On May 17, 1962, about 100 adults and children rallied...

On May 17, 1962, about 100 adults and children rallied outside Malverne Junior High School to push for desegregation of the school district. The Brown v. Board of Education decision inspired Black leaders in the community to push the state to integrate schools. Credit: Newsday

It was Feb. 23, 1966, and Frederick K. Brewington was a third grader in Malverne, walking into one of Long Island’s biggest struggles for racial equality.

The state education commissioner had made the Malverne school district into a test case for integrating schools in the state, and Brewington had to go to a new school. Arriving at Lindner Place Elementary, he walked by parent protesters into a bunch of reporters who asked him what advice he received from his mother, he recalled.

“She said, 'Walk right to school and don’t walk on anybody’s lawn, because they don’t want you over there anyway,'” Brewington, who is Black, recalled his mother saying.

David Weinstein was also a kid attending Malverne schools at the time. Weinstein, who is white, recalled his parents had mixed feelings about the desegregation plan.

“The biggest objection was not Black versus white. It was doing away with the concept of a neighborhood school,” Weinstein recalled. “My parents thought it was important to keep neighborhood schools, but they could also understand the integration issue.”

The memories of these two Long Islanders strike a chord as the nation commemorates the 70th anniversary Friday of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Brown v. Board of Education. The decision ruled that laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional.

On one level, the decision on May 17, 1954, did not have a direct legal impact on Long Island, because school segregation had not been written into law in New York, noted Allison Roda, a Molloy University associate professor of education. But the power of the idea — that American schools should be integrated and offer equal education to all students — reverberated throughout the country, paving the way for the civil rights movement and a host of subsequent integration efforts, she said.

On Long Island, the integration effort took hold in Malverne, where Black leaders had complained that the overwhelmingly Black Woodfield Road Elementary was overcrowded and that students were receiving a poorer quality of education, Roda said.

“Long Island was intentionally segregated, due to housing policies, racial covenants and the control of FHA [housing] loans,” Roda said. “Even in schools within the same district, there was racial isolation.”

The unanimous Supreme Court decision inspired Black leaders in Malverne to push the state to integrate its elementary schools, she said. Then-Education Commissioner James E. Allen ordered an end to the racial imbalance in Malverne schools on June 17, 1963. The decision was a test case for the entire state, she said.

The problem focused on the district’s three elementary schools. Woodfield Road Elementary’s student body was about 75% Black, while the district’s two other elementary schools, Lindner Place in Malverne and Davison Avenue in Lynbrook, were about 14% Black, according to Newsday reports at the time.

White opposition erupted against the plan, which reassigned students to schools on the basis of their grade level, instead of geography. That way, students in the same grade would go to the same school regardless of where they lived. The district already had separate middle and high schools, which all students attended, so the segregation issue was focused on the elementary schools.

Lawsuits flew from both sides, along with marches and protests. There were sit-downs, sit-ins and arrests. White parents formed the Taxpayers and Parents Association, which fought to keep the neighborhood school system intact. Parents challenged the decision in state court, delaying the implementation of the plan. Eventually, the State Court of Appeals ruled in 1964 the commissioner had the authority to enforce his plan. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the appellate ruling.

Martin Luther King Jr. visited Malverne in 1965 to speak against racial segregation in the schools. Brewington recalls the icon reaching out and rubbing his head.

By the time the plan was put into practice in 1966, the Manhasset and Westbury school districts had already complied with the commissioner’s order.

Weinstein, who is now in his 70s, recalled that during that post-World War II period, Malverne was growing quickly. His family bought their home because the area was known for its excellent schools. He was about 17 when the order took effect, and he had already passed through Lindner Elementary.

“I was very pleased with Lindner Place Elementary. They had carnivals and fundraisers. The PTA was second to none. The teachers were all great,” he said. “But I wasn’t a minority.”

Brewington said he remembers the protests by white parents. As a kid of about 9, he said, he could sense the community turmoil, and he understood it was related to race.

“There were issues that made young children feel unwelcome,” he said. “This was a controversy in which children were being injected.”

Racial tensions flared in the late 1960s and early ’70s among the students at Malverne High School. Nassau County detectives were stationed for a time in the building, and in March 1971, fights between Black and white students prompted the temporary closure of the school, according to news reports.

The legacy of the Malverne integration effort — and indeed, the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education — continues to be discussed to this day. 

