SPC ECHS Geography Teacher Earns The 2020–2021 Graduate College Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award

May 13, 2021

Blake Gandy, a ninth-grade World Geography teacher at St. Philip’s Early College High School, is the recipient of the 2020-2021 Graduate College Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award for the Department of Humanities and Fine Arts at Texas State University, where he graduated with his master’s degree in History last year.

His thesis, "Trouble up the Road:’ Desegregation, Busing, and the National Politics of Resistance in Fort Worth, Texas, 1954-1971", was directed by Dr. Jeffrey Helgeson, Texas State University Associate Professor and Department Chair in the Department of History.

He was recognized by the university for his thesis distinction in April. Read Gandy’s thesis abstract below.

By: Blake Gandy

Focusing on Fort Worth, Texas, between 1954 and 1971, this thesis argues that the Board of Education and many of the city’s white residents actively resisted desegregation by remaking the city’s structures of segregation and the systems of racial inequality they supported. While historians have primarily portrayed Fort Worth as a “moderately” racist community that avoided the excesses of Southern Jim Crow and the infamous “massive resistance” to Brown found in the Deep South, my research revisits the historical record and questions Fort Worth exceptionalism to show how the city fits into the broader history of resistance to desegregation at the state, regional, and national levels. Drawing upon previously unexamined school board minutes, local newspapers, and city ordinances, this thesis reveals how residents of Fort Worth remade school and residential segregation during the ostensible “desegregation era.” In this way, I join with recent scholarship that challenges assumptions of both Southern and American Exceptionalism. Taking a granular view of Fort Worth, which claims a cultural heritage that is at once Southern and Western, allows us to reexamine regional distinctions between North, South, and West, and to recognize the emergence of a truly national politics of resistance to the Black Freedom Struggle.

After Brown, school officials and city planners engaged nationally in bureaucratic resistance to desegregation that transformed the very nature of American segregation. In Fort Worth, while delaying compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1950s and early 1960s, Board members actively manipulated school zoning and helped facilitate the transformation of desegregation from a legal doctrine to geographic reality. Upon adopting a court-mandated desegregation plan in 1963, the Board continued bureaucratic strategies that minimized the scope and slowed the pace of change, leaving the district largely segregated by the early 1970s. The refusal to desegregate for 15 years after Brown resulted in a court-mandated busing plan to overcome the city’s segregated neighborhoods.

City officials’ bureaucratic resistance fostered and drew support from local grassroots movements to preserve segregation. In the aftermath of Brown, Fort Worth residents formed a White Citizens’ Council and engaged in white supremacist defenses of segregation. Although the most egregious examples of explicit segregationism largely faded from acceptable popular discourse during the 1960s, I argue that the politics of moderation and the context of suburban growth laid the groundwork for a subtler structure of white supremacy. Following the lead of local bureaucrats, new conservative political coalitions adapted to defend racial and class hierarchies less through overt appeals to racism and more through the protection of white privilege masquerading as “freedom” and “choice.” By 1971, Fort Worth’s local grassroots resistance to school desegregation embraced the national politics of “antibusing” that carefully avoided explicit racism and employed the “color-blind” language of “neighborhood schools,” “freedom of choice,” and “forced busing.” This “antibusing” movement, and the media that reported on it, obscured the destructive realities of persistent racial segregation in “moderate” Fort Worth. Thus, the “color-blind” conservatism of the 1970s grew out of respectable, yet forceful, reactions against desegregation after Brown.

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