Can a group of well-intentioned people fulfill the promise of racial integration in America?
In this searing and intimate examination of the ideals and realities of racial integration, award-winning Washington Post journalist Laura Meckler tells the story of a decades-long pursuit in Shaker Heights, Ohio, and uncovers the roadblocks that have threatened progress time and again—in housing, in education, and in the promise of shared community.
In the late 1950s, Shaker Heights began groundbreaking work that would make it a national model for housing integration. And beginning in the seventies, it was known as a crown jewel in the national move to racially integrate schools. The school district built a reputation for academic excellence and diversity, serving as a model for how white and Black Americans can thrive together. Meckler—herself a product of Shaker Heights—takes a deeper look into the place that shaped her, investigating its complicated history and its ongoing challenges in order to untangle myth from truth. She confronts an enduring, and troubling, question—if Shaker Heights has worked so hard at racial equity, why does a racial academic achievement gap persist?
In telling the stories of the Shakerites who have built and lived in this community, Meckler asks: What will it take to fulfill the promise of racial integration in America? What compromises are people of all races willing to make? What does success look like, and has Shaker achieved it? The result is a complex and masterfully reported portrait of a place that, while never perfect, has achieved more than most and a road map for communities that seek to do the same.
Includes black-and-white images.
“Meckler, who conducted hundreds of interviews for this book, so compassionately tells the stories of superintendents, principals, teachers, parents and students of all backgrounds that policy reads like biography. And indeed, Dream Town is a kind of biography. Shaker Heights emerges as the charismatic but flawed hero undertaking the quest for racial inclusion that the title of the book describes. Meckler vividly narrates how often the city tries, fails, but tries again, even as others give up. —Washington Post
“Throughout Dream Town, it's clear that [Meckler] not only made a huge commitment to Shaker Heights. but also that she interrogated her own biases… Hers is a micro approach — she interrogates educational equity by looking at how it's been handled over decades in one specific place — but it feels like she spoke with everyone and asked them everything.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Meckler’s sharp eye on Shaker Heights has a new resonance in the culture wars of today." —Time
"Notable . . . [a] charming cast of characters." —The New Yorker
“Reported with compassion, thoroughness and a keen sense of fairness and balance, Meckler’s book explores the heroic and sometimes successful effort of one American community to move beyond the hatred and division that has led to racial segregation across most of the country. . .It would be hard to add up all the ways in which Meckler’s book is relevant to the current political and cultural moment.”
—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Laura Meckler has brilliantly told the story of one American town’s integration struggles—and reminded us of the best promises we make (and sometimes fulfill) as members of shared communities. Dream Town, deeply researched and beautifully written, represents social history at its best. It’s a book full of hard truths and hope, a book I won’t soon forget.”
—Jonathan Eig, bestselling author of King: A Life and Ali: A Life
“Anyone interested in race in America will find Laura Meckler’s brilliant book Dream Town impossible to put down.”
—Andy Borowitz, New York Times bestselling author of Profiles in Ignorance
“Laura Meckler brilliantly explores the racial history of Shaker Heights, the Cleveland suburb where she grew up, to illuminate the troubled dynamics of integration in American life. Dream Town is at once a vividly drawn portrait and a significant sociological revelation.”
—David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story
“Through detailed research and interviews, Meckler tells a remarkable story about a town that continuously strives to achieve the ideals it long ago set for itself.”
—Booklist, *starred review*
“This is the story of one Ohio town—but also the much bigger story of America. Meckler brings great insight, depth, and wonderful humanity to this important chronicle of one city’s grappling with race and the meaning of community. It is eminently readable and genuinely inspiring.”
—Susan Orlean, New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid Thief and The Library Book
“The work of diversity, integration, and equity is hard, messy, and divisive, and Shaker Heights has certainly gotten as much wrong over the years as it’s gotten right. But it’s only by learning the lessons of those victories and failures that we can construct the schools, communities, and society that we all hope to live in. This book, through rigorous reporting and stunning historical sweep, provides a vital step toward finding our path forward.”
—Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Whitelash
“This is the complicated story of racial integration in Shaker Heights as it has never been told, deeply reported by one of its own. Laura Meckler brings a former resident’s open heart and a journalist’s laser focus to dreams realized and those too often deferred. As a journalist, I marvel at the depth of her reporting. As a former Shaker mom, I am grateful for the mirror that forces us to see the work that remains.”
—Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Daughters of Erietown
“Whether exploring the intricacies of race relations or delving into the complexities of modern-day identity politics, Meckler’s ability to captivate and inform is unparalleled. This is a book for anyone who seeks to understand the past, engage with the present, and envision a better future for us all. An engrossing narrative.”
—Jesse J. Holland, author of Black Men Built the Capitol and The Invisibles
“Laura Meckler’s Dream Town is a brave and provocative book, breaking new ground in exploring difficulties facing Americans, Black and white, in reaching the goal of integrated schools and communities. Meckler has taken on one of the most important and vexing issues facing the nation, and she does not flinch. Dream Town is critical reading not only for those dealing with the politics of race but for everyone struggling to maintain a commitment to fairness, equality, and the achievement of the American dream at one of the most divisive moments in our history.”
—Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times political columnist
“A riveting exploration of the long-running quest for racial equality in the public schools of Shaker Heights, Ohio. In the 1960s, as white flight was upending urban America, Shaker was that rare white community that opened its hearts and neighborhood schools to Black people, embracing integration as an ideal. In her clear-eyed account, Meckler makes clear we all have a stake in this community’s ongoing quest to do right by its school children.”
—Dale Russakoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Prize
“A glorious book about people with good intentions. Meckler tells a complicated, moving story about decades of change in the school system of Shaker Heights, Ohio. To try to achieve better schools, students are bussed; schools are closed; schools are opened; Black students are welcomed into honors classes; honors classes are abolished. But the Shaker community stubbornly, admirably, never gives up.”
—Don Graham, former publisher, The Washington Post
“Journalist Meckler debuts with an in-depth analysis of desegregation efforts in her hometown of Shaker Heights, Ohio…Throughout, Meckler draws on extensive interviews with parents, teachers, community leaders, and students to present the various controversies from multiple perspectives, resulting in a nuanced and impressively detailed study of the barriers to racial equality. Policymakers and social justice activists should take note.”
“Meckler is one of the most independent-minded reporters on the education beat.” —The Grade
"What if the country had never given up on the goal of integrated schooling? Dream Town, a new book by Washington Post education reporter Laura Meckler, offers something of an answer, almost an alternate history." —Chalkbeat