by elle | 7/07/2008 11:12:00 PM
**crossposted at elle, phd**

Rocky Branch, Louisiana, is officially part of the parish seat of Farmerville. But the area very much has its own history. Black residents of Union Parish know it as a sundown town. My parents have always cautioned me that if I had to travel to or from Monroe after dark, take I-20 through Ruston. Do not, they drilled into me, take the "shortcut" through Rocky Branch.

Today, I asked my dad if he knew specific examples of why Rocky Branch was considered a sundown town. "No," he said, "My parents taught me the same thing. So when I thought I would be there after dark, I took my pistol."


Thirty-one miles northwest of Rocky Branch lies another Union Parish town named Bernice. The black students who comprised part of the class of 1970 at Bernice High School (BHS, also in Union Parish) call themselves the "lost class." I heard the story the first time at my best friend's mother's wake. Many of her classmates shared stories of their time together. Invariably, they alluded to the "lost class" story. Sometimes, they laughed about it. Other times, they sounded bitterly hurt.

The lost class story centers, in a literal sense, around a picture. Each senior class at BHS has a collage class portrait in the hallway of the building that houses the administrative office. BHS integrated, finally, during the 1969/1970 school year. One Friday, the black children at the segregated Westside High were told that they would not return there. Monday morning, they reported to BHS. The white senior class had already taken its portraits. The school refused to re-do it. Thus the first integrated class at BHS is represented by an all-white portrait.

Union Parish had resisted integration quite successfully. In 1960 the school board resolved that it would refute any efforts at "race mixing," reassuring white parents that it stood for complete segregation.* Parish residents sent a letter to Governor Jimmie Davis, urging him to "use every power at your command, including the Legislature, interposition, or any other means to retain segregation."** Both The Gazette, Farmerville's newspaper, and the Bernice News-Journal posted an essay, above their headers, about the "Tragedy of New Orleans" school desegregation.

As late as 1969, judges included Union Parish in the following description:
Fifteen years after Brown, school boards in the Western District of Louisiana are still unwilling to face up to the prerequisites to effective desegregation. These prerequisites are the transitionary short steps which must be taken now and the planning for the long steps that must be taken to effect lock-stock-and-barrel desegregation. More than two years after Jefferson this Court is still not able to get the message through to these school boards that the standard for determining the effectiveness of a desegregation plan is an objective one: Does it work?
The answer, in Union Parish, was no.

Union Parish had a "freedom of choice plan" which allowed students to choose which school to attend. During the 1968-69 school year, only .4% of black children in the parish attended formerly "white" schools. In May of 1969, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit noted:
We do not abdicate our judicial role to statistics. But when figures speak we must listen. It is abundantly clear that freedom of choice, as presently constituted and operating in the Western District school districts before us, does not offer the 'real prospect' contemplated by Green, and 'cannot be accepted as a sufficient step to 'effectuate a transition' to a unitary system.'
We are urged by appellants to order on a plenary basis for all these school districts that the district court must reject freedom of choice as an acceptable ingredient of any desegregation plan. Unquestionably as now constituted, administered and operating in these districts freedom of choice is not effectual.
And so Union Parish, among others, finally learned what all deliberate speed would be.


But the issue of school desegregation was not decided in 1969 for Union Parish. By 2004, BHS was overwhelmingly black. And Rocky Branch Elementary, a K-8 school, had 2 Latin@ students. The rest of the 160+ students were white.

Segregated schools were not the only problems faced in Union Parish. The school district is quite poor--I often tell the story of how, when I taught there in the late 90s/early 00s, we were still using purple, ditto copies. There was never enough of anything--the playground had no equipment. Our textbooks were outdated. We were underpaid. Saving money was always priority.

But how do you save what there is so little of?

And so, the school board proposed another solution. Union Parish, in terms of land area, is the second largest parish in Louisiana. Transporting students to so many locations was expensive. But full consolidation meant that many students would spend hours a day on a bus. The compromise was to close three schools. Rocky Branch Elementary was one of the three.

Our first reaction was, "Please. They are not going to let their kids go to school with ours."

And many Rocky Branch parents didn't. They relied on the old standby in this area, the private Cedar Creek School. Some sent their kids across parish lines to Ouachita Christian, the legality of which is questionable. They swelled the enrollment at Union Christian Academy.***

But most significantly, they began to press for a charter school, D'Arbonne Woods. Insistently.

Initially, they were turned down as Union Parish residents spoke out about "Rocky Branch and its history as it relates to race." The Union Parish School Board refused to sponsor them as did the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

The D'Arbonne Woods board kept pressing. So much so that the UPSB's new superintendent briefly considered re-opening Rocky Branch Elementary. The tide began to turn for the charter school board. In 2007, the Louisiana legislature issued resolutions supporting the creation of the charter school. Finally, last December, BESE approved their request with contingencies.

