Many black middle-class parents and their children, like their white counterparts, are uneasy with integration.
Increasingly, black middle-class parents are eschewing predominantly black public schools and choosing to send their children to predominantly white private schools in the pursuit of better teachers, smaller classes and entree to prestigious colleges.
But because many of the parents had their ideals formed during the black consciousness movement of the 1960s, they want to inculcate in their children a deep respect for their own black identity and for black people.
While their children attend private schools, these parents continue to live in predominantly black neighborhoods in the city and shoulder additional burdens of structuring a social and cultural life for their children that emphasizes black experiences. And their children have formed black student groups at their schools to assert their identity and culture.
When Zara Sadler's ninth-grade class at the National Cathedral School for Girls in the District gave a dance, her mother got involved. Jackie Walton Sadler, a consultant in the D.C. public schools, helped her daughter make up the guest list to ensure that black boys from nearby St. Albans school were invited.
"Rather than have a dance that my daughter would consider a flop, I helped her make sure some black guys were there," Sadler said. "Black girls do enjoy dancing with black guys. They like dancing with white boys too, but if you like dancing, you have to make sure invitations are extended to those who dance."
For Sadler, giving her child a positive sense of identity is primarily a task for parents. "I know she knows she is black," Sadler said. "I'm always going to keep her mindful that she is black, and I want her to help National Cathedral School understand what blackness is about. I didn't send her there to get everything from them; I also sent her there with a message to help National Cathedral out."
But Vernice Townsend, a former District public school teacher, whose two daughters attend Holton Arms Academy in suburban Maryland, takes a different view.
Her oldest daughter Kimberly, a senior who has been accepted into a special eight-year medical program at Brown University, "has always been sort of a loner, always marched to her own drum. Kimberly made few friends in her neighborhood, keeps mostly to herself at school and has never dated," her mother said. "But I don't worry about it. I know she will do these things in her own time." Her second daughter Tara, who also attends Holton Arms, is more outgoing and has made friends at the school, she added.
James A. Williams, an educational psychologist at Howard University, whose children attend the National Cathedral School and St. Albans, said, "I don't believe you have to make a special effort just because they attend a predominantly white school."
Nationally and locally, about 90 percent of black children still attend public schools. But in 1975, one of every 16 black students, or 6.4 percent, attended private schools. In 1983 the number stood at one out of 12 black students, or 8.6 percent, according to U.S. census figures. During that same period, white enrollment in private schools remained at about 20 percent nationally.
One parent whose daughter attended the Sidwell Friends School on Wisconsin Avenue NW, a popular and prestigious private school, and who spoke on condition that she not be identified, said she became concerned when her daughter began expressing anger and confusion on seeing unemployed blacks on city street corners. The daughter also became depressed about her lack of opportunities to meet black male peers.
The mother joined with other black parents to form a local Jack and Jill chapter, a well-known national organization of social clubs for black youngsters.
The mother said she had always associated such groups as Jack and Jill with "the elitism of the old black bourgeoisie," but "what I had previously thought of as a luxury turned out to be a necessity for my child at that point in time," she said.
Other parents take their children on weekend trips to the National Museum of African Art and to special exhibits featuring black achievements.
Trayce McQuirter, who graduated from Sidwell Friends last year and attends Amherst College, was vice president of the Sidwell Black Student Union during her junior year.
"We just wanted a time for the black students to be together to talk about things," said McQuirter, who was quoted in a brochure recently produced by the Black Student Fund to explain its program. The Black Student Fund gives scholarships to help some needy black students attend private schools.
"We need to feel comfortable with each other, and at school there are so few of us," she continued. "It's not that the teachers aren't sympathetic. It's just that we're in the minority, and a lot of times things that we think about, our view and our opinions, are not considered. And sometimes the things we do are overlooked because everything is geared to the majority."
Evelyn Ireland, a Washington psychologist who has worked with the Black Student Fund, added, "What we were seeing with the students was a sense of alienation, not feeling a part of the school. I remember one youngster, referred by a school counselor who was concerned because the student was not relating to his peers. The student was spending so much time with a member of the custodial staff of the school and seemed to do that in preference to spending time with the faculty. What we found out was that this person listened to the student's problems, was sympathetic and was black. At the time there was only one black person on the professional staff."
Lonnie Edmonson, a 1967 graduate of Sidwell Friends and now chairman of the social studies department in the middle school, recalls that when he attended Sidwell, "The black revolution was in full swing. One of the questions I asked myself was how much I was compromising myself, how much I was buying into the white man's world if I became a professional. I wanted someone to say it was all right to go to this school without having to feel I was selling out."
But today "there is not that heavy an emphasis on being black, on who is blackest," he said. "We've come past that to a greater acceptance of people trying to make it, of upward mobility. As a result of that peak of consciousness [in the 1960s] our generation asks more probing questions and has higher expectations, and parents who grew up through that period pass that on to their children."