From Desegregation to Re-segregation: The Alarming Secession Movement in the Deep South

December 2, 2019 by Valencia Richardson

By AYANA BROWN*

Last month, voters in southeast Baton Rouge, Louisiana voted to “incorporate” the city of St. George.[1] If the incorporation attempt is successful, it will mark the fourth secession from the East Baton Rouge Parish School District in the past sixteen years.[2] Like the organizers of past incorporation efforts, St. George organizers emphasized a desire to create a “stronger” school district.[3] The school district’s student population is currently eighty-one percent black and eighty-nine percent students of color overall.[4] Despite their seemingly benign motives, their decision to incorporate is a decision to further segregate black and white students in Baton Rouge schools.[5]

In Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court explicitly invalidated racial segregation in schools.[6] The Court held that because separating students of similar age and qualifications based solely on race generated feelings of inferiority in black students, the black students subject to segregation were deprived of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.[7] Following Brown, the Court mandated desegregation of schools with all “deliberate speed”.[8] And although the Court was clear in its order, many school districts did not take heed.[9] In fact, Baton Rouge schools were so reluctant to desegregate that federal courts did not lift the desegregation order imposed on the school district until 2003.[10] East Baton Rouge Parish School District and many others continue to exhibit the homogeneous student bodies the Court forbid in Brown.[11]

Attorneys seeking to resolve this issue struggle to determine what, if any, legal action will solve the segregation problem. The solution seems simple: white students from majority white school districts and black students from majority black school districts must be forced to intermingle. However, case law surrounding school segregation leaves little room for courts to force intermingling or defend others’ efforts to do so. Of each of the cases providing guidance on the issue, Milliken v. Brady presents the most difficult barrier.[12] In Milliken, the Court holds that an “isolated instance of a possible segregative effect” within a district could not justify imposing a multi-district desegregation plan on districts “having no responsibility for the arrangement.”[13] This puts schools like the ones in Baton Rouge in a terrible position. Since their schools are predominantly black, desegregating would require absorbing white students from neighboring districts.[14] However, under Milliken these students are untouchable.

In school districts like the one in East Baton Rouge, there is no effective remedy in the absence of multi-district plans. The city of the St. George and others like it have provided majority white communities a foolproof blueprint for maintaining the segregation courts once prohibited. Only now, whites no longer face the costs of packing up and moving to escape integration or the costs of enrolling their children in private schools. Instead, they can simply show up at the polls and vote their families into overwhelmingly white schools.

* Staff Editor, GEO. J. L. & MOD. CRIT. RACE PERSP.; J.D. Candidate, Georgetown University Law

Center (L’21), © 2019, Ayana Brown.

[1] See Mykal Vincent & Kevin Foster, City of St. George Incorporates, WAFB, (October 12, 2019), https://www.wafb.com/2019/10/13/city-st-george-incoporates/.

[2] See Beth Hawkins, Left Behind: Can East Baton Rouge Schools Survive the Breakaway of a Wealthy—Majority White—Community?, The 74, (July 15, 2019), https://www.the74million.org/article/left-behind-can-east-baton-rouge-schools-survive-the-breakaway-of-a-wealthy-majority-white-community/.

[3] See About Us, St. George Louisiana, http://www.stgeorgelouisiana.com/about.

[4] Neva Butkus, Separate and Unequal: School Segregation in Louisiana 65 Years After Brown v. Board, Louisiana Budget Project, May 17, 2019,  https://www.labudget.org/2019/05/separate-and-unequal-school-segregation-in-louisiana-65-years-after-brown-v-board/.

[5] See Adam Harris, The New Secession, The Atlantic, (May 20, 2019), https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/05/resegregation-baton-rouge-public-schools/589381/.

[6] See Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483, 495 (1965).

[7] Id.

[8] See Brown v. Board of Education, 349 US 294, 301 (1965).

[9] Butkus, supra note 3.

[10] Harris, supra note 4.

[11] Id.

[12] Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974).

[13] Id.

[14] Harris, supra note 4.