And one of those contingencies is the reason I began this post with the two stories I did. On July 11, D'Arbonne Woods Charter School must demonstrate to a federal court that they comply "with the same federal desegregation order by which most districts in Louisiana still operate under." The board has been careful to portray the school as a public charter school open to anyone. The board's executive director, Corie Williams, claims that
We have gone above and beyond in our efforts toward minority recruitment. We have a board level minority committee that is charged with that very thing, to make sure that we are doing more than everyone else in actively recruiting minorities.
I have no doubt that they've done what will look good on paper. But as my sister asked when we were discussing this, given the not-so-distant history of Rocky Branch, who among us will be willing to let our children go?

I should note two things here. First, I have mixed feelings about charter schools, especially in economically poor areas. I've already noted that funding for public education in Union Parish is atrocious. **correction here** If local school boards are required to pay a share of the funding for charter schools, Union Parish could lose approximately $453,000 to D'Arbonne Woods. They would want to use the Parish's bus system and would occupy, for this first year, the property owned by the school board. Also, D'Arbonne Woods has a stated mission of serving at-risk students, a group which includes children with special needs. But Louisiana charter schools haven't been too successful at meeting these children's needs.

Second, Union Parish is a struggling school district. Louisiana gives schools a ranking from one to five stars. Six out of seven Union Parish schools earned one star for the 2006-07 school year. Test scores are overwhelmingly below state average. Intervention and alternatives are definitely needed.

But I would note that the people of Rocky Branch had no problem being part of Union Parish School District as long as their children were allowed to remain in their 99% white school.

There is a petition circulating in the parish, the text of which is below.
The Honorable Judge Robbie James

As residents of Union Parish, we, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the adverse affect D'Arbonne Woods Charter School will have on Union Parish public schools and the future of our children and communities.

Given that the school would be free from many laws and regulations governing public schools and has a not-so-clear admission policy, and the known history of Rocky Branch's racial disparity in education--Eric Cleveland v. Union Parish School Board--we strongly feel D'Arbonne Woods Charter School, located in Rocky Branch, would undo all efforts put forth by BESE to guarantee racial balance in our schools and academic equality for all students.

We furthermore feel those precious dollars taken from existing schools to support D'Arbonne Woods Charter School would cause additional financial hemorrhaging to those already suffering schools and communities.

We believe a quality education is every child's inheritance, but that it does not have to come at such a large cost to children and communities.

We are encouraged you will rule on what is just, true and fair for a secure future for our children and their future.


Union Parish Residents, Parents, Educators, Students, and Community Leaders

*“Board Reaffirms Stand on Segregation,” The Gazette, 15 December 1960.
** “Local Citizens Back Governor in Segregation Fight,” The Gazette, 10 November 1960.
***Buses for Cedar Creek and UCA come to our town, too. They pick up children in the parking lot of this church, as Mrs. O noted, that has segregated gym nights.




Anonymous Anonymous on 7/09/2008 9:36 AM:

While i agree with the premise of your article, you are factually incorrect on several items. I don't know specifics on dollars that UPSB loses to the Charter, but you might want to confirm that. The item/footnote listing that Cedar Creek and UCA pick up children in First Baptist Church of Farmerville's parking lot is incorrect. UCA's busses do not pick anyone up in Farmerville. Their routes extend east to Marion and west to Lillie.


Blogger elle on 7/09/2008 12:02 PM:

Actually, it's First Baptist in Bernice and that's been true for a long time, thanks.


Blogger elle on 7/09/2008 12:20 PM:

made a clarification above about the funding. now, if you could just point to the "several" other items I'm factually incorrect about, I'll address them.


Blogger Unknown on 7/09/2008 1:03 PM:

Elle, don't you just love how the most critical comments tend to be anonymous ones?


Anonymous Anonymous on 7/15/2008 12:56 PM:

First, to Mr. Young, no where was I "critical," in fact I stated to Elle that I agree with the premise of her article. My point was to suggest that while I agree with the concern over DWCS, the case in the article would be stronger if her facts were correct. If you considered my comments as being "the most critical comments" your skin is too thin.


Anonymous Anonymous on 7/15/2008 1:30 PM:

Elle, I apologize for assuming you were referring to First Baptist of Farmerville. You are correct, UCA does use the parking lot of FBC/Bernice as a central and convenient bus stop in Bernice. That same route also stops in an African American neighborhood south of Spearsville, Lillie and Shiloh before proceeding back into Farmerville. Also, thank you for correcting the part about funding, that was a statement I thought might cause you to lose some credibility in an otherwise good article.


