A federal judge Tuesday ordered a rural county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating its schools by grouping African-American students into all-black classrooms and allowing white students to transfer to the county's only majority-white school, the U.S. Justice Department announced.
WASHINGTON — A federal judge Tuesday ordered a rural county in southwestern Mississippi to stop segregating its schools by grouping African-American students into all-black classrooms and allowing white students to transfer to the county’s only majority-white school, the U.S. Justice Department announced.
The order, issued by Senior Judge Tom Lee of the U.S. District Court of Southern Mississippi, came after Justice Department civil-rights-division lawyers moved to enforce a 1970 desegregation case against the state and Walthall County.
Known as Mississippi’s cream pitcher for its dairy farms and bordering Louisiana 80 miles north of New Orleans, Walthall County has a population of about 15,000 people that includes about 54 percent white residents and 45 percent African-American residents, according to the U.S. Census.
For years, the local school board has permitted hundreds of white students to transfer from its Tylertown schools, which are about 75 percent African American and serve about 1,700 students, to another school, the Salem Attendance Center, which is about 66 percent white and serves about 577 students in grades K-12. The schools are about 10 miles apart.
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Salem became “a racially identifiable white school while the student enrollment of the Tylertown schools has become predominantly black” because of the transfers, U.S. officials alleged in December, based on data from the 2007-08 school year, according to Lee’s order.
At the same time in Tylertown four K-12 schools, “District administrators group, or ‘cluster,’ disproportionate numbers of white students into designated classrooms … resulting in significant numbers of segregated, all-black classrooms at each grade level,” the judge wrote, summarizing the Justice Department lawyers’ case.
The Walthall County School District did not file a response to the case, Lee wrote in approving the government’s desegregation plan.
“More than 55 years after Brown v. Board of Education, it is unacceptable for school districts to act in a way that encourages or tolerates the resegregation of public schools,” said Thomas Perez, U.S. assistant attorney general in charge of the civil-rights division, in a written statement.