In citing one prominent example, Prince Edward County, Virginia, abandoned its entire public school system, leaving education to private interests that excluded African American children from their schools. Many African American children were essentially locked out of school for several years until the Supreme Court ruled Virginia’s action unconstitutional (Holt, 2000). Such dilatory and delaying tactics were at least halfway successful. After desegregation’s first decade, only 2. 3 percent of African American children in the Deep South attended integrated schools.
But such tactics also tried the patience of African Americans and the federal courts. It was until the Enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 in response to the nonviolent civil rights movement finally spurred action. The Fifth Circuit Court, in United States v. Jefferson County Board of Education, ordered school districts not only to end segregation but to “undo the harm” segregation had caused by racially balancing their schools under federal guidelines. This was followed the Supreme Court’s Green V.
County School Board of New Kenty County , requiring desegregation plans that promised to work right away. A strong federal commitment to enforcement of the civil rights act of 1964 proved critical. In the first five years after the Act’s passage, with the federal government threatening and sometimes using fund termination enforcement provisions such as cutting off federal funding to school districts that failed to comply with the law, more substantial progress was made toward desegregating schools than in the 10 years immediately following the Brown decision.
In 1964, 1. 2 percent of African American students in the South attended school with whites, which rose to 32 percent after four years (Harwell, 1997). According to studies, the south had become the nation’s most integrated region in 1976 45 percent of the South’s African American students were attending majority of the white schools when compared with Northeast and Midwest which had 27 and 29 percent respectively. These gains occurred in the context of the great controversy of the school desegregation effort.
However, this did not last long before the controversy the in the Court’s decision in 1971 Swann V. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, one of the first attempts to implement a large-scale urban desegregation plan, when Swann called for district-wide desegregation and allowed the use of busing to achieve integration, finding that the times and distances involved in the desegregation plan were no more onerous than those involved in the busing already undertaken by Charlotte for non-desegregation purposes.
Court-ordered busing, as it came to be known, was fiercely attacked, not least by the administration of President Richard Nixon, but Busing was even criticized as undermining the sanctity of neighborhood schools, as a social engineering, as impractical and unworkable, and as intrusive and inappropriate judicial meddling. While busing drew a great deal of public attention, critics largely overlooked the facts that few students were bused for the purpose of desegregation and, it indeed worked especially in the South where school districts are often countywide and include both central cities and suburbs (Harwell, 1997).
In fear of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s independent presidential election campaign, the then president Nixon, mounted an attack on busing and asked Congress to ban it immediately, even though his efforts failed, the drive for desegregation slowed. The Supreme court, in Milliken V. Bradley, case involving the Detroit metropolitan area, effectively halted busing at a city’s borders.
The Court’s 5-4 decision blocked a city-suburb desegregation plan in Detroit that would have involved busing across school district boundaries and ignoring the evidence of state governments’ past and continuing involvement in housing and school segregation, the Court said that “local control” was an important tradition in education. The decision allowed for proof of “interdistrict violations,” while placing heavy burdens on plaintiffs in future cases (Anderson ; Byrne, 2004).
The Court took up another issue arising out of the Detroit litigation and sought to ease the impact of denying interdistrict desegregation and in Milliken II the Court ordered the state of Michigan, along with the Detroit school system, to finance a plan to address the educational deficits faced by African American children. These deficits, the Court suggested, arose out of enforced segregation and could not be cured by physical desegregation alone.
After Milliken, private civil rights lawyers continued to pursue metropolitan school initiatives in a few areas, winning victories in Wilmington (Delaware), Indianapolis, Louisville and St. Louis, but the federal government did not assist and, in some cases, resisted these efforts. The justice Department’s Civil Rights Division actively sought to dismantle and dissolve both voluntary and mandatory school desegregation plans under the leadership of William Bradford Reynolds and it opposed any remedy that specifically required desegregation and refused to support any funding for voluntary plans (Elmore, 1990)..