Desegregation: What was it like for those involved?

2010-01-31T00:00:00Z 2014-07-05T03:42:04Z Desegregation: What was it like for those involved? Arizona Daily Star
January 31, 2010 12:00 am

Cynthia Valenzuela

Head of litigation for one of the plaintiffs in the desegregation case - the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Valenzuela recalls leaving her working-class Latino and black neighborhood on the west side for a 30-minute bus ride to Mansfeld Middle School, in the heart of the city, across the street from the University of Arizona.

The university, she recalls, was "a symbolic and daily reminder that college was within my reach." At Tucson High, she took Advanced Placement and honors classes, some taught by university professors - an opportunity she wouldn't have had in her neighborhood high school. It was then she decided she could become a lawyer.

Clearly, the system worked for her. But today, she maintains the district failed to fully desegregate its schools, leaving vast tracts of students behind.

"I represent parents who have the same aspirations as my parents had for me: a quality education, a connection to opportunity and a path to success."

Lorraine Aguilar

A member of the independent citizen commission charged with overseeing TUSD's desegregation efforts.

Aguilar's children were assigned to Robison Elementary School but were turned away after two weeks because the school already had too many minority kids. They ended up at Sam Hughes Elementary School, about two miles away.

In the past, she hadn't found it easy to talk to administrators at district headquarters, she said.

"I remember the first time we ever tried it, when we wanted to talk about what was happening at the school in our neighborhood and he said 'Thank you' and 'Bye' and that was the end."

Sam Hughes, she said, "opened my eyes."

"I discovered the parents at Sam Hughes speak up and the board listened," she said, saying it became clear to her that organized groups could carry clout.

On the other hand, she said, the district didn't cooperate with the commission and stymied it from conducting effective reviews. It remains her biggest disappointment.

"I'm not sorry for the years we served. A lot of good was done. What I'm sorry about is they basically put us in a garbage can and put the lid on us."

Tim Bentley

Growing up on Tucson's east side, Bentley entered Townsend Junior High (now middle school) when desegregation began there, in 1979.

"Most of the kids from our side of town were getting bused to Utterback. There was a group of kids who, for whatever reason, didn't get bused. We went to Townsend."

The busing worked the other way at Townsend - black and Hispanic kids from other parts of town were going to the junior high near north Craycroft and east Grant roads.

Rumors of gangs and racial tension swirled in the kids' social circles in anticipation of their move to Townsend. In the end, Bentley said, the fears were unfounded.

"They were really just kids who had the same fears," he said. "You're nervous about school, you're nervous about making friends, you're nervous about girls and boys."

Maria Saavedra

In the Pueblo Gardens neighborhood, Saavedra - whose maiden name is Gardner - "lived in a bubble," she said.

In her neighborhood, kids went to Pueblo Gardens Elementary, then Utterback Junior High and Pueblo High. They were relatively poor kids, many of them, like Saavedra, Hispanic.

But after desegregation began, kids in the neighborhood were bused a few miles east to Alice Vail Junior High.

"We weren't aware of the whys or anything. We were just told that they wanted to mix the races up," Saavedra said.

The trip took them across a cultural divide.

"All of a sudden we're going to a school with kids whose parents were lawyers and doctors," she said. "Suddenly, we're finding out what are Nike and what are Jordache."

In retrospect, the experience was positive for Saavedra and some of her bused peers, she said, in that it exposed them to people from other backgrounds.

But that wasn't true for all the Pueblo Gardens kids on those buses. Many ended up dropping out, Saavedra said, though they may well have dropped out if they'd stayed at their neighborhood schools, too.

Laura Banks-Reed

Banks-Reed spent 39 years working in Tucson Unified School District as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent, ending three years after desegregation began.

One of the little-noted parts of desegregation in Tucson is that the original settlement agreement required TUSD to desegregate its black teachers, as well as students.

At the time, Banks-Reed was no longer a teacher - she had begun a seven-year spell working as an administrator in the district office. But she knew the significance of the order for black teachers.

She had been one at the predominantly black Dunbar Elementary School for eight years in the 1950s.

"It was a good thing that we were able to teach wherever there was an opening rather than just where there were minority students," Banks-Reed said.

"They should have done it before then."

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Activate

Follow the Arizona Daily Star

Deals, offers & events

View more...
Get weekly ads via e-mail