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Published Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Racial bar down for teachers here (1/19/56)

The final blow at both student and teacher segregation was struck Wednesday night by the Topeka Board of Education. In two unanimous motions, the board:

1. Approved Step IV in the integration of Negro pupils, which will remove all vestiges of racial privilege by 1961.

2. Authorized Supt. Wendell R. Godwin to word a formal policy to the effect that "there will be no consideration of race or religion in the matter of teacher employment or assignment from this time on."

The first action had been expected. Godwin had recommended Step IV on December 21. But the board delayed action to give anyone a chance to be heard.

Both on the night the action was introduced and Wednesday night, representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People made please for immediate abolition of the Step IV option clause which permits some students to attend pre-integration schools, and for teacher integration.

They left the meeting Wednesday feeling their pleas again had failed. The board passed Step IV with no discussion.

But after several other minor business items had been considered, Gerald Barker said: "I'd like to make a motion. I move that in the future this Board of Education adopt a policy that all applicants for teaching positions be considered on their individual merits alone."

Board president Dr. Richard Greer added, "May I ask the privilege of seconding that."

But discussion of whether the resolution's wording was the best to carry out its meaning caused the board to delay a vote.

They asked Godwin to work out a formal policy statement.

"Let me see if I understand fully," Godwin said. "You mean that there will be no consideration of race or religion in the matter of teacher employment or assignment from this time on. Is that right?"

Almost as one, the board answered, "Yes."

M.L. Burnett, NAACP president who has appeared countless times before the board, stressed the international relations effect of the board's actions Wednesday night.

"It's hard for us to realize," he said, "but the people of Asia and Africa will know what you do tonight almost as soon as the people of Topeka."

When he was informed later Wednesday night of the board's action on teachers, Burnett gasped, "That is wonderful."

Several board members said they did not consider the formal policy they plan to adopt as an about-face, but just "putting in writing their recent practices."

But the record does not bear this out. Burnett pointed out Topeka has four fewer Negro teachers today than when the first integration step was taken. And no white children presently are being taught by Negroes.

Under Step IV in the integration of pupils, the 62 Negro children and 78 white children who exercised an option in September, 1955, to attend their former schools may continue to do so throughout their elementary careers.

But this year's kindergartners, and all other new pupils in the future, must attend the school in the district where they live. In effect, this will end segregation by the 1960-61 school year. All other Topeka students now are attending school in their residential district.