Tuesday, February 8, 2011
The bus stops here
"Are those my Footprints?"
Another book by Rick Minerd. Available at amazon.com in eReader format for Kindle, PC and other download devices.
Although it is not politically correct to always tell the truth when it comes to issues such as how communities are often destroyed by the racial makeup of its residents that is exactly what I think happened to the Southside of Columbus.
It changed from a predominately white area with few minorities living within its boundaries and attending its schools to one that in many neighborhoods minorities have come to outnumber the whites.
It was that way since the first bricks were laid more than one hundred and fifty years ago. It stayed that way until just thirty years ago.
And many of the minorities who are now here did not come with bank accounts healthy enough to sustain the decades of constantly building new things or beautifying the homes within these boundaries or even with enough to support the businesses that serve it.
It doesn’t require much documentation to prove that areas in any large inner city that are dominated by poor minorities become unattractive havens for crime and taking possession of whole communities that were once better than they are.
The ones that were once mostly populated by middle and upper income families whose stake in their communities was not only in how they could afford to live but the reasons they kept up traditions that made their neighborhoods what they once were, cleaner and safer.
Like entire blocks on Columbus’ Southside that were lined with finely trimmed lawns and fancy landscaping surrounding modest to fancy homes, some of them mansions.
People who would never have tolerated their streets to be decorated with broken beer bottles and used condoms or spent syringes and other litter because the moment they spotted such trash it was picked up and disposed of properly.
Homeowners who if a window on their house got broken they did not leave it broken they replaced it with glass not plywood. They were residents who didn’t carry worn out mattresses or broken furniture outside and dump it in their yard or throw it into an alley, they made arrangements for such items to be picked up and discarded somewhere far from their neighborhoods because they didn’t want to look at it every day or because they merely cared.
Most of them gone now and those who have remained have been forced to light the outside of their homes with security lighting and surround them with privacy fences and locked gates to reduce the likelihood of becoming easy targets from someone with bad intentions who might be walking or driving by or in worst cases trying to get in.
And those who have stayed and who remain determined to live in little pockets of the city known as German Village and Schumacher Place find themselves surrounded by the skeletal remains of once great communities that are now inhabited by some very dangerous neighbors.
And although many of them would prefer to look the other way or simply refuse to acknowledge certain truths they are only steps away from people and places that make theirs one of the priciest ghettos in America.
They tolerate daily and nightly annoyances such as loud and obnoxious cars traveling down their streets blaring loud music, they sometimes have to step aside to avoid bumping into drunks sharing their sidewalks and sometimes find it necessary to shield their children’s eyes from seeing scantily clad prostitutes flagging down customers.
All the result of entire nearby communities that were built and nurtured for decades by common blue collar families that have since fallen into ruin because those people left to live somewhere else. They left because they were white and because they were from an era when it was okay to separate the races.
A time when white people were expected if not required to marry other white people, when it was the norm for their families to move into mostly white communities so they could raise their children to carry on their centuries old traditions which included sending them to predominately white schools.
And for many all it took was for a minority family to move in next door. For thousands of others all it took was being told that they could no longer send their children to the schools down the street that instead they would have to put them on school buses and have them trucked off to schools on the other side of town so they could attend classes with more minorities.
The other side of that reality being that minorities would be trucked into their neighborhoods to fill the vacant classroom seats left behind by their kids. And one by one as these families chose not to conform to standards they felt were being shoved down their throats they were being replaced in the neighborhoods by people who weren’t familiar with the customs of keeping properties up or showing respect for their neighbors.
Parents whose children were at first only visiting for eight hours a day to go to school eventually discovered that it would be more convenient to live close to it.
And as more and more white people fled the area the more homes became vacant and available for them to move into. And as more and more of them arrived the less value these properties held. It was a time when more white people were not willing to share their sidewalks with non-whites.
As I said it isn’t politically correct to point this out but it happened and pretending that there was any other reason the Southside deteriorated would be a gross miscarriage of the truth.
For any who might still scratch their heads and pretend not to know what happened, there it is. And for anyone who may be skeptical or unable to accept this analogy I would suggest they compare the complexion now of cities like Los Angeles or Detroit with what they looked like fifty years ago.
Go to any major city in America where minorities make up the lion’s share of the inner city and it is the same, no longer showcased to the rest of the country as enviable places to live. Money dictates cultures.
Chase the money out of a community and replace it with vouchers for basic survival and people who either have no means to earn a comfortable living or those simply unwilling to try and that community quickly falls from grace.
In the case of a few neighborhoods on Columbus’ Southside those with enough money who can afford to stay simply continue to make their little pocket communities too expensive for poorer families to move too close.
They have invested in homes that can be priced in the millions of dollars and they protect them by purchasing more property insurance to cover anything that might be taken from them or destroyed.
They buy expensive tuition's for their children to attend schools not populated by the poor and they invest in more elaborate security systems and stronger locks to protect what is theirs.
But they know they are not insulated completely from the issues born from a decision made in March, 1977 by a Federal Court Judge named Robert M., Duncan.
They have come to terms with the realization that they can fall victim to someone who wants what they have at any time by people who don’t mind obtaining what they want the easy way, even if that way is to take it by force.
That decision handed down by Judge Duncan said that the Columbus Board of Education promoted segregation and was in violation of federal laws that made it illegal to do it by allowing some to remain as they were by their methods of drawing boundaries pertaining to where students would be allowed to attend classes.
In other words, just because a student lived within walking distance of a school it wasn’t enough to assign that child to that school. And in the case of the Southside, an area dominated by white people it meant that the schools here were racially imbalanced and that the cure would be to bus some of them out of that district to make room for minorities to be bused in to achieve desegregation.
