With Scant Oversight, Schools in the South Are Becoming Segregated Once Again

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Vivian Malone Jones registered for classes at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. Then-Governor George Wallace, flanked by state troopers, physically blocked her entrance until federal marshals intervened. Years later, Jones' future brother-in-law, Eric Holder, would become Attorney General of the United States. (Image: Library of Congress)

Vivian Malone Jones registering for classes at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. Then-Governor George Wallace, flanked by state troopers, physically blocked her entrance until federal marshals intervened. Years later, Jones' future brother-in-law, Eric Holder, would become Attorney General of the United States. (Image: Library of Congress)

The desegregation of America’s schools was one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement.

But getting there was a wrenching process that threatened to tear apart the very fabric of our society. In the South, the first African-American kids to attend what had previously been all-white schools were greeted with rioters and death threats. Federal troops were required to assure their safety.

Desegregation’s impact is still felt in our politics; whites’ hostility toward the process was a driving force behind Nixon’s “Southern Strategy,” fueling the kind of dog-whistle politics that remain a defining feature of our political culture.

Now, a new report by Nikole Hannah-Jones for ProPublica shows that with minimal judicial oversight, Southern schools are once again becoming divided by ethnicity. Hannah-Jones writes:

For decades, federal desegregation orders were the potent tool that broke the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.

Federal judges, often facing down death threats and violence, blanketed Southern states with hundreds of court orders that set out specific plans and timetables to ensure the elimination of racial segregation. Federal agencies then aggressively used the authority of the courts to monitor hostile school systems, wielding the power of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to strip federal dollars from districts that refused to desegregate.

The pace of the change wrought by the federal courts was breathtaking. In 1963, about 1 percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade — fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools. Court orders proved most successful in the South, but were also used in an attempt to combat de facto segregation in schools across the country, from New York to Michigan to Arizona.

Today, this once-powerful force is in considerable disarray.

A ProPublica examination shows that officials in scores of school districts do not know the status of their desegregation orders, have never read them, or erroneously believe that orders have been ended. In many cases, orders have gone unmonitored, sometimes for decades, by the federal agencies charged with enforcing them.

Read the entire report at ProPublica.

And for an on-the-ground perspective of what school re-segregation looks like, see Nikole Hannah-Jones’ excellent piece in The Atlantic looking at the process in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

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  • Robert Meyers

    you can take the cracker out of the bigot but not the bigot out of the cracker. The South is a cesspool.

  • Anonymous

    I really would like to know what Nazi-like system is being used to racially classify school children in America.

    Is President Obama black (like his father) or white (like his mother)? Is Tiger Woods black (like his father) or Asian (like his mother)? How about Tiger Woods kids? Are they white (like maternal grand parents), Asian or Black? Is the government going to measure facial features and skin color or do DNA analysis?

    In a diverse, multicultural, multi-ethnic society like ours, the mere fact of classifying citizens, specially children, into fixed racial groups, black, white, Asian, latino is distasteful and hurtful.

    Furthermore, this article fails to note that, the perceived “resegregation” of these cities has often been done at the insistence of black mayors and majority black city/county government, and at the insistence of black residents. The practice of bussing white kids to attend schools 45min-1hr away from their neighborhoods, was causing white flight that was destabilizing these municipalities.

    Race should never, ever come into play as to where a child goes to school. A child or parent should never, ever be asked to racially classify. Kids are kids, they should go to their closest local school, and fir districts that are failing, a voucher should be given to the family to send the child to the school of their choice.


  • Anonymous

    List of top ten most segregated cities in the U.S., from a 2011 Salon article

    1 – Milwaukee
    2 – New York
    3 – Chicago
    4 – Detroit
    5 – Cleveland
    6 – Buffalo
    7 – St Louis
    8 – Cincinnati
    9 – Philadelphia
    10 – Los Angeles

    Class exercise for extra credit: How many of the most segregated cities are in the “South”?

  • Invasive Evasion

    Class exercise: How many republicans in these cities would like to legally mandate segregation, and how many democrats would like to legally require integration.

    Class exercise for extra credit: How much of this segregation, while being voluntary in a legal sense, is involuntary and due to economic policies advocated by the right?

  • Anonymous

    (I see you couldn’t bear to answer the questions I posed, so you tried a diversionary – and uninspiring set of questions of your own – but I’ll bite)

    Answer to your first question: Zero. Because a) there are very few Republicans in those cities, b) even fewer Republicans with kids in those cities, c) the remaining ones already checked out and send their kids to private school. So they only want their tax dollars to be used some what less wastefully – segregation/desegregation is not part of their interest.

    Answer to your second question: Is self evident. You don’t see ANY heavily republican municipal areas (mostly suburbs, rural districts) listed above as the most segregated places, do you? As in Republican municipalities are not the most segregated. The single party Democratic areas are.

  • Invasive Evasion

    So instead of segregation and racism being a problem, it’s the identification of race (for the purposes of eliminating segregation and racism) which is the problem. In making this argument, you can defend racism while superficially seeming to oppose it. As a manipulation technique, it’s pretty good.

    Of course the gaping hole in this argument is that racists will not stop being racists if proponents of racial equality pretend to not notice. This is like arguing that the solution to murder is to stop noticing when people are dead. It is the “Nazi” coroner who examined the dead body who is the problem, not the murderer! If we only stopped discriminating against the animate-challenged by refusing to acknowledge that they stopped breathing, they would magically come back to life.

    Arguing that discrimination is not discrimination, only NOTICING discrimination is discrimination, is absurd.

