FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, ABC NEWS BRINGS TOGETHER CLASSMATES FROM
1960 SHAKER HEIGHTS, OHIO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WHO WERE A PART OF THE
FIRST WAVE OF RACIAL INTEGRATION DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS STRUGGLE
ABC News Documentary "The Reunion" Airs on ABC August 18 at 10:00 p.m., ET
"The Reunion," an ABC News documentary, examines the lasting effects of school integration during the civil rights struggle in the 1960s by doing something that has never been done before - gathering together the first wave of students who went through it themselves in Shaker Heights, Ohio. This group was at the center of the storm when their parents, at the height of the civil rights movement, carried out a bold and controversial social experiment in one of America's wealthiest suburbs. Now these 1960 kindergarten classmates reunite to see where the years and education have taken them from their then new frontier - the American suburbs. Reported by ABC's Cynthia McFadden and Robin Roberts, the unconventional hour also stretches across the generations for a timely look at high school students in the same school system today and how they still deal with integration. "The Reunion" airs WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 18 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.
Shaker Heights was originally conceived as a quiet and segregated retreat from the noisy city of Cleveland. In the mid-1950s a handful of black families moved in to the neighborhood. Many white families moved out of Ludlow, the low cost section in a high cost suburb, but those who stayed worked with the black families to help keep the area integrated.
Last May, 31 classmates from1960 Ludlow elementary school returned to Cleveland from all corners of the country. They reminisced about growing up together, sharing birthday parties, holidays and camping trips - and about their families being pioneers during the civil rights movement. "Later in life, when you see what was going on... it was huge. But at the time it was more like just being kids and playing together, and it was normal for us," says Suzy Olmsted about the early integration.
They tell McFadden that, as they grew older, they faced a different reality when mixed with segregated kids in middle school and then high school. Cheryl Crawford and Debbie Sanborn both agree that junior high broke up their white/black best friend duo. They say they met even more complex and hurtful realities at Shaker Heights High School, as did Karen Holmes, who remembers being graded on a bias in an Advanced Placement English class. She says the white girls always got higher grades than the black girls. Which leads to the question: integration may put students in the same building, but does it give them the same chance?
A study done for ABC News by Yale University shows 92% of the Ludlow group went on to college and 46% to graduate school. "We were unique because it worked because of a vision, not because of legislation," says Richard Watzulik.
The Ludlow group says the ideas and ideals about equality nourished in their childhood have stayed with them. The Yale study found that 77% say they are very satisfied with their lives today. Many of them say that what they learned in Ludlow - not just in school but in their neighborhood - also contributed to their later success. "I think a lot has to do with our parents... were pioneers, they were civil rights activists for what they did" says Dawn Spencer, now a senior vice president at an advertising agency. "They created little mini me activist kids," adds Karen Holmes-Ward. Many say they remain activists with their own children.
McFadden asks the Ludlow group if their parents were right in their belief that somehow an integrated community and school would make for a better life for each of them. "It was a fabulous experience," says one man. "We understood the drive behind whatever that was created, this unique mix of DNA," adds Jocelyn Brown. "You know that will never replicate itself ever again. But it happened here."
Today's Shaker Heights High Scholl is roughly 50% white and 50% black, appearing to be the perfect picture of the intentions of Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme Court ruling 50 years ago. But Mark Freman, the school's superintendent, says whites and blacks are not equal. "Let's not sugar coat this. There's tension here just like everywhere else."
Even though the Shaker Heights band, with whom ABC News traveled to Italy, is racially mixed, students today say that's not always the case. Sara Langinrich's Advanced Placement math class is primarily white. "I don't tend to notice race a lot, unless there is a huge discrepancy, if I'm taking an AP test and there are 60 white students and two black students, I will notice and I'll think to myself, oh, that doesn't seem like the Shaker that everyone likes to talk about," she says.
The documentary also looks at other impacts of integration, including dating. For instance, the Yale study shows that 73% of the reunion members have dated someone of another ethnicity. And how about the Shaker Heights students of today? Robin Roberts talks to some of the students who seem nonchalant about the subject.
Paul Mason, who is a senior vice president of ABC News, is the executive producer of "The Reunion" and is also one of the participants in the Ludlow group gathering. Mason's family lived in Ludlow during the initial integration, and he became one of the original students at the elementary school in the experiment.
Richard Gerdau is the senior producer and writer. The producers are Robe Imbriano and Peter Nicks. Marlene Braga is field producer and Keturah Gray and Yolanda Atkins are associate producers. "The Reunion" is edited by Joel Herson and Colin Hill.
ABCNEWS.com, the 24-hour news service of ABC News and part of the ABC Internet Group, will provide companion programming to the broadcast.