Brown v Board of Education of
Oral History Project
Kansas State Historical Society
Interview with Fred Rausch, Jr. on October 12, 1994
Kansas Historical Society Oral History Project Brown v Board of Education
Interview being conducted with Fred W. Rausch, Jr. by Cheryl Brown on October 12, 1994.
Int: Let's start out talking about when you were on the school board and how you got involved.
FR: I was elected to the school board in 1957 and served until 1977; I was on 20 years. Of course the Brown case was decided in 1954 and by the time I got on the board in 1957, the integration had already been started involving students. One of the first things I remember when I got on the board was the attorney for the board at that time told us that we probably ought to be integrating teachers. So we started that process immediately. It met with some opposition when some black teachers were sent to what were then predominantly white schools, but as those black teachers served and were recognized as being excellent teachers, that opposition dropped and within a year or so some parents were asking that their students be placed in a classroom with a black teacher. We had some opposition from the black community that the white teachers teaching their kids wouldn't understand them as well as their former black teachers did. But I think they got over that too in a year or two. Within two or three years I think things were going well on that basis.
Int: Is the school board member a paid position?
FR: No, there is no pay for a school board position. At that time we were the Topeka City School District. This was before school unification, which I believe came in about 1962 or 1963, somewhere in there. At that time the law was when the city's boundaries expanded, so did the school district's. Through expansion of the city's limits, we got the Highland Park school system, [Cair Paravel] school system, Avondale, some of the other smaller school systems around the county. In 1961 or 1962 when the law was changed, school boundaries then didn't change when the city boundaries changed. So, now the city of Topeka now has not only the city school districts but part of Washburn Rural, Seaman and Shawnee Heights district are located within the city. That was a good move, because there is no relationship between a school's boundaries and the city's boundaries, so that was an improvement. Through the annexation of the city we had a great number of growth problems, with tremendous growth in students. At one time during my tenure, I think we reached around 25,000 students in the city system. Now I think it is down to about 15,000.
Int: During your tenure on the school board, you can kind of generalize about, did you notice a shift in race relations or attitudes towards integration?
FR: There was some initial reaction, but mainly not so much from the kids as from the parents. The white parents were not wanting their kids, of course, we didn't do any cross town busing at that time. We accomplished the integration just by creating what we called the neighborhood school concept. No kids were sent to a school because of their race. We had a formula that worked roughly like this. We tried to draw the elementary school boundaries, at that time those were grades K through 6, so that no student would have to go more than six blocks. We had about a mile radius for junior high school students, and then when I came in we only had the one high school but we soon opened West and then shortly thereafter annexation got the Highland Park High School. We drew those boundary lines so as to best utilize the facilities of the three buildings. No boundary line was ever drafted on the basis of excluding or including a race. We thought that's what the Brown decision meant, that the kids who live across the street from a school ought to be able to go to that school. And that's the theory we followed. We find out later that we were wrong apparently. That neighborhood shifts have to be accommodated by schools because the federal courts have come up with some magic formula, in my opinion that has never been proven to be educationally sound, but you have to have a certain mixture of kids to learn. That's been disproved a number of times, but anyway, that's a decision we have to live with and that's apparently what the board is doing now.
Int: You left the board before it was reopened in 1979.
FR: I believe I did. I can't remember. There have been about three Brown cases. Once it was reopened and then it was either dismissed or just placed on hold. It seemed like the United States Supreme Court said it didn't need to reopen the case it had continuing jurisdiction because of the original things that they would monitor. Sometime 8 or 10 years ago these plaintiffs who brought this new action, or revived the old one, I'm not sure which, complained that there was apparently some type of ____________ segregation. I don't think there ever was.
Int: It was just an outgrowth of the way the city grew.
FR: The board had no control over the population shifts. But the courts seem to say you've got to accommodate those population shifts because for whatever reason certain types of children don't seem to be able to learn unless they are mixed with a certain mixture. They say that's proven to be educationally sound and that's the position the court's taken. Of course, once the court tells you what to do, you have to do it.
Int: Do you remember when Topeka first started busing.
FR: There has always been a limited amount of busing.
Int: To enforce integration.
FR: I don't think they've done it until this year really,
forced it. There was a little bit of enrollment period at one time where kids could go to any school they wanted to go to, but they had to get there on their own, if they didn't want to go to their own neighborhood. That did not prove to be very effective. Not many kids changed mainly because of the transportation problem. When I came on the board, there was no transportation money for a city school system. At that time, I don't know what the mileage was, there was a mileage requirement that unless the child lived beyond that mileage requirement, you would get no state aid for transportation, so we did not provide transportation for students because most of our students lived within that fixed radius. I'm not sure what it is now, it used to be about two miles. But, I don't recall that we ever made an attempt to bus students for the sole purpose to integrate students.
