School segregation in the United States

Part of a series of articles on
Racial segregation
South Africa
United States

School segregation in the United States has a long history. In 1787 African Americans in Boston including Prince Hall campaigned against inequality and discrimination in the city's public schools. They petitioned the state legislature protesting that their taxes support the schooling of white students while there was no public school open to their children. In 1835 a mob attacked and destroyed Noyes Academy, an integrated school in Canaan, New Hampshire founded by abolitionists in New England. In 1849 the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were allowed under the state's constitution (Roberts v. City of Boston).[1] It began in its de jure form in the American South with the passage of Jim Crow laws in the late 19th century. It is influenced by discrimination in the northern states as well as the history of southern states as slave societies. Patterns of residential segregation and Supreme Court rulings regarding previous school desegregation efforts also have a role.

Historical segregation

Jim Crow laws formalized school segregation in the United States, 1877-1954.

The formal segregation of blacks and whites in the United States began long before the passage of Jim Crow laws following the end of the Reconstruction Era in 1877.[2] The United States Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision upheld the denial of citizenship to African Americans and found that descendants of slaves are "so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

Following the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing "equal protection under the law" was ratified in 1868 and citizenship was extended to African Americans. Congress also passed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 banning racial discrimination in public accommodations. But the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in 1883 finding that discrimination by individuals or private businesses is constitutional.

The Reconstruction Era saw efforts at integration in the South, but Jim Crow laws followed and were also assed by state legislatures in the Southwest and Midwest, segregating blacks and whites in all aspects of public life, including attendance of public schools.[3]

While African Americans faced legal segregation in civil society, Mexican Americans who lived in southwestern states often dealt with de facto segregation even where no laws explicitly barred their access to schools or other public facilities.[4] The proponents of Mexican-American segregation were often officials who worked at the state and local school level and often defended the creation and sustaining of separate "Mexican schools".[5] In other cases, the NAACP challenged segregation policies in institutions where exclusion was targeted only at African-American students and where there was an already established Mexican-American presence.[6]

The constitutionality of Jim Crow laws was upheld in the Supreme Court's decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which ruled that separate facilities for blacks and whites were permissible provided that the facilities were of equal quality.[2] The fact that separate facilities for blacks and other minorities were chronically underfunded and of lesser quality was not successfully challenged in court for decades. This decision was subsequently overturned in 1954, when the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended de jure segregation in the United States.[7] In the decade following Brown, the South resisted enforcement of the Court's decision.[7] States and school districts did little to reduce segregation, and schools remained almost completely segregated until 1968, after Congressional passage of civil rights legislation.[8] Desegregation efforts reached their peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period in which the South transitioned from complete segregation to being the nation's most integrated region.[7]

Parents of both African-American and Mexican-American students challenged school segregation in coordination with civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, ACLU, and LULAC. Both groups challenged discriminatory policies through litigation in courts, with varying success, at times challenging policies. They often had small successes.[9] For instance, the NAACP initially challenged graduate and professional school segregation because they believed that desegregation at this level would result in the least backlash and opposition by whites.[10]

Various means to desegregate schools have been tried including busing students.

Other Languages