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Case Name Lee and United States of America v. Macon County School Board (N.D. Ala. Case) SD-AL-0007
Docket / Court 70-0251 ( N.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) School Desegregation
Special Collection Civil Rights Division Archival Collection
Attorney Organization U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Case Summary
This Clearinghouse entry discusses the post 1970 proceedings in Lee v. Macon County, a seminal Alabama desegregation case. That case originated in the Middle District of Alabama and was transferred to a three-judge district court which supervised school desegregation across the state ... read more >
This Clearinghouse entry discusses the post 1970 proceedings in Lee v. Macon County, a seminal Alabama desegregation case. That case originated in the Middle District of Alabama and was transferred to a three-judge district court which supervised school desegregation across the state. However, after 1970, the statewide case was dissolved and desegregation cases in individual school districts were sent to the judicial districts that encompassed them. This Clearinghouse entry describes the Lee litigation in the Northern District of Alabama after 1970. To read about what happened between 1963, when the case was filed, and 1970, please see Lee v. Macon County Bd. of Ed. (SD-AL-0002)

Limestone County

On July 14, 1970, the three-judge district court issued a desegregation order for schools in Limestone County, Alabama, prior to the case being transferred to the Northern District of Alabama. During the fall and winter that followed, the United States and the National Education Association both filed motions alleging backsliding on the part of the county school board. The district court addressed those allegations in a January 4, 1971 opinion, in which it ordered the district to change its faculty hiring practices and the manner by which it assigned students to schools. 321 F.Supp. 1. The later history of this case is not readily available, however.

Tuscaloosa City

Prior to sending the case back to the Northern District of Alabama, the three-judge district court entered a desegregation order for schools in the City of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Shortly after the case was returned to the Northern District in 1970, the United States appealed to the Fifth Circuit. The court of appeals found that the desegregation plan “fully intergrate[d]” the school system and declined to grant any more relief. 429 F.2d 1218.

Six years later in 1976, the United States filed a motion for supplemental relief, alleging deficiencies in the school system’s desegregation performance. In response, the district court ordered the city to take measures to desegregate their faculty and provide free bussing for students to attend schools primarily attended by members of other racial groups. Hoping to get more relief, the United States appealed to the Fifth Circuit. However, the court of appeals vacated the busing remedy. 576 F.2d 39.

On remand, the court and the parties devised another desegregation plan, which aimed to achieve unitary status by reshuffling students among Tuscaloosa’s middle and high schools. However, it did not affect the city’s elementary schools, which were still heavily segregated. The United States again appealed and, again, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court’s remedy. 616 F.2d 805. Back in the district court, the parties negotiated a consent order which was entered on July 29, 1981. The order provided that several of the city’s elementary schools would remain all or majority Black, but that the schools would receive extra services. After more than a decade, the city returned to court to ask for permission to build more elementary schools. Finding that the city’s plan would further desegregate the schools and alleviate overcrowding, the district court approved it in January of 1996. 914 F. Supp. 489. In 1997, the city moved for unitary status and dismissal of the case. However, the outcome of this motion is not publicly available.

Anniston City

As in other cases, prior to sending the case back to the Northern District of Alabama, the three-judge district court crafted a desegregation plan for schools in the City of Anniston, Alabama. Shortly after the case was reassigned, the United States appealed to the Fifth Circuit in an attempt to change the student assignment plans ordered by the three-judge district court. However, in July of 1970, the court of appeals affirmed the three-judge district court’s order. 429 F.2d 1218. On remand, the district court entered additional desegregation orders in 1973 and 1975 – however, neither of those orders are available to the Clearinghouse.

In 1982 an integrated citizens committee and the school board announced a plan to close an aging middle school in a Black neighborhood and construct a new one in a neutral neighborhood. The United States challenged that plan in the district court, which sided with the city. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed that decision in a 1984 ruling, agreeing with the district court that the plan was not racially motivated. 737 F.3d 952.

Nunnelley State Technical College

In 1967, as part of the greater Lee v. Macon County litigation, the three-judge district court ordered the Alabama State Board of Education to desegregate the state’s trade schools, vocational schools, and state colleges. 267 F.Supp 458. One of these colleges was Nunnelley State Technical College in Childersburg, Alabama. In May of 1972, the three-judge district court transferred jurisdiction over the individual institutions to the judicial districts they were located in. However, in August of 1975, District Judge Frank Johnson of the Middle District of Alabama entered a consent desegregation order binding junior and technical colleges across the state. After some litigation by the National Education Association in the late 70s about the hiring and firing of Black teachers, the case lay dormant as to Nunnelley until 1987. At that point, District Judge William M. Acker, Jr. issued an order to show cause why Nunnelley should not be found to have attained unitary status. No parties objected and on March 18, 1988, he entered an order finding Nunnelley was a unitary institution and dismissed the case. 681 F.Supp. 730.

Talladega County

Like many of the other jurisdictions affected by Lee v. Macon County, the schools of Talladega County were ordered to be desegregated in 1970 and 1971. After over a decade of supervision, the county’s Board of Education filed a motion in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Alabama to find its schools had achieved unitary status and to dismiss the case. Two years later, on March 13, 1985, the School Board and the plaintiffs stipulated to the dismissal of the case. However, the National Education Association returned to court in 1988 and alleged significant backsliding on the part of the school board since 1985, including the closing of schools in Black communities, allowing students to transfer to schools outside of their attendance zones, and not implementing an affirmative action program for faculty and staff. However, District Judge William M. Acker, Jr., finding that the case had been dismissed in 1985, denied the plaintiffs’ motion to reopen. 1988 WL 288974. The plaintiffs appealed Judge Acker’s ruling to the Eleventh Circuit, but the court of appeals affirmed. 963 F.2d 1426.

Etowah County, Sylacauga City, and Talladega City

Similar to other jurisdictions across the state of Alabama, the school districts in Etowah County, Sylacauga City, and Talladega City were all ordered to desegregate in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The dates and nature of these orders are not available to the Clearinghouse. All three cases lay dormant until October of 1987 when District Judge William M. Acker, Jr. of the Northern District Alabama issued an order to show cause why the school systems should not be found unitary. Though the plaintiffs, the United States and the National Education Association objected, Judge Acker eventually found unitary status and dismissed the case. The plaintiffs appealed to the Eleventh Circuit, which reversed. 963 F.2d 1416. The court of appeals noted that the plaintiffs had raised several material issues of fact, which the district court had not determined, and remanded the case. The eventual disposition of these cases is not clear from the public record.

Clay County

Clay County Alabama's schools were also placed under a desegregation order created by the three-judge district court that lasted into the 2000s. In 2002, when the county school board wanted to close several schools due to a budget shortfall, it needed approval from the district court. After close to a year of litigation, as well as a school board election, District Judge C. Lynwood Smith Jr. allowed the county to close two schools. 2003 WL 27376724.

Decatur City

The city of Decatur, Alabama, was also bound by a desegregation plan created by the three-judge district court. In 2008, after years of supervision, the city filed a motion for unitary status. District Judge R. David Proctor partially granted that motion four years later in 2012 but continued to supervise the district's hiring and assignment of faculty and staff. In 2019, Judge Proctor finally declared Decatur's schools to have reached unitary status and closed the case. 2019 WL 2524766.

Dockets

In the Northern District, Lee was assigned a “master” docket number, CV 70-251-S, covering all school districts. When the court began using electronic records, it started assigning new docket numbers to individual districts as controversies arose, listed below:

  • Lee et al v. Anniston City School System (docket: 1:21-mc-00744-CLM)

  • Lee et al v. Macon County Board of Education et al (docket: 2:07-mc-01944-ACA)*

  • Lee et al v. Trussville City Board of Education (docket: 2:15-mc-00535-MHH)

  • Lee et al v. Midfield City Board of Education (docket: 2:17-mc-00679-MHH)

  • Lee et al v. Homewood City Board of Education (docket: 2:17-mc-00680-MHH)

  • Lee et al v. Leeds City Board of Education (docket: 2:17-mc-00681-MHH)

  • Lee et al v. Decatur City School System (docket: 5:18-mc-00898-RDP)

However, because to the inaccessibility of court records from the era these cases were litigated, it is possible that additional dockets exist.

