Open Letter: JR Ball, The Creation of St. George is Absolutely About Race. It is “Legal” Segregation.

Mr. Ball, I have read your columns for some time now and often agreed with you. We are  as much of the same as much as we are different. Two men, who write, and choose to build our families here in Baton Rouge. We’ve even shared a pleasant conversation which I don’t take for granted in a world of such disdain for people of different ideologies. You wrote a column entitled “St. George about a political divide, not a racial one.” Much like you, I know that people will not always agree with me and what I say, I understand sometimes things just need to be said. So here I am saying it, the creation of St. George is as racist as it comes. It is the reality of our city that we always try to pretend is just something black people say when we don’t like what white people are doing. 

In your column you said, “Many in our community—especially the more zealous opponents of St. George—want to entirely frame the issue around race. About white parents, unable to afford tuition at a majority-white private school, not wanting their white children attending a public school where a majority of students are black children.”

Baton Rouge has a deeply silent racist history. One of the nations longest desegregation lawsuits in the country was right here in Baton Rouge. Held up because white families in Baton Rouge have never been to keen on their children being educated with black children. It is a fact, that many of the religious private schools that exist in Baton Rouge were started when desegregation was first beginning across America and increased as blacks began to shift geography. Episcopal High School was founded in 1965, St. George and St. Thomas More Catholic Schools were founded in 1960, as well as the now closed St. Pius Catholic School was founded around 1965 when the church was built. Schools like Dunham, Parkview, and St. Micheals were created in the 1980’s at the height of integration in Baton Rouge, when black families began moving into areas like Glen Oaks and Park Forest. Private religious schools were started to help white parents have an option to send their kids to schools that had little or no black children attending. This isn’t my opinion, it is just a reality of our past. 

When we look back at history and we see the pictures and videos of people who screamed obscenities at black children integrating public schools in the deep south I often wish we could have a “where are they now” for all the people who protested integration. I know without question many of them are alive, they reared their children to believe like them, but to be more subtle in the approach to dealing with the issues of race. 

Those people worked and retired from companies all over this city, state, and nation. The difference is, certain language is not acceptable any longer but the policies that create the inequities we see are stronger than ever, and the vote for public policy that is exclusionary is and always will be racist. 

To suggest that a group of all white people, coming up with the idea to draw a new city that literally cut apartment complexes and subdivisions with higher black populations out of the new frontier isn’t racist is — privilege. You see Mr. Ball you have a luxury to view this issue from the eyes of a white male in our society. You have the ability to forgive the sins of those who came before you, because you know the goodness of the people from your experiences and believe that even if their policies hurt people who look like me, they are good people. I suggest to you that any time “conservative white people” have seen black voting power increase in the deep south, there has always been a move to ensure that those black votes don’t interfere with the norms created by their white counterparts. 

In your column you also said some in our community frame the conversation, “About white Republican adults not wanting to be governed by a black Democratic mayor-president. About sales tax dollars generated by white consumers in the southeastern part of the parish being increasingly pumped into largely black north Baton Rouge.” 

Allow me to give context Mr. Ball. Black people in Baton Rouge have never been the majority on the school board. We have never been the majority on the metro council. We have never been the majority of the state legislature. The main decision makers in Baton Rouge and Louisiana are both white and republican. So the question is, who screwed up our public schools? Black democrats or white republicans? 

The last of the white male democrats as your column suggest, went away. The truth is, many even in this city and state switched parties with the election of President Barack Obama. Understanding this gives us the ability to see the direct correlation of race and politics in the deep south. It is unpopular to say publicly now that one doesn’t want to be lead by a black leader, but look at church on Sunday mornings, what Dr. King called the most segregated time in America. You will find hundreds of blacks willing to attend churches like Bethany and Healing Place in Baton Rouge, but you will only find a hand full of whites willing to sit under black leaders in any community. If we can’t worship together in love under the leadership of someone who doesn’t look like us, how do we live together in love under the leadership of a black mayor? We don’t. 

We pretend Baton Rouge is better than it really is, but it is a deeply racist place and every time whites have felt themselves losing power they’ve adjusted the strings of government. It happened when Baton Rouge went to a Metropolitan form of government decades ago. Blacks were closer to becoming the majority in the city of Baton Rouge so we switched to a consolidated form of government which diluted the black vote and empowered white votes. We did it again with the reduction of the members of the local school board, to increase white voting power and dilute the black impact on the local school board. We did it with the incorporations of Zachary, Central, Baker, and now St. George. 

You mentioned the Council on Aging in your story and said, “Those who demanded we respect the election day results on a controversial dedicated tax for the Council on Aging are the same folks now crying foul and working to overturn the election day results on the controversial incorporation of St. George.” As the publisher of the only publication that would defend the Council on Aging election back then I can tell you one clear difference between the vote to pass the COA tax and the vote to pass St. George. 

All black, white, democrat, republican, and every one in-between got to vote on the Council on Aging tax proposal. Only the people who live in the red-lined, gerrymandered borders of St. George were allowed to vote on this plan that impacts all of us. 

You mentioned North Baton Rouge getting the majority of tax resources. Not only is that not true today, it hasn’t been true since north Baton Rouge was majority white. In the last major road tax in Baton Rouge the “Green Light Plan” north Baton Rouge communities got 5% of the $800 million of roads projects. Blacks even under Mayor Broome get less than 5% of city parish contracts, and trust me if you called Mayor Broome “militant” to anyone black they would tell you she is not militant at all and the budget of our city-parish government reflects that. So while you may want to paint the picture that this isn’t about power, control, and race, it absolutely is. 

People love to say I’m racist, because I call out racism and unapologetically defend black communities. Tell me Mr. Ball what is more racist, pushing our city to be more inclusive of all people and increasing the equity in where our city and parish spends its resources? Or deciding after decades of control of our government by white republican leaders to start a new city over 80% white and tell the black members of the community they have no right to be angry about it? 

You may not like the way it feels to say it, and it may not be something you want to admit, but brother St. George is as racist an idea as segregation — because it is segregation. And what can be more racist than that?

 

Link to Mr. Ball’s column.