The massive effort to desegregate public schools across the United States was a major goal of the Civil Rights Movement.
Since the 1930s, lawyers from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had strategized to bring local lawsuits to court, arguing that separate was not equal and that every child, regardless of race, deserved a first-class education.
Lawrence Guyot, who later became a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, grew up in Pass Christian, a city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that was influenced by the strong labor unions in the shipyard industry and the Catholic Church. Julia Matilda Burns describes her experiences as a teacher, parent, and school board member in Holmes County, Mississippi.
He explains how the Catholic schools were desegregated there: “The Catholic Church in 1957 or '58 made a decision that they were going to desegregate the schools. Her husband was an active civil rights worker and her job as a teacher was threatened when she associated with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
When they realized that the local white high school indeed had everything they had imagined, the seeds were planted for a student-led protest.
Without the assistance from any adults, these students confronted the local school board about the blatant inequality of local schools.When the board ignored their request for more funding, the students met by themselves to plan what to do next.In a group interview with these former students, John Dudley remembers, “So, that week, leading to Monday, we strategized. We told them not to tell your parents or your teacher what’s going on.Many people also decide that they want to study further when they get a bit older, perhaps after they have got married and had children, sometimes because they want a career change as they are not happy, or just to prove to themselves and others that they can do it.Those that don’t succeed in compulsory education will not have the opportunity to even start many courses because there will be plenty of better-qualified candidates that also want a place.Therefore, it is better to sacrifice a little bit of fun now so that you can find happiness in later life, as you will be happier if you can do a job that you enjoy and afford to do the things you want.Integrally linked to your career is the fact that you will only be able to achieve a higher level of education later on if you work hard in school now.Every student in the school walked out, picked up placards that had been made in advance, and marched downtown to protest. Because it was a cause that was well worth the outcome, even though I feel like people in Bogalusa are still not as accepting as they could be.” The high school continued to have a separate white prom and a black prom until very recently.The students refused to go back to school for a week, and eighteen months later, Adkin High School was renovated and given a brand-new gymnasium. Desegregation was not always a battle in every community in the South. But his mother, Gayle Jenkins, would serve on the Bogalusa School Board for twenty-seven years.And do you believe to this day, 2013, nobody has ever told me that an adult knew what was going on. I learned firsthand that institutions can really have an impact on social policy.” In an interview about his mother, civil rights activist Gayle Jenkins, Willie “Chuck” Jenkins describes how she demanded that he would be the plaintiff in a school desegregation suit, in Louisiana.Kids.” They decided on a coded phrase that was read during morning announcements. He became the first African American student to attend the white Bogalusa Junior High School in 1967 and remembers how he had one foot in each world, but was increasingly alienated from both: “And I caught a lot of slack, like, from the black community, because they used to say, ‘Oh, you think you’re something because you’re going to the white school.’ They didn’t know I was catching holy hell at the white school. So, it was just always a conflict.” But in the end, he thinks it was worth it. If I had it to do all over again, I would do it exactly the same way.