In 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that it was not wrong for a state to use discriminatory seating practices on public transportation and that each state may require segregation on public transportation. It sustained the transportation law that ordered separate but equal transportation facilities for blacks and whites. The Supreme Court went on to make several other significant decisions sanctioning racial segregation in other circumstances and in other places. The Supreme Court subsequently ruled to authorize racially segregated schools.
Prior to the Brown decision, there were significant Supreme Court decisions in this country in the 1930’s and the 1940’s through which blacks gained important civil rights. Blacks were admitted to white Law Schools. White Primaries were outlawed. Racially restrictive covenants in real estate sales were voided.
In 1954, the renowned case, Brown v. Board of Education was decided. The Supreme Court declared segregated schools were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional. It called for the elimination of discrimination in all public schools. Because the Supreme Court focused on the race issue in public schools, so did the nation.
In 1955, Brown v. Board of Education II was decided. The court ruled that blacks need not be immediately admitted to pubic schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis, but that school boards should eliminate segregation “with all deliberate speed.” In the South, there was massive resistance to the desegregation of schools.
For the next ten years after the Brown I and II decisions the Supreme Court took an inconspicuous position. In 1965-1966 Judge John Minor Wisdom from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals made three decisions that transformed the face of school desegregation law. The three cases were Singleton v. Jackson I and II and U.S. v. Jefferson County Board of Education. The critical premise set forth in these decisions was that school boards had a positive duty to integrate, not merely to stop segregating.
U.S. v. Jefferson County Board of Education was one of the most important school desegregation decisions. It was a remedial decree which outlined in detail specifically how school districts were to equalize educational opportunity. This decision foretold of a level of judicial involvement in local education that would have been unimaginable at the time of the Brown decisions.
In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Green v. County School Board that the school board had the responsibility of affirmative action integration and that it must assume that responsibility immediately. The Court said that school boards would be judged on performance, not on promises or paper. The performance of school boards was to rely on statistical evidence.
In 1969, the issue of faculty assignments was addressed in the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Montgomery County (Alabama) Board of Education. The Court set forth a racial ratio of teachers in the school district using quantitative standards. This decision marked the first time the Supreme Court sanctioned the inclusion of affirmative numerical goals in a school desegregation remedy. It was an overdue attempt to give the lower courts and school boards positive guidance as to what faculty desegregation required.
Also in 1969, Alexander v. Holmes (Mississippi) Board of Education ordered school systems to integrate no later than February 1970. Eventually, this deadline was extended for years. In that same year the Court, in Carter v. West Feliciana Parish School Board, scolded the school board for delaying student desegregation.
In 1970, the Supreme Court decided Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (Virginia) Board of Education....