Peggy Noonan’s Drunk Segregation History
We’ve previously mocked Peggy Noonan’s absurd Washington Post op-ed celebrating the end of Roe v. Wade, which she insists will work out well for all freedom-loving Americans who enjoy forcing others to give birth against their will.
However, there’s one particularly ahistorical assertion Noonan makes that I must call out as a Black person who is alive and conscious. She writes:
And you have to respect that as a wound, the Roe v. Wade decision never healed, never could. Josh Prager, in his stupendous history of that decision, “The Family Roe,” noted the singular fact of this ruling: Other high court decisions that liberalized the social order—desegregation of schools, elimination of prayer in the schools, interracial marriage, gay marriage—were followed by public acceptance, even when the rulings were very unpopular. Most came to have overwhelming support. But not Roe. That was the exception. It never stopped roiling America. Mr. Prager: “Opposition to Roe became more hostile after its issuance.”
So, yeah, everything this lady just said was bullshit.
Anti-abortion conservatives persist in promoting the myth that Roe v. Wade was unpopular. As recently as last year, a Gallup poll found that almost six out of 10 Americans don't want Roe overturned. You can’t get 60 percent of Americans to agree on anything.
Republican-led states have passed laws banning abortion once the heartbeat of a fetus is detected, even though the thing they're detecting around six to eight weeks into a pregnancy isn't actually a heartbeat. At least 58 percent of Americans opposed those bills in last year's Gallup poll, and soon Roe will no longer prevent their implementation.
A CBS News poll taken after the news about Roe’s impending demise came out showed that 64 percent of Americans want Roe kept in place, and close to 60 percent want Congress to pass a nationwide law protecting abortion rights. Yet, in Noonan’s revisionist history, everyone hates Roe and always has. She compares Roe unfavorably to interracial marriage and school desegregation, either of which could be next on the Alito Court’s chopping block.
In 1968, just a year after the Loving v. Virginia decision, just 20 percent approved of interracial marriage, while 72 percent disapproved. That number steadily improved over the next 50 years, but that was because Republicans leapt on abortion as their most effective means of courting white evangelicals.
Noonan’s reference to Brown v. Board of Education flat-out ignores the Civil Rights Movement, which fought white conservative resistance to integration. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote in 1964:
The naive might believe that great strides have been made in school desegregation over the past decade, but this is not at all true.
Today, the tragically real picture of school desegregation, particularly in the South, is still one of stark tokenism or no desegregation at all. In my own hometown of Atlanta, for example, the awful truth is that of 14,159 Negroes enrolled in high schools, only 153 are presently attending classes with whites, and, worse, not a single Negro child attends a desegregated elementary school.
Civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill tweeted these uncomfortable facts: "Prince Edward’s County, VA closed the schools for five years rather than comply with Brown. Five. Years. 101 Members of Congress signed the Southern Manifesto vowing to resist Brown by all legal means.”
Republican President Dwight Eisenhower had to sign an executive order sending federal troops in 1957 to enforce integration in Arkansas schools. Elie Mystal suggested President Joe Biden do something similar to protect abortion access in states passing (then) unconstitutional bans. However, MAGA judges delight in reminding Biden that the federal government has no power when a Democrat’s president.
Noonan also feigns amnesia about northern white opposition to busing and the suburban white flight that ensured schools today are integrated in only the most technical sense. Conservatives graciously “support” something that rarely occurs in their own schools and neighborhoods.
The Supreme Court actually defended individual liberties under Chief Justices Earl Warren and Warren Burger. The Court began its steady rightward shift to its current nightmare state in 1986 when William Rehnquist began chief justice. Racists used to have to fight integration with more covert methods. This included the private Southern schools otherwise known as “segregation academies.” They even tried to use public money for all-white schools, but the NAACP sued. The Supreme Court struck down the practice in 1964.
Conservatives finally have their radical rightwing Court that will reinforce their lies about Roe v. Wade and reproductive freedom. They might have the power, for now, but they still can’t change reality. When the Supreme Court overturns Roe, it will fundamentally defy the will of the people, and not in actual furtherance of an existing minority’s rights.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."