The Leadership Conference is working diligently to see that Tom Perez is confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Labor. Perez is an eminently qualified public servant and consensus builder who has dedicated his career to ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly and have the opportunity to succeed. He has served with integrity and distinction at the local, state and national level, compiling an outstanding record of achievement.
- Table of Contents
- I. Voting Rights
- II. Education
- III. Employment Discrimination
- IV.Fair Housing
- V. Public Accommodations
- VI. Policing the Police and Prosecuting the Klan
- A. De-Politicize the Civil Rights Division
- B. Promote Access to Voting
- C. Enforce Fair Housing Laws
- D. Ensure Compliance with the Americans with Disability Act (ADA)
- E. Combat Employment Discrimination
- F. Promote and Maintain Integrated, High Quality Schools
- G. Prosecute Police Misconduct and Hate Crimes
The plurality's postulate [in the recent Supreme Court decision regarding school desegregation efforts in Seattle and Louisville] that ‘the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,'...is not sufficient...To the extent the plurality opinion suggests the Constitution mandates that state and local school authorities must accept the status quo of racial isolation in schools, it is, in my view, profoundly mistaken.
- Justice Kennedy, Parents v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1 16
The school bell rings at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia. A group of students from Mr. Harrison's Advanced Placement Government class pours out into the hall, discussing last week's basketball game against West Potomac. The cafeteria boasts a racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse scene. Of the two thousand students enrolled at T.C. Williams, a quarter is Hispanic, a quarter is White, and forty-three percent are Black. Dozens of flags exemplifying the student body's diversity of nationality hang in the school lobby; meanwhile, the city's payment for its students' AP exams and T.C. Williams' initiative to provide every student with a laptop confirm its commitment to leveling the playing field for its students of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. 17
The diversity of Mr. Harrison's class, while perhaps not typical, was unimaginable 50 years ago in Virginia. Efforts to racially integrate public schools in Virginia have been met with periods of widespread resistance since the Civil War. While many school districts employed tactics to stall integration and to avoid questions as to the racial equality of their facilities, perhaps nowhere was massive resistance more successfully employed than in 1950s Prince Edward County, Virginia. Recounting the story of Prince Edward County sheds light on the progress that has been made regarding issues of educational equality over the past 50 years and, more importantly, the civil rights work in public education that remains our business to resolve.
Prince Edward County is located in a Southside area of Virginia in the region known 50 years ago as the "Black Belt." 18 Stretching from the shores of the Chesapeake Bay down south through the Carolinas and Georgia and west toward East Texas, the counties in that region were predominantly rural and at least one-third Black. Each one embraced stringent laws and social norms enforcing the separation of the races. In 1939, Robert Russa Moton High School was constructed for Blacks in Prince Edward County in an attempt to avoid legal challenge from the NAACP regarding inadequate educational facilities. The new school, however, was overcrowded and underfunded - it lacked a gymnasium, cafeteria, desks, lockers, restrooms, and an auditorium with seats. When the school's repeated requests for additional funds were denied by the all-white school board, students at R.R. Moton took matters into their own hands.
In 1951, some 450 students walked out of the school in protest against the educational conditions in Black Prince Edward schools. Supported by the Richmond NAACP, the students' case, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, became one of the five cases combined under the name Brown v. Board of Education in the 1952-1953 Supreme Court term. This decision, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and declared racial segregation to be unconstitutional, was met with massive resistance in Prince Edward County. Since the Supreme Court specified no time frame for desegregation in Brown I (1954), local White leadership delayed its implementation and organized plans to underwrite White teacher salaries to insure that quality White education would continue untouched. Following the 1957 decision in Brown II that schools must desegregate "with all deliberate speed," the Prince Edward County school board epitomized Virginia's recalcitrant policy of massive resistance in its 1959 decision to close its doors to all public education.
Though the county government refused to appropriate funds for the public school system, various organizations raised money for White families to send their children to private or parochial schools. In 1961, the State of Virginia allocated funds for tuition grants and tax concessions for White children to go to private segregated schools, while Black children were either denied public education or forced to relocate to other counties. It wasn't until 1964 in the Supreme Court case Griffin v. County School Board that Prince Edward County's and the State of Virginia's actions were declared unconstitutional. County schools were subsequently ordered to reopen and to integrate.
In 1964, only 1.2 percent of Black students in the entire South attended schools with Whites. In reaction to the dismal state of racial integration throughout the South, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A comprehensive measure mandating nondiscrimination in public education, facilities, accommodations, employment, and federally assisted programs, the Act authorized the Justice Department to intervene in race-based equal protection cases. 19 Though the Civil Rights Division was not a plaintiff in the Brown v. Board or the Griffin litigation, Title IV of the 1964 Act authorized the Department thenceforth to bring suit against racial segregation. Additionally, Title VI dictated that federal agencies, including the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, be responsible for ensuring nondiscrimination in federally funded programs - including public schools. The Act also provided for rescinding federal funds for noncompliance.
