The Rockford schools case continues, but for the first time since the “People Who Care” lawsuit was filed in 1989, there are signs of hope. As chronicled by Tom Fleming in these pages in February (“Here Come the Judge”), the Rockford public schools have been under federal control for the past three years, the result of a discrimination lawsuit that a mercenary Chicago lawyer has transformed into a class-action desegregation suit. So far, $100 million has been spent on “remedies,” with another $125 million (that we know about) yet to come.

On February 17, over 700 people gathered at the Rockford Women’s Club to hear Tom Fleming and Rockford Congressman Don Manzullo urge them to unite and retake control of their city from the feds. According to local columnist Chuck Sweeny, the forum—”Let My People Go!”—was one of the largest political events in Rockford’s history. (Rockford’s only protest against the Vietnam War, in contrast, garnered only 400 citizens.)

Congressman Manzullo began the event by explaining the legislation he has introduced to restrict the taxing authority of federal judges (explained in detail in his February article for Chronicles, “Judicial Taxation Without Representation”). Some members of the audience took a more radical approach and criticized his bill as “enabling legislation,” arguing that the Constitution does not give federal judges the authority to levy taxes under any circumstances.

While commending Congressman Manzullo for his legislative efforts. Dr. Fleming made it clear that the answers to Rockford’s problems can only be forged in Rockford. Our current situation, he argued, is an extension of the school consolidation that has occurred throughout this century. From one-room schoolhouses to city-wide districts to state and now federal control—the process has increasingly placed citizens at the control of educational “masters” like the one appointed to “oversee” the destruction—pardon me, desegregation —of Rockford’s schools. To thunderous applause, Fleming proclaimed, “Free people don’t have masters, and what the judge and his lackey . . . mean is that we are all—black and white. East Side and West Side and all around the town—slaves on a plantation owned by the federal courts. And if we sit around taking their orders, without offering any resistance, then we deserve to be slaves.” He called on the citizens of Rockford to “develop the kind of solidarity that the people of Poland had when the students and workers. Catholics and Jews and nonbelievers, all banded together to regain control over their own country.”

While the forum was not a political event, it had a significant impact on the Rockford mayoral race. The Republican candidate, Tim Simms, made the schools a major point in his campaign, and although he lost, the election was the closest in a generation. The Democratic incumbent, Charles Box, a consistent supporter of the federal magistrate, was reelected by 1,900 votes. The deciding factors in the election were Swedish racial guilt (Box is black), a well-oiled Democratic machine, and Republican overconfidence in Simms’ ability to ride the wave of public discontent over the schools, high taxes, and corrupt public works contractors. But Mayor Box also received aid and comfort from the local Gannett paper (LGP), which not only distorted every significant political issue, but even provided one of the most sycophantic endorsements m American history—a full half-page, complete with a huge picture of the mayor.

During the month leading up to the election on April 1, Rockford was a far better place to live—at least, that’s what the LGP told us. News about crime, potholes, and the schools—indeed, even the mayor’s race—took a backseat to a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing Rockfordians that our city exhibits “a different kind of greatness”—which explains why Rockford was ranked dead last in Money magazine’s 1996 survey of the best 300 cities to live in. The day before the election, the front-page headline assured Rockfordians that “Newcomers Agree—Rockford’s Just Fine.” And to top things off, the LGP’s editorial page—which proudly displays the text of the First Amendment—kept mum when a local radio talk show host, just hours after endorsing Simms, was harassed by a police tactical unit at the same time that a Democratic alderman across town was trying unsuccessfully to get a police tactical unit to shut down a crack house in his ward.


The mayoral loss, however, was followed by an important victory. After years of being told that it was time to “belly up and pay,” and that anything a federal magistrate says is “the law of the land,” the citizens of Rockford were vindicated by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in April. On point after point, the second highest court in the land overruled Magistrate Michael Mahoney. Unfortunately, three of the most important elements of his “remedial order” were never appealed: the construction of three new schools, the funding for those schools, and the “controlled choice” plan (the current euphemism for forced busing). In an aside, the Court of Appeals indicated that it might have overruled those decisions too, if it had been given the chance.

Come September, thousands of children will be bused across the city—up to an hour and a half each way—to achieve “racial balance.” The students will return to school, but Rockford won’t return to the sleepy little town that it once was. The resistance is mobilizing, and the battle has just begun.