Persistent Segregation


Black children stand with their backs against the wall during the first day of school integration in Hoxie, Arkansas, in 1955. (Gordon Tenney.)

The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision striking down racial segregation in schools faced severe public resistance, especially in the South, where some districts closed altogether rather than integrate. Integration achieved after decades of litigation was reversed when the Court terminated federal desegregation orders, and by 2000, American schools were more segregated than in the 1970s. Despite federal legislation, neighborhoods also remain defined by racial segregation.

Schools in Black neighborhoods are more likely to have “zero tolerance” policies enforced by police. As a result, Black students are suspended and expelled three times more than white students; suspended or expelled students are three times more likely to be arrested. In 2012, the United States Justice Department sued officials in Meridian, Mississippi, for incarcerating students for noncriminal violations of school rules. From 2006 to 2009, all students arrested in Meridian’s schools were African American.

Communities of color are disproportionately burdened by mass incarceration and devastated by the destabilizing direct and collateral effects of widespread imprisonment. One in three Black male babies born in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison during his lifetime. Persistent racial segregation limits meaningful cross-racial interaction, impedes the design and implementation of positive responses to social challenges in Black communities, and directly contributes to the presumption of guilt that targets communities of color for surveillance and suspicion.