Home > Uncategorized > Milliken v. Bradley Decision Undercut Brown v. Board of Education, Stopped Racial AND “Social” Desegregation

Milliken v. Bradley Decision Undercut Brown v. Board of Education, Stopped Racial AND “Social” Desegregation

August 20, 2019

Everyone who ever studied the history of public education in our nation and the history of race in our country has heard of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that not only called for the segregation of schools “with all deliberate speed” but also called for the end of the “separate but equal” provisions that legally permitted the continuation of segregation. But most readers— and this blogger— have overlooked the impact of Milliken v. Bradley, a subsequent Supreme Court decision in 1974 that let hundreds of northern districts off the hook by allowing de facto segregation to remain in place. Jon Hale brings this 45-year old decision to forefront in a recent article in The National Interest:

…the racial makeup of today’s schools actually owes itself to a series of other court decisions – including one issued 45 years ago on July 25, 1974. The Milliken v. Bradley decision sanctioned a form of segregation that has allowed suburbs to escape being included in court-ordered desegregation and busing plans with nearby cities.

The Milliken decision recognized “de facto” segregation – segregation that occurs as a result of circumstances, not law. This allowed schools in the North to maintain racially separate schools at the same time southern schools were being ordered by the courts to desegregate. By giving suburbs a pass from large mandated desegregation attempts, it built a figurative wall around white flight enclaves, essentially shielding them from the “crisis” of urban education.

The decision ruled that social segregation was permissible and therefore exempt from court-ordered, “forced” desegregation plans. That is, the court said, if segregation occurred because of certain “unknowable factors” such as economic changes and racial fears – not a law – then it’s legal.

In reading this article I was struck by the breadth of the decision made on this case, which dealt with a plan to bus students from Detroit to contiguous suburban schools to promote racial segregation. But the ruling went even further, determining that social segregation was permissible. As a result of this decision, the boundaries of school districts, which in most states match the borders of towns, townships, or counties, were impermeable. This meant the building a “…figurative wall around white flight enclaves” not only shielded those enclaves RACIALLY, it shielded them SOCIALLY, not just from the “crisis” of urban education but also from the crisis of funding inequities.

Mr. Hale concludes his article with this paragraphs:

Milliken put forth the convenient narrative that segregation in the North was natural and therefore permissible. It also freed northern school districts from being forced to participate in large-scale solutions to segregation and unequal education outside their boundaries.

I believe continuing to ignore Milliken covers up the ongoing segregation of America’s schools today and the nation’s collective, ongoing failure to improve public education in the spirit of Brown.

And the “spirit of Brown”, that all children should have an equal opportunity to attend a public school that offers them an education that will prepare them for the future on the same footing as everyone in their age cohort, was killed when five justices appointed by Richard Nixon supported the narrative of Justice Potter, who concluded in his written decision that segregation in Detroit was “caused by unknown and perhaps unknowable factors such as in-migration, birth rates, economic changes, or cumulative acts of private racial fears.” Red-lining, block-busting, and other banking and real estate sales “techniques” were hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors” and the disparity in housing prices that emerged from these practices are hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors”… but they persist today and are the root cause of the exacerbation of racial and economic segregation that persists as well.

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