Decision’s full effects not felt in Vicksburg until ’70s

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 17, 2004

Bowman, the city’s black high school, in 1954. (Submitted to The Vicksburg Post)

[5/17/04]Instead of hastening desegregation of public schools in Mississippi, Brown v. Board of Education, decided 50 years ago today, triggered all sorts of attempts to forestall it.

The Supreme Court decision declared unconstitutional the practice most states used to assign student attendance based on race.

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Vicksburg public schools, like most in Mississippi, were not fully mixed until the early 1970s.

State authorities had anticipated the federal court’s Brown ruling, and ignored it.

Former Warren County Superintendent of Schools Sharp Banks, then principal of a county school, said the decision had little immediate effect here.

“Most people didn’t pay any attention to it,” said Sharp Banks, who was elected and re-elected to serve from 1962 until 1987. “Everybody had the attitude that We won’t do anything until they force us to.'”

Reaction from the state Legislature, though, was immediate. Sessions were held four times during the year before and the year after the Brown decision. Among ideas was to prop up all-black schools in the belief that the long-prevailing student assignment doctrine of “separate but equal,” struck down by Brown, would be revived.

The year before the Brown decision, white schools in Mississippi received nearly three times the funding of black schools, though enrollment numbers in the two systems were roughly the same.

“The sense of urgency evident in Mississippi’s school-reform movement stemmed from the public anxiety over the impending Supreme Court decision on school segregation and from the obvious need to modernize the state’s school system,” University of Mississippi professor David G. Sansing wrote in a 1990 newspaper article.

Within six weeks of the Brown decision, a legislative plan was in place to sharply increase the rate at which the state government funded facility upgrades at black schools.

The agency that administered that plan was called the State Educational Finance Commission. It allowed each district to accumulate annual credits of $12 per white student and $18 per black student, said Dr. Frank Lovell of Clinton, who headed the SEFC from 1974 until the commission was transferred to the Department of Education in 1988. The credits were to be spent on school building and improvement projects with the hope of maintaining segregation by persuading the federal government that the state’s schools for blacks and its schools for whites were equal