Black students may no longer need the National Guard to escort them past mobs of angry white people. But more than 60 years after the first Southern schools were desegregated, a small Mississippi city school district is finally being integrated with its white counterparts. A federal court ruled that the Justice Department will oversee the desegregation of schools in Cleveland, Mississippi, a community located 120 miles northwest of Jackson, officials announced Monday.
Students at a few secondary schools are still separated on the basis of race, in a city of over 12,300 residents with an almost even black-white split. According to 2010 census data, 50.2% of residents were black or African-American, 47.5% were white, 1% were Asian, and 1.5% were Hispanic or Latino in 2010.
But at least two city schools have remained historically white and two others have been almost entirely black, the Justice Department said, despite a decades-old Supreme Court decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case ordering the desegregation of public schools nationwide. Apparently, the Cleveland School District still needs help getting there 62 years later.
"Six decades after the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education declared that 'separate but equal has no place' in public schools, this decision serves as a reminder to districts that delaying desegregation obligations is both unacceptable and unconstitutional," said Vanita Gupta, the deputy assistant attorney general at the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
In its statement, the Justice Department listed four schools that will be affected: the predominantly black D.M. Smith Middle School, which will mix with Margaret Green Junior High School; and the predominantly black East Side High School, which will integrate with Cleveland High School. Evidence has shown that de facto segregation in public education establishes systemic disparities between black and white students.
"The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education," states the court's 96-page order, released late Friday. "Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the [d]istrict to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden."
Need a little refresher on the issue of school integration in America? Here's a clip about the desegregation of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957: