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The Hardest Deal of All

The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle Over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 278
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    The Hardest Deal of All
    Book Description:

    Race has shaped public education in the Magnolia State, from Reconstruction through the Carter Administration. ForThe Hardest Deal of All: The Battle Over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980Charles C. Bolton mines newspaper accounts, interviews, journals, archival records, legal and financial documents, and other sources to uncover the complex story of one of Mississippi's most significant and vexing issues.

    This history closely examines specific events--the after-math of theBrown v. Board of Educationdecision, the 1966 protests and counter-demonstrations in Grenada, and the efforts of particular organizations--and carefully considers the broader picture.

    Despite a "separate but equal" doctrine established in the late nineteenth century, the state's racially divided school systems quickly developed vast differences in terms of financing, academic resources, teacher salaries, and quality of education. As one of the nation's poorest states, Mississippi could not afford to finance one school system adequately, much less two. For much of the twentieth century, whites fought hard to preserve the dual school system, in which the maintenance of one-race schools became the most important measure of educational quality. Blacks fought equally hard to end segregated schooling, realizing that their schools would remain underfunded and understaffed as long as they were not integrated.

    Charles C. Bolton is professor and chair of history and co-director of the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. He is the coauthor ofMississippi: An Illustrated Historyand coeditor ofThe Confessions of Edward Isham: A Poor White Life of the Old South. Bolton's work has also appeared in theJournal of Southern History,Journal of Mississippi History, andMississippi Folklife.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-060-9
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-X)
    (pp. XI-XX)

    September 12, 1966, began as a rainy Monday morning in Grenada, a town in central Mississippi on the border between the Hills and the Delta. That day, about 150 black children attempted to enter the all-white schools of the town for the first time, per an August 26 federal court order by Judge Claude Clayton mandating freedom-of-choice school desegregation. By early afternoon, at least eight black children, one black adult, and a number of white reporters had been beaten by several groups of angry white men and women.¹

    Well before the opening bell rang, whites gathered in the vicinity of...

    (pp. XXI-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE TOO MANY SCHOOLS, TOO LITTLE MONEY Mississippi’s Dual Education System, 1870–1940
    (pp. 3-32)

    In the twentieth century, Governor William Winter did more than any other chief executive to advance the cause of public education in the state of Mississippi. His own education began in 1929 in the isolation and poverty of rural Grenada County. Because the nearest white public school was more than seven miles away, his mother, trained as a teacher, established a one-room schoolhouse in an abandoned outbuilding on the Winter farm. Two children attended during Winter’s first year of schooling, joined by seven others the following session. By the 1931–32 academic year, Grenada had developed a transportation system to...

  7. CHAPTER TWO A LAST GASP TO MAINTAIN A SEGREGATED SYSTEM Mississippi’s Failed Effort to Make Separate Education Truly Equal
    (pp. 33-60)

    By the late 1930s, Mississippi had succeeded in significantly improving the state’s white public education system; even so, the state’s white schools, especially in rural areas, remained largely second rate and still in need of costly improvements. The dramatic transformations in white education, however incomplete, had only been possible because of the almost total neglect of black public education. While black Mississippians had objected to state plans to provide unequal school facilities for their children from the beginning of the white educational improvement campaign begun in the early twentieth century, it was not until the late 1930s that any segment...

    (pp. 61-95)

    On the morning of July 30, 1954, between eighty-five and one hundred black leaders sat down with Governor Hugh White and his all-white Legal Education Advisory Committee (LEAC) to discuss the fate of school segregation in the wake of the momentousBrown v. Board of Educationdecision.¹ The origins of the meeting stemmed from Governor White’s continuing effort to secure support for his as-yet unfunded school equalization within segregation program. After theBrowndecision, a number of white leaders continued to champion White’s 1953 equalization plan, but all agreed that before the state moved to expend large sums of money...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR THE CRACK IN THE WALL School Desegregation Begins
    (pp. 96-116)

    On August 31, 1964, with twenty federal marshals and local law enforcement officials on hand and a “backup emergency force” of eighteen hundred members of the Mississippi National Guard ready to be federalized, twenty-one of an expected twenty-three black students enrolled in four previously all-white elementary schools in Biloxi. The next day, though more trouble was expected in rural Leake County, the home of rabid segregationist and former governor Ross Barnett, a similar assemblage of state and federal forces prevented any harm to Debra Lewis as she became the first black student to attend the formerly all-white Carthage Attendance Center....

  10. CHAPTER FIVE FREEDOM OF CHOICE FOR WHITES Massive Resistance by Another Name
    (pp. 117-140)

    From 1964 to 1969, Mississippi’s school districts desegregated their schools through the mechanism known as freedom of choice. Under freedom-of-choice plans, students were supposedly allowed to go to any school in a district. Though this type of school desegregation conjured up images that suggested the epitome of the American way, white Mississippians sought to mold the freedom-of-choice method into a bulwark for preserving their dual school system. Indeed, segregationists in Mississippi and other southern states believed they had found a way to satisfy the requirements of theBrowndecision while still preserving largely segregated schools. Much like the earlier equalization...

  11. CHAPTER SIX FREEDOM OF CHOICE FOR BLACKS “Very Little Choice and No Freedom at All”
    (pp. 141-166)

    Orbra Harrington Porter was one of thousands of Mississippi school desegregation pioneers during the freedom-of-choice era. Born in Jackson in 1953, she grew up in a close-knit community where her parents were actively involved in church, civic groups, and, by the late 1950s, the city’s civil rights movement. Her mother did clerical work for Medgar Evers; her father, J. B. Harrington, worked as a truck driver. Fearing he might lose his job, J. B. did not join the front lines of the movement during the early 1960s, but he was active in the movement. He had been a registered voter...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN SCHOOL INTEGRATION We Do Not Want Our Children Going to School with Yours
    (pp. 167-192)

    The integration of Tunica County’s school system in 1970, which in the 1969–70 school year enrolled over three thousand black children but just over four hundred white children, did not end the tradition of separate schools that had long characterized education in this Delta district of northwest Mississippi. In the late 1960s, whites had accepted fewer than two hundred of the county’s black children in their school through a freedom-of-choice program (there was only one white school in the district, Tunica School, which served grades one through twelve), and Tunica whites proved unwilling to go beyond this token desegregation....

    (pp. 193-216)

    At the end of the 1971–72 school year, the second full year of school integration in Meridian, the local chapter of the NAACP registered complaints about a number of problems in the public schools. The group charged that black students were unfairly disciplined and subsequently suspended for lengthy terms. Black leaders in Meridian suggested that a biracial student and parent committee develop “uniform disciplinary rules” and that suspensions last no longer than three days for each infraction. Black citizens in Meridian also pointed out that many schools had no black administrators and that the number of white teachers had...

    (pp. 217-223)

    In December 1982, the Mississippi legislature, meeting in special session, passed the Education Reform Act of 1982.The legislation provided $106 million of new money—during a recession—for public kindergartens, a 10 percent pay raise for public school teachers, and the placement of reading aides in the public schools. The law also reinstated the compulsory education requirement abolished after theBrowndecision, tightened teacher certification requirements, and reorganized the State Department of Education. New sales and income taxes financed the reforms. Governor William Winter was the driving force behind this sweeping education package. Winter had pressed for the changes after...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 224-268)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 269-278)