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50 years later, Teaneck recalls voluntary integration of its schools

50 years later, Teaneck recalls voluntary integration of its schools

The Record of Bergen County (New Jersey) | Published: May 15, 2014


On her first day of sixth grade at Teaneck’s William Bryant School, Charelle Hanley’s mother surprised her by picking out a red sweater to wear and fussing over how she looked.

“As she’s buttoning the top button my mother says to me, ‘The eyes of the nation are watching you,’ ” Hanley said. “And I’m thinking, ‘What the heck is she talking about?’

“The impact of it didn’t strike me. In my mind, I was just going to school,” Hanley recalled of that early September day 50 years ago when Teaneck became the first community in America to vote to desegregate its schools — in this case, by busing students from all parts of the city to a new, centralized sixth grade. 

It was the township’s way of warding off de facto segregation in its neighborhood elementary schools because the neighborhoods themselves had become more and more racially unbalanced. 

Ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Brown vs. Board of Education that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional, the nation was still struggling to turn the decision into reality. In Arkansas, the first black students to integrate a high school — the Little Rock Nine — had to be escorted by soldiers past a seething mob.

But Teaneck was no Little Rock; one TV camera was all that greeted Hanley and the other 11- and 12-year-olds at the entrance to William Bryant School.

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John Ashe, the UNGA President

John Ashe, the UNGA President