In 2016, I graduated from a segregation academy.
For 12 years of my educational experience, I attended Northpoint Christian School (NCS), which was formerly known as Southern Baptist Educational Center (SBEC). Like many private schools in the South, NCS was founded during the period of desegregation in public schools. “Desegregation” is, of course, not the best term to describe these events, since this period really only encouraged segregationists to find alternate routes to shield their children from integration. SBEC/NCS was one of those segregationist tactics.
Trying to discuss my alma mater has always been a touchy subject for me. Obviously, not every memory of my time there is negative, and I still maintain friendships with several of my teachers from high school. However, despite the benefits I received from this system, I must also confront the realities of the damage that my education did to the community that I consider home. Loving a community means wanting what is best for the whole and being willing to point out the problems that keep us from achieving our fullest potential.
“White flight” from Memphis public schools commenced in earnest after the district implemented a busing policy in 1973, and at the same time, NCS (then SBEC) opened in Memphis. Desegregation in Memphis lead to drastic population movements across the Tennessee border and into DeSoto County, and in 1988, SBEC moved to a new location in Southaven to chase these residents. The Memphis school system bought the original location and allowed SBEC to remain there rent-free for two years as the new facility was being developed. This new facility is about two miles outside of Memphis city limits and is the location I attended.
These academies are not only racist and detrimental to the regions surrounding them but also to some of the students who attend these institutions. NCS is a perfect example of this in its policies regarding women and LGBTQ students. While these rules may sound archaic and defunct, I am here to testify that they are very much still in practice. I can recall two specific cases of LGBTQ students being forced to leave during my time at NCS.
However, even for those of us who survived high school undetected, this policy created a hostile atmosphere characterized by fear and seclusion.
Other students, unfortunately, felt emboldened by this official rule to ostracize and antagonize anyone they suspected of being part of this underground queer community.
NCS and other segregation academies were created and still operate largely because of racist and bigoted motivations. Perhaps one could argue that we should not take any policy actions against segregation academies based on their racist legacy alone. After all, many institutions were created as products of prejudiced ideologies. However, harm caused by segregation academies is not only historical. These private institutions have a negative impact on children who receive an education from the public school system.
When the upper and middle classes –– since those are all who can afford to attend segregation academies –– decide to take their children out of the public school system, their donations and involvement are also removed from the public school. At around $9,925 per year for high school students, NCS tuition does not differ substantially from the average amount spent per student in the Mississippi public system. The difference in educational outcomes is perhaps better accounted for by the additional involvement and financial support of active parents.
Parents with more financial means are typically those who are also more willing and able to donate their time and energy to funding school activities and extracurricular organizations. Public schools, which are usually already understaffed, are then also deprived of this other source of support. Mississippi has a vast teacher shortage, yet NCS is able to maintain 49 teachers with an average student-teacher ratio of 12-to-1.
When we talk about the “legacy” of segregation academies in Mississippi, we must also address their continued presence and impact on our state’s educational system and the students who graduate from these institutions. NCS is an undeniably large part of my personal history, and segregation academies will always be a part of Mississippi’s history. However, this does not justify their continued existence. You cannot leave a wound open and expect it to heal. If we genuinely want to move past segregation in Mississippi, we have to close these academies and invest in the futures of all children.
Amy Cain is a senior philosophy and political science major from Southaven, Mississippi.