Part 1 of this post on Brown v. Board of Education considered the NAACP’s legal strategy regarding school desegregation outside the South after 1955.
As mentioned in that post, the NAACP Papers collection contains case files from 12 states in the North, Midwest, and West regarding school desegregation. For New York State alone, History Vault has records on 27 school desegregation cases, including files on the bitter dispute in the Ocean-Hill Brownsville district in Brooklyn. The NAACP was involved in 10 cases in New Jersey, highlighted by the busing controversy in Montclair, New Jersey (see Rice v. Board of Education and Board of Education v. Bonastia).
In Indiana, the NAACP got involved in several cases: Bell v. School City of Gary; Collier v. Kokomo–Center Township Consolidated School Corporation; and Copeland v. South Bend Community Corporation. Major cases from Ohio include the Cleveland case of Craggett v. Board of Education; Deal v. Board of Education from Cincinnati; and Arnold v. Essex (settled as Arnold v. Ott) from Akron, Ohio. In addition, the NAACP Papers contain school desegregation cases from California, Missouri, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, and Michigan.
The largest and arguably the most important school desegregation case the NAACP was involved in outside the South was the Detroit, Michigan case, Bradley v. Milliken (decided by the U.S. Supreme Court as Milliken v. Bradley). The case grew out of an attempt in April 1970 to address the growing segregation of the Detroit public schools. In April 1970, the Detroit school board voted to implement a desegregation plan. After the plan was proposed, a backlash erupted in the city, leading to the recall of four school board members, a determined resistance to busing students across the city, and the passage of a state law against the school desegregation plan. In August 1970, the Detroit NAACP Branch filed a suit against the Governor of Michigan, the State Board of Education, the Detroit Board of Education and others involved in the Detroit school system. In the lawsuit, the NAACP asked for the court to order desegregation of Detroit schools under the April 7, 1970 plan.
The trial began on April 6, 1971. On September 27, 1941, the District Court, in a long and complicated decision, found that the State of Michigan “had committed several constitutional violations with respect to the exercise of its general responsibility for, and supervision of, public education.” The District Court ordered the Detroit Board of Education to submit several plans to address the problem of segregation in the Detroit schools, including plans that would include school districts outside the city of Detroit. The NAACP enjoyed a brief moment of triumph in June 1972 with the District Court’s approval of the metropolitan plan. NAACP General Counsel Nathaniel R. Jones noted in an internal memorandum on the Milliken case:
During the appeal process, which ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Jones wrote to NAACP head Roy Wilkins, “The case is now bigger than Detroit. It has significance for every Northern community” (ProQuest History Vault, Bradley v. Milliken case files, Accession #100488-013-0274). Unfortunately for Jones and his allies, in July 1974 the Supreme Court struck down the metropolitan plan as an unconstitutional infringement on the outlying districts that were not legally responsible for the discriminatory practices of the Detroit school system.
As the Milliken case and the other cases mentioned above indicate, the school desegregation cases in the NAACP Papers in History Vault give researchers the opportunity to study local conditions throughout the country as well as NAACP legal strategy.
Additional ProQuest databases provide different views of school desegregation cases. ProQuest Historical Newspapers contains news coverage of many important cases, while Black Studies Center from ProQuest includes timeline entries, journal articles, dissertations, and essays on school desegregation, including an essay by June Shagaloff from The Journal of Negro Education.
See our Black history milestones timeline. Librarians: sign up for free trials of an array of complementary digitized resources with content that isn’t available anywhere else.