A Dream Delayed: The Fight for Educational Equality Continues:
By: Ebony Morris
On October 13, 2017 Hollywood will finally commemorate the late Justice Thurgood Marshall. “Marshall” will show millions around the world the life and legacy of Thurgood Marshall and his fight against racial injustices. Justice Marshall is well-known as a “social engineer” that was instrumental as lead counsel in the landmark 1954 United States Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education. His efforts were groundbreaking, and his self-entitled movie “Marshall” will honor his heroic path to becoming a civil rights trailblazer. “Honored” would probably be an understatement to describe his feelings toward the movie if he were alive; however, I do wonder if he would be pleased to know that despite his efforts to completely end segregation, some schools, namely Louisiana schools, have yet to comply with decades-old desegregation orders stemming from the Brown decision.
After the Brown decision, federal desegregation orders became the tool that broke the back of Jim Crow education in the South and helped transform the region’s education systems into the most integrated in the country. Briefly stated, these orders set out specific plans and timetables to ensure the elimination of racial segregation in the South. The orders were meant to guarantee African-American and other minority children the right to an equal education. Further, the orders addressed a range of issues including diversity of administrative staff, racial balance in schools, curriculum, discipline, and facilities.
Many federal agencies utilized the authority of the federal courts to monitor hostile school systems that resisted the Brown decision. At the height of the country’s integration efforts, there were numerous school districts across the country known to be under desegregation orders. Today, court orders remain active in several school districts, primarily because judges have determined that school systems have not complied with the orders to eliminate all traces of segregation.
One prime example is the school system of my hometown, Tangipahoa Parish. Tangipahoa Parish is still grappling with a desegregation order from 1965. The order stems from the case of Joyce Marie Moore v. Tangipahoa Parish School System. In 1965, Mr. M.C. Moore filed suit against the school system on behalf of his daughter, Fannie Moore. Similar to plaintiffs who filed lawsuits at the time, Mr. Moore complained about the school system’s unequal and disparaging educational system in relation to its African-American students. In accordance with the Brown decision, the late Honorable Alvin Rubin ordered the Tangipahoa Parish School System to desegregate the schools and to submit a plan detailing its efforts toward complete desegregation and inclusion.
Unfortunately, and similar to other Southern school districts of that time, the school system did not comply with Judge Rubin’s order. The order became dormant following his death until 2007 when the case was reopened at the urging of the Greater Tangipahoa Parish NAACP. After the case was reopened, it quickly became apparent to the residents that the school system failed to with comply with a 40+ year old desegregation order. The test used to reopen the matter was the case of Coach Alden Foster, who later became the first African-American head high school football coach at Amite High School. At the time of the Coach Foster’s case, I was beginning my senior year at Amite High School. Even with a limited understanding of the legal issues, I thought it was pretty strange that my school system did not comply with a desegregation order from a federal judge. Additionally, it was even stranger that a federal judge had to force a school system to hire an African-American head football coach, who was apparently the most qualified candidate to apply for the job, to coach a football team at my school. Nonetheless, I was somewhat comforted that the school system was being pushed toward inclusion, even if it was by force.
Tangipahoa Parish is not the only Louisiana parish that is out of compliance. St. James Parish is yet another example of a school system that failed to comply with one of many desegregation orders. Just this year, in 2017, the United States Department of Justice and the St. James Parish School District entered into a consent order to alleviate the remaining issues in its school desegregation case. Willie Banks, et al. v. St. James Parish School Board is another case initiated in 1965 by a group of residents to desegregate the St. James Parish public schools. The consent order puts the parish on a path to full compliance within three years if certain conditions are satisfied. Apparently, St. Martin Parish, Washington Parish, Calcasieu Parish, and Lincoln Parish are just a few of the parishes still operating under decades-old desegregation orders. Clearly, we still have a long road to travel before reaching educational equality, even in 2017. As we honor the life of Justice Marshall by supporting this film, let’s not forget that some of the same educational issues that he, and others, fought so tirelessly to eradicate are still prevalent today.