February is Black History Month! Today, we remember the landmark educational legislation that changed the course and composition of American schools. In 1954, the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education called for an end to segregation in U.S. institutions of learning. However, implementation of the law varied by geographic location across the country, and continues to be an issue even today.
Central High School; Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957
The 1957 integration events at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, are some of the most well known of the Civil Rights era. Following the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision, the Little Rock School Board agreed to proceed with desegregation of local schools, beginning with Central High School. In September 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus called in the Arkansas National Guard; ostensibly to maintain peace and order. After the Arkansas Guardsmen prevented black students from entering the school, President Eisenhower got involved, sending 1000 members of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock. Nine African-American students attended Central High School that year, including Minnijean Brown, who was famously suspended after dumping a bowl of chili on the heads of white bullies. Ernest Green became the first black student to graduate from Central High School in 1958. Little Rock schools were not fully integrated across grade levels until 1972.
Read more about integration at Central High School:
Little Rock Integration Timeline
From the Central High 40th Anniversary Web site
Choices in Little Rock
From “Facing History and Ourselves,” this teaching unit challenges students to consider Central High school integration in the context of civic choices today.
Boston, Massachusetts, 1974
To rectify inequalities in predominantly white (e.g. historically Irish
South Boston) versus black (e.g. Roxbury) neighborhoods, a federal
district court judge approved a plan for busing students across the
city that would balance ratios of white to black students in Boston schools. In
September, 1974, South Boston erupted in violence as citizens hurled
stones at buses carrying African-American children, proving that
desegregation was not a contentious issue only in Southern states.Tensions in Boston did not ease until 1977.
Read more about the Boston Bus Riots:
Eyes on the Prize
The PBS companion Web site to the award-winning “Eyes on the Prize”
Civil Rights documentary provides a summary of the busing riots in
All Souls: A Family Story from Southie
Michael Patrick MacDonald, a young South Boston resident at the time of
the 1974 busing riots, recounts the events in his memoir, published in
1999. USA Today and the Harvard Gazette both featured the book.
“Meredith vs. Jefferson County Board of Education”
Louisville, Kentucky, 2006
“Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District #1”
Seattle, Washington, 2006
In a dramatic turn of events, the U.S. Supreme Court called for reversal of “school assignment plans” in Jefferson County,
Kentucky; and Seattle, Washington; which included racial quotas and
forced busing. Passing narrowly by a 5-4 margin in December 2006, the court stated that
racial diversity was an insufficient reason to use race as a
determining factor in student school assignments.
Read more about the Supreme Court’s Decision:
“Justices Limit the Use of Race in School Plans for Integration“
New York Times article, June 29, 2007.
“Attorney Threatens Further Legal Action over Busing Plan“
WKLY, Louisville, article; June 28, 2007.
For more on school desegregation events across the country (1950-2003), see this timeline from Detroit News:
Assignment: Research the history of school integration efforts in YOUR local community, and tell us what you find.