Gardendale Practice Part of Troubling Trend of Reinstating Racially Segregated Education
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed an objection in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in Stout v. Jefferson, opposing the Gardendale City School Board’s efforts to stymie the desegregation of Jefferson County schools. The United States Department of Justice, as well as the Jefferson County Board of Education, also object to Gardendale City School Board’s efforts.
LDF with local counsel, retired federal judge U.W. Clemon, has asked the federal district court to stop Gardendale’s separation efforts and to stop the resegregation of Jefferson County schools. “Jefferson County will never achieve the goals of Brown v. Board of Education if white municipalities are allowed to create their own school districts regardless of the costs to integration,” said Monique Lin-Luse, an assistant counsel at LDF and lead counsel for the private plaintiffs. “More than 60 years after the Supreme Court of the United States declared integrated schools the law of the land, Gardendale is just one example of a disturbing resegregation trend seen not just in Jefferson County, but throughout the nation,” Lin-Luse noted.
The current dispute began in 2010 when Jefferson County built a $51 million, state-of-the-art high school within the city limits of Gardendale, an affluent and largely-white municipality in Jefferson County. Gardendale residents soon began efforts to create their own municipal school district and take the new high school with them, a high school that had been funded by taxes paid by the citizens of Jefferson County, white and Black.
In 2014, Gardendale created its own Board of Education, and it is now requesting permission to leave the Jefferson County School System and take all of the school facilities within the Gardendale City limits with them. Gardendale would end up with impressive facilities for its new, mostly white student body. Jefferson County would lose Gardendale’s facilities and resources, and Jefferson County students would be left to attend schools that are more racially segregated. The impact of the separation would pose a unique hardship on students from the predominantly Black communities of North Smithfield Manor and Greenleaf Heights. Under Gardendale’s plan, those students would suffer from the uncertainty of only being allowed to attend the state-of-the-art high school for an indeterminate amount of time. Gardendale would retain the right to stop serving those students whenever it chose to do so.
This case has its roots in a suit brought by LDF more than five decades ago against the Jefferson County Board of Education for violating the rights of LDF’s clients to receive the integrated education to which they were constitutionally due. After litigation that spanned years, a federal district court agreed that Jefferson County had violated these students’ rights and in 1971, issued an order requiring Jefferson County to integrate its schools, and to change a number of its practices, including its approach to school construction, student transfers, and the assignment of students and faculty.
Although Jefferson County’s School Board has made progress in its efforts to desegregate, 51 years have passed since the filing of the suit, and the job remains unfinished, as Gardendale’s attempt to separate sadly demonstrates. That failure can be laid, in part, at the feet of local municipalities. Following the decision in Brown and continuing to this day, the whiter and more affluent municipalities in Jefferson County have separated from the Jefferson County School District, forming affluent white enclaves within a county that is more racially and economically diverse. These schools have taken their resources and facilities with them, while ensuring that Jefferson County students—in both the “splinter districts” and the county—are more likely to receive an education at a racially segregated school. The problem has snowballed as the white enclaves grow larger and whiter by annexing affluent white areas nearby.
“More than a half century after Brown v. Board, a segregated education is still a reality for too many children. Students white and black benefit from learning in integrated schools. It is imperative that these municipal secessions and any other new forms of resistance to desegregation are extinguished so that all students can benefit from sharing a classroom with one another,” concluded Lin-Luse.
A hearing will be held on the matter this winter.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.