A small town in Mississippi with a railroad track down the middle literally separating its white community from its black one has been mandated by a federal court to desegregate its schools, possibly ending a half-century battle over the issue, Reuters reports. Per an order handed down by the US District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, the 100-year-old Cleveland School District must adhere to a Justice Department plan and join together its two high schools (one made up of all black students save one), as well as merge its middle school (where all but two of its students are black) and junior high, reports the AP. The head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division says continuing to delay desegregation efforts there more than 60 years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision "is both unacceptable and unconstitutional."
This development comes after three past attempts to desegregate the Mississippi Delta district. A district lawyer said school board members were figuring out their next steps. "The district's [previous] plans allowed for student and parent choice," she said, adding the district would prefer to keep open enrollment going while it appeals. But the judge in the case says that the district had "weak" or no evidence it could bring white students into the two mostly black schools and that continuing to operate those schools would be a "vestige of discrimination." A Justice Department press release notes the plan was developed in conjunction with desegregation experts, as well as parent and community input, which indicated black kids in Cleveland perceived that white kids attended better schools. (Read more Mississippi stories.)