A federal court has ordered a town in Mississippi to desegregate its high schools and middle schools, thus ending a fifty-year long legal battle over integration.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi ordered the Cleveland School district to consolidate the schools after declaring several alternatives proposed by the school district unconstitutional.
“This victory creates new opportunities for the children of Cleveland to learn, play and thrive together,” says Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
The court’s decision comes six decades after the United States Supreme Court declared in the landmark court case Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools violated the constitution. Christine Hauser of The New York Times reports that the school district operated an “inadequate dual system” in Cleveland, a Mississippi Delta town in the western part of the state.
The Justice Department’s plan, which was approved by the district court, requires the Mississippi district to consolidate the all-black D.M. Smith Middle School with the historically white Margaret Green Junior High School. These schools will be combined for the first time in their more than century-long history. Additionally, the district must also consolidate the mostly black East Side High School with the mostly white Cleveland High School.
“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education,” wrote U.S. District Judge Debra Brown. “Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the district to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden.”
Merging black and white schools was common throughout the 1960s and 1970s after the Brown v. Board decision. This incident serves as a reminder that the desegregation of schools never materialized fully in some places. According to NBC News, the U.S. Justice Department was involved in 43 desegregation lawsuits in Mississippi alone as of 2014.
Five of the top six states where segregation between white and black students is highest are located in the South: Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, Maryland, and Alabama. California and New York also have high levels of segregation; those states also have the worst records of integrating Latino students.
The desegregation efforts launched by the Supreme Court and the United States Congress in the 1960s have had a disproportionate on southern states, despite their persistent legacies of “separate but equal” societies. According to reporters at CNN, states in the North and West are subject to far less demanding standards, thus, these states have experienced substantial resegregation because of the growth of predominately white suburbs.
“Segregated schools build and sustain a segregated society,” a report issued by the Justice Department says. “We need to create schools that build a society where the talent of all is developed, and students of all races/ethnicities are prepared to understand and live successfully in a society that moves beyond separation toward mutual respect and integration.”
The Obama administration has voiced its commitment to rooting out segregation nationwide.