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Federal court finally orders Mississippi town to desegregate schools

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Culminating a 50-year fight 62 years after the US Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling called for an end to school segregation, U.S. District Judge Debra Brown ruled Friday, May 13 that the town of Cleveland, Mississippi, must merge its two high schools and two middle schools.

“The delay in desegregation has deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education,” Brown wrote in a 96-page opinion. “Although no court order can right these wrongs, it is the duty of the district to ensure that not one more student suffers under this burden.”

Brown ordered the district to merge East Side High, where all but one student is Black, with Cleveland High, where 48 percent of students are white and 45 percent are Black. Similarly, the district must merge D.M. Smith Middle, where all but two students are Black, with Margaret Green Junior High, where 41 percent of students are White and 54 percent are Black. Across the entire 3,700-student district, about 29 percent of students are White and 67 percent are Black. The state counts the remainder as Asian or Hispanic.

“The court concludes that the continued operation of East Side High and D.M. Smith as single-race schools is a vestige of discrimination and that, therefore, a plan which allows such continued operation must be rejected,” the judge wrote.


“This victory creates new opportunities for the children of Cleveland to learn, play and thrive together,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. “The court’s ruling will result in the immediate and effective desegregation of the district’s middle school and high school program for the first time in the district’s more than century-long history.”

Some are concerned the ruling will simply prompt White parents to flee to private schools.

“The district is likely to suffer some White enrollment loss as a result of consolidation,” Brown wrote. “While this is a concern, it is insufficient, in the absence of an alternative constitutional plan, to reject consolidation. Rather, potential White enrollment loss is a problem that must be met with creativity.”