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The Hardest Deal of All

The Battle Over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870â?"1980

Publication Year: 2007

Race has shaped public education in the Magnolia State, from Reconstruction through the Carter Administration. For The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle Over School Integration in Mississippi, 1870-1980 Charles 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 the Brown v. Board of Education decision, 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 of Mississippi: An Illustrated History and coeditor of The Confessions of Edward Isham: A Poor White Life of the Old South. Bolton's work has also appeared in the Journal of Southern History, Journal of Mississippi History, and Mississippi Folklife.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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pp. ix-x

In the decade that I spent researching and writing this book, I was fortunate to receive assistance from many individuals. Anyone who has conducted historical research knows how vital the role of archivists and librarians are to the preservation of and access to the sources of the past. I received patient help and wise advice from the archival staffs of Georgia State University; the American Friends Service Committee Archives in Philadelphia;...

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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...


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pp. xxi-xxiv

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CHAPTER ONE: TOO MANY SCHOOLS, TOO LITTLE MONEY: Mississippi’s Dual Education System, 1870–1940

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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...

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CHAPTER TWO: A LAST GASP TO MAINTAIN A SEGREGATED SYSTEM: Mississippi’s Failed Effort to Make Separate Education Truly Equal

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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...

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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 momentous Brown v. Board of Education decision.1 The origins of the meeting stemmed from Governor White’s continuing effort to secure support...

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CHAPTER FOUR: THE CRACK IN THE WALL: School Desegregation Begins

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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...

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CHAPTER FIVE: FREEDOM OF CHOICE FOR WHITES: Massive Resistance by Another Name

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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...

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CHAPTER SIX: FREEDOM OF CHOICE FOR BLACKS: “Very Little Choice and No Freedom at All”

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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...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: SCHOOL INTEGRATION: We Do Not Want Our Children Going to School with Yours

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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...

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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...

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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 the Brown decision...


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pp. 224-268


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pp. 269-278

E-ISBN-13: 9781604730609
E-ISBN-10: 1604730609
Print-ISBN-13: 9781934110744
Print-ISBN-10: 1934110744

Page Count: 278
Publication Year: 2007