Int: Why did you decide to become a school board member?
FR: At the time I ran for school board I was an assistant attorney general, and one of my assignments was representing the then superintendent of public instruction. That office has now been changed to the Department of Education. I became interested then and I had several kids in school at that time, and some of my friends urged me to run, and I thought maybe I could contribute, so I ran for the school board and was elected for five terms.
Int: Did you have your own children then in schools at this time?
FR: Yes, I did. If I recall, my two oldest kids, although we didn't move, they went to three different schools in three different years because of the way the boundary of the schools were changing because of the rapid growth the city made to the southwest. But they were never bused to school.
Int. Which schools did they go to?
FR When we first moved, they went to Southwest, and then they went to Crestview, I believe, and then they went to, I believe, McClure.
Int: So, as a school board member, did that entail people calling you being angry about school policy?
FR: Yes, I probably got ten angry calls to every one positive.
Int: Was your phone number unlisted?
FR: Not very many accolades, and not too many complaints either. Mainly they were inquiries as to why certain things were being done. I even had one of my best friends call and threaten to sue me and other board members because we moved the boundary lines between Topeka West High and Topeka High, and now his kid would have to go to Topeka High School and not Topeka West. I said, well, it effects my daughter too, but I thought that was the best utilization for the buildings and that's the reason we drew the lines the way we did, rather than have an overcrowded high school here and under used high school over here, we moved the boundary lines.
Int: Was Topeka High starting to be more minority at that point.
FR: Yes. I graduated from Topeka High School and we had a lot of segregation then; that was in the early 1940s. What bothers me now, is that it didn't bother me then. The blacks had their own basketball team, they had their own all-school party, and they were just different. I guess I had grown up in Topeka that way. Growing up in Topeka, the schools were segregated through the first eight grades. I remember the first black students coming, it was in junior high school, the 9th grade, then they started coming into the junior highs.
Int: Do you remember what year that was?
FR: Yes, it was about 1939 or 1940. It might have been a
little earlier than that. I graduated from high school in 1941, so graduated from junior high in 1938. I was about 1937 when I first started going to school with black students in the 9th grade.
Int: Where did you grow up?
FR: I grew up in East Topeka. I went to Parkdale Elementary
School and then I went to Lincoln Junior High, which was a combination, a junior high and an elementary school, and I went there for about a year and a half, then East Topeka Junior High.
Int: East Topeka was integrated?
FR: Oh, yeah. The 8th grade I don't recall any black students coming in, but the 9th.
Int: You grew up in a neighborhood that had blacks living . .
FR: Very close, within about two blocks there was a black
neighborhood that they called Mud Town. It was right next to Topeka High School practice field. Now the house that I was born in, and that neighborhood, is almost entirely all black. At the time I grew up in East Topeka, the nearest black lived probably two blocks away.
Int: What was your father's occupation?
FR: He was a paint contractor.
Int: How long had your family been in Topeka?
FR: I think dad came here in about 1914 or something like that. He was working for the Santa Fe Railroad as a painter and met my mother in Beaumont, Texas. He was on assignment down there. They got married, and I'm not sure why they moved to Topeka. He was born in Kingsbury, Kansas, on a farm. He went through the 4th grade and then his dad made him quit school and work on the farm. He had a very limited formal education. He was a very intelligent, very well read person. Self-educated himself so that he could read blueprints and make bids on painting jobs and things like that.
Int: If he worked for the Santa Fe Railroad as a paint contractor, that may have been how he came to Topeka.
FR: The Santa Fe sent him back here maybe, to work in the Santa Fe shops. Then later on he decided to go into business for himself and started his own business. He started a home decorating company. He was relatively successful at it; he was not rich by any means.
Int: When you were going to Topeka High, did you have much contact with blacks or did the two groups just sort of keep themselves apart.
FR: No, not a whole lot of contact. They had a practice then, and they may still have it, of congregating around the middle of the building on the second floor, and there was always a little bit of apprehension of walking through that area for fear of being jostled or spat upon or called names, or whatever. One time during my tenure on the board, we did have a fairly serious race problem at Topeka High, which we got toned down and we worked with the leaders of the black community.
Int: Was this in the late 1960s?
