr...Road Home program towards grant recipients + serious housing crisis could well equal no plans to rebuild the remaining forty-plus schools that are or are going to be piles of rubble.

I hope I'm wrong.

Otherwise, all that will be left will be the historical site of Ruby Bridges/William Frantz Elementary - a monument to a damn good idea that should have worked out by now, but will remain an idea that will have too many people acting too slowly on its implementation unless a whole host of things get done...and first and foremost among those things ought to be an obligation to help out these devastated communities with more than just hope, words and money.

Give 'em their schools back.

* I hope this addresses a couple of the comments from this post...specifically "Knowswhatsreallyup"s and Maitri's. I've been mulling over those comments for a while. And, KWRU, if you can tell me where in the phrase "complete replacement" is the part that says "only the portables" at Morris F.X. Jeff, I would like to know.


Karen said...

....And demolish the School that educated the "Ruby Bridges" that came before her

Leigh C. said...

Yup, Irony City.