Five communities sent school desegregation cases to the Supreme Court that came to be known collectively as Brown v. Board of Education. Their response to the Court’s decision—from steady integration of public schools to outright defiance—echoed how communities across the country faced the challenges of desegregation. Creating and sustaining equal opportunity in education remains a daily challenge in all American schools.
Clarendon County, South Carolina
In the town of Summerton, African Americans and white children finally began to attend public schools together in 1965, without incident. Today Clarendon County still has a majority black population, and most of the students in public schools are African Americans.
The public schools began integrating in 1955. In the 1970s black and Latino students staged a strike over a lack of ethnic studies in the curriculum. In 1979 Charles Scott Jr., one of the original Brown attorneys, sued to have the 1954 lawsuit reopened because patterns of segregation had reappeared. In recent years, the city has made progress towards a return to integration.
Prince Edward County, Virginia
The county’s immediate response to desegregation was “massive resistance”—the public schools closed from 1959 to 1964. Excluded from any education, the black children of the county became known as the “crippled generation.” Segregationists throughout the South sent money to support local white students in private schools. Public schools reopened to black students later in the 1960s, and white enrollment has gradually increased since then.
School desegregation began in Delaware in the fall of 1952. As a result of white flight from the city, federal courts ordered a massive busing program in 1976. The order sparked bitter opposition. The city’s white population has continued to decline, and the Latino population has grown. Today, the city has a diverse student population and a neighborhood choice plan.
In the nation’s capital, public schools complied with the Supreme Court’s decision in the fall of 1954. But racial tension and white flight to the suburbs persisted. By the 1970s more than 90 percent of the students in D.C. public schools were black. Today Washington, D.C., schools face the same challenges as other urban school systems and have considered some of the same responses—magnet schools, vouchers, and charter schools, among others.