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MS Town Finally Desegregates Schools

A Mississippi town has finally decided to integrate its public school system.

Despite a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court more than six decades ago, Cleveland, a city halfway between Memphis and New Orleans, has long been divided by a railroad track that separates east from west and Black from white.

According to the LA Times, more than two-thirds of the city’s school district’s 3,700 students are Black. Half of its schools are all Black or almost so.

The majority of the city’s African American population attends D.M. Smith Middle School and East Side High School. The predominately Black schools are harbored on the city’s East Side, where most of the city’s Black population lives. On the west side of town are the white families. Students attend Margaret Green Junior High School and Cleveland High School.

As a result, a dual system has been created, which is in violation of the Constitution. In a 96-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Debra M. Brown concluded that Cleveland School District had failed to meet its obligation to desegregate. It ordered the district to merge its middle and high schools.

“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally-guaranteed right of an integrated education,” Judge Brown wrote in her opinion late Friday. “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.”

Cleveland schools have long been the subject of litigation for more than 50 years. In 1965, more than a decade after Brown vs. Board of Education, a law overriding state laws that established racially separate public schools, 131 children filed an action seeking to desegregate the city’s school system. In 1969, the chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi ordered the school district to be “permanently enjoined from discriminating on the basis of race or color.” It directed it to “take affirmative action to disestablish all school segregation and to eliminate the effects of the dual school system.”

But the school went on to adopt a dual residence practice informally, despite Black students having the right to enroll in the all-white Cleveland High. The practice served to maintain segregated schools.

The U.S. intervened in 1985, saying the district had “frustrated the implementation” of the court order and “impeded the elimination of the vestiges of the dual system of public education.”

Fast forward 30 years and now the district is finally desegregating its schools. Under the U.S. Justice Department’s plan, the district will merge the town’s middle and high schools.

The school system has three weeks to set out a timeline for desegregation.