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Case Name Bowditch vs. Buncombe County Board of Education SD-NC-0008
Docket / Court 2196 ( W.D.N.C. )
State/Territory North Carolina
Case Type(s) School Desegregation
Case Summary
On January 23, 1964, the plaintiffs brought this school desegregation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, judge Wilson Warlick presiding. The plaintiffs, African-American minor school children by and through their parents, sued the defendant Buncombe ... read more >
On January 23, 1964, the plaintiffs brought this school desegregation lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, judge Wilson Warlick presiding. The plaintiffs, African-American minor school children by and through their parents, sued the defendant Buncombe County Board of Education to enjoin the operation of a segregated school system.

In 1963, just prior to the filing of the lawsuit, there were still separate primary schools in the district. There was no black high school in Buncombe county so students were bused to nearby Asheville (the largest city in the county, which also operated a segregated school system) to an over-crowded black high school. By the spring of 1964, the Board had adopted a written desegregation plan that was published in the county newspapers; it provided for desegregation to be completed by the 1967-68 school year. In examining the plan, the district court concluded that while the Board should complete desegregation a year earlier, by 1966-67, its plan, based on freedom of choice, was largely acceptable. The plan assigned every first grade student to a neighborhood school; students in second through eighth grade could request a transfer within their attendance area. By 1966-67, the voluntary transfer system would be extended to all grades.

On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, the plaintiffs challenged the voluntary transfer program and its delayed application to the high school grades. The court agreed that the plan presented problems for high school students -- given that the high school that black students were currently attending in Asheville was overcrowded. The court ordered the Board to transfer black high school students to all-white schools. Nonetheless, in all other respects, the court emphatically embraced the Board's freedom of choice plan, finding it adequate
Every other Negro now attending a segregated school has an unrestricted right to transfer to a school attended by white pupils. Every pupil moving from an elementary school to the high school level will be routinely assigned to one of the County's six high schools. This type of voluntary plan is adequate to accomplish a legal desegregation of the schools.
Bowditch v. Buncombe County Board of Education, 345 F.2d 329 (4th Cir. Apr. 7, 1965) (en banc).

Unfortunately, we have no meaningful record of this case from shortly after the Fourth Circuit's decision to the present. The paper docket ends in 1966, with the district court denying the North Carolina Teachers Association's motion to intervene and approving the Board's plan for faculty integration. We found a news article from 2014 that briefly mentioned Buncombe county's desegregation efforts:
[E]ven though a judge had never dismissed the local school district’s 1965 desegregation order, this year the lawyer for the Buncombe schools called the order essentially moot because of “the passage of time.”

In emails, the lawyer, Chris Campbell, told ProPublica the district had been ordered to eliminate a policy of sending its black students to a black high school operated in another district, which it had long ago done.

“There has been no further court action and no plan to take further action by the school district since the issues were resolved nearly 50 years ago,” he wrote.

But it’s hard to know if the district has been fully compliant, as Campbell does not have a copy of the desegregation order and neither does the federal court or its archives. However, an entry on an archived copy of the case’s court docket makes it appear that the district was at the very least mandated to desegregate its teaching staff as well. Campbell declined to answer questions about how he knew what was required without a copy of the order or to specifically address the teaching staff issue.
See Nikole Hannah Jones, Hundreds of School Districts Have Been Ignoring School Desegregation Orders for Decades, Pacific Standard (May 2, 2014).

Approved Opinions
Bowditch v. Buncombe County Board of Education, 345 F.2d 329 (4th Cir. Apr. 7, 1965) (en banc)

Greg Margolis - 02/27/2017


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Busing
Discrimination Prohibition
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
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. § 1983
Defendant(s) Buncombe County
Plaintiff Description African-American minor school children by and through their parents in the Buncombe County schools
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Settlement
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1965 - n/a
Case Ongoing Yes
Docket(s)
2196 (W.D.N.C.)
SD-NC-0008-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/12/1966
Source: Pro Publica
General Documents
[Order] (345 F.2d 329)
SD-NC-0008-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/07/1965
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Bell, J. Spencer (Fourth Circuit)
SD-NC-0008-0001
Sobeloff, Simon E. (Fourth Circuit)
SD-NC-0008-0001
Plaintiff's Lawyers Chambers, Julius LeVonne (New York)
SD-NC-0008-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Stoker, Lawrence C. (North Carolina)
SD-NC-0008-9000

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