Hillary Clinton mentioned the work in passing in her memoir, but the New York Times today fleshes out an endeavor of her in 1972, posing as a mother who might enroll a child in a segregationist academy in Dothan, Ala. It was part of a project to illustrate that institutions enjoying favorable federal tax treatment were discriminating based on race.
Mrs. Clinton was one of a handful of young researchers and interns who worked in Washington reviewing documents, looking into the schools that had been granted tax exemptions, and coordinating with activists and lawyers in the South who had been at the forefront of integration efforts.
After Mrs. Clinton spent several weeks studying the issue and establishing relationships in Atlanta and Alabama, she and other researchers were sent to different parts of the South to gather data and report firsthand on the private schools. They delivered their findings to Mrs. Edelman’s and other advocacy groups that were trying to pressure the Nixon administration.
Civil rights lawyers had had success in sending “testers” to investigate whether white and black couples received equal treatment in home rentals and purchases, as required by the Fair Housing Act, but going undercover to test private schools was less common and carried more risks.
It’s an interesting retelling of a time familiar throughout the South, with private schools springing up to avoid integrated public schools. The only private school in Dothan at the time, Houston Academy, has grown up into an elite college prep schools, known locally as HA (or, in jet, Holy Anglo.) It brings to mind Pulaski Academy (PA) in Little Rock, itself with roots in opposition to school busing, but now, too, an elite prep school. Houston Academy is not segregated. It has eight blacks among 527 students, as well as some Latino, Indian and Asian students.
The proliferation of private schools in the South “was a gigantic event, and it blew the minds of civil rights folks and took the wind out of their sails,” said Douglas A. Blackmon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center who is working on a documentary about the effects of segregation academies.
“But in a minute, it was over,” he said of the effort to combat such schools. “And the well-intentioned work Hillary described was no match for the absolute insistence of millions of Southern whites that their kids never go to school with black kids.”