Civil Rights and Education System


The breaking down of imposed racial separation, normally known as desegregation, has always been a fundamental aim of the civil rights movement in United States and was given special impetus by the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education that ruled segregated schools unconstitutional. Imposed separation or isolation on a race or class from the rest of the population, In the United States, segregation has taken two forms; legal where a set of laws such as those that prevailed in the South until the 1960s mandates such separation; and de facto segregation, which often prevailed in the North and is enforced by cultural and economic patterns in housing and education rather than by law (Witte, 1991).

Segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a State solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation, denies to Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors of white and Negro schools may be equal.

The history of the Fourteenth Amendment is inconclusive as to its intended effect on public education, and therefore question presented in these cases must be determined not on the basis of conditions existing when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but in the light of the full development of public education and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Bearing in mind that, where a State has undertaken to provide an opportunity for an education in its public schools, such an opportunity is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

Segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal. (Rasell & Roltstein, 1993). It should be noted that the “separate but equal” doctrine adopted in Plessey V. Ferguson in the US has no place in the field of public education. Since, the cases are restored to the docket for further argument on specified questions relating to the forms of the decrees (Young, & Chincy, 1992).

These cases come from the States of Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. They are premised on different facts and different local conditions, but a common legal question justifies their consideration together in this consolidated opinion. n each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, seek the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a no segregated basis. In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race.

This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. In each of the cases other than the Delaware case, a three-judge federal district court denied relief to the plaintiffs on the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine announced by the Court in Plessy V. Fergson. Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities are separate.

In the Delaware case, the Supreme Court of Delaware adhered to that doctrine, but ordered that the plaintiffs be admitted to the white schools because of their superiority to the Negro schools (Glenn, 1988). The plaintiffs contend that segregated public schools are not “equal” and cannot be made “equal,” and that hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the laws. Because of the obvious importance of the question presented, the Court took jurisdiction.

It is not an accident that the pivotal Supreme Court decision launching the modern civil rights movement was an education case; the 1954 Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka ruling, but in many ways, it was the drive to end segregated education system and to put African American and white children in the same classrooms was the most radical and potentially far-reaching aspect of the civil rights movement.  Such a change was meant to alter the attitudes and socialization of children, beginning from the youngest ages as well as end the inequality inherent in all “separate but equal” facilities, whether they were drinking fountains, public accommodations, or in the schools (Hakim, et al., 1994).

The African American struggle for desegregation did not arise because anyone believed that there was something magical about sitting next to whites in a classroom. It was, however, based on a belief that the dominant group would keep control of the most successful schools in all states and that the only way to get full range of opportunities for the minority child was in getting access to those schools. But all the same, the struggle for integrated Schools has gone through a number of phases since the 1954 decision and has been shaped both encouraged and constrained by various court rulings and emotional political and public policy battles.

Following Brown I and Brown II which called for desegregation with ‘all deliberate speed’ in 1955, education, became the focus of what was called the South’s “massive resistance” to the Court’s rulings and the massive resistance was symbolized most dramatically in 1957 by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus’ order when he stated that the state’s national guard unit block the admission of nine African American students to Little Rock’s Central High School and the almost one month confrontation ended when the president sent U.S. troops to protect the students. One of the variety methods of action employed by the states and localities in order to resist implementing the Supreme Court’s rulings was the Faubus’ action (Cookson, 1994).

In citing one prominent example, Prince Edward County, Virginia, abandoned its entire public school system, leaving education to private interests that excluded African American children from their schools. Many African American children were essentially locked out of school for several years until the Supreme Court ruled Virginia’s action unconstitutional (Holt, 2000).

Such dilatory and delaying tactics were at least halfway successful. After desegregation’s first decade, only 2.3 percent of African American children in the Deep South attended integrated schools. But such tactics also tried the patience of African Americans and the federal courts. It was until the Enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 in response to the nonviolent civil rights movement finally spurred action. The Fifth Circuit Court, in United States v. Jefferson County Board of Education, ordered school districts not only to end segregation but to “undo the harm” segregation had caused by racially balancing their schools under federal guidelines.

This was followed  the Supreme Court’s  Green V. County School Board of New Kenty County , requiring desegregation plans that promised to work right away.  A strong federal commitment to enforcement of the civil rights act of 1964 proved critical. In the first five years after the Act’s passage, with the federal government threatening and sometimes using fund termination enforcement provisions such as  cutting off federal funding to school districts that failed to comply with the law, more substantial progress was made toward desegregating schools than in the 10 years immediately following the Brown decision. In 1964, 1.2 percent of African American students in the South attended school with whites, which rose to 32 percent after four years (Harwell, 1997).

