The Supreme Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional in its May 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Ten years later, King issued a statement decrying how little had changed in the nation’s classrooms. The report mixed statistics with moral assessments—and a persistent optimism—to build an argument that was hard to refute.
Any assessment of the extent of progress made in the last 10 years since the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954, must be done under careful analysis of the real and the imagined. The naive might believe that great strides have been made in school desegregation over the past decade, but this is not at all true.
Today, the tragically real picture of school desegregation, particularly in the South, is still one of stark tokenism or no desegregation at all. In my own hometown of Atlanta, for example, the awful truth is that of 14,159 Negroes enrolled in high schools, only 153 are presently attending classes with whites, and, worse, not a single Negro child attends a desegregated elementary school.
The pattern is the same all over the deep South, and those states which have moved at all in any effort to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision have done so with a gradualism and tokenism that is shamefully appalling.