More than half a century after the Supreme Court outlawed institutional segregation in public schools, a district in Mississippi will finally desegregate its classrooms following a court order on Friday.
In the Mississippi delta town of Cleveland, the nearly all-black D.M. Smith Middle School must consolidate with the traditionally white Margaret Green Junior High School. East Side High School, which has mostly black students, must also integrate with Cleveland High School, which has mostly white students.
Although there are 12,000 people who live in Cleveland, a railroad track divides the town's residents. Most of the white residents live on the west side of the track, and most of the black residents live on the east side.
"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 in a statement. "This victory creates new opportunities for the children of Cleveland to learn, play and thrive together."
Residents filed a civil rights lawsuit against the school district in 1965. Although there were numerous court orders to integrate the schools, the district never followed through.
The courts rejected two alternative plans from the Cleveland School District that would have kept the segregation intact.
"The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally-guaranteed right of an integrated education," Judge Debra Brown wrote, according to The Washington Post. "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."
Court testimony from parents and teachers in 2012 and 2015 revealed that the conditions at the mostly white schools were far superior to those at the mostly black schools.
With the new court order, the district is expected to fully integrate its schools in time for the start of the 2016-2017 school year.
Even outside of Cleveland, there's still work to be done. Economic segregation created by polarized costs of living in metropolitan neighborhoods negatively impacts students of color in particular, and further widens the achievement gap. But, as in Mississippi, efforts are underway in various cities to close the gap, integrate the classrooms, and to connect struggling schools with needed resources.
"We can break down this wall of racism that divides us and keeps us separated," Cleveland parent Edward Duvall said, according to court documents obtained by The Washington Post. "And we could create a new culture in our school system that's going to unite us and unite our whole city."
A Plus reached out to the Mississippi NAACP for a comment.
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