Segregated Schools in the South


Figure 1.--These black children in New Orleans attend a segregated schools. This was the situation throughout the South. This photograph was taken in 1954, the same year the Supreme Court ruled segregated school systems unconstitutional.

In the South there was a very limited public school system before the Civil War. As public school systems were established following the Civil War, black children were at first excluded. Eventually separate schools were established for the black children. Separate schools were but one aspect of the segregation system established in the Southern states. Segregation did not only involve separating black children, but they were the primary target. Nor did segration only occur in the South, although this is wear the vast majority of segregated schools existed. These schools were poorly funded and the facilities and equipment were far below the standards of the white schools. There were cost associated with running two school systems. White children were often bussed. Black children normally had to walk. Thevbuildings were inferior. Commonly the black children got used books that had first been used in the white schools. There were variations from state to state. North Carolina and Florida actually seggregated school books. Florida schools had separate depositories for white and black school books. After World War II, several southern states began improving the black schools, realizing that they were vulnerable to legal challenge because they were so obviously inferior. One important aspect of southern schools was not just that the black schools were inferior to the white schools, but the white schools were inferior to schools in other parts of the country.

Antebellum Southern Schools

In the South there was a very limited public school system before the Civil War. Thus many white children received no formal education. There were some private schools for the better off. Wealthy people hired tutors. Black children with only rare exceptions received no education. Each of the slave states had laws making it a criminal offence to teach blacks to read.

Reconstruction

The Federal Government through Reconstruction attempted to establish the civil rights of the newly freed slaves. The cornerstone of this effort was the 14th Amendment which guaranteed equal protection under the law. Very few black children in the Southern states received any education at all until schools were established during Reconstruction. The first schools were not state schools, but schools funded by the Freedman's Bureau or chartitable fgroups in the North.

Public Schools Established

As public school systems were established following the Civil War, black children were at first excluded. Eventually separate schools were established for the black children. Separate schools were but one aspect of the segregation system established in the Southern states. Segregation did not only involve separating black children, but they were the primary target. Nor did segration only occur in the South, although this is wear the vast majority of segregated schools existed. Southern state legistatures gradually passed Jim Crow laws which were clearly discriminatory.

Separate Systems

Public schools in the South from the outset were segregayed. This was a decesion that for the most part was taken without a great deal of thought or much debate. State leguslatures simoly thought it was the natural order. Few would have thought it a decesion that needed yo be justified. Public schools at the time were a novelty at the time. This was especially the case for black children who for the most part were grateful toi gave any form of education offered. Some may have preferred separate schools to avoid taunts and attacks from white children. There were several reasons for creating separate schools. Most were rationalizations for what was being done. Whatever the reasons, by separating the children, Southern legislatures could provide a different education to black and white children. And many whites did not want to see black children educated, realizing that an educated black population would be more difficult to control and make them disatified with field labor and domestic service. It was not possible to totally deny schools to black children. It was possible to sevrely limit funding to the separate black schools. Funding was severely restricted. As a result, black schools had often inadequate even ramschackled buldings. There was a different pay scake fir black teachers. Other inadequacies included text book, teaching aides. All of this maked the black schools and the children themnselves with a stigma of inferiority and second-class citizenship.

Plessy vs. Ferguson (1898)

It was thus inevitable that discriminatory state laws would be challenged in the Federal courts. Homer Plessy boarded a car of the East Louisiana Railroad that was designated for whites only (1892). Plessy was one-eighth black and seven-eighths white, but under Louisiana state law he was classified as an African-American, and thus required to used the designated colored car. Plessy refused to leave the white car and was arrested. His case eventually reached the U,S. Supreme Court as Plessy vs. Fergusson (1898). The landmark Supreme Court decision strongly countenced segreagation and the overall system of racial aparthaid. The system enforced by law and the lynch rope ruled the American South until well after World War II (1939-45). Plessy established the legal doctine of "separate but equal". This was the only legal way of supportinmg segregation because the 14th Amendment had guaranteed "equal protection" under the law" for all Americans. The court vote was definitive-- 7 to 1. Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote the majority opinion. Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote the lone discenting opinion. The Plessy case concerned public transport, but was the basis for other civic services, including public education. The system of segregated public schools had developed in the South after the Civil War. The Plessy decession simply validated the system that had developed. This primarily concerned the South, but there were segregated schools in other parts of the country as well.

Facilities

These schools were poorly funded and the facilities and equipment were far below the standards of the white schools. The school buildings for black children were inferior. Some were little more than shaccks. Commonly the black children got used books that had first been used in the white schools. There were variations from state to state. North Carolina and Florida actually seggregated school books. Florida schools had separate depositories for white and black school books.

Costs

There were cost associated with running two school systems.

Bussing

White children were often bussed. This was necesary because building separate scjhools for blacks and whites meantt that some white children lived closer to the black schools. These children were bussed to the cloest white school. It od course meant tht that some black children lived closer ton a white school. They generally were not provided bus transport. Black children normally had to walk.

Compulsory Attendance Laws


Improvements

After World War II, several southern states began improving the black schools, realizing that they were vulnerable to legal challenge because they were so obviously inferior. The Plessy doctrine was "separate but equal". If it could be demonstated that the black schools were inferior than the states could be found to have violated the Supreme Court finding.

Quality

One important aspect of southern schools was not just that the black schools were inferior to the white schools, but the white schools were inferior to schools in other parts of the country.

Brown vs. Topeka (1954)

he landmark Supreme Court decission that turned the tide in the Civil Rights struggle was Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka (May 17, 1954). The Court declared segregated education contrary a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and thus, unconstitutional. Several similar cases were united for consideration by the court. The best known is the Brown case which concerned Linda Brown, a little Black girl in Topeka, Kansas. There were also cases from the South, including one from South Carolina. The state of South Carolina realising that the Seoarate but Equal doctrine could be challenged by the obvioius inequality of Black and White schools, had embarked on a major building ptogram to construct Black schools. Thurgood Marshall decided to persue the principle that separate schools were inherently unequal. Chief Justice Earl Warren carefully guided the Court so that a unanimous verdictv was reached. President Eisenhower who had earlier opposed deseggregation of the military was to later say that his appointment of Warren was the biggest mistake he made as president.







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Created: 1:05 AM 5/10/2006
Last updated: 8:44 PM 4/4/2008