Federal court orders schools in Mississippi to desegregate 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education

A federal court ordered middle and high schools in Cleveland, Mississippi to consolidate to satisfy the ruling on a decades-long legal battle to desegregate schools, according to a press release from The Department of Justice.

The order comes more than sixty years after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that school segregation was unconstitutional in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.

“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,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said according to the press release.

The ruling means that “virtually all-black” D.M. Smith Middle school and East Side High School and “historically white” Margaret Green Junior High School and Cleveland High School, will merge, respectively, into two schools.

US District Judge Debra Brown ruled the district must create a plan for for immediate integration of the schools no later than 21 days from the issuance of her opinion on Friday, May 13, according to The Clarion-Ledger.

Cleveland School District had 3,723 students enrolled as of 2015, where 66.7% were African American, 28.8% were white, and 4.5% were other races, according to US v. Bolivar County Board of Education, et al., the lawsuit that determined the case.

Troops from the 327th Regiment, 101st Airborne escorting the Little Rock Nine African-American students up the steps of Central High.
Federal troops escort the ‘Little Rock Nine’ — a group of nine black students who attempted to enter a racially segregated high school — in 1957. US Army

But as of May 2015, one of the schools in the district, D.M. Smith, had a school population that was 99.6% African American and 0.4% were of other races, according to the suit. For comparison, Margaret Green, the historically white middle school, had a demographic breakdown where 50.9% of students were African American, 42.5% were white, and 6.6% were of another race.

East Side high school was similarly stratified, with 99.7% African American students and 0.3% were other races, and at Cleveland High, 47.4% of students were African American, 45.4% were white, and 7.2% were of other races.

Officials from Cleveland School District argued that they had worked to desegregate schools because a large number of African American students attended Margaret Green and Cleveland High, The Associated Press reported.

The ruling, however, proved their efforts were “inadequate” to satisfy desegregation standards, according to DOJ’s press release.

“The attendance zones, as defined by the former railroad tracks in Cleveland, perpetuate vestiges of racial segregation,” United States District Judge Glen H. Davidson, said in an order in 2013.

African American students primarily live to the east of the railroad tracks, on the southeast side of town. White students primarily live to the west of the railroad tracks, on the southwest side of town.

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