“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
"With all the noise about failing schools, standardized tests, teacher accountability, and America’s educational decline, only the courageous are willing to acknowledge the persistence of racism—let alone, address the problem in a serious, clear-eyed way. Sarah Garland has written a courageous book, documenting the struggles of courageous community activists, educators, parents, and children who continued to fight for equity and racial justice long after our nation declared victory over segregation. 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. Divided We Fail is a story about the beloved institutions black Americans made for themselves—in this case, a formerly segregated high school in Louisville—and their fight to preserve and protect them. 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 nuanced and thoroughly researched look at the complicated history of school desegregation in the United States."
"A useful journalistic examination of a troubling societal phenomenon."
"A compelling look at the complexities of race and class in the continued struggle for racial parity and high-quality education.”
Garland, a staff writer at the nonprofit education-reporting Hechinger Report, offers a nuanced and thoroughly researched look at the complicated history of school desegregation in the United States through the micro lens of the 2007 Louisville, Ky., court case that officially ended the era of forced busing and racial quotas. Looking at both the individuals affected by segregation and desegregation, Garland intersperses the narrative with historical precedent and cultural analysis, creating a rich subtext from which to assess the motivations of the parents and community members who brought the lawsuit that effectively ended the reign of enforced desegregation. Though this is her first book, Garland is unafraid to grapple with hard truths and intimate portraits of the families behind the statistics. The text is organized thematically rather than chronologically, a choice that magnifies the stakes at play for the plaintiffs. Readers will find the text more informative than politically charged, left to draw their own conclusions amid a whirlwind of evidence. Agent: Robert E. Guinsler, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Jan.)
A freelance journalist from Louisville, Ky., returns home to chronicle litigation that would end public school desegregation--a lawsuit filed by African-American parents on behalf of their children. Hechinger Report staff writer Garland thought it confusing at first that African-Americans would sue if the result would mean a return to all-black schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. Eventually, the author realized that long-distance busing of African-American children into Caucasian neighborhood schools did not always benefit those students, and it also often ripped the fabric of African-American neighborhoods. During the Jim Crow era, Central High School was all black and had a proud academic tradition. Because of court-ordered busing based on racial-enrollment quotas, Central ended up with a significant white student presence. Yet not all the white students desired the opportunity, and numerous black students who wanted to attend Central were denied the opportunity. Garland's narrative is filled with interesting individuals, including the previously nearly anonymous Caucasian lawyer who represented the African-American plaintiffs and the Republican-appointed Caucasian judge who defied stereotypes as he considered the complicated arguments. The author occasionally loses the narrative thread as she jumps from the Louisville situation to a broad history of school-desegregation policy. Garland also discusses her personal educational experiences in Louisville, during which she left her mostly Caucasian neighborhood each day for a long ride to a mostly African-American neighborhood. The author's back story gives the book added resonance. A useful journalistic examination of a troubling societal phenomenon.