A federal court has ruled that administrators in Cleveland, Mississippi have three weeks to execute a timeline to integrate the small Bolivar County city’s middle and high schools. They have, rather improbably, remained segregated by race since Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case that deemed racial segregation of schools unconstitutional.

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An impoverished city divided by railroad tracks, Cleveland has two established high schools—East Side High School to service the black population on the east side of the tracks and Cleveland High School to service the white population to the west. However, a federal court is now (finally) demanding that the educational barrier between races comes down.

Matthew Teague at The Guardian reports:

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A federal court ordered the Cleveland school district to consolidate its schools entirely on Friday, ruling that after so many decades of resistance, only dismantling and reforming the schools could bring the town’s two sides together.

In a 96-page opinion, the US district court for the northern district of Mississippi wrote: “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.”

(Emphasis mine.)

Head of the US justice department’s civil rights division Vanita Gupta states:

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“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...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.”

Education and civil rights advocates first attempted to integrate Cleveland’s schools in the mid-sixties, but were shut down by white protesters. Now, 51 years later, the Bolivar County board of education is deciding whether or not to appeal the federal court’s decision and maintain the status quo.


Image via the AP.