On this day in 1990, the city of Selma, Ala. once again became the epicenter of racial tensions after a city-wide school boycott. Students were angered at the firing of the city’s first Black school superintendent, Dr. Norwand Rousell, who lost his job after dismantling what he felt was a discriminatory policy.
In 1987, Dr. Rousell was named the city’s school superintendent amid much fanfare. It was just over two decades that the Selma to Montgomery protests of 1965 took place and the city fancied itself as being past the racial tensions that made it synonymous with virulent racism.
That attitude changed when the tough-talking Rousell came to power and began examining the so-called “tracking” policy. Rousell responded to protests at Selma High School who felt the policy hindered the success of minority students, so he struck it down, among other changes that upset Black and white parents. They and the city’s white mayor openly clashed with Rousell. In 1990, his contract with the city wasn’t renewed and Black leaders and others accused the city of racism.
Around 1,500 students walked out of classes and created other disruptions that led to Rousell having to close down all 11 schools in the district. In a scene that recalled the Selma protests 25 years prior, Gov. Guy Hunt called 200 National Guard troops to the city to quell the protests. Rousell was eventually reinstated as superintendent, but after suing the city for $10 million lawsuit he settled for $150,000 and left.
These events basically resegregated Selma public schools, as white families took their children out of the schools following the protests. The school district is now largely African-American. After leaving Selma, Rousell became the superintendent of the New Orleans school system and then the associate vice president of his alma mater, Dillard University.
Rousell died in 2014 at the age 80.
PHOTO: ABC Screenshot