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.