FR: I think it might have been. I'm not sure of the time. We brought in very strong principal who insisted on discipline for everybody. That seemed to work. We had to have a number of expulsions, to make kids know they were going to have to behave. Then things quieted down.
Int: Do you know what caused that to happen?
FR: No, I really . . I was trying to think the other day what caused that. Whether the blacks felt they were being mistreated in some manner or not, I don't know. I'm just speculating now. I don't really recall what was the cause of that uprising. I remember we had this joint meeting of blacks, and everyone wanted to come, and the Topeka High school auditorium, the board members were up on the stage and we listened to everybody who wanted to address what the problems were, I think there was some feeling that the teachers were discriminating against the black students or something like that. This black student came up after the meeting and wanted to talk to me. He asked me some question and he said, "oh, by the way, how much do you get paid for this job." And I said, "Nothing." He said, "man, you're really crazy to take all this crap and you don't get paid for it."
Int: Are school board members paid now for all their time.
FR: Not in Kansas. And not in most states. There are a few states, I read something in the paper the other day where I think the Washington DC school board is the highest paid, something like $5,000 a year. But in Kansas board members get nothing, and they get chided generally by the public if they go to a convention to learn how to be a better board member. You have to really love your job to be a Topeka school board member.
Int: Were you in Topeka during the Brown litigation.
FR: I was here, yes. Matter of fact, I was in the attorney general's office when the case came down.
Int: So, you must know Paul Wilson.
FR: Yes, I knew Paul Wilson real well. Paul was the senior assistant and he went back to Washington to argue the case. I remember when he came back we all got around and asked him how it was to talk to the Supreme Court. And, of course, he was a little disappointed in the decision. Of course we were trying to uphold the law as we knew it then. And, of course, the Supreme Court overthrew the old Plessey v. Ferguson case totally.
Int: Did you work on that brief at all?
FR: No, I did not. I was not involved at all.
Int: How many assistant attorney generals are there?
FR: At that time there were six. Now there are about 40. The office has just grown tremendously since then. In-house, I'm not sure how many the attorney general has now, maybe 15 or 20, but he has out over the various state agencies and I think he appoints them but they actually work in the office they represent. In my day, we all worked out of the same little small office in the state house and represented five or six state agencies. I represented the State Treasurer's office, the auditor's office, state superintendent of public instruction, and the most pleasant assignment, was the board of cosmetology. I would go to the cosmetology convention once a year. That was fun.
Int: When the Brown litigation, when Wilson had to go to
Washington and all that, did you think that Kansas was going to win or did you pretty much . . .
FR: I wasn't really too much aware of that case at that time. It was ongoing and the precedent was on our side at least. The precedent hasn't always controlled it. The Supreme Court has flip-flopped on a number of cases. Ten or 15 years ago, in the case that involved the National League of Cities v. Usury. It involved whether or not states and local governments are subject to the wage hour law. Congress tried to make them subject to it and the Supreme Court said no you can't. Then a few years later the Supreme Court reversed that and now we are subject to it. So it shows you that major, major court decisions are occasionally reversed.
Int: Just to sort of sum things up, what do you think the effects have been of integration on education?
FR: All the results that I saw as a board member, and now my practice is representing the school boards, I get into a lot of teacher non-renewal, teacher termination cases, student suspension, student expulsion cases, and they don't directly involve the quality of education, but in all the evidence that I've seen anyway, there is really no strong evidence that either integration or busing has improved the quality of education. It may make kids feel better, I don't know about that. I don't know what sociologically the effect is, but the education effect has not been evident. There is some evidence that it is bad where kids are taken out of a neighborhood and transported clear across town or clear across the school district to formulate some magical balance of race. There is some loss of community interest. Kids are made to feel different, do feel different. Some are reluctant to participate, as I understand it, in extracurricular activities because of the distance involved between home and school, and things like that. There are some negatives there, how important they are I don't know. I don't know whether test scores have ever been shown to improve dramatically because of an integration process. I'm opposed to segregation, I want to put that on the record. I am just also opposed to forced integration. I don't think you have to have a magical balance of races for kids to learn. I think the essentials of learning first of all, you have to have a kid that wants to learn and you have to have a teacher who is able to teach, and you have to have some decent physical facilities and the equipment to teach with, and the most important, is home support. Those are the elements, I think, that go into a good education. I think the emphasis is being placed in the wrong places.
I just want to be on the record that the board of education, the 20 years I was on it, never drew boundary lines for racial purposes. Never.
Int: Thank you.