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ABA Sticking With Decision to Award Prize to Controversial Book

July 5, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The American Bar Association said Friday it is sticking by its decision to give an award to a book on desegregation that some critics say is racist.

ABA President John C. Shepherd, in response to a question, said, ″I’m not uncomfortable″ in giving the lawyers’ organization award to the book, ″The Burden of Brown - Thirty Years of School Desegregation,″ written by University of Delaware history professor Raymond Wolters.

Shepherd said ″I have no intention of overruling the committee″ that voted the prize, the Silver Gavel award. He said the award is based on a judgment that the book was ″well documented″ and that he would not rescind the prize ″even if a number of people thought it (the book) were racist.″

The head of the award committee, Helen Viney Porter, said, ″We did not believe it to be racist.″

She said no charges of racism against the book were made during the judging process.

The award was voted by an 18-member committee that includes three blacks, although only five members of the committee actually read the book.

Porter said the panel included judges, lawyers and law professors. She said they were aware the book was ″very controversial″ but felt it deserved the award because it was ″well-researched and well-documented.″

In an interview, Wolters said that the attack on his book is unjustified.

″I don’t consider that to be a fair charge,″ he said.

The book argues that court-ordered school desegregation has failed to improve the education of blacks and has hurt public school systems in some ways. The book also argues that ″in a democracy, social reform should be undertaken by the people’s elected representatives, not unelected judges.″

The Washington Post disclosed the criticism of the book Friday.

It quoted David Garrow, an associate professor of political science at the City College of New York and the City University Graduate Center, as saying the book is ″clearly racist in tone and sentiment.″

Garrow, in a review to be published in the September edition of Reviews in American History, a Johns Hopkins University publication, wrote that the book ″often lays heavy blame for undesirable educational developments on black Americans and particularly on black school children, sometimes in startling terms.″

The book was published in May 1984, by the University of Tennessee Press and, according to the publishing company, generally has received favorable reviews.

Jennifer Siler, marketing manager for the company, said Friday the book was criticized by the Los Angeles Times.

She quoted from a review by the newspaper’s education writer, David Savage, which said the book was ″more of a polemic than a balanced history. (Wolters) would defend the most racist, recalcitrant Southern school district, Prince Edward County in Virginia, that would shut down its public schools before admitting black children on an equal standing″ with whites.

Wolters said his book questioned the basis for the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 ruling, a case known as Brown vs. Board of Education, that outlawed segregation nationwide.

In an interview, Wolters said the ruling was based on ″dubious sociology - if blacks attended schools that were disproportionately black they were likely to be affected psychologically in ways that can never be undone.″

He said his book also criticized rulings that stemmed from the Supreme Court’s decision. Wolters said he attacked court-ordered desegregation for its failure to permit grouping of pupils according to their academic ability.

Wolters’ book is one of three to receive an ABA Silver Gavel award at the organization’s convention here. The other two are ″Nuremberg Trials″ by Ann and John Tusa, and ″The Constitution - That Delicate Balance″ by Fred W. Friendly and Martha J.H. Elliott.