The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980

The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980

The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980

The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980

Synopsis

Race has shaped public education in the Magnolia State, from Reconstruction through the Carter Administration. For The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle Over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980 Charles C. Bolton mines newspaper accounts, interviews, journals, archival records, legal and financial documents, and other sources to uncover the complex story of one of Mississippi's most significant and vexing issues. This history closely examines specific events-the after-math of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the 1966 protests and counter-demonstrations in Grenada, and the efforts of particular organizations-and carefully considers the broader picture. Despite a "separate but equal" doctrine established in the late nineteenth century, the state's racially divided school systems quickly developed vast differences in terms of financing, academic resources, teacher salaries, and quality of education. As one of the nation's poorest states, Mississippi could not afford to finance one school system adequately, much less two. For much of the twentieth century, whites fought hard to preserve the dual school system, in which the maintenance of one-race schools became the most important measure of educational quality. Blacks fought equally hard to end segregated schooling, realizing that their schools would remain underfunded and understaffed as long as they were not integrated.

Excerpt

September 12, 1966, began as a rainy Monday morning in Grenada, a town in central Mississippi on the border between the Hills and the Delta. That day, about 150 black children attempted to enter the all-white schools of the town for the first time, per an August 26 federal court order by Judge Claude Clayton mandating freedom-of-choice school desegregation. By early afternoon, at least eight black children, one black adult, and a number of white reporters had been beaten by several groups of angry white men and women.

Well before the opening bell rang, whites gathered in the vicinity of John Rundle High and Lizzie Horn Elementary (the two all-white schools shared a campus). Before any children arrived, some of the whites stopped a carload of blacks on their way to work, pounded on the car with wooden clubs, and unsuccessfully tried to pull the occupants out of the car before the driver was able to race away. This weapon-wielding assembly soon saw a group of black children on their way to begin their first day of classes; the mob rushed toward the students, who fled. Many of the children immediately went to regroup at Belle Flower Mount Baptist Church, the physical home of the Grenada civil rights movement. Meanwhile, the white toughs received additional weapons when a truck delivered a shipment of metal pipes to the crowd. An hour later, about forty of the black students set off from Belle Flower, accompanied by a small group of adults, to march to the schools and enroll. Several blocks shy of their destination, the group was met by thirty white men toting sticks, clubs, ax handles, and metal pipes. At least one, Justice of the Peace James R. Ayers, had a gun, which he fired into the air. Most of the black group beat a quick retreat, except for a group of elderly women, who stood their ground. the white thugs ignored the old women but pursued the slowest of the escaping . . .

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