Case: Henry v. Clarksdale Municipal Separate School District

3:64-cv-00028 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi

Filed Date: April 22, 1964

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This school desegregation case began in 1964 and remains open as of 2021. The complaint was filed on 4/22/1964. It involves the efforts to desegregate the Clarksdale Municipal Separate School District, now known as the Clarksdale Municipal School District (CMSD). Plaintiffs, Black students and their families, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi and argued that CMSD's geographic zoning system perpetuated a dual school system. The plaintiffs were …

This school desegregation case began in 1964 and remains open as of 2021. The complaint was filed on 4/22/1964. It involves the efforts to desegregate the Clarksdale Municipal Separate School District, now known as the Clarksdale Municipal School District (CMSD). Plaintiffs, Black students and their families, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi and argued that CMSD's geographic zoning system perpetuated a dual school system. The plaintiffs were represented by notable civil rights attorneys Melvyn Leventhal, Derrick Bell Jr., Henry Aronson, Jack Greenberg, James Nabrit III, Melvyn Zarr, R. Jess Brown, and Conrad K. Harper.

Desegregation

The first district court opinion is not available digitally. However, the Court of Appeals opinion describes that the district court found the geographic zoning system did not desegregate schools, even though CMSD acted in good faith when drawing its attendance zones. 409 F.2d 682, 684 (5th Cir. 1969). As a result of the geographic zoning, not a single child in Clarksdale attended a school with students of a different race. Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit to attend the all-white Clarksdale High School because they argued they were not receiving an equal education at the all-Black high school, W.A. Higgins High School. The Fifth Circuit held that since the geographic zoning prohibited substantial integration, the CMSD school board had to consider redrawing its attendance zones, incorporating transfer provisions in its desegregation plan, closing all-Black schools, consolidating and pairing schools, rotating school principals, or any other measures that could promote integration.

CMSD then petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which was denied. 396 U.S. 940 (1969). Apparently on remand, the district court disapproved CMSD's desegregation plan; in 1970, there were cross-appeals from that district court order. The Fifth Circuit held that CMSD had to create a desegregation plan for all grades in the school district starting in September 1970. The plan had to focus on the goal of producing a unitary system and a special master was to be appointed to ensure CMSD followed through with the court's order. 425 F.2d 698 (5th Cir. 1970). On remand, a special master wrote a report; the district court and then the Fifth Circuit approved that plan later the same year. 433 F.2d 387 (5th Cir. 1970). The desegregation plan focused on assigning elementary school students to schools outside of their home attendance zone and sending them to elementary schools in adjacent attendance zones.

The plaintiffs later requested to have transportation provided to students living more than one and a half miles from their assigned schools under the desegregation plan. The district court (in another unavailable opinion) granted the plaintiffs' request. This decision was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit. 480 F.2d 583 (5th Cir. 1973).

In 1978, the plaintiffs' attorneys sought an attorney's fee award. The district court (in an unavailable opinion) held that the attorneys were not entitled to an award for any fees incurred before July 1, 1972. The plaintiffs' attorneys then appealed. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. 579 F.2d 916 (5th Cir. 1978), reh'g en banc denied, 586 F.2d 842 (5th Cir. 1978), aff’d, 647 F.2d 1116 (5th Cir. 1981).

CMSD filed a motion on April 18, 1979 to dismiss the case. This motion was denied by the district court on July 19, 1979. Later that year, the plaintiffs filed a motion to designate new representative plaintiffs to maintain the class action lawsuit. This motion was granted on September 28, 1979.

Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, CMSD submitted annual reports to the district court. The court granted orders throughout this period regarding elementary student assignment, the creation of a biracial commission, and changing the CMSD attendance zones.

Magnet and Charter Schools

In 2013, CMSD filed a motion to amend/correct prior orders related to the desegregation of CMSD to allow for magnet school implementation. This motion was granted by District Judge Michael P. Mills on June 11, 2013. Judge Mills described how none of the plaintiffs were still living in Clarksdale in 2013 and how the magnet school implementation would not impact the racial balance in the schools because its objective was to improve the quality of education in Clarksdale. CMSD filed another motion to amend/correct prior orders related to the desegregation of CMSD to “allow certain changes in the magnet school program.” This motion was granted by Judge Mills on June 1, 2016. On March 28, 2017, another motion was made to amend/correct prior orders related to the desegregation to allow certain changes in the magnet schools. Judge Mills granted the motion on April 4.

