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Race Discrimination in Education: Law and History

In many parts of the United States, schools were once divided based on the color of a student's skin. This separation, under Jim Crow laws, meant that white students and students of color went to different schools. Often, the schools for students of color had fewer resources and weren't as effective.

Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public schools because of race, color, or national origin. Public schools include elementary schools, secondary schools, and public colleges and universities. The following is a brief history of race discrimination in education, including relevant legislation and case law.

Rise of the Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement, which started in the mid-20th century, aimed to fight this racial discrimination. People joined together to say that every person, no matter their race, deserved equal education opportunity. Organizations like the NAACP played a significant role in pushing for change.

People of all races marched together, held protests, and made their voices heard. They demanded that everyone, no matter their color, deserved equal education opportunities. They helped support those who faced discrimination and challenged unjust laws. Their efforts, combined with the courage of ordinary people, led to significant changes in how America treats its citizens.

This movement wasn't just about education. It tackled issues like voting rights, public transportation, and more. In the world of education, brave students in places like North Carolina staged sit-ins. Parents in New York protested against school boards that promoted unfair practices. 

Racial discrimination wasn't just a problem for regular schools. Even in law schools, where people learn about justice and rights, there were issues. For a long time, many law schools didn't allow students of color. This meant fewer people of color in the legal profession.

Brown v. Board of Education: A Landmark Case

In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in public schools was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. However, implementation of the Court's decision went slowly, with massive resistance from the states. 

In 1957, a federal court ordered the desegregation of public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the nine black children who were enrolled in Central High School from attending the school.

Mobs of angry people greeted the students on the first day of school. These students were prevented from attending school until President Eisenhower made the National Guard part of the federal army and also sent 1,000 paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army to protect these nine children. 

In September 1958, Governor Faubus closed all the schools in Little Rock to prevent any more black children from attending white schools. The schools remained closed until August 1959, when the U.S. Supreme Court ordered them re-opened.

The school board made African-American children attend separate schools from white children. With the help of the NAACP, a group of plaintiffs challenged this. Their argument was that segregated schools violated the equal protection rights of students. In 1954, the Supreme Court agreed and said that separating students on the basis of race was wrong and that separate education facilities are inherently unequal. This case changed education systems across the country. 

See FindLaw's Desegregation and Busing section to learn more about what followed this decision.

Rocky Road To Integration in Higher Education

In January 1961, James Meredith, an African-American, applied for admission to the University of Mississippi. Officials at the school returned his application. Mr. Meredith took his case to court. On September 10, 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he had the right to attend the University of Mississippi. The Governor of Mississippi, Ross Barnett, personally blocked Mr. Meredith from registering at the University even after the Supreme Court ruled.

On September 30, 1962, a Sunday, Mr. Meredith was escorted onto the campus by federal marshals and Civil Rights Division lawyers. Stationed on or near the campus to protect him were 123 deputy federal marshals, 316 US Border Patrolmen, and 97 federal prison guards. Within an hour, the federal forces were attacked by a mob that would grow to number 2,000 and fought them with guns, bricks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails.

The marshals had been ordered not to shoot, so they used tear gas to try to stop the rioting. The violence continued until President Kennedy sent 16,000 federal troops to the campus. When it was over, two people were dead, 28 marshals had been shot, and 160 people were injured. Finally, James Meredith became the first black student to attend the University of Mississippi.

New Laws To Protect Students

After the big win in court, the government realized that more had to be done. In 1964, the Supreme Court passed Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. This law said that if a student or education program received federal funding, it couldn't discriminate on the basis of race. This meant school districts had to make sure all students were treated equally.

Another important law to note is Title IX. Even though it's often linked with gender discrimination, it also supports the idea that every student receives a fair chance in school. The U.S. Department of Education helps make sure all of these laws are followed. They look at schools and education programs to see if they treat everyone fairly. If a school breaks the rules, it might lose its federal financial assistance.

Even though much has been improved, there's still work to be done. Some school districts still struggle with ensuring all students get an equal chance to learn, but by remembering our history and the laws in place, we can keep pushing forward.

Getting Legal Help With Education Discrimination Issues

If you believe you're facing racial discrimination in education today, it's crucial to get legal help. There are lawyers and organizations that concentrate on education law and civil rights laws. They can provide guidance through the process and help stand up for your rights. They can also address unfair treatment by a school board and ensure school districts follow their rules.

Talk to an education lawyer about your case today.

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