Dominoes Episode Nine

Charley was pleased by how the interns were discovering for themselves the essential practices for making a difference. After two discussions on STORY FRAMING, he decided to move to SCAFFOLDING. This was perhaps the most difficult step in the process because it can’t be planned. Ideas for change must be organic. If they are planned in detail, unexpected situations will probably derail them. This is a difficult point to get across to those who are used to wanting scripts for the change they want to bring about. He asked Connor to prepare a story on Levi Pearson, the catalyst for one of the most significant changes in American society.

Levi Pearson wasn’t asking for much when he wrote to the school superintendent Roderick Elliott. He just asked that his children be able to ride a school bus rather than walking 9 miles to school one way. He was denied because African American citizens didn’t pay enough taxes to earn a bus ride. Some African American children had to walk as much as 16 miles one way to attend schools.

The schools for African Americans could in no way be considered separate but equal as mandated by a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court. Levi requested the help of the NAACP to sue the county. He lost on a technicality. His home was shot at. Banks refused him credit for his farm and he was shunned by his white neighbors.

The NAACP decided to raise the stakes beyond transportation services and attack the overall equality of education. A petition drive was undertaken by Reverend DeLaine and funds were raised nationally. The suit was joined by Reverend DeLaine and a local couple Harry and Eliza Briggs.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court. The judge who would normally have heard the case recommended that the suit be broadened to challenge the separate but equal doctrine itself, not just equality of education.

The lawsuit was rejected on a 2-1 vote by a district panel of judges. The dissenting judge argued that “segregation is per se inequality.” The U.S. Supreme Court originally rejected the case upholding the prior separate but equal doctrine.

The case was returned to the Supreme Court challenging the separate but equal doctrine using the dissenting judge’s earlier argument that segregation is per se inequality. The case was then consolidated with other desegregation cases but was the first one heard by the Supreme Court. The resulting ruling, Brown vs Board of Education, is one of the most notable rulings ever by the Supreme Court. And it began by one man, Levi Pearson, who wanted something better for his children.

The victory was painful for the plaintiffs

  • Reverend DeLaine and his wife lost their jobs. Their church was burned down. And he escaped an assassination attempt.
  • Henry and Eliza Briggs lost their jobs.
  • All those who signed the petition were fired from their jobs.
  • Levi Pearson could no longer farm his property.
  • The judge who authored the phrase segregation is per se inequality was shunned by the white community and forced to retire.

Nearly 50 years later, the plaintiffs were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in recognition of their fight for justice.

When Connor’s story was shared with the interns, they began to see the concept of scaffolding. Charley used some of their reflections to reinforce the concept.

“Levi Pearson had no idea how a simple request for bus transportation would  change our country. This was a marvelous example of how one domino being pushed could activate a chain reaction.”

“Throughout this story, there were examples of how the cause for justice was built layer by layer. You could not have scripted this.”

“Change requires courage and that courage means doing what is right at the  moment. It was the power of many that made this such a powerful force for       justice.”

In his discussions with the interns, Charley cautioned them to avoid over planning what they want to achieve. “Go with the flow,” Charley said. “I know that’s how you and your friends plan your free time, but it’s also important in making a difference. Also, you are going to face many moments when your courage will be tested.”

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“Man Plans, and God Laughs.” – Yiddish proverb

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