Case: Northcross v. Board of Education of the Memphis City Schools

2:60-cv-03931 | U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee

Filed Date: March 31, 1960

Closed Date: 1999

Clearinghouse coding complete

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 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…

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).

Summary Authors

Greg Margolis (3/5/2017)

People


Judge(s)

Burger, Warren Earl (District of Columbia)

Cecil, Lester LeFevre (Ohio)

Celebrezze, Anthony Joseph (Ohio)

Edwards, George Clifton Jr. (Michigan)

Kent, W. Wallace (Michigan)

Marshall, John (District of Columbia)

McCree, Wade Hampton Jr. (Michigan)

McRae, Robert Malcolm Jr. (Tennessee)

Miller, William Ernest (Tennessee)

O'Sullivan, Clifford Patrick (Michigan)

Judge(s)

Burger, Warren Earl (District of Columbia)

Cecil, Lester LeFevre (Ohio)

Celebrezze, Anthony Joseph (Ohio)

Edwards, George Clifton Jr. (Michigan)

Kent, W. Wallace (Michigan)

Marshall, John (District of Columbia)

McCree, Wade Hampton Jr. (Michigan)

McRae, Robert Malcolm Jr. (Tennessee)

Miller, William Ernest (Tennessee)

O'Sullivan, Clifford Patrick (Michigan)

Peck, John Weld II (Ohio)

Phillips, Harry (Tennessee)

Weick, Paul Charles (Ohio)

Other Attorney(s)

Ely, Richard T. (Tennessee)

Law, Bruce (Tennessee)

Norfleet, Marvin Brooks (Tennessee)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket

Northcross v. Memphis Board of Ed.

None Docket

[Order]

Northcross v. Board of Education of the City of Memphis, Tennessee

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

302 F.2d 818

May 23, 1962 Order/Opinion

Amicus Brief of the Memphis Citizens Council

BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF MEMPHIS v. NORTHCROSS

Supreme Court of the United States

1962 WL 115533

June 14, 1962 Pleading / Motion / Brief

United States Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit

Northcross v. Board of Education of City of Memphis

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

333 F.2d 661

June 12, 1964 Order/Opinion

[Order]

Northcross v. Board of Education of the City of Memphis

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

420 F.2d 546

Dec. 19, 1969 Order/Opinion

[Order]

Northcross v. Board of Education of the Memphis, Tennessee, City Schools

Supreme Court of the United States

397 U.S. 232

March 9, 1970 Order/Opinion

[Order]

312 F.Supp. 1150

May 1, 1970 Order/Opinion

[Order]

Northcross v. Board of Education of Memphis City Schools

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

444 F.2d 1179

June 7, 1971 Order/Opinion

[Order]

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

444 F.2d 1184

June 7, 1971 Order/Opinion

[Order]

Northcross v. Board of Education, Memphis City Schools

341 F.Supp. 583

April 20, 1972 Order/Opinion

Resources

Title Description External URL

A Bittersweet Victory: Public School Desegregation in Memphis

Roger Biles

The 1954 United States Supreme Court ruling on school desegregation sent southern white supremacists in search of means to resist or at least delay implementation. Their tactics varied. Some states i… Sept. 1, 1986 https://www.jstor.org/stable/2294831?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

Exploded Dream: Desegregation in the Memphis City Schools

Daniel Kiel

This Article follows the case of <i>Northcross v. Board of Education of the Memphis City Schools</i> from its origins through a period of slow but peaceful desegregation in the 1960s and into the mor… Jan. 1, 2008 http://scholarship.law.umn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1099&context=lawineq

Exploded Dream: Desegregation in the Memphis City Schools

Daniel Kiel

This Article follows the case of Northcross v. Board of Education of the Memphis City Schools from its origins through a period of slow but peaceful desegregation in the 1960s and into the more confr… June 1, 2008

Docket

Last updated May 12, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Tennessee

Case Type(s):

School Desegregation

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 31, 1960

Closing Date: 1999

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Plaintiffs were African-American minor school children, by and through their parents, who attended the public schools in Memphis, Tennessee.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

City of Memphis, School District

Defendant Type(s):

Elementary/Secondary School

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Order Duration: 1962 - 1999

Content of Injunction:

Busing

Discrimination Prohibition

Monitoring

Preliminary relief denied

Reporting

Student assignment

Issues

General:

Disparate Treatment

Education

Racial segregation

School/University Facilities

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black

Type of Facility:

Government-run