Jonah Hudson-Erdman - 11/14/2021


compress summary

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Busing
Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)
Monitoring
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Reporting
Student assignment
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Jurisdiction-wide
Discrimination-basis
Race discrimination
General
Buildings
Education
Racial segregation
School/University Facilities
School/University policies
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Race
Black
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Defendant(s) Various City & County School Boards in the Northern District of Alabama
Plaintiff Description Multiple Classes - Black students in various school districts within the Northern District of Alabama. The United States as intervenor.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status outcome Granted
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Filed 1970
Case Ongoing No reason to think so
Case Listing SD-AL-0002 : Lee v. Macon County Bd. of Ed. (M.D. Ala.)
Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
U.S. Court of Appeals
07/15/1970
Opinion (429 F.2d 1218)
SD-AL-0007-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Ala.
01/04/1971
Memorandum of Decision and Order (321 F.Supp. 1)
SD-AL-0007-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
12/28/1971
Opinion (453 F.2d 1104)
SD-AL-0007-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
08/10/1973
Opinion
SD-AL-0007-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Brian Landsberg
U.S. Court of Appeals
06/19/1978
Opinion (576 F.2d 39)
SD-AL-0007-0010.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
05/07/1980
Opinion (616 F.2d 805)
SD-AL-0007-0011.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Ala.
03/18/1988
Memorandum Opinion (681 F.Supp. 730)
SD-AL-0007-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Ala.
07/25/1988
Memorandum Opinion (1988 WL 288974)
SD-AL-0007-0006.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
06/04/1992
Opinion (963 F.2d 1416)
SD-AL-0007-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
06/15/1992
Opinion (963 F.2d 1426)
SD-AL-0007-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Ala.
01/10/1996
Memorandum Opinion (914 F.Supp. 489)
SD-AL-0007-0012.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Ala.
07/23/1998
Joint Stipulation and Motion
SD-AL-0007-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: Pro Publica
N.D. Ala.
05/13/2003
Order (2003 WL 27376724)
SD-AL-0007-0014.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
N.D. Ala.
06/19/2019
Memorandum Opinion and Order (2019 WL 2524766)
SD-AL-0007-0013.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Acker, William Marsh Jr. (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0005 | SD-AL-0007-0006
Ainsworth, Robert Andrew Jr. (E.D. La., Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0002 | SD-AL-0007-0009 | SD-AL-0007-0010
Bell, Griffin Boyette (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0002 | SD-AL-0007-0009
Blackburn, Sharon Lovelace (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0012
Clark, Thomas Alonzo (Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0007 | SD-AL-0007-0008
Dyer, David William (S.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0004
Fay, Peter Thorp (S.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0011
Gee, Thomas Gibbs (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0011
Gewin, Walter Pettus (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0004
Godbold, John Cooper (Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0002 | SD-AL-0007-0009 | SD-AL-0007-0010
Goldberg, Irving Loeb (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0004
Hill, Robert Madden (N.D. Tex., Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0010
Pointer, Sam Clyde Jr. (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0003
Proctor, R. David (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0013
Smith, Charles Lynwood Jr. (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0014
Smith, Edward Samuel (Ninth Circuit, , Fed. Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0007 | SD-AL-0007-0008
Tjoflat, Gerald Bard (M.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0007 | SD-AL-0007-0008
Vance, Robert Smith (Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0011
Plaintiff's Lawyers Chachkin, Norman J. (New York) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0001
Mines, Kenneth A (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0001
Parker, Dennis D. (New York) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0001
Seay, Solomon S. Jr. (Alabama) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0001
White, Heshima (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0001
Defendant's Lawyers Gibson, J. Russell III (Alabama) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0001
Other Lawyers Monfore, Robert W (Alabama) show/hide docs
SD-AL-0007-0001

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