Blogger Unknown on 7/15/2008 2:56 PM:

Oh, believe me, as a regular diarist and commenter at Daily Kos for four years, I can certainly take hard-nosed criticism. I do have a bit of a thinner skin when it comes to criticism of my co-bloggers. In your case, I simply felt that your corrections were a bit heavy-handed.


Blogger elle on 7/15/2008 5:40 PM:

I read recently that the UPSB superintendent believes the lost revenue might actually be over $500,000. I plan to write a follow up post when the judge renders his decision. Here. Like Jeremy, I did find your criticism was overstated--especially the "several" errors part and it comes across as especially so when you post anonymously.


Blogger elle on 7/15/2008 5:43 PM:

And I'm curious as to whom the UCA bus picks up in the "African American neighborhood." Also, I assume the Cedar Creek bus does not travel there? And I know there have been questions (last school year) about the number of Union Parish students attending Claiborne Parish schools (particularly, Summerfield) but I'm not sure what came of that.


Anonymous Anonymous on 7/15/2008 6:13 PM:

I'm not sure it's any of our business who rides the UCA bus (unless it's your child or my child). I just know it picks kids up there. I also know UCA employs African American educators, and has several African American students, including the grandchildren of a prominent former county agent. I wish more African American Christian families would consider sending their children to UCA. It is a place where black and white can be united in Christ in ways we've never imagined. Walls can be and are being torn down...but people have to decide their own agenda is less important than building up God's Kingdom.

Christ UNITES...Satan Divides.


Blogger elle on 7/15/2008 10:11 PM:

Given your previous definition of several, I wonder. I'm sure the 8 applications from minority students out of 225 that D'Arbonne Woods received is "several" as well. Proportionality is, of course, another matter.

As far as whether or not it's our business, you brought up that the bus stops in an African American community. Be honest about what your point in saying that was.

P.S. You should probably carry the "Satan divides" message to the D'Arbonne Woods folk.


Blogger Unknown on 7/16/2008 2:21 AM:

Anonymous, if you really think your comments on this thread sound like someone who "agree[s] with the premise of the article," you're beyond my help.

Regardless, this is not a site where racism is tolerated, and your veiled comments here are skating right up to the edge of what's acceptable. Please watch yourself.


Blogger Unknown on 7/16/2008 2:23 AM:

Elle, I finally sat down and read this all the way through, and it's fabulous. It's incredible that, fifty years after Brown, its conclusions can still be debated by mainstream people. A sad commentary on our society.


Anonymous Anonymous on 7/16/2008 6:47 AM:

Jeremy, YOU have crossed the line by threatening me. NOTHING...and I mean NOTHING I have said was deroggatory toward any race. Perhaps it is YOU who has issue with anyone non-African American. As racism, by definition, looks FIRST at a person's race, THEN their words.

DWCS' organizers knew EXACTLY what they were doing when they wanted to set up shop in Rocky Branch. I was opposed to it then, and I'm opposed to that now. If that is "veiled racism" so be it.


Anonymous Anonymous on 7/16/2008 7:01 AM:

"Given your previous definition of several, I wonder. I'm sure the 8 applications from minority students out of 225 that D'Arbonne Woods received is "several" as well. Proportionality is, of course, another matter."

Blacks won't go to Rocky Branch. Just like I won't send my kids to south Monroe. I get that, and I understand it. As far as the "several" comment, Since UCA is physically located in a predominately African-American neighborhood, you are comparing apples to oranges. The two situations are completely different. Had UCA wanted to be a racially-segregated school, i'm sure they could have located somewhere else...say...ROCKY BRANCH.

"As far as whether or not it's our business, you brought up that the bus stops in an African American community. Be honest about what your point in saying that was." YOU insinuated that a school bus might be using poor judgement by picking students up at a church that YOU consider hostile to blacks. I am saying, you failed to mention the bus also stops in an African American neighborhood, and parks at night in an African American neighborhood. You only posted the "fact" that supports your conspiracy theory. While,you didn't LIE, You didn't tell the WHOLE TRUTH either.

Instead of allowing a white Doctor to have the DWCS travesty brought to court, where were YOU and Jeremy? You'd rather whine about how mean "they" are, all the while "they" are taking action on YOUR behalf. THAT is sad.

And with this post, I'm gone. Have a great life...


Blogger elle on 7/16/2008 8:53 AM:


Thanks for your support.


Blogger Unknown on 7/16/2008 11:04 AM:

It's hilarious that Anonymous made an assumption about my race based on my comments in this thread. In order for me to support bussing and school integration, I must be black!


