October 23rd, 1969

U.S. Supreme Court Orders Mississippi to Desegregate Schools 15 Years After Brown v. Board

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court struck down racially segregated schools as unconstitutional in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. In the aftermath of the decision, many school districts tried to maintain segregated school systems by adopting new rules adhering to the letter but not the spirit of the Court’s decision. Congress attempted to create incentives for states to comply with Brown by passing legislation that increased federal funding to successfully integrated school districts but many Southern school districts remained resistant and refused to integrate until forced to do so by a series of later Supreme Court rulings.

Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education challenged continued school segregation in Holmes County, Mississippi, where public schools had done nothing to integrate following Brown. When challenged in court, Holmes County officials argued that they were entitled to control the pace of integration, based on the “all deliberate speed” language in Brown. The Supreme Court heard argument in Alexander on October 23, 1969.

Two months later, the Court explicitly rejected the school board’s claim and clarified that “the obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter unitary schools.” The strong and unambiguous holding in Alexander intensified the pressure to integrate in school districts across America and signaled that the court system would no longer tolerate segregated public schools.