To its credit the Columbus Public School system petitioned the United States Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist to issue a stay in Judge Duncan’s order and it was granted, but when the case was heard in April, 1979 the Supreme Court’s final ruling in the matter upheld Judge Duncan’s earlier decision.
School busing became law and white flight changed the complexion of the Southside forever. It was the beginning of not only a mass exodus of whites from the neighborhood but from the entire Columbus Public School district.
At its zenith in 1971 the district had a student enrollment of nearly one hundred and eleven thousand students, at the start of the 2010 school year it was somewhere under 60,000 made up predominately by minorities.
Some of the short term effects of school busing for racial balance wiped out friendships that might have been formed on sidewalks by neighbor kids who couldn’t maintain their bonds with one another through their academic years because they may have been shipped off to different schools or because their families fled the neighborhoods for higher ground.
Sons and daughters were denied the opportunity to possibly walk in the footsteps of hallways in a school that their parents did before them, younger brothers and sisters weren’t able to follow older siblings participating in sports and other school activities while some weren’t even able to attend the same schools with each other.
The tradition for many of coming home for lunch was gone, as was any opportunity for some parents to walk very young students to school, or for older kids the independence of being trusted to make it to class on their own.
And worse during those early years of busing was well established students had to be uprooted from the familiar confines of their home schools and forced to mingle in strange surroundings with students of cultures they may not have understood.
Not to mention tacking an hour or two onto their school day to allow for travel to and from and what must have been traumatizing for many, having to say goodbye to not only a school they loved but to the house and the neighborhood they grew up in.
And for the Southside of Columbus in particular it brought students from less friendly and less affluent neighborhoods into an area of temptations. Different from the poorer neighborhoods they were used to they were now being exposed to unsecured property that would be easily taken.
Longtime Southsiders like my own parents and their neighbors began seeing things stolen from their yards, then garage windows broken and doors kicked in, car windows smashed and vulgar graffiti spray painted on previously clean surfaces.
More and more homes were left behind by the people who used to care about them and those that were being moved into began to crumble from neglect from the new occupiers. And as the previous residents left so did the commerce that was exchanged in local businesses.
Previously reliable customers were replaced by thieves or no one at all. Business owners saw their profits tumble to levels where it became no longer feasible to continue operating. And when they left so did many opportunities for employment.
Some had to give up because they couldn’t afford to keep paying for broken doors and windows, or to have graffiti removed from their buildings, others left out of fear or because they just got tired of being robbed.
Gas stations folded and became used car lots, drugstores were replaced by cell phone stores, adult entertainment or liquor stores. Some became sidewalk houses of worship, not the type that rings a bell on Sunday morning but the kind that bang tambourines and drums and play guitars behind some preacher screaming hellfire and damnation at his congregation.
Others were simply boarded up and left for canvasses for street artists carrying spray paint cans. Where there were once a neighborhood bakeries that did business for decades now stands used clothing shops.
One needn’t walk far to find a flea market, a bar or human flesh or illegal drugs for sale but try finding a repair shop or a hardware store. They used to dot Parsons Avenue, some within mere blocks of one another, as did barber shops, beauty parlors and even toy stores.
The one major department store, Schottenstiens has been a grass field for a few years. A family restaurant (Lois Mann’s) became a strip club and large manufactures like Federal Glass and Owens Illinois who in their heydays employed hundreds of workers have silenced their boilers and shut their doors.
Buckeye Steel Castings Company another giant industry that employed thousands through the years and where its parking lots used to have hundreds of cars parked are now places for twenty or thirty vehicles on any given day.
Even the areas two new car dealerships Gager-Kiem Ford and Bobb Chevrolet had to leave. It all adds up to the sum of a depressed economy and a dangerously depressed and desperate community in more ways than one.
It is where familiar traditions like mowing a neighbor’s lawn changed to stealing your neighbor’s lawn mower and where instead of shopping in friendly stores for goods and services some shop in the homes of terrified residents, some who have been beaten and molested after having their doors kicked in. Traditions of a community that worked for what it wanted or needed changed to one that just took it regardless of the inconvenience, the pain or the hardships they inflict on one another.
It has even become an area where children might be more likely to sell sexual favors or narcotics than they would to mow a lawn or shovel snow to earn spending money.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the area even became unsafe for students to stand at bus stops when gangs of other students began a new crime wave of beating them up and stealing expensive jackets and tennis shoes from them.
Unruly thugs from school districts far away were being bused into areas where no one knew them and where they committed their crimes and then were bussed back to the ghetto where they could roam around with no one looking for them.
And before the first half of the 1990s ended it became less necessary to bus anyone from a bad neighborhood to the Southside because it had become the home turf for this new culture, one of danger and destruction.
And then the problems grew like a cancer until all that was left was a bunch of littered streets with torched and boarded up houses, closed businesses and roaming bad guys eager to see everything else forfeited to them.
So yes, I am saying it, in our zeal to be politically correct we have and become a society that not only shot ourselves in the foot we shot the heart out of a once pretty good place to live, go to school or work. The photos within these pages tell the story far better than I ever could.
With all due respect, thanks Bob!
But the irony in your decision to achieve a racial balance in our schools is that here we are, all these years later completely unbalanced again. The Columbus Public School system is once again populated mostly by one race. In fact it has become the opposite of what it was before your fair decision.
The only other major differences are that we now have a bunch of boarded up school buildings because there aren’t enough students in the system to justify keeping them open, the graduation levels have dropped sharply since before your call and the neighborhoods surrounding those schools are barely on life support.
To put it politely most of them have become unfit to live in. Your ruling killed a community.