Blogger Unknown on 7/16/2008 1:39 PM:

Meanwhile, I misspelled "busing." Don't tell anyone.


Anonymous Anonymous on 7/18/2008 12:20 PM:

What a great article! Thanks for the thoughts!

We are a white family who moved here from the north. I had no problem putting my children into Farmerville Elementary, at first. Many, many whites (practically EVERY white person I have met in this state) told me I would reconsider after I had my children mixed in with "the blacks".

I will not say that racism doesn't exist in the north. I am sure it does. However, I have never seen it so blanantly out in the open as I have seen it in this entire area, not just Union Parish.

My children lasted only two weeks before I pulled them out of FE to homeschool. It wasn't because of any student, white, black, green or purple. It was simply because of the teachers and administration. They were pathetic at best.

Though I agree with everything that is said in the above posting. I want to know why all the parents are pointing fingers at each other and no one, NO ONE is holding the teachers, administration or school board accountable?

The whites would rather say it is the blacks fault and pull their children from the schools and create their own "good schools". The blacks want to point fingers at the whites and say you are holding us back and we want what you have or you can't have it either. In the mean time ALL of our children are losing.

There is no way this poor excuse of an education system would last 10 mins in any of the previous areas I have lived (Virginia, Indiana, Arizona, Texas, and Ohio.) ALL parents, in these areas, would have fought hook line and sinker to make sure EVERY child had a chance.

My entire family is in education. They simply are dumbfounded with the stories I relay to them. EVERYONE tells us to leave.

I pulled my children from school, Because as an outsider, it isn't my place to fight this battle. We will be leaving just as soon as my husband can find another job in another state far far away. But for the friends and people I have met here, I hope and pray for the children's sake that change, both in the schools and in peoples attitudes toward each other, will happen.

I went anonymous because I do fear retailation in this parish. I have also been warned by others outside the parish that UPers (white or black) are a bit rough around the edges ;)


Anonymous Anonymous on 4/21/2009 4:02 PM:

This whole site is just so sad . What do you know about Rocky Branch ? Sounds like all you can come up with is some long long ago accusations that had no merit then and have NOTHING to do with that community now. There are a lot of god fearing good people in that community. and for you to accuse them of Racisim is so biggoted on your part that it turns my stomach to know that you are a resident of our parish I amm so sick of any time something in this parish is not for the betterment of Farmerville Sports Teams it turns into a racist problem. Do you really care about the children or what is your priorty Why is it alright for Grambling to pick up Black Children in Marion at the First Baptist Church and at Farmerville at the Library. and you have a problem with UCA busses.


Anonymous Anonymous on 7/30/2009 11:44 PM:

This is just my personal opinion about the district in general. I think that the whole system should be COMPLETELY restructured.

I used to teach at a school in the area. When I began working there I was just angry. Angry all the time. It wasn't the kids. The students were not the problem. Yes, they were low. Yes, they had issues. They are kids. If you treat them the right way and work with them, they will respond in kind. The things I took issue with were the facilities, the lack of communication and information, and the "mom and pop" politics that ruled.

Rats, roaches, ceilings that were falling in, these are just a few examples of the issues with the facilities. Yes. The schools are old, but it is possible to take care of them. I just couldn't believe that those conditions were not only acceptable, but considered "clean". The students deserve better.

Reguarding information/communication. Have any of you seen the budget? Budgets for the schools? The district? I was told that it was not something for me to be concerned about. At every other school I have worked at, there was a budget ready and available for anyone who wanted to see it. This in particular really bothered me. I know the district is poor, but that is not an excuse for not having a ready and available budget! Prove how poor the district or school is. Show where the money that they do have is going. There are other issues with communication, but i will just stop here.

The "Mom and Pop" politics were extreme. Letting people get away with not working, sitting around, reading the paper, etc. No one in administration would say or do anything about correcting the behavior. Surely there was something that they could have been doing? Painting a wall? Giving a teacher some extra help? And there were so many excess people working in the district office and schools. Does it really take three people to do something that 1 person could handle, yet others are worked to death?

After my experiences there, I would never allow my children to attend school in Union Parish. Not even a charter school. I know from experience that charter schools aren't always what they are cracked up to being. I do find it a little comical that people only get upset with this charter school or the closing of others. Where were the parents on family nights? Where were the sign-&-return notes from parents? Where was the anger about the conditions of the schools? I would even send home positive notes to compliment students and ask for them to be signed and returned so that I knew they saw it. Even those would not come back.

I just believe that there is way more to be upset with in this district than just the charter school. Where is that anger?