The Origins of Sheff v. O’Neill: The Troubled Legacy of School Segregation in Connecticut

Adams, Ann-Marie.  Howard University. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2010. 3460650.

Abstract (summary)

This dissertation chronicles significant political and socio-historical events that shaped the African-American community from the colonial period to the late twentieth century. The scholarly research uses Connecticut’s 1996 school desegregation case: Sheff v. O’Neill as a lens to trace the fight for citizenship and its essential component: a quality education.  On April 27, 1989 eighteen children and their parents filed a school desegregation case in Hartford Superior Court. The lawsuit took the name of then ten-year old Milo Sheff, who was among other plaintiffs from the city and a suburb of Hartford, the state’s capital city. In this suit, the plaintiffs’ lawyers asserted that state violated its own Constitution by its laws and policies, which created segregated schools. More importantly, the state violated its own civil rights law that affords all citizens equal protection. Combative in its defense, the state claimed that Connecticut did not intentionally segregated whites and minorities and cannot be held accountable for the disparities in the school system.

On July 9, 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying intentional or not, Connecticut violated Hartford’s children equal opportunity to a quality education. The Court further concluded that school districting based on town and city boundary lines since 1909 was unconstitutional.

This dissertation situates Sheff within the narrative of a long civil rights struggle by blacks in Connecticut. By highlighting the contours of the black experience in New England, it also chronicles the political, socio-historical evolution leading to the lawsuit, its impact on Hartford and the nation’s collective memory of New England as the cradle of abolitionists. By using newspaper accounts, census records, oral history, city files, U.S Census records, letters, state records and archives, this historical account seeks to be a paradigmatic study of the black experience in Connecticut and argues that the state’s history of segregation and resistance to black education is evidence enough to prove intent to segregate minority and white students.

Indexing (details)

Black studies;
American history;
Education history;
Social structure;
African American studies
0296: African American Studies
0325: Black studies
0337: American history
0398: Law
0520: Education history
0700: Social structure
Identifier / keyword
Education; Social sciences; Civil rights; Civil rights movement; Connecticut; Desegregation; School desegregation; School segregation
The Origins of Sheff v. O’Neill: The Troubled Legacy of School Segregation in Connecticut
Adams, Ann-Marie
Number of pages
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Tolbert, Emory J.
Committee member
Medford, Edna Greene; Nyang, Sulayman; Swan, Quito; Williams, Yohuru
Howard University
University location
United States -- District of Columbia
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL