The American Bar Association plans to give its Silver Gavel award next week to a book that a critic has termed "clearly racist in tone and sentiment."

The book, "The Burden of Brown -- Thirty Years of School Desegregation," written by Raymond Wolters, a University of Delaware history professor, argues that the nation and the Constitution have suffered because of the 1954 Supreme Court decision to desegregate American public schools.

Wolters concludes that desegregation has been a "failure" that has not helped to improve the education of blacks; that it has led public schools to "suffer grievously from subsequent naively liberal court orders" seeking to force integration on schools; that it has hurt the Constitution because "in a democracy social reform should be undertaken by the people's elected representatives, not by unelected judges."

One critic, David Garrow, associate professor of political science at the City College of New York and the City University Graduate Center, said in an interview and in a forthcoming review that the book is racist.

Wolters said one university had refused to publish it because of questions about its handling of racial issues.

Wolters said he does not consider the book racist, and added that "in academic circles the word 'racist' nowadays is used to ruin people the same way 'pinko' was during the heyday of McCarthyism."

Other reviews have been favorable to the book.

In discussing black opposition to a plan to consolidate suburban and city schools, Wolters writes that black parents "thought the problem was white racism and not the ignorance and uncivilized behavior of many blacks."

He writes that in another school district in the South there had "been a great deal of friendly interracial contact in the days before white supremacy was challenged."

While supporting an end to segregation because he believes it is "anachronistic," Wolters writes that the Supreme Court erred in its 1954 opinion by engaging in "sociological theorizing that suggested that actual racial mixing was called for, not just an end to state-enforced segregation."

"The Burden of Brown" is one of three books that will be given the Silver Gavel award by the American Bar Association at its annual convention to be held here Monday.

Margaret Riley, a spokesman for the nation's largest and most powerful lawyer's group, refused to identify members of the committee who selected books for the award.

She added that the ABA "gives the awards out, but any winning entry is not necessarily the point of view adopted by the ABA."

The two other books to receive awards from the ABA are the "Nuremberg Trials" by Ann and John Tusa and "The Constitution -- That Delicate Balance" by Fred W. Friendly and Martha J.H. Elliott.

In a press release, the ABA described "Burden of Brown" as a "carefully researched description of the aftermath of the Supreme Court's landmark decision within the five school districts directly involved in Brown v. Board of Education."

In an interview, Wolters said: "I think a lot of this stuff comes out because people are so used to thinking in conventional liberal terms that they don't know how to react to something else," adding he has written two other books about blacks -- "Negroes in the Great Depression" and "The New Negro on Campus," both of which he said were not controversial because he took the "liberal perspective."

Wolters said he was aware that the latest book might be controversial after the University of North Carolina's press decided against publishing it because of questions over its handling of racial issues.

He said he then took the book to the University of Tennessee Press, which published the book in May 1984. Carol Orr, director of the Tennessee press, said none of the book's in-house reviewers believed the book might be considered racist.

She said after publication the head of the school's history department "came to me and called it racist."

However, Garrow said in an interview that the book "is clearly racist in tone and sentiment on first reading."

In a review to be published in the September edition of "Reviews in American History," a Johns Hopkins publication, Garrow writes that the book "often lays heavy blame for undesirable educational developments on black Americans and particularly on black school children, sometimes in startling terms."

He notes that Wolters repeatedly uses the phrases "racial mingling," "racial mixing," and "proportional mixing" in what Garrow termed a derogatory manner.

He also said he believes that without clear reason, Wolters mentions the private lives of plaintiffs in the Brown suit.

For example, Wolters writes that Julius W. Hobson Sr., a school reformer in the District, "left his wife, in fact, dating one white woman and then another . . . ."