Page images

The North Carolina Advisory Committee reported to the Commission that the State Department of Public Instruction still maintains a division of Negro education, in spite of the fact that the North Carolina General Assembly in March 1955 and July 1956 revised the State's school laws to eliminate all mention of race. The department justified this on the ground that_100

This division renders special assistance to Negro schools including evaluation and accreditation of schools, supervisory activities, preparation of curriculum materials, improvement in preparation of teachers, in cooperation with institutions of higher learning for the Negro race, and improvement in race relations.

It seems paradoxical that the State would eliminate the racial designation of schools and yet maintain a division only concerned with Negro schools.


In Oklahoma, as in Kentucky, State financial policy has forced the closing of many small substandard Negro schools and admission of their pupils to formerly white institutions. Since 1955, 186 Negro schools have been abolished, leaving only 168 in the State.101 The steady closing of segregated schools would seem to lead to an increase in the number of Negro pupils attending desegregated schools; but this does not appear to have happened. In September 1960, although seven additional Negro schools had closed, there were fewer Negro pupils in biracial schools than in the previous year. The number decreased from 10,246 in September 1959 to 9,806 in September 1960.102 The largest decrease occurred at the junior high level. It appears that a substantial number of Oklahoma Negroes, forced out of segregated schools, either drop out entirely or enroll in other Negro schools—since the State's relatively small Negro population has in fact increased.103


Only 3 of Tennessee's 141 school districts enrolling both white and Negro pupils had opened the doors of any white school to Negroes by May 1959. Two years later, 6 out of 143 biracial districts had desegregated. Only Virginia surpassed Tennessee in the number of districts desegregated by court order during 1959–61. The three school districts in Tennessee that admitted Negro pupils to formerly white schools did so by order of a Federal court, although three other districts voluntarily adopted a desegregation policy that has not yet resulted in biracial school enrollment. 104




The desegregation of one elementary school in Rutherford County in September 1959 resulted from a suit filed earlier that month by Negro dependents of U.S. Air Force personnel stationed at Sewart Air Force Base. They sought admission to county-operated John Coleman Elementary School adjacent to the Federal housing project where the plaintiffs lived. Previous requests for admission had been denied. Although white children of Air Force personnel had attended the school before 1959, Negro children had been transported 28 miles away to attend a segregated Negro school. The court ordered their admission to the school effective September 1959 and denied the defendants' request for a postponement.105 It refused to order desegregation of all the county's schools in a separate order, since all the plaintiffs by reason of their residence would attend the John Coleman school in any event.106 There were no incidents when 16 Negroes joined the 500 white pupils.

Desegregation in Knoxville was the result of a Federal court order and acceptance of a desegregation plan that duplicated Nashville's.108 Mr. Thomas N. Johnston, Superintendent of Schools of Knoxville, testified at the Commission's Williamsburg conference that according to the plan, each elementary school was rezoned without regard to race, and that after the rezoning approximately 85 Negro children, or about one-fourth of the registered Negro first-graders, were eligible to enter 14 white schools in September 1960.

He also observed that when the schools opened, 28 Negro first-graders were enrolled in 8 white schools and that a few days later a Negro entered a class for the physically handicapped in a previously all-white school.109 As a result of rezoning, 300 white students found themselves living in attendance zones of previously all-Negro schools. Under the plan they all applied for, and were granted, transfers. Requests for transfer on behalf of two white children in desegregated schools were denied on the ground that they were already enrolled in a school in which their own race predominated and therefore were not entitled to transfer.110 Two Negro first-grade pupils transferred from a desegregated to an all-Negro school during the first term. 111

The second semester of 1960–61 saw the third school district in Tennessee desegregated by Federal court order. In October 1960, pursuant to a suit filed i month earlier, a Federal court ordered the Davidson County School Board to submit a desegregation plan.112 Davidson County is a predominantly suburban area surrounding Nashville. The plan submitted was similar to the Nashville plan: a grade-a-year desegregation beginning with the first grade. The board requested delay until September 1961 in putting it into effect.

In November the court approved the plan after modifying it to require desegregation of grades 1 through 4 effective in January 1961, and one grade a year thereafter, in order to synchronize the county's plan with that of Nashville. On January 23, 1961, 41 out of about 400


eligible Negro students quietly entered the first 4 grades in 11 formerly white Davidson County schools. 114



Prior to the 1957 statute 115 requiring voter approval before a school board could initiate desegregation, over 100 school districts in Texas had begun an orderly retreat from segregated education. Most of them were in the western and central parts of the State where the Negro population is relatively small. In 1959-61 three new districts voted to admit Negro pupils to their white schools, whereas four districts voted against desegregation.

In February 1960, Andice, a rural part of Williamson County in Central Texas, voted overwhelmingly to place five Negro students in the white elementary school rather than transport them 52 miles away to an all-Negro school.17

In May 1960 voters of the Frenship rural school district (Lubbock County) approved desegregation of all schools to start in the fall. This was in response to a suit filed in January in behalf of 17 Negro children of military personnel stationed at Reese Air Base. 118 They had been excluded because of their race from the school located on the base but operated by the district.119 Prior to this action the Negro children had been required to attend a segregated school about 15 miles away.

The third Texas school system to desegregate voluntarily during 195960 was Fredericksburg (which is located in the hill country west of Austin), where voters approved 5 to i the admission of the town's only two Negro school-age children to white schools."

