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13.3 Breaking down Segregation

Through it has been a difficult task to break down segregation, in the early stages progress was made through presidential actions and court decisions. Although segregation codified by law no longer exists, de facto segregation based on income and housing patterns persists.

13.3a Executive actions

After World War II, considerable progress was made when President Harry Truman ordered the end of discrimination in federal employment and the abolition of segregation in the armed forces. This led to the disbanding of segregated units in the U.S. Army within three years. During the Korean War, blacks and whites fought side by side, for the first time.

However, difficulties cropped up when Truman tried to push his civil rights program through the Congress, as the southern Democrats were against a federal anti-lynching law, the outlawing of poll taxes, and the creation of a civil rights commission. It was observed that the courts were more interested in these matters.

13.3b Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka

In 1952, the Supreme Court agreed to consider five cases involving elementary and secondary schools. These cases challenged the separate but equal doctrine. For two years, the court dealt with the constitutionality of statutes in Kansas, South Carolina Virginia and Delaware, permitting or requiring the maintenance of separate elementary and high schools for Negro and white students. In the case of Brown versus Board of Education and in 1954, in a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Warren, the courts stated that the considerations that led to the rejection of separate schools at graduate and professional levels "apply with added force to children in grade and high school. To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race, generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone…" It was concluded that "in the field of public education the doctrine of ’separate but equal’ has no place."

The Supreme Court was aware that its decisions conflicted with long established southern customs. It thus postponed any final decree for a year, being aware of the formidable problems involved. The Supreme Court then directed local school authorities to proceed "with all deliberate speed" to make a prompt and reasonable start toward the admission of Negroes to public schools on a non-discriminatory basis. However, the court permitted the local officials to take time to make the necessary administrative adjustments. Moreover, while the courts ordered desegregation, integration was not mentioned at all. While desegregation refers to eliminating laws that demand segregation, integration implies taking definite measures to balance ratios of the students of different races. The supervision of the implementation of desegregation by local school authorities was left to the federal district judges. After its rulings in the Brown case, law after law requiring racial segregation was struck down by the Supreme Court.

13.3c Issues in School Desegregation

Though the Supreme Court declared racial segregation in the public schools as unconstitutional, some school officials in the South attempted to avoid desegregation orders by various methods. Pupils were assigned to segregated schools for reasons other than race. Schools to which Negroes were assigned were closed down under the pretext of violence as justification for delaying action. ’De facto’ segregation arose in the North, owing to racial segregation in housing. Thus black children were often crowded into schools with very few resources. In the early 1970s busing and racial quotas were applied to districts that had practiced legal segregation. The African American started filing lawsuits to show examples of discrimination against them. In the North and South, there were strong protests against busing, which led to white flight; white students began to leave public schools for private schools.


13.0 - Introduction
13.1 Slavery and Civil Rights
13.2 Segregation in the United States
13.3 Breaking down Segregation
13.4 The Civil Rights Movement
13.5 Civil Rights for Minorities and Women
13.6 Affirmative Action

Chapter 14

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