The Administration of Court-Ordered School Desegregation in Urban School Districts: The Law and Experience

By Hunter, Richard C. | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Administration of Court-Ordered School Desegregation in Urban School Districts: The Law and Experience


Hunter, Richard C., The Journal of Negro Education


It has been 50 years since the United States Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). This article discusses race relations and education before Brown and reviews both decisions in this important case that did so much to provide hope for African Americans that public education would be improved for their children in this country. The "massive resistance" movement in the South that delayed the implementation of public school desegregation for more than a decade and several seminal cases in both higher education and public school desegregation are reviewed. In this article, the impact of "White flight" and other demographic factors on urban public education are presented. Also, the administration of court-ordered desegregation in Bradley v. Richmond School Board (1971) is a primary subject of the article. Finally, a review of the effects of public school desegregation on public education in urban school districts are presented; including the economic costs, racial isolation, student achievement, metropolitan desegregation, and an outlook for the future.

BACKGROUND

It is useful to consider race relations and education before discussing public school desegregation in the period leading up to the now famous decision of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 (Brown I). The institution of slavery was the low point in race relations in America and was conceived by some as a means of converting Blacks to Christianity. Still others maintain that slavery was used to provide this rapidly growing country with a steady supply of inexpensive labor. Nevertheless, divisions over the treatment of slaves in the colonies developed and influenced several northern states to abolish slavery, including Pennsylvania (1780), Massachusetts (1783), Connecticut (1784), and Rhode Island (1784). Although sentiment against slavery was strong in the North, Blacks were denied the right to vote and to use public conveyances and in 1860 only 7% of free Blacks in the North were allowed to attend schools. Prior to the Civil War, public education was limited in most southern communities and formal education for slaves was illegal. However, after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the Civil War ended, the 13th Amendment was passed, and race relations improved for Blacks in the United States. This period of good extended to all states in the union, particularly in the North. Unfortunately, once again racist Whites created "black codes" to restrict the rights and freedoms of the newly freed slaves. These codes did not permit Blacks to hold political office or to vote and influenced passage of the Civil "Rights Act of 1866, which was incorporated in the 14th Amendment. This legislation made it illegal for states to deny equal protection to anyone under their jurisdiction. Congress established the Freedman's Bureau for slaves, which operated from 1865-1872 and created 4,200 schools that enrolled almost 250,000 pupils. Nevertheless, only 5% of the Black, school-age population was served by the Freedman Bureau's schools. It was reported in 1871 that the State Supreme Courts of Ohio and Indiana decided that separate schools were legal, if they were equal. Because of this condition, the education of Blacks in the North was not much better than it was in the South. The right of Blacks to vote was ratified in 1868 by the 15th Amendment. However, because federal troops were removed from the South, Blacks were effectively disenfranchised from voting by poll taxes and literacy tests in every state in this region (Stephan, 1980).

SEPARATE BUT EQUAL

Homer Plessy, a Black man, challenged the right of the East Louisiana Railway to require him to sit in a section of a train that was reserved for coloreds. This action violated the 14* Amendment. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, that segregation of the races was permissible and created the "separate but equal" doctrine that was the law of the land for 58 years. …

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