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Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195182477
ISBN-10: 0195182472
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Bell, the first tenured black professor at Harvard and a veteran civil rights lawyer, reflects critically on the function and limitation of the landmark Brown decision. He asserts that he, like many of his colleagues, confused the means of integration with the objectives of high-quality education and racial equality. To analyze racial reforms, he has developed a theory of converging interests into one of racial fortuity. For example, it was U.S. cold war interests that necessitated the elimination of legal segregation rather than purported concern with quality education for black children. In other words, when the interests of blacks converge with the interests of whites, blacks are more likely to have their needs addressed; otherwise they are not. Thus white resistance to busing and other integration strategies has reduced the Brown decision and its promise to mostly symbolic value. However, Bell admonishes blacks to not forgo their real interests even when they do not converge with the majority, and certainly prime among those interests is the educational development of black children. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review


"Mournful.... Captures the significance of Brown at the time of its pronouncement and of African Americans' then-unconquerable optimism about the country's ultimate goodness."--Debra J. Dickerson, Mother Jones


"Bell, always a self-consciously provocative writer, remains true to form in Silent Covenants. In his most creative chapter, Bell imagines an alternative Brown decision that would have upheld segregation but insisted on the equalization of resources between blacks and whites. Had that road been followed, he suggests, black children might have gotten the education they needed and deserved."--Boston Globe


"Provocatively sardonic.... His pervasive melancholy may surprise readers who expect movement veterans to celebrate victories rather than rue their missteps, but to Bell the very perception of Brown as a victory is a 'mirage' that must be vanquished."--Chicago Tribune


"A bold and sobering counterproposal."--The New Yorker


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (August 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195182472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195182477
  • Product Dimensions: 8.8 x 0.7 x 5.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #606,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alan Mills VINE VOICE on December 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Read this book. It makes you think critically, challenge your assumptions, and argue with the author. What more can you ask of a book?

Bell has the honesty to look at Brown from the perspective of its fiftieth anniversary, and ask the question, "What did it all mean?" Bell has the standing to ask this question, having devoted much of his life to litigation seeking to enforce the promise of Brown--often at not inconsiderable risk to his own life. Bell has the intelligence to bring to bear facts coupled with a historical perspective.

His conclusion: Brown was a step in the right direction, but had far more effect as a symbol than as a legal decision. Factually, virtually no child (Black or White) received an education in an integrated classroom as a result of any court order enforcing Brown. What little integration occurred (and the number of children (Black and White) who attend effectively segregated schools today--50 years after Brown--is staggering) resulted from legislative action (the civil rights acts of 1964/65 and the school finding acts of the same period).

Bell's analysis of Brown as a legal precedent is persuasive. It is more of a symbol than a living legal precedent. However, I disagree that Brown's symbolic power should be discounted. The reason that there have been so few cases citing Brown is that Brown so effectively ended legalized segregation.

I would argue that without Brown, the civil rights movement of the late 50's and early 60's (sit ins, voter registration, and other direct action) would not have been possible. For example, James Meredith survived his attempt to integrate the University of Mississippi by using his personal defiance to leverage the power of the United States government to battle the Klan.
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Format: Hardcover
Bell condemns the past 50 years of legal and cultural struggle against segregation as a conspiracy of whites to disenfranchise and dupe Black folks and their leaders because that struggle missed the point. The point is that if you don't outlaw racism then racist will conspire together and coop your movement to the benefit of whites. Bell is eloquent, as always, but far less compelling than in his earlier works. Here, Bell's strident argument against integration versus segregation will make you think hard about the quality of civil rights progress over the past 50 years. But, since the book offers only a "what if" Brown v. Board of Ed. had been decided differently idea, and no real vision for an alternative progressive movement, it becomes a must read and a must shelve book in the same instance.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Derrick Bell does a fantastic job recounting his personal experiences while delving deep into the ramifications of the Brown v. Board of Ed decision. This book helped to illuminate a very complex topic for me.
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Bell sets forth a powerful set of arguments in support of a proposition he knows will face instant, strong opposition from his target audience: those who care about civil rights and racial reform. I am still on the fence as to whether I agree with Bell's message, but I learned a great deal from this book. Bell traces the legal history of race relations in the U.S., providing intriguing insights, new facts to consider, and persuasive perspectives. He also suggests many areas in which the agenda of racial reform must focus and sets out specific ideas for progress. The breadth and detail are a bit overwhelming, but well worth digesting.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book does a great job outlining the journey of African American's in our public education system. I really like the alternative solution to the Brown vs Board of Education case, but alas that's not the direction we went and we didn't have the benefit of hindsight.
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excellent, addresses the issue and unveils the political and power structures i was not aware existed. recommended for those people committed to social change and equality
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