Progress and Challenges in School Desegregation

What Year Did School Desegregation Start?

After the 1954 Brown decision, many Whites reacted with horror to the Supreme Court’s efforts at school desegregation. They enrolled their children in private academies and withdrew them from public schools.

The desegregation movement accelerated after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave federal courts power to enforce desegregation laws. However, despite the progress made, the movement faced enormous challenges.


The Supreme Court decides in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. The case, filed by Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that sanctioned Jim Crow laws requiring Blacks to ride in separate buses, schools and other public facilities.

In response to Brown, white segregationists launched a campaign of “massive resistance.” They enacted state laws to block school integration and manipulated housing assignments to delay it.


A federal court ruling ends the segregation of inter-state trains and passenger buses. The court ruled that seating inter-state travelers in separate waiting rooms violated the Constitution.

Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old student at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Va., leads a boycott of her school’s segregation. The University of Alabama admits African American student Autherine Lucy. A mob of white students riots.


After Brown, the NAACP shifted its strategy to a direct assault on public-school segregation. The Supreme Court ordered schools to desegregate with “all deliberate speed.”

In Nashville, moderate citizens of both races urged the school board to follow the order. But the local leadership was determined to defy the courts and the Constitution. And that’s when things really got ugly. CHAKRABARTI: That fall, twelve black students enrolled at Clinton High School.


Nine Black students enrolled in the previously all-White Little Rock Central High School. Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called in the National Guard to block their entry into the school, provoking a national outcry that led President Eisenhower to send federal troops to protect them.

Desegregation of schools across the country peaks. White segregationists tried everything to stop it, including suing school districts and closing their public schools.


In a 1955 ruling known as Brown II, the Supreme Court ordered federal judges to implement school desegregation “with all deliberate speed.” In the South, this was a very difficult thing to do.

On November 14, 1960, a six-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges walked into William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. She was escorted to class by federal marshals and faced throngs of white protesters shouting racial epithets and threats.


Nine black students are allowed to enroll at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The federal government sends paratroopers to protect them from white mobs.

Several Black college students sit down at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro and refuse to leave. The protests spread nationwide. In 1961 the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of interstate travel facilities was unconstitutional.


Following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, many Southern states used defiance, legal challenges, and delayed compliance to avoid desegregation. This resistance peaked in 1960.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows the Justice Department to file school desegregation cases. It also prohibits discrimination in programs that receive federal financial assistance. The Civil Rights Movement continues.


The summer of 1963 marked a turning point in the civil rights movement. Governor George Wallace vowed upon his inauguration to defend “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.”

In April of that year King and the SCLC launched a nationwide campaign of sit-ins and freedom rides. This direct action challenged the system of racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Its resistance was a crucial test of the movement’s calls for nonviolence.


Following the Brown decision, civil rights activists staged a series of coordinated demonstrations. Many of these were nonviolent but all encountered resistance.

President Kennedy stepped in to make civil rights legislation a top priority. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 hastened the end of legal segregation and paved the way for follow-up laws on voting rights, housing and employment. It remains a benchmark civil rights law.


The Civil Rights Act is passed, requiring desegregation of all public facilities receiving federal financial assistance. The act also prohibits racial discrimination in employment and voting.

Civil rights leaders such as Alexander and Moore exemplified different phases of the movement’s struggle to desegregate Girard College. Alexander favored legal remedies, while Moore brought the battle to the streets. Both were essential to the success of the civil rights movement.

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