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Remembering New Rochelle's Desegregation Fight

Huguenot and New Rochelle Historical Association takes a look back at a pivotal event in the history of New Rochelle.

The sound of We Shall Overcome filled the yard of the Sunday as members of the Huguenot and New Rochelle Historical Association celebrated the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking court decision that changed the face of schools in New Rochelle.

Journalist, author and photographer Linda Tarrant-Reid and community activists Sam and Joan Goldstein recounted the importance of the Taylor vs. Board of Education of the City School District of New Rochelle decision.

“This was the first case in the cause of desegregation filed in the north,” Tarrant-Reid said.

The case began when parents of students at Lincoln Elementary School, which according to Tarrant-Reid was 94 percent African-American, noticed that white pupils in Lincoln were being transferred to surrounding districts.

The parents knew the school was not performing well. They also expressed concern over having their children take classes in a building that was falling into a state of disrepair.

Families attempted to have their children transferred to other districts, but the school board denied their requests citing a rigid interpretation of school district policy.

It was at this point in time that the New Rochelle Board of Education proposed tearing down the structure and rebuilding the school on the same grounds. This decision was put to a referendum that passed in each of the districts except Lincoln.

“The parents did not give up the fight and enlisted Paul Zuber—a lawyer famous for taking desegrgation cases—to aid them in their fight for equality,” said Tarrant-Reid, adding, “the case would become known as the ‘The Little Rock of the North.’ ”

Joan Goldstein recounted memories of marching in rallies that snaked down North Avenue and knocked on doors to spread knowledge of the cause. Goldstein also took a moment to tell a story that impacted her life deeply.

“I remember going to an event and seeing a group of African-American parents worrying about what to do with their children while they went to court. I told them I would take them and give them lunch. I did just that and my neighbor never talked to me again,” said the 89-year-old New Rochelle resident proudly, to the crowd that included her daughter Betty, Laurie and son Bobby.

Mayor Noam Bramson stopped by to congratulate the crowd on keeping such an important topic on the minds of the citizens of New Rochelle.

“It is important for our community to remember the great struggle that we have faced throughout our history. It’s also important to engage ourselves to create the community we have agreed to create and to commit to the ideals that we set forth. Our work is never complete,” Bramson said.

Longtime New Rochelle Resident Sam Goldstein recounted his steps to aiding the cause. He and his wife joined the local American Jewish Council in order to fight social injustice. So he found time in between working long hours and providing for his family to get the message out and help in any way he could.

“I’m happy that we have an event like this. It brings the subject up and keeps people talking about it. We have to remember the good things and learn from them so bad things like this don’t happen again,” Sam Goldstein told New Rochelle Patch.  

But it was William Mullen—a board member of the historical society— that showed how a community could use the law to break down the injustices imposed by a few by quoting a stanza from America the Beautiful that people rarely sing.

“God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self-control. Thy liberty in law,” as the embodiment of what occurred on that day in 1961 and has had an everlasting effect.

Billy L August 08, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Would rebuilding the school now, since it's a good possibility New Rochelle may need another one soon from what I have heard, change anything? Or too little too late?
Susan Turner Stutz August 08, 2011 at 01:19 PM
Thank you Theresa, I was one of the many children that attended Lincoln School. It was a very scary time for a third grader having to take a bus to parts unknown to attend school. I don't know about other children but I was not able to join in any after school activities, the bus was the only transportation home. I loved attending Lincoln School, we had great teachers that cared. A few years back I went on line to the City of New Rochelle and under the year this took place they had a small article that stated that Lincoln School was an all black school. This really upset me so I wrote to the City and requested they change this. There were at least 4 or 5 white families whose children attended when I did along with a family from China. I am glad to see that this part of history of NR has been corrected and remembered. Proud to have been a Lincoln School Alumni!
Jennifer W. Fowler August 08, 2011 at 02:33 PM
We need to continue this dialogue and get all the viewpoints on the table. The only way to reach understanding is to listen to each other. May the conversation continue. Jennifer W. Fowler, Board Member Huguenot and New Rochelle Historical Association
Bill August 18, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Susan, you're right. My friend Larry, a nice whie boy, also went to Lincoln; but you were a distinct minority. ArTDecoPlayLand, It would be very difficult to build a new school in New Rochelle, because once land become parkland, It is almost impossible to change it. Also Lincoln Park is the only park in the middle of New Rochelle, and is well used. Also, the wounds of discrimination may never completely heal over. Time doesn't fix hate, and as you can see, there are still a few hateful slime around. I would like us someday to get to the point when we can all laugh over the same ethnic jokes.
John Hessel August 19, 2011 at 01:51 AM
Karen Hessel wrote an 8 part series on the entire case. It has been updated and rewritten to reflect the many new things that have beeen learned since this process began. If you want to learn the history start here: http://www.hk-studios.com/lincolndistrict/LincolnDistrictPart1.asp (This series was originally posted on another local blog)

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