In Malverne, the effort prompted some white parents to move away or pull their kids out of public schools, sending them to private or parochial schools, said Imani Hinson, an educator who focused her 2020 undergraduate thesis at Hofstra University on the efforts to desegregate Long Island schools.

“Once it was implemented, there was a lot of white flight,” Hinson said. “People were afraid of what would happen to their neighborhood.”

Many white parents continue to use private and parochial schools in Malverne, she said.

The Malverne school district currently has 1,797 students: 43% Black, 28% Hispanic or Latino, 18% white, 9% Asian or Pacific Islander, and the rest of mixed heritage. It has a 95% four-year graduation rate, according to state Education Department figures.

Long Island communities, and their schools, remain segregated to a great degree, and concerns remain that schools in minority areas remain underfunded, Hinson said. At the same time, the Malverne effort, along with other local civil rights battles, brought improvements to Island education and equity, she said.

“Ensuring positive educational diversity is something we need to work on,” she said.

 Current conversations center on providing more affordable housing, consolidating some school districts, and changing zoning to allow for more multifamily construction.

“It depends on the leadership. There are a lot of excuses,” she said. “It comes down to money and people thinking they are going to lose something.”

The Lindner school, which was named after Paul Lindner, a farmer and historical figure — and leader of the local Ku Klux Klan — was eventually changed to Maurice W. Downing school, in memory of a principal. Lindner Place was renamed Acorn Way in 2022. 

Weinstein said he still lives in Malverne and still loves the area. He was honored in 2022 for serving 60 years in the local fire department. He is the historian for the Village of Malverne and a board member of the Malverne Historical Society.

Brewington, now 67, lives in Freeport and is a civil rights attorney with an office in Hempstead, not far from where he grew up. Looking back, he recalls many good memories going to the integrated elementary school. The experience opened him to the wider world, and he came to be friends with Italian, Jewish and other kids from different backgrounds.

“I came there and learned a lot about people,” he said. “It was an environment that allowed for a greater community.” 

It was Feb. 23, 1966, and Frederick K. Brewington was a third grader in Malverne, walking into one of Long Island’s biggest struggles for racial equality.

The state education commissioner had made the Malverne school district into a test case for integrating schools in the state, and Brewington had to go to a new school. Arriving at Lindner Place Elementary, he walked by parent protesters into a bunch of reporters who asked him what advice he received from his mother, he recalled.

“She said, 'Walk right to school and don’t walk on anybody’s lawn, because they don’t want you over there anyway,'” Brewington, who is Black, recalled his mother saying.

David Weinstein was also a kid attending Malverne schools at the time. Weinstein, who is white, recalled his parents had mixed feelings about the desegregation plan.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The nation marks the 70th anniversary Friday of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Brown v. Board of Education. It ruled that laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional.
  • While the decision did not have a direct legal impact on Long Island, its power reverberated here and throughout the country.
  • The integration effort took hold in Malverne, and the state education commissioner ordered an end to the racial imbalance in Malverne schools in 1963.

“The biggest objection was not Black versus white. It was doing away with the concept of a neighborhood school,” Weinstein recalled. “My parents thought it was important to keep neighborhood schools, but they could also understand the integration issue.”

The memories of these two Long Islanders strike a chord as the nation commemorates the 70th anniversary Friday of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Brown v. Board of Education. The decision ruled that laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional.

On one level, the decision on May 17, 1954, did not have a direct legal impact on Long Island, because school segregation had not been written into law in New York, noted Allison Roda, a Molloy University associate professor of education. But the power of the idea — that American schools should be integrated and offer equal education to all students — reverberated throughout the country, paving the way for the civil rights movement and a host of subsequent integration efforts, she said.

Molloy University associate professor Allison Roda said the power of...

Molloy University associate professor Allison Roda said the power of the idea that American schools should be integrated reverberated throughout the country. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

On Long Island, the integration effort took hold in Malverne, where Black leaders had complained that the overwhelmingly Black Woodfield Road Elementary was overcrowded and that students were receiving a poorer quality of education, Roda said.

“Long Island was intentionally segregated, due to housing policies, racial covenants and the control of FHA [housing] loans,” Roda said. “Even in schools within the same district, there was racial isolation.”

Malverne leaders act

The unanimous Supreme Court decision inspired Black leaders in Malverne to push the state to integrate its elementary schools, she said. Then-Education Commissioner James E. Allen ordered an end to the racial imbalance in Malverne schools on June 17, 1963. The decision was a test case for the entire state, she said.

