Legally, the schools in Jefferson County, Alabama, have been racially desegregated since a federal court order in 1971. But from the first day, when mothers of white students spat at black children entering their schools, there has been local resistance. Recently, predominantly white cities in the county have been seceding to get around the order, forming their own counties and school districts.
Three mostly white communities have seceded from Jefferson County’s school district in recent years, changing the racial makeup of the county’s schools from 75 percent white to less than 50 percent. Schools in those new mini-districts are all more than 80 percent white.
Recently, Gardendale, Alabama was the most recent of these, trying to secede from the Jefferson County school district. This would redistrict the schools within Gardendale, kicking out the predominantly black students who live in the neighborhoods outside the city. The people organizing Gardendale’s secession effort were too obvious about their reasons. They cited how their schools “looked” different from their local churches and community events. A flyer even asked locals if they would “rather live in an affluent white city or a formerly white city that now is well-integrated or predominantly black.” That flyer, featuring a white little girl in a backpack, listed four integrated cities and four mostly white cities in the area and asked Gardendale residents “which path” they would choose.
While Stout v. Jefferson County Board of Education, decided by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in 2018, was a victory in the fight against segregation, it was a short-term one, since many rulings about school desegregation were about to expire. But the court couldn’t have done anything else but refuse to allow Gardendale to secede from the Jefferson County school district, given the obvious racial motivations for the desired secession, even if it was only a short-term victory.
Clearly, the fight against segregation, which began in the courts, is going to continue in the courts, as long as towns try to split from school districts for racial reasons.