Interview with Mary Frances Berry

Tell us the story of arriving at HEW in 1977, and if you can tell us what you were brought there to do, the statistical good news that you heard.


When I was, um, went to Washington to run education in the Carter Administration in 1977, one of the first things that happened was the head of my statistical agency came in to see me and she said, "Good news, the college-going rate for Blacks is equal to the college-going rate for Whites for the first time in American history." So if you're Black and you're graduated from high school, the chances that you would go to college were as great as if you were White. And I thought to myself, "Glory, Hallelujah!" I almost said it out loud because it was a goal we had been striving for, for so long, because we understood that even though education didn't solve all problems, and even though it wouldn't pay off for us as well other people because of discrimination, that if you had education, it would mean that you had more options, and that you might have people move up from the poverty classes into the middle class. And so, this was just wonderful news, and I thought to myself, "Boy, if we can just keep up this progress for the next few years, just think of how far we will have come." Of course, even as I was sitting there, ah, in glee over this news, the figures were getting ready to change. In fact, that progress came about because of affirmative action and because of student-aid programs and all the things we'd worked so hard for, and the motivation of students added to it. And those figures were changes, little did I know that by 1978 there would be the Bakke case, which would have a chilling effect on the affirmative action efforts, and that there would be a redirection of the student aid programs away from the poor. And by 1979, those numbers that I'd been so happy about had started to go down again.