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Parker High: Integration's Unfulfilled Promise

Detail from the class photo of 1943 graduates of Parker High School. Students left with the best education available in the South -- to blacks or whites -- at the time.
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Detail from the class photo of 1943 graduates of Parker High School. Students left with the best education available in the South -- to blacks or whites -- at the time.

The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education brought sweeping change to public schools, opening the path to integration and equal access to opportunity. At least, that was the goal.

For schools that had long served black students during segregation, the Brown decision allowed the best teachers and most motivated students to seek better opportunities elsewhere. It's a familiar scene in America's inner cities: All-black schools that were pillars of excellence under segregation have now become painful victims of "bright flight."

A.H. Parker High School in Birmingham, Ala., is one of those schools. With a long list of distinguished graduates and a 100-year history, it's still a symbol of pride. But it's also a case study in the paradox of integration.

In a special two-part report, NPR's Michele Norris, host of All Things Considered, looks at Parker's experience with racial integration, as viewed by three generations of students -- those from the 1940s, the tumultuous 1960s and today. For Norris, the story is personal: Her father and five uncles all attended Parker.

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