The outstanding school desegregation event in Texas during this period, and perhaps in the entire South, was the court-ordered desegregation of the largest segregated school system in the United States: Houston Independent School District, which has 177,000 pupils, about 25 percent of whom are Negro. 121 Desegregation came to Houston in spite of the fact that it had been rejected by the voters 2 to 1-prior voter approval had been made mandatory by a statute enacted in 1957. This measure entailed the loss of all State aid and school accreditation and imposed criminal sanctions against school trustees who desegregated without voter approval. A ruling of the State attorney general that the statute did not apply to involuntary desegregation averted these dire conse



The Houston story.—The original suit to desegregate Houston's public schools was filed in December 1956. In October 1957 the Federal district court ordered the city schools to be desegregated with all deliberate speed.123 About 2/2 years later (June 1, 1960) in response to a court order the school board filed its desegregation program, popularly called a "salt and pepper” plan since it proposed establishment of one desegre


gated elementary, junior, and senior high school. The rest of the 170 schools in the system were to remain segregated. The court rejected this as a “palpable sham and subterfuge designed only to accomplish further evasion and delay.” 124 The court ordered that starting in September 1960 every first-grade student was to be allowed to attend the school of his choice within the geographic zone of his residence, be it a former allwhite, or all-Negro school. Desegregation was ordered to progress a grade-a-year thereafter so that by 1971 all grades would be desegregated. By 1972 “any grade or class not heretofore specifically referred to (if there be such) will be desegregated in similar fashion.” Transfers at the request of the student, or pursuant to reasonable rules adopted by the board, were specifically permitted.

The effect of the order is to postpone the desegregation of the kindergarten until 1972. In fact the liberal terms of the court order granting a free choice of white or Negro schools to all students living in the attendance zone were not carried out by the board. The entire city appears to be covered by both white and Negro attendance zones so that if the plan were literally applied, each first-grade pupil should have had a choice of registering in a white or a Negro school. But the admission policies promulgated by the board to implement the court order while the case was on appeal substantially limited the number of Negro first-graders eligible to enter formerly white schools. It provided that a child who had already attended a public school could not enter first grade in another school without obtaining a transfer from the school he had attended; that all members of a single family were to attend the same school; and that no transfer would be allowed to any class that already had an enrollment of 35 children.125 Transfers were to be processed by the criteria listed in the Texas Pupil Placement Law.128 Thus the admission of a Negro first-grader to a white school would be automatically denied if he had older brothers or sisters attending a Negro school, and he would be subject to the transfer criteria if he had attended a kindergarten-all of which are to remain segregated until 1972. In August 1960 three Negro children who tried to register at white schools were rejected because they had older sisters or brothers attending a Negro school."

After the State attorney general ruled on September 6 that the fund cutoff provision of the 1957 statute was not applicable to districts ordered to desegregate by a Federal court, the board of education ordered a new registration for first-graders who wanted to apply for admission to a school of another race. According to a report of the school superintendent, some out of about 5,000 first-grade Negro students tried to register at white schools.128 Of these, il were admitted to 3 white

it schools without incident.129

At the close of the first semester in January 1961, the superintendent of schools reported that the 11 Negro students had kept pace with their


white counterparts. Their overall average was “C” which was also the average of the desegregated schools as a whole.180


[ocr errors]

Although the largest segregated school district to be desegregated by court order was in Texas, the largest number of school districts so desegregated was in Virginia where four of the seven that desegregated during this period did so under court order. Desegregation suits were pending in two of the remaining three.

“Massive resistance" to the School Segregation Cases is legally dead in Virginia,131 but its spirit lingers on. In 1959 the general assembly enacted a new program designed to limit desegregation and to permit white students to avoid attendance at schools enrolling Negroes. The spirit of the new approach was expressed by Governor J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., on January 28, 1959, in an address to the general assembly. 182

I pledged to the people of Virginia that I would resist with every source at my command that which I know to be wrong and would destroy every rational semblance of effective public education in Virginia. I have kept that pledge and you have kept it. Only those Virginians whose hearts are not in the fray give up in adversity. To be strong, a battle lost is but a challenge to redouble effort, energy, and devotion to scale the heights of worthy achievement.

One of the Virginia communities in which desegregation began in September 1959 was Charlottesville. Its school system had been under court order to desegregate since 1958,19 but after the closing of the schools for the fall semester of 1958–59, a stay was granted until September 1959 to permit the tutoring of the Negro pupils to prepare them to enter in the fall. The white students had attended private schools organized for them when the schools were closed. In the fall of 1959, 12 Negro pupils were enrolled in i elementary, and i high school with about 1,200 white pupils. Early in the school year, however, one of the Negro elementary school pupils retransferred to a Negro school at the request of her parents. 184

Mr. Fendall R. Ellis, Superintendent of Schools for Charlottesville, reported to the Commission at its Gatlinburg conference that desegregation took place without “demonstration” or “incidents.” 135 He reported further that social and athletic activities had continued at the high school, but that Negroes did not participate.186 No mention was made as to whether their nonparticipation was administratively imposed or self-imposed. It has not been reported that the Charlottesville School Board banned Negro participation in such activities, as three other Virginia school boards did after their schools were desegregated.187

« PreviousContinue »