 According to studies, the south had become the nation’s most integrated region in 1976 45 percent of the South’s African American students were attending majority of the white schools when compared with Northeast and Midwest which had 27 and 29 percent respectively. These gains occurred in the context of the great controversy of the school desegregation effort.

However, this did not last long before the controversy the in the Court’s decision in 1971 Swann V. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, one of the first attempts to implement a large-scale urban desegregation plan, when Swann called for district-wide desegregation and allowed  the use of busing to achieve integration, finding that the times and distances involved in the desegregation plan were no more onerous than those involved in the busing already undertaken by Charlotte for non-desegregation purposes.

Court-ordered busing, as it came to be known, was fiercely attacked, not least by the administration of President Richard Nixon, but Busing was even criticized as undermining the sanctity of neighborhood schools, as a social engineering, as impractical and unworkable, and as intrusive and inappropriate judicial meddling. While busing drew a great deal of public attention, critics largely overlooked the facts that few students were bused for the purpose of desegregation and, it indeed worked especially in the South where school districts are often countywide and include both central cities and suburbs (Harwell, 1997).

In fear of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s independent presidential election campaign, the then president Nixon, mounted an attack on busing and asked Congress to ban it immediately, even though his efforts failed, the drive for desegregation slowed. The Supreme court, in Milliken V. Bradley, case involving the Detroit metropolitan area, effectively halted busing at a city’s borders.

The Court’s 5-4 decision blocked a city-suburb desegregation plan in Detroit that would have involved busing across school district boundaries and ignoring the evidence of state governments’ past and continuing involvement in housing and school segregation, the Court said that “local control” was an important tradition in education. The decision allowed for proof of “interdistrict violations,” while placing heavy burdens on plaintiffs in future cases (Anderson & Byrne, 2004).

The Court took up another issue arising out of the Detroit litigation and sought to ease the impact of denying interdistrict desegregation and in Milliken II the Court ordered the state of Michigan, along with the Detroit school system, to finance a plan to address the educational deficits faced by African American children. These deficits, the Court suggested, arose out of enforced segregation and could not be cured by physical desegregation alone. After Milliken, private civil rights lawyers continued to pursue metropolitan school initiatives in a few areas, winning victories in Wilmington (Delaware), Indianapolis, Louisville and St. Louis, but the federal government did not assist and, in some cases, resisted these efforts.

The justice Department’s Civil Rights Division actively sought to dismantle and dissolve both voluntary and mandatory school desegregation plans under the leadership of William Bradford Reynolds and it opposed any remedy that specifically required desegregation and refused to support any funding for voluntary plans (Elmore, 1990)..Milliken set the pattern for a number of court-ordered and voluntary plans that followed in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana and Arkansas, among other places. The concept of requiring states to provide resources for improving education as a remedy to segregation was further expanded in the Supreme Court’s and Missouri V. Jenkins, which permitted courts to order school authorities to increase spending on education remedies even when voters rejected referenda raising taxes.

But it is not only the law of the land; school integration has also shown positive benefits, there is striking evidence of progress in the performance of black children over the years found in the scores of 13- and 17-year-olds on reading tests conducted by the widely respected National Assessment of Educational Progress,” indicating a reduction in the gap between black and white students over the past 20 years of roughly 50 percent;

the scores of black and Latino students from 1970 to 1990 increased by about two-thirds more than predicted. Earlier education researchers reviewed a number of studies looking at the link between desegregation and achievement and found that where desegregation begun early, it often resulted in educational gains for African American children. These conclusions are bolstered by the National Assessment for Educational (Lewin, 1990).

Progress, a large-scale study for the Department of Education that showed major gains for minority children in the South during the 1970s when desegregation occurred on a large scale.  More recently the high school completion and college graduation rates for African Americans 25 years old or older improved significantly to an all-time scoring a high of 79% and 17%, respectively, according to 2000 Current Population Survey data from the Census Bureau.

Yet these figures continue to lag behind those of whites 25 and older, with an 88% high school completion rate and 28% college graduation rate in 2000. Moreover, a 1998 study from the Southern Education Foundation found that in the 19 states that were required to desegregate their colleges and universities as a result of a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, only 12% of the African Americans entering public institutions enrolled in traditionally white schools (Lewin, 1990).. The vast majority of African American in these 19 states attended historically black colleges, universities, and community colleges.The ‘second generation’ of school desegregation plans as Gary Orfield puts it seeks to address these and other issues. These plans continue to call for desegregation, including mixing mandatory and voluntary plans, magnet schools, and “controlled” choice such as when a student’s choice of schools is consistent with desegregation goals.  But they also include educational improvements such as pre-school programs, early grade reading programs, reduced class sizes, and counseling.

