Cleveland, Mississippi, Schools Ordered To Desegregate After 51-Year Court Battle

The Cleveland, Mississippi, school district has been ordered to desegregate, culminating a 51-year legal battle over race and education in the community of 12,000 people.

As The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports, U.S. District Judge Debra Brown ruled Monday that school officials in Cleveland have not done a sufficient job of integrating the city’s schools, 51 years after they were first ordered to do so.

The Cleveland School District has about 3,700 students. 66 percent are black, 30 percent are white, and the remaining are Hispanic or Asian.

Almost 62 years to the day since the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling, which guaranteed children of all races the right to an integrated education, black and white students in Cleveland still attend separate schools.

At the junior high school level, D.M. Smith Middle School is “virtually” all black, while the white kids attend the “virtually” all-white Margaret Green Junior High School. At the high school level, the black kids almost all attend East Side High School, while the white kids attend the all-white Cleveland High School.

In fact, black kids in Cleveland literally live on the other side of the tracks; the train tracks running through the city literally and figuratively mark the dividing line between the black and white families in the city. Parents have long described the stigma of living on the wrong side of the tracks, and of having to attend all-black schools which are traditionally viewed as presenting fewer educational opportunities.

For decades, parents and community leaders in Cleveland have argued that the schools in the town need to consolidate. Consolidation, they say, is the only way to guarantee that kids of all races will be afforded the best educational opportunities, and will be prepared for the larger world outside of Cleveland.

“[We] can break down this wall of racism that divides us and keeps us separated, and we could create a new culture in our school system that’s going to unite us and unite our whole city.”

In her 96-page ruling, Judge Brown agreed, and ordered the school district to present a timeline for integration.

“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education. 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.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is on board with Brown’s ruling. In a statement, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, praised Brown’s decision.

“This victory creates new opportunities for the children of Cleveland to learn, play and thrive together. The court’s ruling will result in the immediate and effective desegregation of the district’s middle school and high school program for the first time in the district’s more than century-long history.”

Under the city’s proposed desegregation plan, both junior high schools and both high schools will be fully integrated, making for a mix of about 65 percent blacks and 30 percent whites at all schools.

According to a February, 2016, report in The Atlantic, not everyone in Cleveland is on board with the idea of desegregation. Jim Tims, a former school board member, said that integrating the town’s public schools will force some white families into segregated private schools, or out of Cleveland entirely.

“If they feel threatened or for some reason race bothers them, then they have an option and they’re going to leave the schools. The question is: Do you want to have ‘integration’? Or do you want to have white flight?”

Are you shocked that a Mississippi school district is still segregated 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education?

[Image via Shutterstock/catwalker]