Divided We Fail

My new book, Divided We Fail: The Story of an African American Community That Ended the Era of School Desegregation (Beacon Press), is available for pre-order and will be in stores starting January 29.


In 2007, a court case originally filed in Louisville, Kentucky, was argued before the Supreme Court and officially ended the era of school desegregation— both changing how schools across America handle race and undermining the most important civil rights cases of the last century. Of course, this wasn’t the first federal lawsuit to challenge school desegregation. But the case had an unusual origin. It had begun as the first—and only—lawsuit brought by African Americans against desegregation. What brought them to challenge a reform linked to the biggest academic gains for black students in recent history? What lessons can current education reformers learn from desegregation’s successes and failures?

Desegregation corresponded with unprecedented gains in black achievement and economic progress, but in Louisville, those gains often came at a cost: Traditionally black schools which had been bastions of community identity and pride faced closure; hundreds of black teachers lost their jobs; parents were helpless as their children’s futures were dictated by racial quotas. The often overlooked human stories behind this fraught legal struggle reveal the difficult compromises forced on the black community in the wake of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Divided We Fail also looks at how the experience of desegregation can inform the next generation of educational reformers. Some of the problems are being repeated as policymakers embrace school choice, charter schools, and test-based accountability systems. But reformers can also learn from desegregation’s many successes as we look for ways to close the achievement gap for minority students.

Here’s what people are saying about the book:

Divided We Fail is, quite simply, an extraordinary book. Garland grapples with divisive social and educational issues, puts them into historical perspective, and shows a path out of our current confusion.”
—Diane Ravitch, former U.S. assistant secretary of education, historian, and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System

“In telling this gripping, often tragic, often inspirational story, Garland reveals that integrating a classroom is not the same as dismantling racism.  Divided We Fail is one of those rare books that will move even the most cynical to act.  And act we must.”
—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

“Sarah Garland has brilliantly and humanely filled in a missing piece of America’s civil rights narrative. Garland renders this saga with a deep, compassionate knowledge of her own home city and equal empathy for all the partisans in a bitter legal battle.”
—Samuel G. Freedman, author of Letters to a Young Journalist

“A useful journalistic examination of a troubling societal phenomenon,” —Kirkus

“A nuanced and thoroughly researched look at the complicated history of school desegregation.” —Publisher’s Weekly.

“Garland’s narrative works well at the macro level, and works even better on the micro level. The text is filled with interesting and sometimes unpredictable individuals.” —Seattle Times.

“This is a compelling look at the complexities of race and class in the continued struggle for racial parity and high-quality education.” –Booklist.



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