Q: Was Sen. Kamala Harris “lying” when she tweeted about integration in the Berkeley public schools?
A: No. The school district fully integrated in 1968, and Harris began attending public school in first grade, in 1970.
Politicians on the left have criticized President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Among those pledging to oppose his nomination was Sen. Kamala Harris of California.
She posted two tweets following Trump’s July 9 nomination of Kavanaugh — the first one expressed her concern about how he would vote on health care issues, and her second offered a personal story about the impact that the nation’s highest court can have. She wrote:
Two decades after Brown v. Board, I was only the second class to integrate at Berkeley public schools. Without that decision, I likely would not have become a lawyer and eventually be elected a Senator from California.
That’s the power a Supreme Court Justice holds.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 10, 2018
The following day, the conservative website Gateway Pundit posted a story accusing the senator of “lying” about being only the second class to integrate at Berkeley.
But she didn’t lie.
Berkeley started busing students to fully integrate the school district in 1968, and Harris began first grade in public school in 1970.
However, Gateway Pundit claimed that the public schools in Berkeley, California, had been integrated for years before Harris entered the classroom. It presented high school yearbooks from 1963 and 1964 as evidence.
While it’s true that the high school was integrated, the rest of the district wasn’t, according to a report commissioned by the school board that was completed in 1963 and led to the full integration of the district in 1968. The report itself isn’t available online, but at least two academic studies that rely heavily on it are available.
The high school was integrated before the rest of the district because there was only one high school. All students — regardless of race — went there for high school.
The 14 elementary schools in the Berkeley Unified School District were a different story. They each drew students from the neighborhoods they were in. Those neighborhoods were segregated. So, while the schools didn’t have an official segregation policy, they were, effectively, segregated.
In the years following the 1963 report, the school district and its community debated the best course toward integration, and in 1968, it started busing students between neighborhoods to achieve integrated schools from elementary through high school.
It was the first city with a large black population to do so, according to the Los Angeles Times, and was hailed by Dr. Martin Luther King, who said after hearing about the plan, “hope returned to my soul.”
A spokeswoman for Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign told us that Harris started at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in 1970 — the third year of full integration for the district — after attending a private kindergarten.
Charles Burress, the spokesman for the Berkeley Unified School District, wasn’t able to confirm her attendance since schools are closed and staff is gone for the summer. But, he said, “we have no reason to doubt her word.”
The Gateway Pundit story also claims that Harris attended school in Berkeley for only two years before moving to Canada, but, according to her office, Harris moved to Montreal in 1976, when she was in middle school.
Although the Gateway Pundit story isn’t true, it has been shared by Facebook and Twitter pages that have more than 3 million followers. It also has been picked up and posted by several other websites.
Update, July 1, 2019: The Berkeley school district issued a statement on June 28, 2019, that said, in part: “There has been some confusion in the media and social media around the Berkeley schools and integration due to the fact that our high school was already ‘integrated’, as evidenced, for example, by high school yearbooks which show children of many race/ethnicities at school together prior to 1968. In Berkeley, we only have one comprehensive high school, so it was integrated by default (de facto). Our elementary schools, however, reflected the racial composition of our neighborhoods, which like many neighborhoods across America reflected the history of segregation stemming from policies which restricted the opportunities of non-white residents.”
The district also said Thousand Oaks Elementary School in 1963 was 95.1% “Caucasian” and 2.5% “Negro” – which were the race categories used at the time. In 1969, the school was 53.4% “Caucasian” and 40.2% “Negro.”
Update, July 3, 2019: We updated our story to reflect that Harris started at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in 1970 after attending a private school for kindergarten, according to her campaign. Her Senate office previously told us that she began at Thousand Oaks in 1969.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk false stories shared on the social media network.
Trump, Donald. President Donald J. Trump Announces Intent to Nominate Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. Whitehouse.gov. 9 Jul 2018.
Kennedy, Anthony. Letter of resignation. U.S. Supreme Court. 27 Jun 2018.
Harris, Kamala. “Trump’s Supreme Court Justice nominee, Judge Kavanaugh, represents a direct and fundamental threat to the rights and health care of hundreds of millions of Americans. I will oppose his nomination to the Supreme Court.
#SCOTUSpick.” Twitter. 9 Jul 2018.
Hoft, Jim. “KAMALA HARRIS Says Schools in Berkeley Weren’t Integrated When She Was a Kid — But Yearbook Pictures Prove She’s Lying.” Gateway Pundit. 10 Jul 2018.
Milstein, Mike and Hoch, Dean. “A Landmark in School Racial Integration: Berkeley, California.” Phi Delta Kappan. May 1969.
Chavez, Lisa and Frankenberg, Erica. “Integration Defended: Berkeley Unified’s Strategy to Maintain School Diversity.” University of California, Berkeley Law School. Sep 2009.
McCurdy, Jack. “Berkeley’s School Integration Program Proceeds Smoothly — City Will Become First in Nation to Fully Desegregate by Using Buses to Change Unusual Sociogeographic Patterns.” Los Angeles Times. 2 Sep 1968.
King, Martin Luther. Forward to Neil Sullivan’s book, “Now Is the Time: Integration in the Berkeley Schools.” accessed 12 Jul 2018.