One Justice For All

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.”
It is the fall of 1950. Harry S. Truman is the President of the United States of
America. The “I Love Lucy Show,” starring Lucille Ball, enters its first television
season. As the world revolves around them, two young girls are winding down from
summer vacation and preparing for the arrival of school. Tina and Lynn have lived in the
same neighborhood all of their lives. They both love to roller-skate down the street,
shrieking with laughter. They like to collect shiny marbles and trade secrets while they
play jacks. Tina and Lynn are the best of friends, oblivious to the fact that each is of a
different skin color. As the morning approaches, the girls giggle together while skipping
down the street for the path that leads to school. At the stop sign, Tina and Lynn wave
good-bye as they head in opposite directions. In the yes of society, it is permissible for
Tina and Lynn to be friends in the streets, but not in the classroom. Education is not only
the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, and habits, it enables one to form values,
opinions, and attitudes. What is learned in the home and reinforced in the school, is what
becomes the product of society. Every human being is created in God’s image and,
therefore, should be equal. Man has a differing viewpoint. Man discriminates against his
brother for religion, sex, weight, and economic status, but most notably for race. There
have been many important Supreme Court decisions made, but one that changed the
course of history forever was Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954. This ended
segregation in all public schools. Not only was this a triumph for the Black race, but in
During the Civil War, the basis was created in cities around the country for a
public school system that would benefit both blacks and whites. A school for slave
refugees was founded during the war in Washington, D.C. W.E.B. DuBois, the famed
Black historian, wrote, “There is no doubt that the thirst of the Black man for knowledge-
A thirst which has been too persistent and durable to be mere curiosity or whim – gave
birth to the public free school system of the South” (Ratvich 13). In the post slavery
period, no goal, other than survival, was more important to the former slaves than that of
The most critical court case affecting blacks at the end of the 19th century was
Plessy vs. Ferguson. In 1890, the state of Louisiana passed a law “requiring railway
companies carrying passengers in their coaches, to provide equal, but separate
accommodations for the white and colored races” (Ratvich 16). Plessy, who was 1/8
black, refused to sit in the back section of a railroad car and was convicted of violating
the law. He appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which issued its ruling in 1896. In
an 8-1 decision, the court ruled that “legal segregation, as expressed in the doctrine of
‘separate but equal,’ could be legally practiced” (18).

This decision, which was reached by the majority of justices, was partially based
on an earlier case that had involved public school segregation. In 1850, in the case of
Roberts vs. City of Boston, the Supreme Court Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that
the Boston school committee could prohibit black children from attending white schools
by establishing separate, though not necessarily equal schools for blacks (23).

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In the 1920s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
(NAACP), developed a strategy to end school segregation. Their “dream team consisted
of Thurgood Marshall (who was later to become the first black Supreme Court Justice),
Charles Houston, William Hastie, James Nabrit, and Leon Ramson. They first sought out
to challenge segregation in higher education, creating the legal precedents that would
later be used to fight the struggle for desegregation in public primary and secondary
In 1950, the Reverend Oliver Brown of Topeka, Kansas wanted to enroll his
daughter in the school nearest his home. The choices before him were the all-white four
blocks away or the black school tow miles away. Backed by the NAACP, he filed a suit
against the Topeka School Board. In the Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. the Board of
Education, Topeka, Kansas, on May 17, 1954, the unanimous decision declared:
To separate…children from others of similar age and qualification solely
because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in
the community that may affect their heart and minds in a way unlikely
ever to be undone… Whatever may have been the extent of psychological
knowledge at the time of Plessy vs. Ferguson, this finding is amply
supported by modern authority. Any language in Plessy vs. Ferguson
contrary to this finding is rejected. We conclude that in field of public
education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate
educational facilities are inherently unequal. (Kluger 544-551)
In order to maintain segregated schools in practice, southern officials, most visibly,
adopted numerous tactics to avoid implementing school integration plans. Nearly every
governor in the region went on the public record as being vehemently against
desegregation in all forms, but particularly in the public schools. It was seen as “race
mixing” and a communist plot. Many cities took different approaches to desegregating
In the late 1940s, Mansfield, Texas’ black residents lived under a tightly
structured caste system. The races were segregated in the churches, school system, and
all social activities within the town. The racial code that existed in Mansfield allowed
black and white children to play together under certain restrictions, but as the children
grew into adults, the color line became more visible.

