The great state of Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation and it also happens to be a solid red Republican-leaning state.
On Friday, almost 60 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Cleveland school district in Mississippi was ordered by a federal court to come into compliance with the law and desegregate its four schools.
For years after the original Supreme Court ruling, that single school district has managed to avoid complying with the federal legislation and maintained separate schools comprised of mostly white and mostly black students.
In its 96 page opinion, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississipi wrote:
The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education. 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.
The town of Cleveland has a population of 12,000 residents, who are separated along racial lines by a railroad that runs through the middle of the town. Residents on the east side of the tracks are black; their children attend East Side High School. On the west, white students attend Cleveland High.
At first, the school district offered two alternative plans to mix the schools. However, U.S. District Judge Debra Brown rejected both, labeling them unconstitutional:
Six decades after the supreme court in Brown v Board of Education declared that ‘separate but equal has no place’ in public schools, this decision serves as a reminder to districts that delaying desegregation obligations is both unacceptable and unconstitutional,” said Vanita Gupta, head of the US justice department’s civil rights division. “This victory creates new opportunities for the children of Cleveland to learn, play and thrive together. The court’s ruling will result in the immediate and effective desegregation of the district’s middle school and high school program for the first time in the district’s more than century-long history.
The Cleveland began its fight to desegregate in 1965 when a group of black parents filed a lawsuit against the school district following the Supreme Court’s ruling. The parents won their case four years later, and for the first time, black students were able to enroll in the traditionally all-white Cleveland high.
However, white parents were enraged by the decision. Almost 1,000 white locals took to the streets in protest, prompting the school district to defy the court’s decision for over 60 years.
In her ruling, Brown gave the school district three weeks to present a timeline that for implementing the consolidation of the segregated schools. The court decision calls for East Side High School and Cleveland High to merge, as well as the two segregated middle schools that feed into them.
It’s still hard to imagine that in the year 2016 there are places in America still catching up to progress made over half a century ago.
Featured Image via Flickr