The Struggle to Implement the Desegregation Decision in the South: A Special Case Study of Kemper County, Mississippi

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Cotton, Bernard
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Western Illinois University
The Supreme Court of the United States declared in Brown v. Board of Education that racially separate educational facilities were unconstitutional violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The separate-but-equal doctrine which evolved from Plessy v. Ferguson had been the law of the land for sixty-eight years when the Brown decision was promulgated in 1954. Despite the Court's finding that separate-but-equal was unconstitutional, the implementation of the decision was delayed until 1955. Brown v. Board of Education II (1955) did not call for the immediate end to desegregation but instead provided for desegregation "with all deliberate speed." This decision became the vehicle for the continuation of segregation in education for more than a decade. The Court permitted a gradual end to segregated education to allow for administrative adjustments. However, segregationists took advantage of this decision to win additional support in their efforts to prevent desegregation. State officials joined other segregationists in delaying school integration as long as possible. Southern Politicians resorted to a variety of tactics such as pupil-placement, grade-a-year and "freedom of choice" plans. Mississippi was the most difficult state to desegregate. The first integration came to this state as late as 1964. This was only token and effected the larger cities in the state. The most rural counties in Mississippi were even more reluctant to accept the Brown mandate. In the rural areas of Mississippi the first school integration came in 1967. However, separate school systems for blacks and whites were still in existence until after the Supreme Court decision in 1969, which required an immediate end to dual school systems for based on race. This part of Mississippi is characterized by several conditions that contributed to the slow desegregation process. Aside from being rural, this area is relatively isolated, has a high percentage of low income blacks, and little progressive black leadership. These conditions, combined with the nature of the 1955 Supreme Court decision, made it possible to avoid desegregation for more than a decade.