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  • Racial Taxation: Schools, Segregation, and Taxpayer Citizenship, 1869-1973 by Camille Walsh
  • Stephanie Hunter McMahon
Racial Taxation: Schools, Segregation, and Taxpayer Citizenship, 1869-1973. By Camille Walsh. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 235. Paper, $29.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-3894-2; cloth, $90.00, ISBN 978-1-4696-3893-5.)

Camille Walsh's Racial Taxation: Schools, Segregation, and Taxpayer Citizenship, 1869-1973 persuasively argues that access to education has historically been limited by race but cloaked in terms of taxpayer status. Reenvisioning previously combed-through materials, namely litigated cases, letters to the NAACP, and the NAACP's litigation strategy, Walsh demonstrates that people argued about segregation and access to education in terms of their taxpayer status. Initially, African Americans adopted the tactic in litigation for schooling, and later for better schooling, but in the period after Brown v. Board of Education (1954) white people claimed taxpayer status to fight desegregation and busing. Superficially class-based but inherently racialized, taxpayer status was throughout this fight more a "rhetorical symbol" than a quantifiable status (p. 3).

As direct and indirect payers of property and sales tax, African Americans were certainly taxpayers; however, people generally ignored the amount of taxes paid and the many types of taxes when defining a taxpayer. Despite neither side compiling statistical proof, white people claimed taxpayer status to deprive African Americans of education. When particular black litigants showed their taxpayer status, it was "revocable whenever there was any suggestion of a white veto" (p. 48). Taxpaying status veiled the discrimination of white claims to superior education.

Evidencing the ridiculousness of whiteness being equated with taxpaying status, some jurisdictions required everyone, including African Americans, to pay property taxes to fund a general school fund paying for all-white schools. African Americans were then separately taxed to pay for their own schools. At times, discrimination was blatant; other times it was the result of all-white school boards that allocated funding inequitably. The extent of this discrimination [End Page 466] meant that even when African Americans won challenges in court, they failed to win better education as a practical matter.

However, proof of the power of claiming taxpayer status is elusive. People have used language referencing taxpaying status, but they may have done so possibly more as a rhetorical move or as a claim for access to a court of equity than as their basis for a claim for equal education. More, and very difficult, research would be necessary to prove that taxpaying status performed the work of justifying unequal levels of education. Based on Walsh's reported evidence, courts made only fleeting reference to taxpaying status.

Nevertheless, Racial Taxation adds much to current literature. This is a story of law as a tool of race relations, building on the work of Risa L. Goluboff and Kenneth W. Mack. It is also a story of the role of taxation in social policies, as discussed by Robin L. Einhorn and Alice Kessler-Harris. At the same time, Racial Taxation is a book on consumerism and the purchase of citizenship rights, an extension of work by Lizabeth Cohen and Meg Jacobs.

But Racial Taxation is foremost a fascinating story of Americans' perception of education and entitlement to education. The function of education has changed from promoting civic society to driving economic development. However, the changing perceptions have continued to be argued in terms of taxation. Perhaps itself bound by a taxpayer ethos, the U.S. Supreme Court has not supported the alternate claim that education is a fundamental right. Therefore, taxpaying as buying rights to education, a consumer model, has yet to be tested. In a sense, through segregated schools, property taxation, and a hostility to busing, people buy a level of education for their children. One could envision an alternative world in which being a taxpayer entitled a child to a quality education, even if the child's family could not afford it. Sadly, that view has failed to gain purchase.

Stephanie Hunter McMahon
University of Cincinnati


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