60 Years after Brown v. Board, Segregation Lingers in Mississippi

This probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Just look around many small towns and big cities alike throughout the deep south, and you’ll find that many public schools in this part of the country are predominately one-race. This is mostly due today to housing patterns and so-called “white flight” where many white families move to majority-white towns and suburbs or enroll their children in private schools. However, one town in Mississippi is being accused by Justice Department officials of purposefully and continually operating predominantly one-race schools after all of these years. That town is Cleveland, Mississippi.

Prior to Brown v. Board, the public school district in Cleveland operated a dual school system separated by a set of railroad tracks. The railroad tracks are no longer there, but the schools east of the former tracks remain almost 100% black while the schools west of the former tracks remain predominately white. The district operates two high schools: East Side High School, which is 100% black, and Cleveland High School, which is racially integrated, with white and black students each comprising about 50% of the student body. The high schools are only about a mile apart. The Justice Department has argued to a federal judge that the operation of the two schools violates previous desegregation orders, while the school district continues to argue that Cleveland High School is the only racially integrated high school in the region, and that consolidating the two high schools, which would result in a school that would be approximately 75% black and 25% white, would lead white families to flee the area or enroll their children in private schools.

Many of the neighboring school districts have high schools with a student enrollment close to 97% African American. African Americans significantly outnumber the white families living in this part of the state. The Cleveland School District prides itself as having a racially integrated high school, and those who oppose consolidating the two high schools, which includes the school board president who is also African American, argue that consolidation will drastically increase white flight and lead to a predominantly African American high school, similar to neighboring high schools.

The federal judge has not ordered consolidation as of yet. Rather, he ordered the district to operate under an open-attendance policy, where students can attend the school of their choice regardless of attendance zones. The Justice Department and other proponents of consolidation have argued in response that many black students already have the opportunity to transfer to schools outside of their attendance zone, and while many have chosen to do so, there is not adequate capacity in the white schools to honor all transfer requests, and in addition, no white students have chosen to attend any of the black schools.

This litigation is currently ongoing, but a decision from the judge is expected later this year. You can read more about this case here.

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