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The Road to Brown, Pt. 2: Massive Resistance and Court’s Brown II Decision

Shantella Y. Sherman | 7/24/2013, 3 p.m.
As with the legal decisions to emancipate and offer full citizenship to formerly enslaved Blacks following the Civil War, proponents ...
Some “Massive Resistance” ploys allowed Blacks to enroll in formerly whites-only schools only to segregate the students from the rest of the student body. In other instances, white students (and teachers) were provided with private school vouchers at the expense of taxpayers to attend whites-only private schools, effectively abandoning their previous schools and leaving the Black students in empty classrooms. Courtesy Photo

Other jurisdictions supported the Brown decision on paper, if only to identify and retaliate against Black families who would venture out of prescribed social spaces.

“Mississippi was among the worst offenders when it came to retaliating against Black families who sought to desegregate schools,” said Historian Beulah Bell. “Between the White Citizens’ Councils, law enforcement, and the Klan, the Brown decision when coupled with the Brown II decision, made it almost impossible to take advantage of the letter of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

White Citizens’ Councils offered a real and present danger to desegregation, in an effort to defend white supremacy, resist integration, and suppress all efforts on the part of Blacks to improve their lives. Councils used economic retaliation including firings, evictions, and foreclosures, public condemnation, economic boycotts, and legislative lobbying, to preserve white supremacy.

“The Councils had a lot of money and influence and their members literally had control over the lives of Blacks through economics, health, and employment. Blacks were helpless in many cases against that type of sweeping power. Their efforts bring into focus how the slow desegregation of schools – placing ones children a few children at a time, in harm’s way – took an amazing level of courage and conviction,” Bell said.

The “Massive Resistance” to school integration permitted by Brown II continued until 1964 when the Supreme Court overturned its Brown II decision and revoked all deliberate speed by ruling in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, that “... the time for mere ‘deliberate speed’ has run out.”