  • Anonymous

    If you are white and you marry a black person, and you have a daughter what race will you put in the school enrollment form?

    When your daughter is 17 and applies for college, will she be forced to choose either the race of the father or the race of the mother?

    When she applies for a job, will she again have to choose?

    Race classification is barbaric. And we don’t need it. We need to make sure there is no economic/wealth discrimination.

    Obama’s daughters will never be discriminated against for college application or job. Meanwhile a poor white girl may be.

    We have a good proxy for disadvantage minority students – it is called family income and census tract/zip code – lets use that.

    It is barbaric to racially classify American children as a routine step for school admission. Completely barbaric. Regardless of motive. Only people who think that blacks and whites or Mexicans and Asian never intermarry, date, have children can think of rigid racial classifications.

  • Invasive Evasion

    Repeatedly presenting the same fallacy does not make it any less invalid. Racists have no problem identifying race, or discriminating against others because of race. If you force proponents of racial equality to ignore race, then the only people left acting on race are the racists who will be free to discriminate with no restrictions.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not forcing anyone to do anything. I’m expressing my simple opinion that classifying children by a single race or ethnicity , when virtually no one in America is a single race or ethnicity is aberrant.

    And I’m asking a simple, but important question. If you and the authors have your way, and we need to determine the race or ethnicity of a child, what method will be used to determine the race or ethnicity of say Tiger Woods kids.

    Is it a skin tone measurement? Nose measurement? Skull measurement? DNA mapping? Government kept lineage documentation? Forcing a mixed couple or mixed race child to choose a race? What?

  • Invasive Evasion

    And once again, you repeat the same fallacy. As long as racists exist, and use race (whether accurately identified or not) as the basis for discrimination, then proponents of racial equality must also identify race.

    What you’re trying to do is label defenders of racial equality as racist or “barbaric” for noticing race, and use that as an excuse to give racists the unrestricted ability to discriminate. You’re disguising a defense of racism inside an argument which on the surface appears to be opposing racism.

    Instead of criticizing those who are working for equality, you should try criticizing those who use race to discriminate. Ask racists how they make racial determinations, and how valid those classifications are. Once you have successfully convinced racists to drop their classifications, THEN we can talk about having the evil government stop collecting data on race and equality.

  • Anonymous

    Lets agree to disagree please – lets give others a chance to voice their opinions.

    I asked a simple question. How do you propose to classify children in a multicultural and intermarriage America.

    Very simple. But you avoid giving us your proposal.

    If you are “white” and marry a “black” woman and have a daughter. What race should your daughter be assigned to? Who should assign it? Simple question.

    If you can’t answer that, lets just drop this aspect of the discussion. My contention is that the mere fact of forcing a child, his/her family or even a government official to choose a “race” is barbaric. If you think it isn’t tell us how and who should make the race/ethnicity determination.

    If you can’t please lets drop it.

  • Invasive Evasion

    You asked a simple question, and I provided a simple answer as to why that question has to be applied to racists BEFORE it is applied to proponents of racial equality. Since you avoid addressing this fundamental point, then by all means, we should drop it. When you say “us,” are you referring to the organization that pays you to post comments? Would you care to share who those people are?

  • Anonymous

    “If you are white and you marry a black person, and you have a daughter what race will you put in the school enrollment form?”

    Not complicated. You mark mixed race, just like on the Census form.

  • Anonymous

    The Northern cities never desegregated, so they’re not re-segregating. That Dems run some of those govs is a complete non-sequitur. Really.

  • Anonymous

    Sadly, “mixed race” choice does not appear on the Census form.

    For 2010 Census Form – Question 9 – “What is person 1’s race:” – the options for you to check are (spelling and options straight from the census form, not from me):

    1 – White

    2 – Black, African AM, or Negro.

    3 – American Indian or Alaskan Native

    4 – Asian Indian

    5 – Chinese

    6 – Filipino

    7- Japanese

    8- Korean

    9 – Vietnamese

    10 – Some Other Asian (examples listed)

    11 – Native Hawaiian

    12 – Guaanian or Chamorro

    13 – Samoan

    14 – Other Pacific Islander (examples listed)

    Below all these there is an other race option with a space for you to write in the race.

    (question 8 asks about hispanic origin)

    Furthermore, the US Federal Government has a mandated guideline for reporting race and ethnicity published by Dept of Health and Human Services and required by OMB for all race/ethnicity data. It specifically PROHIBITS a “multiracial” option.

    Search for “Revisions to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity”, if you want the details. There you will find the following:

    “When a list of races is provided to respondents, the list should not contain a “multiracial” category.”



  • Anonymous

    Sir, the opening paragraph of this article is:

    “The desegregation of America’s schools was one of the crowning achievements of the civil rights movement.”

    Key terms:


    AMERICA’S schools

    Crowning achievement

    Meaning, the desegregation of AMERICA’s schools was achieved.

    When the cities listed above are in some cases (e.g. NYC) more than 90% segregated.

    So is the articles opening paragraph false? America’s schools were never desegregated?

    Or does the article simply missed the fact that, the civil rights movement increase segregation in American schools (see list above) by causing white flight?

    Or the crowing achievement was simply to impose federal control on southern school districts with disastrous results, while ignoring even more disastrous results in northern cities which are even more segregated?



  • Anonymous

    It says “check one OR MORE boxes.” Not complicated.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I wasn’t being so literal. Desgregation was nationwide, but it wasn’t implemented uniformly everywhere.