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Case Name Northcross v. Board of Education of the Memphis City Schools SD-TN-0001
Docket / Court 3931 ( W.D. Tenn. )
State/Territory Tennessee
Case Type(s) Education
School Desegregation
Attorney Organization NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Case Summary
On March 31, 1960, the plaintiffs filed this desegregation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The plaintiffs, African-American minor school children, by and through their parents, sued the defendant Memphis City Board of Education to enjoin the operation of a ... read more >
On March 31, 1960, the plaintiffs filed this desegregation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The plaintiffs, African-American minor school children, by and through their parents, sued the defendant Memphis City Board of Education to enjoin the operation of a segregated school system. They were represented by, among others, Jack Greenberg for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, Tennessee passed a Pupil Assignment Law to permit voluntary transfers without regard to race; under this freedom of choice plan, the local boards had wide discretion to deny requests, providing a facially non-racial justification to subvert integration. Unsurprisingly, through the 1960-61 school year, Memphis City schools remained entirely segregated.

After being denied a transfer to an all-white school, plaintiff Gerald Young, through his parents, brought this suit along with a group of similarly situated plaintiffs. On May 2, 1961, the district court (Judge Marion Boyd) denied a preliminary injunction, concluding that the Board did not in fact operate a biracial school system and that the plaintiffs hadn't exhausted their administrative remedies. After the plaintiffs appealed to the Sixth Circuit, the Board began to realize that it would eventually have to take further steps to desegregate. In an effort to avoid the turmoil and negative publicity that had plagued other cities in the wake of a school board's intransigence, the Board worked to develop improved desegregation plans. The NAACP also urged more families to apply for transfers.

After the Sixth Circuit declared the plan developed under the Pupil Assignment Law inadequate on March 23, 1962, Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 302 F.2d 818 (6th Cir. Mar. 23, 1964), a series of proposed plans and subsequent appeals followed.

By 1967 with the sanitation strike, the assassination of MLK and the ensuing riots, tensions in Memphis as a whole reached a peak level. In this context, and in the wake of the Court's decision in Green v. County School Board, the plaintiffs, frustrated at the lack of progress, resumed their efforts in court, pressing the Board to adopt a more adequate plan. In 1970, the case reached the Supreme Court, which remanded for the immediate development of a better desegregation plan. Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 397 U.S. 232 (Mar. 9, 1970). The schools remained segregated, however, even in light of the revised attendance zones given the increasing residential segregation in the city, a product of both white flight and housing discrimination from the Federal and Memphis Housing Authorities.

From 1971 through 1974, after the Court's 1971 decision in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg, busing became the flashpoint in the city's efforts to desegregate the schools. (Interestingly, Memphis had never provided transportation for any of its students.) After a contentious battle among the parties -- and strident opposition from the public -- the Board began a busing plan in January 1973. The implementation of busing triggered white flight to the surrounding county schools and other private school options. The same busing plan remained in effect until 1982 when it was amended by the biracial committee.

Busing remained in effect until 1992 when the plaintiffs consented to the court's order to put the case on inactive status -- a decision that effectively ended the formal desegregation efforts. On April 23, 1999, the case was formally dismissed.

As an epilogue: In 2004, nearly 87 percent of Memphis City school students were black and only around 9 percent were white -- racial demographics that led to highly segregated schools, including 25 within the district that were 100 percent black. Surrounding Shelby County (a semi-autonomous district that shared some funding with Memphis but was run separately), on the other hand, was a mirror image. In 2013, after much discussion, the Memphis City schools merged with Shelby County, in an attempt to address the sustained segregation in Memphis city schools. See this 1-year report on the results.

Available Opinions
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 302 F.2d 818 (6th Cir. Mar. 23, 1962)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 333 F.2d 661 (6th Cir. June 12, 1964)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 420 F.2d 546 (6th Cir. Dec. 19, 1969)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 397 U.S. 232 (Mar. 9, 1970)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 312 F.Supp. 1150 (W.D. Tenn. May 1, 1970)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 444 F.2d 1179 (6th Cir. June 7, 1971)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 444 F.2d 1184 (6th Cir. June 7, 1971)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 341 F.Supp. 583 (W.D. Tenn. Apr. 20, 1972)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 463 F.2d 329 (6th Cir. July 5, 1972)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 466 F.2d 890 (6th Cir. Aug. 29, 1972)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 489 F.2d 19 (6th Cir. Dec. 4, 1973)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 489 F.2d 15 (6th Cir. Dec. 4, 1973)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 489 F.2d 18 (6th Cir. Dec. 4, 1973)
Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools, 611 F.2d 624 (6th Cir. Nov. 23, 1979)

See also
Sarah Garland, In Memphis Classrooms, the Ghost of Segregation Lingers On, The Atlantic (Feb. 13, 2012).

