Gabrielle Morris, who served as PTA President in Berkeley, produced this video narrating the desegregation of Berkeley’s public schools, one that puts the perspective of school board member Carol Sibley at its center. (Morris, who also worked for three decades at UC Berkeley’s oral history center, relied on “An Oral History of Carol Rhodes Sibley, ‘Building Community Trust: Berkeley School Integration and Other Civic Endeavors, 1943-1978,” held at the Bancroft Library.)
Carol Sibley was a member of the Berkeley School Board from 1961-1971 during a turbulent period, but was always supportive of Superintendent Neil Sullivan’s coalition towards integration of the student populations in every Berkeley Public School.
Berkeley, located north east of San Francisco, is a city that houses the oldest UC campus, but to its credit, is also diverse in both population, politics, and economy. According to the Bureau of the Census data in 1960 82,081 or 74% of the population in Berkeley were white, 20% black, 6% Asian, and 512 other with a total of 111,268. If we look at the data from the Berkeley Unified School District in 1960 60% of the school enrollment were white, 32% black, and 8% other. Kevin Kruse and Thomas Sugrue in their edited book entitled “The New Suburban History” discuss in more detail the cause of unequal access to housing, jobs, and schools, but needless to say, just as the struggles throughout the national on equal opportunities, so was Berkeley struggling. As indicated in the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) map document, one can see that Berkeley was composed of different zones whereby the hills was low risk for loans or green “Best” and the flats were designated “Hazardous”.
It was then in this framework that desegregation was accomplished at Berkeley Public Schools on September 10, 1968 by ensuring that both black and white students were bused and that no school closures took place. This wasn’t an easy road, since there were threats of parent oppositions to recall members of the school board.
The coalition was formed between community members, staff, teachers, parents, and government. Through town hall meetings, publicity newsletters, and various workshops and partnering events, communication on how the desegregation was going to transpire was transparent to the community at large. This was very successful in combating the recall of board members as well as securing the funding through the passing of Proposition G passed June 1966. Superintendent Neil Sullivan (1964-68) left prior to the last phase of the desegregation plan which was to involve changes in curriculum to be inclusive of all races; referred to as the Experimental School Plan (ESP). As Sibley points out there wasn’t the same degree of careful planning and communication in this last phase. Also the political and economic climate had changed causing less government funding support, higher unemployment rates along with fewer lower income housing availability, but fortunately strong unions.