A Tradition of Segregation and Resistance in the Deep South States

2016 –Resistance to desegregation mandates has come in various forms, from the outright belligerence of “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” to the more covert but insidious, “freedom of choice” systems enacted after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. This resistance was codified during the 1950s and 1960s by Southern state legislatures, who enacted as many as 450 laws and resolutions attempting to thwart public school desegregation.


In Arkansas, during the Little Rock Crisis of 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower was forced to call out federal troops so that a handful of Black children could attend Central High School, Governor Orval Faubus attempted to lease public facilities and funnel public monies through contracts to the Little Rock Private School Corporation until the federal courts stopped the subterfuge. In 1959, Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver proposed and the legislature passed the six “Vandiver segregation bills,” including one that supported “the establishment of bona fide private schools by allowing taxpayers credits upon their State income tax returns for contributions to such institutions.”[3]


In 1956, the General Assembly passed legislation to permit the leasing of public property to private, largely segregated schools. Five years later, the state enacted a law providing tax-funded scholarships and grants for students to attend any non-sectarian private school. The law declared that the purpose of the act was to advance “the constitutional rights of school children to attend private schools of their choice in lieu of public schools.” In 1962, the state spent approximately $218,000 ($3.6 million in terms of relative income value in 2013) financing the scholarships of more than 1,500 students in private schools.

In addition, the State of Georgia aided White teachers in leaving public schools for private schools by authorizing any public school teacher “who accepts employment in a nonsectarian private school in this state attended by students who are eligible for grants from the state” to continue to contribute to and benefit from the state retirement system.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, the state legislature first enacted a statute in 1955 removing all references to race from North Carolina’s school laws and transferred authority for enrollment and transportation to the local school boards. Afterwards, it enacted the “Pearsall Plan,” a package of eight bills, the first of which was an amendment to the state constitution to authorize tuition grants for private education and to allow public schools to be closed upon the holding of public elections.


In Virginia, the legislature declared its support for the “freedom of choice” movement by enacting a system of tuition grants to private organizations and citizens.[2] In Prince Edward County, local officials used both direct payments and tax credits to build private schools until the federal courts halted both forms of support.

Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina

Legislatures in these states passed laws to publicly fund scholarships and tuition costs for private schools and to transfer public school property to private educational organizations (among several other segregation statutes). The White Citizens Council, a pro-segregation group, was active in setting up private schools in these states, especially in Mississippi. Here, after the federal courts struck down a direct tuition grant to private schools, Governor John Bell Williams proposed a state tax credit of up to $500 (approximately $3,000 in 2013 prices) as he searched for “ways and means of rendering assistance” to private schools for White flight from public school desegregation.[3]


[1] Chicago Daily Tribune, Sep 19, 1958; Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Georgia, Regular Session, 1959, 80; New York Times, Jan 16, 1959; Chicago Daily Tribune Jan 16, 1959.

[2] Arthur Larentz Carlson, “With All Deliberate Speed: The Pearsall Plan and School Desegregation in North Carolina,” 1954-1966 (Master’s thesis, East Carolina University: 2011); Jim Leeson, “Private Schools Continue to Increase in the South,” Southern Education Report, Nov. 1966, 22-25; Walter F. Murphy, “Private Education with Public Funds,” Journal of Politics, vol. 20: 4, Nov. 1954, 636-637; “Private School Push: Integration of Virginia Public Schools Spurs Growth of Private Units,” Wall Street Journal, Feb. 6, 1959; Neil R. McMillen, “The Citizens’ Council: Organized Resistance to the Second Reconstruction,” 1954-64 (Urbana: 1971) 297-304; Mary Ellen Goodman, “Sanctuaries for Tradition: Virginia’s New Private Schools. Special Report,” Southern Regional Council, Feb. 1961.

[3] Daily Defender, June 8, 1959; Wall Street Journal, Feb. 6, 1959; Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1961; New York Times, June 4, 1970.