Greg Margolis - 03/05/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Busing
Discrimination Prohibition
Monitoring
Preliminary relief denied
Reporting
Student assignment
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Disparate Treatment
Education
Racial segregation
School/University Facilities
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Race
Black
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983
Defendant(s) City of Memphis
Plaintiff Description Plaintiffs were African-American minor school children, by and through their parents, who attended the public schools in Memphis, Tennessee.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1962 - 1999
Case Closing Year 1999
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Exploded Dream: Desegregation in the Memphis City Schools
Law & Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice
Date: 2008
By: Daniel Kiel (University of Memphis Faculty)
Citation: Daniel Kiel, Exploded Dream: Desegregation in the Memphis City Schools, 26 Law & Ineq. 261 (2008) DOI: 10.2307/2294831
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  A Bittersweet Victory: Public School Desegregation in Memphis
The Journal of Negro Education
Date: Autumn, 1986
By: Roger Biles (Oklahoma State University Faculty)
Citation: Roger Biles The Journal of Negro Education Vol. 55, No. 4 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 470-483 DOI: 10.2307/2294831
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
2:60-cv-03931 (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0001-9000.pdf | Detail
Date:
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
[Order] (302 F.2d 818)
SD-TN-0001-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/23/1962
Source: Westlaw
Amicus Brief of the Memphis Citizens Council (1962 WL 115533)
SD-TN-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Date: 06/14/1962
Source: Westlaw
United States Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit (333 F.2d 661)
SD-TN-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/12/1964
Source: Papers of Owen Fiss
[Order] (420 F.2d 546)
SD-TN-0001-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/19/1969
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (397 U.S. 232)
SD-TN-0001-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/09/1970
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (312 F.Supp. 1150) (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0001-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/01/1970
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (444 F.2d 1179)
SD-TN-0001-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/07/1971
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (444 F.2d 1184)
SD-TN-0001-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/07/1971
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (341 F.Supp. 583) (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0001-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/20/1972
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (463 F.2d 329)
SD-TN-0001-0010.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/05/1972
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (466 F.2d 890)
SD-TN-0001-0011.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 08/29/1972
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (489 F.2d 19)
SD-TN-0001-0012.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/04/1973
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (489 F.2d 15)
SD-TN-0001-0013.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/04/1973
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (489 F.2d 18)
SD-TN-0001-0014.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/04/1973
Source: Westlaw
[Order] (611 F.2d 624)
SD-TN-0001-0015.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/23/1979
Source: Westlaw
Judges Burger, Warren Earl (SCOTUS, D.C. Circuit)
SD-TN-0001-0005
Cecil, Lester LeFevre (Sixth Circuit, S.D. Ohio)
SD-TN-0001-0003
Celebrezze, Anthony Joseph (Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0001-0004 | SD-TN-0001-0007 | SD-TN-0001-0008 | SD-TN-0001-0010 | SD-TN-0001-0011 | SD-TN-0001-0012 | SD-TN-0001-0013 | SD-TN-0001-0014 | SD-TN-0001-0015
Edwards, George Clifton Jr. (Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0001-0010
Kent, W. Wallace (Sixth Circuit, W.D. Mich.)
SD-TN-0001-0010
McCree, Wade Hampton Jr. (Sixth Circuit, E.D. Mich.)
SD-TN-0001-0010
McRae, Robert Malcolm Jr. (W.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0001-0006 | SD-TN-0001-0009
Miller, William Ernest (Sixth Circuit, M.D. Tenn.)
SD-TN-0001-0010
O'Sullivan, Clifford Patrick (Sixth Circuit, E.D. Mich.)
SD-TN-0001-0003 | SD-TN-0001-0004 | SD-TN-0001-0007 | SD-TN-0001-0008
Peck, John Weld II (Sixth Circuit, S.D. Ohio)
SD-TN-0001-0010 | SD-TN-0001-0011 | SD-TN-0001-0012 | SD-TN-0001-0013 | SD-TN-0001-0014 | SD-TN-0001-0015
Phillips, Harry (Sixth Circuit)
SD-TN-0001-0010
Weick, Paul Charles (Sixth Circuit, N.D. Ohio)
SD-TN-0001-0003 | SD-TN-0001-0004 | SD-TN-0001-0007 | SD-TN-0001-0008 | SD-TN-0001-0010 | SD-TN-0001-0011 | SD-TN-0001-0012 | SD-TN-0001-0013 | SD-TN-0001-0014 | SD-TN-0001-0015
Other Lawyers Ely, Richard T. (Tennessee)
SD-TN-0001-0001
Law, Bruce (Tennessee)
SD-TN-0001-0001
Norfleet, Marvin Brooks (Tennessee)
SD-TN-0001-0001

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