Although the United States Supreme Court is known worldwide for its history-altering decisions, all of its power rests on one factor: law enforcement. However, what happens when this all-inclusive body’s decisions aren’t carried out by its smaller, local counterparts? In the case of the Cleveland School District of Mississippi, thousands of students end up being denied an integrated education.
On May 17th of 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of desegregation in schools in the iconic case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Despite the controversial nature of the decision, the majority of the country responded accordingly, forcing integration in historically separated schools. Unfortunately, change never occurs overnight and many districts resisted, either by shutting their doors completely, by rioting around the African-American students, or by attempting to appeal the decision. This resulted in a painstakingly slow unification of races in education, but eventually, slow and steady won the race.
Ever since then, the United States has boasted an equality that spans across all aspects of life, and, generally, this statement retains its truth. The only issue is that this statement is just that: general. Oftentimes, smaller towns are swept under the rug in the government’s screening process in favor of cities with larger populations and many are left unwatched and unregulated. This is not inherently a bad thing, as it would be inefficient and tiresome to perform lengthy investigations on every populated square foot to ensure the enforcement of equality, especially so long after this landmark decision. Yet, what other solutions are there to a problem that doesn’t seem to ever go away?
Almost exactly 62 years after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of integration, it has been uncovered that a small Mississippi town has been separating its schools by race. Currently, the town of Cleveland, which has an approximate population of 12,000, has four schools: Margaret Green Junior High, Cleveland High, D.M. Smith Middle School, and East Side High. The latter two are “historically black”, as only a few students in each are not African American. The other two schools are split more equally with ratios of races that are closer to being one-to-one.
Perhaps what is more offensive than these statistics is the justification of them by the district officials; they claim that their methods deter “white flight”, which is a phenomenon that describes the large-scale migration of white Americans from racially-mixed neighborhoods. This is an inappropriate reaction to accusations regarding racism, as it emphasizes the differences between groups of people rather than embracing the similarities. The solutions proposed by the district were disheartening, as they offered to either create magnet programs to draw students to schools or to give the citizens a choice of school. Nevertheless, the court ruled both of these options as unconstitutional as neither have been proven to be successful.
The district officials have been given no more than twenty-one days to propose new plans for transitions, showing that, when prompted, the government is militant about enforcing equality. Be that as it may, a few questions still remain unanswered. For example, what happens to the towns that are still under the radar? It is more than likely that they exist, despite the fact that it may be easier to believe that what happened in Cleveland is an isolated case. The reality of the situation is that Cleveland is not a freak accident, it is a cruel reminder of the unextinguished racism in our nation.
So, what does this mean for the future? It is impossible to give a black-and-white answer to such a complex issue, but that does not mean no attempts at solutions should be made. There is no algorithm to check the racial equality of every town in America, and it does not look like there is one in the making. For this reason, it is up to the public to combat the daily instances of discrimination that occur nationwide. When discussing institutional inequality, it is important to remember that ignorance is not bliss; the more outspoken the general public is, the easier it will be to eradicate unjust practices and biases.