The tools for this new generation of plans are likely to be complex and require careful management by desegregation advocates in assessing their impact on long-term goals (Areen & Jencks, 1971). Continuing challenges to equal education opportunity also include disproportionate assignment of minority students to special education programs, while white students are disproportionately assigned to gifted and talented programs.

Disparities in the rates and severity of discipline imposed on minority as compared to white students also remain a matter of concern, as does the use of tests for making high-stakes decisions about students’ educational opportunities when such tests adversely affect minority students and are not shown to be required by educational necessity (Fullan, 1991).

As relates to bilingual, In U.S. v. Texas (San Felipe Del Rio), the federal government sought to desegregate two contiguous school districts, one predominantly white and the other overwhelmingly Latino. In ordering the consolidation of the two districts, the district judge found that English language and cultural barriers precluded the successful integration of Latino students and that addressing the language limitations of both Anglo and Latino students was therefore an appropriate desegregation device. He ordered bilingual education for all students in the newly consolidated district.

The students were enhanced by the Supreme Court’s ring which involved a class-action suit brought by non-English-speaking Chinese students living in San Francisco, who alleged a violation of the Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which prohibits federally funded programs, such as schools, from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin, because only 1,700 of about 35,000 Chinese students in need of special English instruction were actually receiving it.

The b Court ruled, Basic English skills are the very core of what these public schools teach. Imposition of a requirement that, before a child can effectively participate in the educational program, he must already have acquired those basic skills is to make a mockery of public education (Lisherman, 1989). We know that those who do not understand English are certain to find their classroom experiences wholly incomprehensible and in no way meaningful. The decision thus made clear that school districts are required to provide assistance to LEP (limited-English-proficient) students that ensure that they receive the same opportunities as fluent English students. Schools must thus do more than simply provide English-only instruction;

they must provide LEP students with the skills necessary to compete academically with their peers who are fluent in English. But with continuing immigration especially from Spanish-speaking and Asian countries, the issue of equal educational opportunity for non-English-speaking students remains increasingly central, where Latinos are currently far less likely than African Americans and whites to complete high school and college, as only 57% of Latinos 25 and older had graduated from high school by 2000; only 11% had undergraduate degrees.

Moreover, while more than one-third of Latinos are under 18 years of age, Latino children are underrepresented in Head Start, early childhood development programs, after-school programs, and advanced classes (Johnson, 1990). Initiatives to cut back on bilingual education such as that passed in California eliminating bilingual education in public schools will only further limit educational opportunities for students with limited English proficiency.


In approaching this problem, we must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. It is only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws. Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.

Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship; it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.

It is therefore doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education (Harwell, 1997). Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms and when it comes to the question presented, does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? I believe that it does.

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system (Hulsey, 1993).

Re-argument largely devoted to the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 which covered exhaustively consideration of the Amendment in Congress, ratification by the states, then-existing practices in racial segregation, and the views of proponents and opponents of the Amendment. This discussion and our own investigation convince us that, although these sources cast some light, it is not enough to resolve the problem with which we are faced. At best, they are inconclusive.

The most avid proponents of the post-War Amendments undoubtedly intended them to remove all legal distinctions among “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” Their opponents, just as certainly, were antagonistic to both the letter and the spirit of the Amendments and wished them to have the most limited effect. What others in Congress and the state legislatures had in mind cannot be determined with any degree of certainty (Johanek, 1992).

In addition, the reason for the inconclusive nature of the Amendment’s history with respect to segregated schools is the status of public education at that time. In the South, the movement toward free common schools, supported by general taxation, had not yet taken hold Education of white children was largely in the hands of private groups. Education of Negroes and other African American was almost nonexistent, and practically the entire race was illiterate, in fact, any education of Negroes was forbidden by law in some states.

In contrast, today many Negroes have achieved outstanding success in the arts and sciences, as well as in the business and professional world. It is true that public school education at the time of the Amendment had advanced further in the North, but the effect of the Amendment on Northern States was generally ignored in the congressional debates.

Even in the North, the conditions of public education did not approximate those existing today. The curriculum was usually rudimentary; unaided schools were common in rural areas; the school term was but three months a year in many states, and compulsory school attendance was virtually unknown (Johanek, 1992). As a consequence, it is not surprising that there should be so little in the history of the Fourteenth Amendment relating to its intended effect on public education.


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