In 1950, the Mansfield Colored School consisted of two long, shabby barracks-
style buildings, with no electricity, running water, or plumbing. Only one teacher was
hired for grades one through eight. There was very little equipment, no flagpole, no
fence around the playground, and no school bus. Black children in the ninth through
twelfth grades had no school in Mansfield. They traveled by bus to downtown Fort
Worth to attend the only two black secondary schools in the area. Even though school
dismissal was at 3:30 p.m., the bus did not leave the station until 5:30 p.m. Students that
engaged in extra-curricular activities did not arrive home until after 9:00 p.m. (Ladino 6-
After the Brown Supreme Court decision was passed down, the black subtrustees
presented a petition to the school board requesting immediate integration of the
Mansfield public schools. The school board responded in a letter to the president of the
The problem of desegregation does not rest within the jurisdiction of our
local school board. Our school system is statewide and as a board we are
obligated to perform the duties so given us by law; and as of this date the
law and out construction regarding same given to us from the state
officials, is to continue with out dual school system just as we have in the
On October 7, 1955, a class action suit was filed in the United States Federal
District Court in Fort Worth. Three students were “requesting the integration of and
admittance into Mansfield High School for themselves and also for all eligible black
students in Mansfield” (79). The case was titled Nathaniel Jackson, a minor
vs. O. C. Rawdon (the Mansfield school board president).

The plaintiffs lost the case, but made an appeal in the spring of 1956. The
United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decree ordering the desegregation
of Mansfield High school. This was the first decree in Texas history to order a local
school board and school district to integrate a secondary school in accordance with the
Supreme Court mandates of Brown I and Brown II (82).

Before the 1956-1957 school year was to begin, an effigy was hung from the
school’s flag pole. It was dressed in men’s work clothes, and stuffed with straws, the
hands and head were painted black and the body was covered with splotches of red paint.
A sign hung from the effigy threatened,”THIS WOULD BE A TERRIBLE WAY TO
DIE,” and “THIS NEGRO TRIED TO ENTER A WHITE SCHOOL.” When the
students attempted to enter the school the next day, they were met with and angry mob
chanting vicious epithets and threatening violence. Governor Allan Shivers brought in
the Texas Rangers to keep the peace, but not importantly to ensure that segregation was
Mansfield schools were not integrated until 1965, due to the federal government
threatening to end federal funds for the school district. Thirty black students were
enrolled during the first year of integration and there were no reported racially motivated
incidents inside or outside the school. Desegregation did not come at an easy price.
Mansfield High School was a precursor of what was to unfold at Central High School in
Little Rock, Arkansas is the site of one of the most significant battles for
desegregation. In September 1957, Little Rock Central High School became the focal
point of clashes between segregationists and civil rights activists. After the new school
districts were drawn up to comply with the Supreme Court’s order to desegregate the
city’s schools, nine black students, Minnie Jean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green,
Thelma Mothershed, Melba Patillo, Gloria Ray, Terrance Roberts, Jefferson Thomas, and
Carlotta Walls, affectionately known as the Little Rock Nine, were assigned to the
previously all-white Central High School. Melba Patillo Beals, says 41 years later, “I
think it made me a stronger person, really; it made me realize people are all the same, that
you should judge people by what’s in their hearts, not by the color of their skin” (Beals
Governor Orville Faubus posted the National Guard at the entrance of the school
to prevent the Little Rock Nine from entering the school on September 2, 1957. On
September 23, an uncontrollable riot had broken out and President Eisenhower was
forced to respond. He called in the 101st Airborne to restore order and to protect the
Black students. For the entire school year, the federal troops escorted the students to
class. In 1958, Governor Faubus shut down the entire public school system rather than
comply with the court’s orders. Another lawsuit was filed and the Supreme Court ruled
that the state of Arkansas must reopen its schools and become integrated (Harris 54-56).
It was one thing to demand an end to segregation, but it was another thing to
achieve it. Initially, school districts that were ordered to eliminate the dual school
systems were allowed to submit their own desegregation plans to the District Court.
There were numerous proposals, including freedom-of-choice options, majority-to-
minority transfers, the creation of magnet schools, and busing.
The basis of the freedom-of-choice plans was that students could voluntarily
integrate. This was also known as enrollment plans, theoretically allowing black students
to attend white schools on the other side of town. Minority-to-majority is similar to
freedom-of-choice. Students who were part of the majority race. These two plans
suffered from a lack of participation. The magnet schools on the other hand, had a more
successful result. The magnet schools offered advanced programs and enhanced
curriculums that were designed to attract the most intelligent of all races. Because the
academic requirements were high; there was a quota for the number of students admitted,
and added financial costs, voluntary participation was limited (Blausterin 122-129).
In December 1977, the Seattle, Washington school board voted to approve a
Comprehensive citywide student assignment plan, “designed to desegregate the city’s
112 schools over a two-year period called the Seattle Plan. Seattle set a national record.
No other major American city has voluntarily adopted a comprehensive mandatory
program of school desegregation. The Seattle school board took this unprecedented
action to avoid a threatened lawsuit and years of court (Futtrell 53).
During 1963, mostly black students chose to transfer to white schools under the
freedom-of-choice plan. In September 1972, middle schools were desegregated using
busing as a means of desegregation. The Seattle school board provided that the
desegregation plan should:
*place no greater burden on minority than majority students
*provide for desegregation within schools as well as between
*preserve and enhance schools already integrated
Because the voluntary plans were not working, mandatory plans were enacted.

