School Integration


U.S. Marshals escort six-year-old Ruby Bridges, the first student to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana, 1960.
(AP Photo)

A decade after the Supreme Court’s seminal ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which mandated racial integration of public schools, Southern universities remained racially segregated. Southern lawmakers defiantly upheld policies and practices designed to maintain all-white universities, ranging from outright exclusion of qualified Black students to paying them to attend historically Black colleges and universities and out-of-state schools.

Efforts to racially integrate Southern schools were met with violent resistance. In 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood found their pathway into the University of Alabama obstructed by Governor George Wallace. A year prior, white mobs rioted at the University of Mississippi as James Meredith prepared to attend. And, in 1961, Charlayne Hunter’s dorm at the University of Georgia was attacked by an unrestrained mob that included members of the Ku Klux Klan.

The resistance to integration extended to high schools and primary schools. In Prince Edward, Virginia, county officials decided to close public schools altogether rather than integrate. Tuition benefits were provided to white children to attend private schools with white-only admission policies. During this period, hundreds of white-only private schools sprang up throughout the South. Most of these schools remain in existence today.