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Author Sarah Garland Tells Louisville's School Desegregation Story

Louisville native and author Sarah Garland spoke with WFPL about her new book, Divided We Fail: The Story of an African American Community that Ended the Era of School Desegregation.

Below are excerpts from the interview. Garland: I went into writing the book thinking that school desegregation was a good idea, or that idea of diversity in schools is a good idea--trying to bring students together makes sense and we need that in a lot of ways for different reasons. When I went and looked deeper I realized that there were a lot of sacrifices made and so I think for education reformers there are a lot of good ideas out there.In her book, Garland introduces the reader to personal narratives including students who wanted to attend Central High School—the book’s focus school—but who were bused to another school to meet certain diversity quotas. Garland: It’s still true today, but I think schools—for most people and most parents and communities, and I say that in a broad sense, I say that in a sense of neighborhoods, but also in Louisville as a city—schools are not just about test scores. They’re places where people gather, they’re places where children are socialized. The idea behind public education was to build a nation, so it’s not just to get ahead in terms of academic achievement, but to teach kids how to live together in this society and to be productive members of the democracy. I think those big ideas sometimes get lost and I think in some ways that was an idea that desegregation plans, in their essence, was really trying to bring together a nation that had been so divided.Garland says during her interview process, personal opinions of diversity and integration varied depending on individual experiences and she notes in the book her own positive experiences. Garland: One of the moms that I interviewed and spent time with, she had a terrible experience being bused in 1975 out to the South End and being harassed and discriminated against in school. But she changed her mind in some ways. I think she still had mixed feelings, but her kids had a great experience so that changed her mind.

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