The problem focused on the district’s three elementary schools. Woodfield Road Elementary’s student body was about 75% Black, while the district’s two other elementary schools, Lindner Place in Malverne and Davison Avenue in Lynbrook, were about 14% Black, according to Newsday reports at the time.

White opposition erupted against the plan, which reassigned students to schools on the basis of their grade level, instead of geography. That way, students in the same grade would go to the same school regardless of where they lived. The district already had separate middle and high schools, which all students attended, so the segregation issue was focused on the elementary schools.

Lawsuits flew from both sides, along with marches and protests. There were sit-downs, sit-ins and arrests. White parents formed the Taxpayers and Parents Association, which fought to keep the neighborhood school system intact. Parents challenged the decision in state court, delaying the implementation of the plan. Eventually, the State Court of Appeals ruled in 1964 the commissioner had the authority to enforce his plan. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the appellate ruling.

Martin Luther King Jr. visited Malverne in 1965 to speak against racial segregation in the schools. Brewington recalls the icon reaching out and rubbing his head.

By the time the plan was put into practice in 1966, the Manhasset and Westbury school districts had already complied with the commissioner’s order.

Weinstein, who is now in his 70s, recalled that during that post-World War II period, Malverne was growing quickly. His family bought their home because the area was known for its excellent schools. He was about 17 when the order took effect, and he had already passed through Lindner Elementary.

“I was very pleased with Lindner Place Elementary. They had carnivals and fundraisers. The PTA was second to none. The teachers were all great,” he said. “But I wasn’t a minority.”

Fred Brewington in a mid-1960s photo. He recalls having to...

Fred Brewington in a mid-1960s photo. He recalls having to suddenly switch schools back then. Credit: Brewington family

Brewington said he remembers the protests by white parents. As a kid of about 9, he said, he could sense the community turmoil, and he understood it was related to race.

“There were issues that made young children feel unwelcome,” he said. “This was a controversy in which children were being injected.”

Racial tensions flared in the late 1960s and early ’70s among the students at Malverne High School. Nassau County detectives were stationed for a time in the building, and in March 1971, fights between Black and white students prompted the temporary closure of the school, according to news reports.

Effort's legacy, lessons

The legacy of the Malverne integration effort — and indeed, the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education — continues to be discussed to this day. 

In Malverne, the effort prompted some white parents to move away or pull their kids out of public schools, sending them to private or parochial schools, said Imani Hinson, an educator who focused her 2020 undergraduate thesis at Hofstra University on the efforts to desegregate Long Island schools.

“Once it was implemented, there was a lot of white flight,” Hinson said. “People were afraid of what would happen to their neighborhood.”

Many white parents continue to use private and parochial schools in Malverne, she said.

The Malverne school district currently has 1,797 students: 43% Black, 28% Hispanic or Latino, 18% white, 9% Asian or Pacific Islander, and the rest of mixed heritage. It has a 95% four-year graduation rate, according to state Education Department figures.

Long Island communities, and their schools, remain segregated to a great degree, and concerns remain that schools in minority areas remain underfunded, Hinson said. At the same time, the Malverne effort, along with other local civil rights battles, brought improvements to Island education and equity, she said.

“Ensuring positive educational diversity is something we need to work on,” she said.

 Current conversations center on providing more affordable housing, consolidating some school districts, and changing zoning to allow for more multifamily construction.

“It depends on the leadership. There are a lot of excuses,” she said. “It comes down to money and people thinking they are going to lose something.”

The Lindner school, which was named after Paul Lindner, a farmer and historical figure — and leader of the local Ku Klux Klan — was eventually changed to Maurice W. Downing school, in memory of a principal. Lindner Place was renamed Acorn Way in 2022. 

Weinstein said he still lives in Malverne and still loves the area. He was honored in 2022 for serving 60 years in the local fire department. He is the historian for the Village of Malverne and a board member of the Malverne Historical Society.

Brewington at his office in Hempstead earlier this year.

Brewington at his office in Hempstead earlier this year. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Brewington, now 67, lives in Freeport and is a civil rights attorney with an office in Hempstead, not far from where he grew up. Looking back, he recalls many good memories going to the integrated elementary school. The experience opened him to the wider world, and he came to be friends with Italian, Jewish and other kids from different backgrounds.

“I came there and learned a lot about people,” he said. “It was an environment that allowed for a greater community.” 

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