Exploded Dream: Desegregation in the Memphis City Schools

44 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2008 Last revised: 2 Jul 2010

See all articles by Daniel Kiel

Daniel Kiel

University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

Date Written: August 1, 2008


This article is a comprehensive look at the story of school desegregation in the Memphis City Schools. Beginning with the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended segregation in schooling, the article traces the steps taken in Memphis to put the Brown decision into practice. Following a period of inaction and delay, the Memphis City Schools experienced a relatively peaceful transition as token desegregation took place in the early part of the 1960s. However, after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Memphis in 1968, the community's polarization was globally exposed and further progress on school desegregation was limited. After federal courts ordered busing to implement the Brown mandate, a quarter of the district's white students departed for the nearby Shelby County Schools or for a growing, and uniquely successful, system of private schools. Since the busing order, the white population in the Memphis City Schools has steadily declined so that by the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision, a district that had been 58% white and 42% black in 1954 was 86% black and 9% white in 2004. Using the Northcross v. Board of Education of the Memphis City Schools litigation as a guide, this article traces that history, putting Memphis in the context of the larger desegregation story.

Keywords: memphis, memphis city schools, desegregation, tennessee, shelby county, education, brown v. board of education, northcross

Suggested Citation

Kiel, Daniel, Exploded Dream: Desegregation in the Memphis City Schools (August 1, 2008). Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2008, University of Memphis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 46, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1317854

Daniel Kiel (Contact Author)

University of Memphis - Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law ( email )

One North Front Street
Memphis, TN 38103-2189
United States

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