SPECIAL REPORT: Segregated School

ACRI Executive Director Lee Formwalt / Romney Smith

The Civil Rights Era was a turbulent time in American history and tensions ran high among blacks and whites.

Lee Formwalt, Executive Director of the Albany Civil Rights Institute says tensions ran high when schools began the process of integration. "There is a feeling out there among large numbers of whites that black education is inferior and black students are inferior. So putting white students with black students doesn't raise black students, it brings down white students. No one is going to sacrifice their kids to the system" says Formwalt.

It's during this time period that many private schools in the South were founded in part to give another educational option in light of the Brown vs.. Board of Education decision in 1954. Formwalt says throughout the South there was a massive white resistance to the integration of public schools and it's no coincidence that many private schools were founded in the early 1960's when the first forms of integration were happening in the public school system.

The Deerfield-Windsor School was founded in 1964.

Most private schools cite quality of education as the main reason for their founding, but it's nearly impossible to deny that the student body was 100% white, meaning race also played a factor. Formwalt wonders why the demographic of Deerfield doesn't reflect the community. "When you live in a county that is 67% black, and you have a private school that is 10% black â" what's going on there?" he questions.

Even though race was a factor in Deerfield Windsor's history, Headmaster David Davies says the school has come a long way. "Over 100 of our 835 students are students of color and the majority of those students are African Americans. We do not take race into account in our admissions process and we've really been reaching out to the black community" says Davies.

One rumor in Southwest Georgia is that all black Deerfield students are athletes or on scholarship â" a statement Davies says simply isn't true. "We have black kids who are artists, black kids who are at the top of their class academically - and no they are not all on financial aid" says Davies.

Formwalt and Davies disagree on if the cost of tuition influences diversity at Deerfield. Davies says there is still a socioeconomic hurdle that exists and that will play a factor regardless of race or religion.

Deerfield officials say they have plans to continue to reach out and invite black community leaders in to dispel myths about the school that penetrate some communities. "We have a whole generation who needs to see what we're doing here in terms of the diversity of the student body before they can accept that maybe things are different now than they were 45 years ago" says Davies.

Although Deerfield doesn't have diversity goals, they value the experience racial diversity can bring to the student body. "I think our percentage is about 12% or 13% students of color. I know that doesn't represent the demographic of Albany, but I think we're working very hard to reach out and contact communities who have been underrepresented at Deerfield" says Davies.

Some people may think that the public to private school comparison is like comparing apples to oranges. However Formwalt says the same perceptions, misconceptions, and racial inequality exists if you stick to public schools because of another rampant rumor in Albany. "You know how people say the Lee County school system is better that the Dougherty County school system? I don't have an opinion on that, but what I do know is that its whiter. And for many people whiter means better. So do we have a lot of work to do - we sure do" says Formwalt.

Both men agreed that the most important thing is the quality of education afforded to students be as high as possible. Neither deny that history, racial demographics, and rumors about the Dougherty County School System and Deerfield-Windsor exist, however they have different ways to approach overcoming racial boundaries in education.

Formwalt says it will take a generational approach of black and white parents to understand deep seeded prejudices, how they came to be, and how it's possible to overcome them. Davies says it will take the parents of students of color and the students themselves to share how they enjoy their experiences at Deerfield with others to provide a personal reason why academically qualified students should consider testing for admission. For those who can't afford the tuition, Deerfield-Windsor has scholarships and financial aid available.

In 2011, Dougherty County Public Schools are 87% black, 9% white, 4% other, and 80% qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Deerfield-Windsor is 87% white, and 13% other with the overwhelming majority of "other" being black students.

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