In 1966 alone, the Civil Rights Division brought 56 school desegregation cases under Title IV, Title VI, and Title IX. 20 The Department challenged the legitimacy of dual school systems throughout the South and endeavored to equalize facilities while integrating teaching staff, school activities, and athletics. The decisions resulting from cases brought by the Civil Rights Division required that the school systems not only allow Black children to attend previously all-white schools, but that they "undo the harm" created by the segregated system. 21
Leading up to the 1968 school year, many school boards sought to rely on "freedom of choice" plans as a response to the desegregation mandate. Under these plans, while all students were given a choice of which school to attend, Whites typically levied intense pressure and intimidation to steer Black families away from previously all-white schools, and practically no White families chose to attend previously all-black schools. Thus, the practical effect of such plans was to continue to perpetuate segregation. In 1968, in a challenge to the use of such plans, the Supreme Court held that the plan in question was insufficient to address the problem of segregation and that school boards must accept "the affirmative duty to take whatever steps might be necessary" to convert to a unitary system and to eliminate racial discrimination "root and branch." 22
Nevertheless, intense resistance to desegregation continued. In 1969, in a consolidated case involving over 30 Mississippi school boards, Civil Rights Division attorneys pressed to eliminate and replace "freedom of choice" proposals with affirmative desegregation plans. In August of that year, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the new desegregation plans must be implemented by September. One week later, however, the Division's Assistant Attorney General sought to delay the new integration plans until the 1970 school year. In response to this change of position, career attorneys in the Division publicly protested. 23 Later that year, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that the school districts must integrate without delay in the middle of the school year. 24 At that point, the Division resumed its efforts to actively pursue desegregation, and at the end of 1970 had undertaken a total of 214 active school cases.
In addition to challenging "freedom of choice" policies in the South, the Division attempted to desegregate Northern and Midwestern public schools 25 and challenged dual systems in higher education. 26 The Division's education work over the past 50 years, however, is not limited to securing public school desegregation. The Education Section has committed itself over the years to equal education for students with limited-English proficiency (LEP), to equal access for disabled students through enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to equal opportunity for female students to participate in sports programs.
Since the closing of Prince Edward County schools in 1959, the region has made great strides towards integration and racial reconciliation. In 2003, the Virginia General Assembly passed a resolution apologizing for massive resistance, and in June 2003, Prince Edward County granted honorary diplomas to the students who would have graduated from R.R. Moton High School. Currently the largest public high school in the area, Prince Edward County High, is fully integrated with a population that is 56 percent Black and 43 percent White. T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, while not constructed until after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, has also overcome significant resistance to integration. Though the city's public schools were desegregated in 1959, the three area high schools were consolidated and subsequently integrated in 1971 to remedy pervasive racial imbalances in the 1960s. While these school districts have made significant local progress, further protections by the Civil Rights Division are necessary nationwide, for schools are increasingly becoming resegregated. 27
While the Justice Department committed to aggressive desegregation efforts in the late 1960s, those efforts have been consistently scaled back in subsequent decades. The courts have undermined progress in achieving racial equality and diversity by limiting possible remedies for segregation. In Milliken v. Bradley (1974), for instance, the Supreme Court blocked a desegregation plan in Detroit that relied on inter-district busing, ruling that dismantling a dual school system did not require any particular racial balance in each school. In rejecting inter-district busing and emphasizing the importance of local control over the operation of public schools, the decision exempted suburban districts from assisting in the desegregation of inner-city school systems. Limitations such as this sanction de facto segregation as a replacement for the de jure system outlawed by Brown.
Recent decisions such as that from the Seattle and Louisville cases, though continuing to endorse diversity as a compelling state interest, may undermine local school districts' voluntary strategies to combat segregation. The work of the
Education Section of the Civil Rights Division, which contributed greatly in the early years to fuel the fire of integration, has stalled in recent years. It is the responsibility of the Civil Rights Division to contest efforts to scale back the federal government's promise to ensure equal protection and educational opportunity for all its students.
16. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 127 S. Ct. 2738 (2007); Kennedy, J., concurring.
17. "T.C. Williams High School Profile." Alexandria City Public Schools (2007).
19. Congress also included national origin, sex, and religion in the categories of people to whom equal protection under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would extend.
20. Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 allowed the Justice Department to intervene in private suits.
21. United States v. Jefferson County Board of Education, 372 F.2d 836 (5th Cir. 1966), adopted en banc, 380 F.2d 385 (5th Cir. 1966) - immediate desegregation for all states of the 5th Cir., 417 F.2d 834 (5th Cir. 1969); see also United States v. Montgomery County Board of Education, 395U.S. 225 (1969) - desegregation of faculty and staff required.
22. See Green v. New Kent County School Board, 391 U.S. 430, 438 (1968).
23. The United States Commission on Civil Rights also called this reversal a "major retreat in the struggle to achieve meaningful school desegregation." Cited in Appellee's Brief, 1969 WL 120225.
24. Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, 396 U.S. 19 (1969).
25. Reed v. Rhodes, 607 F.2d 714 (6th Cir. 1979) (Cleveland, OH); Liddell v. Bd. of Ed., 667 F.2d 643 (8th Cir. 1981)(St. Louis, MO); United States v. Yonkers, 837 F.2d 1181 (2nd Cir. 1989)(Yonkers, NY).
26. Ayer and United States v. Fordice, 505 U.S. 717 (1992).
27. Orfield, G., Eaton, S., and the Harvard Project on School Desegregation. Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: New Press, 1998.