Some residents of a white-majority Alabama city were apparently still very upset with the 1971 federal court order to desegregate all schools in Jefferson County, so much so they somehow worked out a way to avoid the black community by seceding from the school district itself.
This move, which could only be described as racist, would have resulted in black students being kicked out of schools. However, a federal court stepped in and held the city of Gardendale cannot simply secede from Jefferson County’s school district. Their attempt was triggered by the decades-old court order permitted “some students to transfer from schools in which their race is in the majority to schools in which their race is in the minority” and the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
The U.S. Census Data showed Jefferson County’s school district was about 75 percent white and 23 percent black in 2000. In 2015, that changed as the African-American population grew to 47 percent and white population decreased to 43 percent – a shift largely credited to similar secessions.
On Tuesday, the Court of Appeals found the city of Gardendale wanted to exclude black children from its new school as the white residents were using secession to break the district court’s law.
“The district court found that the Gardendale Board acted with a discriminatory purpose to exclude black children from the proposed school system and, alternatively, that the secession of the Gardendale Board would impede the efforts of the Jefferson County Board to fulfill its desegregation obligations,” the 11th Circuit Court wrote. “Despite these findings, the district court devised and permitted a partial secession that neither party requested.”
As Think Progress reported, Gardendale is not the only predominantly white city in Jefferson County that planned to get away with secession efforts.
Moreover, the effort to secede Gardendale’s schools was led by president of the district’s school board, a board member and two residents of the city.
According to the court order, the leaders set up a Facebook page to defend their move, where one wrote, “A look around at our community sporting events, our churches is great snapshots of our community.”
Another wrote: “Better control over the geographic composition of the student body [and] protection against the actions of other jurisdictions that might not be in our best interests,” explaining local rights as their motive.
The so-called leaders gave the example of a neighboring town of Center Point, which was an entirely white in 1970 but turned pre-dominantly black in 2010. They said they were scared this will be their fate if they don’t do something about it – because unfortunately, racism is still well and alive in 2018.
The scare is apparently such a big of a deal in the town that, according to the trial court that heard this case, a flyer featuring a white student was distributed asking if the residents would “rather live in an affluent white city or a formerly white city that now is well-integrated or predominantly black.”
The discriminatory flyer also listed predominant white communities that are “some of the best places to live.”
However, Gardendale school officials claim the idea for the new school district was not racially motivated.
“The Gardendale Board of Education is deeply grieved and disappointed by the opinion of the three-judge panel refusing to allow us to operate our own city schools in Gardendale,” said Michael Hogue, President of the Gardendale City Schools Board of Education. “We believe our actions have always reflected only our desire to form a new, welcoming, and inclusive school system to help schoolchildren and parents succeed, and we will continue to fight to achieve this by seeking further review in the federal courts.”
As the Think Progress appointed, the city council voted in favor of the secession effort and appointed a new school board superintendent, a veteran who had “never hired a black teacher, worked with a black teacher, or hired a black administrator.”
Cities have been allowed to split from the board if they still abided by the desegregation order until the city became non-discriminatory.
The court also said the city could secede if it did not go against the board’s desegregation efforts.
"If the Gardendale Board, for permissible purposes in the future, satisfies its burden to develop a secession plan that will not impede the desegregation efforts of the Jefferson County Board, then the district court may not prohibit the secession," the federal court ruled.
Thumbnail/ Banner Credit: Reuters