WATCH: Elizabeth Warren Said Her Parents Bought House in Affluent School District to Give Her ‘Ticket to Success’
In a 2012 interview, then-Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren said her parents decided to buy a house in a more affluent Oklahoma City neighborhood so she could attend a specific elite public high school, thus buying her “a ticket to success.”
It’s a detail that Warren leaves out of her current stump speech, which always includes an emotional retelling of “the dress”; the garment that Warren’s mother tearfully donned in order to head down to Sears to take a minimum wage job so the family wouldn’t lose their house.
In her 2014 book, Warren tells the same story, but does add the detail that the house “was right inside the boundary line of what my mother believed was the best school district around,” and mentions that she and her mother looked at a less-expensive rental home before resorting to the job at Sears.
But in February of 2012, months before news of Warren’s claims of Native American heritage roiled her campaign, The Boston Globe’s Noah Bierman traveled to Oklahoma with Warren to do an in-depth profile on her Okie roots, and put together a companion video package that featured brief snippets of interviews with Warren and additional reporting from her home state.
“When Elizabeth was 11, she and her parents packed up and moved to the city to be closer to her father’s job. The biggest question was where to live? Determined to get their last child on track for college, they set their sights on one of the states best high schools, Northwest Classen,” Bierman reported. “But to do it, they had to live in one of the most affluent areas of the city, certain to be a financial strain.”
“My parents were determined that they were buying a house in the Northwest Classen school district, because they believed they were buying a ticket to success,” Warren told Bierman.
Farther into the profile, Bierman reported that following Warren’s father’s heart attack, “To keep their home and ultimately stay in the Northwest Classen school district, her mother found a job, and they downgraded the family car.”
“It had air conditioning. The car had air conditioning, that was a big damn deal, the car had air conditioning, in this country. The one we lost. And that’s when mother went to work full-time at Sears,” Warren said.
One of Warren’s classmates recalled that “in our school, our graduating class at around 700, we probably have fewer than 30, 35 of the mothers, 5% or less of the mom’s working. It was a very unusual thing in the ’60s.”
It may have been unusual among white women to be a working mom at the time, but black mothers took jobs at much higher rates through the sixties, and before that. But Bierman tried to explain the insular attitudes, saying that “while the country was deep in the midst of social change, at home and abroad, Oklahoma continue to move at its own pace,” and that “when Warren graduated from high school in 1966, the state was still completely segregated more than a decade after Brown v. Board of Education.
“It was when I hit junior high and high school that you realized the world is very divided,” Warren told Bierman.
That might be the closest Warren has come to talking about having attended a segregated high school. The few articles that mention this fact similarly downplay it as a function of a place and time where the turmoil of the rest of the country simply hadn’t reached the state.
“Long after the Supreme Court ordered schools desegregated in 1955, Northwest Classen remained all white. Hers was the last era before Oklahoma would be riled by school busing that would integrate and transform her school,” Bierman wrote in 2012.
But the facts don’t support that at all. Oklahoma City did finally enact a busing plan in 1972, but the fight for integration roiled the decade-plus before that. In fact, the city’s Northeast High School began integrating in 1960, the year Warren’s family moved, and had enrolled at least 24 black students by 1963.
And in 1961, an optometrist named A.L. Dowell sued the city for refusing to allow his son to transfer to Northeast, a suit that led to the eventual implementation of the busing plan.
Just two years after Warren (then known as Liz Herring) graduated Northwest Classen, teacher and civil rights activist Clara Luper became the first black classroom teacher at Northwest Classen. Luper wrote about her first experience with racist students in her book Behold the Walls:
As I walked down the hall to my classroom, a group of White 9th graders were down at the end of the hallway. They began to chant:” Here comes a Nigger, here comes a Nigger”. I walked straight down the hallway and said, “Did you young men, call me? I was not smiling and I said, “My name is Mrs. Clara Luper and remember I’m your teacher.’ Those young men held their heads down and apologized to me. I never had any more trouble out of the students at Northwest Classen.
At that time, Luper recalled there were around 20 black students in a school of 3,000.
None of this is to say that Warren’s parents were motivated by race; their desire to send Elizabeth to North Classen was the same as Dowell’s to send his son to the almost all-white Northeast. White Schools had more resources. It’s the very premise of Brown v. Board of Ed. But it demonstrates that school segregation was not some far-off concern.
In fact.Warren acknowledged an awareness of the issue in that 2012 interview, and would go on to write an extremely detailed history and critique of school segregation jurisprudence in 1975, with keen insights into the political racism that undergirded the issue.
Warren’s experiences attending a segregated high school needn’t be seen as a negative. She had little choice in the matter, and those recollections could be extraordinarily valuable in reaching out to black voters, with whom she trails badly against former Vice President Joe Biden.
The insights Warren gained could make her personal story more inclusive by contrasting the struggle of her white family to maintain their place in a white school district with those of black families who were redlined out of neighborhoods like that across the country, denied access to schools like Northwest Classen, and left out of the New Deal.
While the issues are addressed broadly in many of Warren’s policy proposals, the details relating to Warren’s own experiences remain absent from the personal story she tells on the campaign trail. Describing how the disparities reflected in her proposals were part of her own personal story could connect with voters whose support has thus far eluded Warren.
The Warren campaign has not responded to a request for comment on this article.
Watch the full report above, via The Boston Globe.
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