School Desegregation Victory in Cleveland, Mississippi

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

In 2017, after years of litigation, the town of Cleveland, Mississippi, integrated its two historically-segregated public high schools, reported Edwin Rios for Mother Jones. In May 2016, a federal judge had ordered the town to merge East Side High School—which served black students, and was formerly known as Cleveland Colored Consolidated High School—with Cleveland High School, which was founded in 1906 as a “whites only” institution and had since continued to educate majority white students. As Rios reported, Cleveland Central High School now enrolls all of the town’s high school students.

The district’s desegregation in 2017 raises an important question: Given the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, how were Cleveland’s schools able to remain segregated for so long?

A judge ordered the district to desegregate in 1969—15 years after the Brown ruling—but in 2011, a Justice Department review found that the district had “failed to make good faith efforts to eliminate the vestiges of its former dual school system.” As Rios reported, according to UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, following the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the federal government began to heavily enforce school desegregation, and the South became “the least segregated in the entire country.” As court oversight of desegregation efforts dwindled, including a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s that promoted state rights over federal regulation, Southern states shifted desegregation backwards sixty years.  “The result nationwide, and especially in the South,” Rios reported, “has been massive resegregation.” (In a June 2017 report for Mother Jones, Rios documented how communities across the US have sought to split existing school districts, ostensibly to exert more direct control over how their children are educated, but with the consequence of worsening “racial and socioeconomic segregation.”)

Corporate coverage of this story was minimal. Only CNN reported on the desegregation of Cleveland’s school system. Interestingly enough, a major portion of the CNN report focused on those who opposed the desegregation of the two schools, such as Jamie Jacks, the school district’s attorney. Jacks believed that the school system had already made great strides in desegregation, despite the federal court ruling in 2011. Mother Jones provided a more comprehensive take, deconstructing the complex narrative driving the integration of the two schools. CNN argued that many of the black students wanted to remain segregated, while many white students wanted to bring the schools together. By contrast, Mother Jones reported that most students sought desegregation. The CNN report also glossed the long-standing legal battles that led to the schools’ integration.

Source: Edwin Rios, “A Mississippi Town Finally Desegregated Its Schools, 60 Years Late,” Mother Jones, November/December 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/a-mississippi-town-finally-desegregated-its-schools-60-years-late/#.

Student Researchers: Cayli Armstrong, Jessica Lovell, and Jenna Mola (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)