The most controversial of these was busing. In 1971, the Supreme Court decision of
Swann vs. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Board of Education, it was determined that busing
could be used to help desegregate schools. The Charlotte-Meckelnburg County in North
Carolina became the first school district in the nation to undertake a court ordered plan
involving systemwide busing as a tool to help achieve racial desegregation (19).

In 1960, the Charlotte City Public Schools merged with the Mecklenburg County
Public Schools, creating a metropolitan school district that could be operated more
economically, more efficiently and with a greater educational benefit to all the students.
In 1964, six-year-old James Swann was denied admission to a predominantly white
school near his home on the campus of Johnson C. Smith University, where his father
was a theology professor. This case also was filed on the behalf of ten black families and
their 25 children and any other black children similarly affected (26-29).

The outcome of the Swann trial did not result in victory for the plaintiffs. The
federal district court ruled that the school board had “no affirmative obligation to
desegregate the schools” (32). In April 1969, a motion for further relief re-opened the
Swann case. This time the case came before a new federal judge, James McMillan, who
ruled promptly. His order required that all 105 Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools be
desegregated, that transportation be used, if necessary, to accomplish this purpose, and
that the desegregation plans begin in the fall of 1969, with completion by the fall of 1970
In the early days of desegregation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the administration
operated a rumor control center to respond to questions of citizens regarding bomb
threats, student disruptions, and rumored disruptions at the various schools. Eventually,
All of the chaos settled down, after Project Aries was created by the students, both black
and white, to”respect and appreciate each others’ cultural differences, to develop skills
that would enable them to contribute as leaders in class, and to help all others involved
to deal more sensitively and effectively with the complexities of a racially integrated
There is no greater challenge that is as daring as the preparation of the next
generation. Great progressions have been made since the first slaves attempted to learn
to read and write. The descendants of these slaves are doctors, lawyers, and teachers,
never once thought possible for the Black race. In the eyes of the Supreme Court and the
Constitution, the law of the land, no one can be denied as education on the basis of race,
religion, and nationality. In the end, segregated education and lack of the opportunity for
an equal education harm the nation as a whole. It is the best interest of the United States
to end discrimination and to unite all of its citizens, as it is the “melting pot” of the world.
Black nationalist Malcolm X spoke not only black Americans when he said: “Education
is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today,”
Bane, Mary Jo and Donald M. Levine. The “Inequality” Controversy: Schooling and
Distributive Justice. New York: Basic Books, 1975.

Beals, Melba Patillo. Warriors Don’t Cry. New York: Pocket Books, 1995.

Blaustein, Albert P. and Clarence Clyde Ferguson, Jr. Desegregation and the Law: The
Meaning and Effect of the School Segregation Cases. New Brunswick: Rutgers
Futtrell, Mary Hatwood. Three Cities That Are Making Desegregation Work.
Washington D.C.: National Education Association, 1984.

Harris, Norene, Nathaniel Jackson, and Carl E. Rydingsword. The Integration of
American Schools: Problems, Experiences, Solutions. Boston: Allyn and Bacon,
Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.

Ladino, Robyn Duff. Desegregating Texas Schools. Austin: University of Texas Press,
Ratvich, Diane. The Schools We Deserve. New York: basic Books, Inc., 1985.


Bibliography:
Works Cited
Bane, Mary Jo and Donald M. Levine. The “Inequality” Controversy: Schooling and
Distributive Justice. New York: Basic Books, 1975.


Beals, Melba Patillo. Warriors Don’t Cry. New York: Pocket Books, 1995.


Blaustein, Albert P. and Clarence Clyde Ferguson, Jr. Desegregation and the Law: The
Meaning and Effect of the School Segregation Cases. New Brunswick: Rutgers
University Press, 1957.


Futtrell, Mary Hatwood. Three Cities That Are Making Desegregation Work.
Washington D.C.: National Education Association, 1984.


Harris, Norene, Nathaniel Jackson, and Carl E. Rydingsword. The Integration of
American Schools: Problems, Experiences, Solutions. Boston: Allyn and Bacon,
Inc., 1975.


Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.


Ladino, Robyn Duff. Desegregating Texas Schools. Austin: University of Texas Press,
1996.


Ratvich, Diane. The Schools We Deserve. New York: basic Books, Inc., 1985.