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Raney v. Board of Education, a lawsuit originating in Gould (Lincoln County), was one of three cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in April and May 1968 that brought an end to so-called “freedom of choice” school desegregation plans that had gained traction in the 1960s.
In the 1964–65 school year, ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, Gould schools were still totally segregated. The district covered an area of eighty square miles and contained 3,000 residents. Of these, 1,800 were black and 1,200 were white. Since Gould was the only town in the predominantly rural county, many of the district’s students attended school there. Gould maintained two segregated combined elementary and high schools just ten blocks apart from each other. In 1964, 300 white students attended the combined Gould Schools and 580 black students attended the combined Field Schools. In 1965, the Gould School District adopted a “freedom of choice” plan to remain eligible for federal aid after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Following the passage of the act, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) threatened to remove federal funding from school districts that did not comply with the Brown decision. Like other such plans being adopted throughout the South at the time, Gould’s “freedom of choice” plan permitted students to choose a school on an annual basis. If students did not choose a school, they were automatically assigned to the school they had previously attended.
As was almost always the case under such plans, in 1965 no white students in Gould chose to attend the black schools with inferior facilities. The Field Schools were made up of repurposed buildings that had housed Japanese Americans in internment camps in the Arkansas Delta during World War II. Twenty-eight black students exercised their freedom of choice to attend the white Gould Schools, but they were refused entry on the grounds that there was not enough room for them. Some of the black students denied entry to the Gould Schools filed suit, claiming that they were being required to attend a segregated school, that the district provided inferior facilities for black students, and that the school board was still, in effect, “operating a racially segregated school system.” While the case was pending in the courts, plans were made to replace the black Field Schools with new facilities in the hope that it would encourage black students to withdraw their lawsuit. The plaintiffs instead sought to prevent the construction of the new school facilities, arguing that any new school building should only be permitted on an integrated basis.
In 1967, the school district made another concession by allowing eighty-five black students to attend the Gould Schools. Despite this, over eighty-five percent of black students in the district still attended segregated schools. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas ultimately dismissed the Raney suit on the grounds that the Gould School District had adopted a “freedom of choice” plan voluntarily, that HEW had approved the plan, and that some black students had already enrolled at the formerly white Gould Schools. These factors, the court said, “seem to indicate that this plan is more than a pretense or sham to meet the minimum requirements of the law.” The Appeals Court upheld the District Court’s ruling. The petitioners in the case then asked the Appeals Court to require the conversion of Gould Schools to a desegregated high school and the Field Schools to a desegregated primary school. The Appeals Court rejected the request.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Raney case on appeal in 1968, along with the Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (Virginia) and Monroe v. Board of Commissioners of Jackson, Tennessee cases. In the Raney case, the court came to three distinct conclusions. Firstly, the “freedom of choice” plan in operation in Gould was “inadequate to convert it to a unitary, non racial system.” Secondly, the plan for converting existing segregated schools into a desegregated high school and elementary school should be heard in the lower courts. Thirdly, the District Court’s initial dismissal of the case was improper, since the court had a duty “to insure (1) that a constitutionally acceptable plan is adopted, and (2) that it is operated in a constitutionally permissible fashion so that the goal of a desegregated, nonracially operated school system is rapidly and finally achieved.”
Although the U.S. Supreme Court stopped short of declaring “freedom of choice” plans unconstitutional, such plans quickly lost their popularity when faced with a court that was increasingly determined not to allow school desegregation plans that merely seemed to desegregate while in fact maintaining the segregated status quo.
For additional information:
Kirk, John A. “State Case Helped Halt Segregation: But Arkansas Is Turning the Clock Back.” Arkansas Times, March 22, 2018, pp. 14–15. Online at https://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/state-case-helped-halt-segregation/Content?oid=15956797 (accessed July 3, 2018).
Raney v. Board of Education 391 U.S. 443 (1968).
Wallach, Jennifer Jensen, and John Kirk, eds. Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011.
Wilkinson, J. Harvie, III. From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954–1978. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
John A. Kirk
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
Last Updated 7/3/2018
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