There was also an effort to open a charter school in Clarksdale. On October 13, 2017, charter school opponents filed a supplemental complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order to stop the State of Mississippi from rating local schools. Apparently, the movants feared that school ratings would reveal that Clarksdale's schools were underperforming, which could result in the establishment of a charter school.

Judge Mills denied the motion on October 19. Judge Mills pointed out that the school system, which was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was actually better positioned to be a plaintiff on this issue and that the State of Mississippi, which was rating the schools, should be the defendant. This brought up jurisdictional issues for the Court. He also pointed out that even if a temporary restraining order preventing the rating of schools were to issue, it was unclear that the order would actually prevent a charter school from being established.

Judge Mills explained that it would be preferable for any persons who thought they had standing to file a separate lawsuit, rather than raise charter school issues in the current case. Finally, Judge Mills brought up the fact that the school rating process had little to do with the current desegregation case filed in 1964. In order to be relevant, the plaintiffs would “have to persuade this court that 1) the State of Mississippi, a non-party to this action, is bound by the prior orders in this case and 2) that its establishment of a charter school would serve to re-segregate Clarksdale schools,” which they had not. 2017 WL 4701050.

A notice of appeal to the Fifth Circuit appears on the docket on October 20. On December 6, 2017, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit dismissed the appeal for want of prosecution. On January 30, 2018, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted a motion to reopen the appeal, and on June 1, 2018, an appellate brief was filed. On August 31, 2018, the Court of Appeals upheld the denial of the temporary restraining order and the preliminary injunction on the grounds that the trial court had correctly denied relief because the plaintiffs were not joined in the litigation, and the plaintiffs did not seem to have been injured so as to attain standing. Finally, “in the absence of party defendants” it did not seem possible for the plaintiffs to obtain redress. The motions for attorney's fees and “reactivation of the Bi-Racial Committee” were denied. The plaintiffs sought a panel rehearing with the Fifth Circuit, which was also denied. 736 Fed. Appx. 91 (Mem).

The district court retains jurisdiction over implementation of the desegregation order; the case is ongoing as of February, 2021.

Available Opinions

Henry v. Clarksdale Mun. Separate Sch. Dist., 409 F.2d 682 (5th Cir. 1969).

Henry v. Clarksdale Mun. Separate Sch. Dist., 425 F.2d 698 (5th Cir. 1970).

Henry v. Clarksdale Mun. Separate Sch. Dist., 433 F.2d 387 (5th Cir. 1970).

Henry v. Clarksdale Mun. Separate Sch. Dist., 480 F.2d 583 (5th Cir. 1973).

Henry v. Clarksdale Mun. Separate Sch. Dist., 579 F.2d 916 (5th Cir. 1978).

Henry v. Clarksdale Mun. Separate Sch. Dist., 2017 WL 4701050 (N.D. Miss. 2017).

Henry v. Clarksdale Mun. Separate Sch. Dist., 736 Fed. Appx. 91 (Mem). (5th Cir. 2018).

Summary Authors

Amelia Huckins (2/19/2017)

Samuel Poortenga (2/25/2021)

People


Judge(s)

Coleman, James Plemon (Louisiana)

Cox, William Harold (Mississippi)

Fay, Peter Thorp (Florida)

Higginson, Stephen Andrew (Louisiana)

Jones, Edith Hollan (Texas)

Mills, Michael P. (Mississippi)

Reavley, Thomas Morrow (Texas)

Simpson, John Milton Bryan (Florida)

Thornberry, William Homer (Texas)

Tjoflat, Gerald Bard (Florida)

Judge(s)

Coleman, James Plemon (Louisiana)

Cox, William Harold (Mississippi)

Fay, Peter Thorp (Florida)

Higginson, Stephen Andrew (Louisiana)

Jones, Edith Hollan (Texas)

Mills, Michael P. (Mississippi)

Reavley, Thomas Morrow (Texas)

Simpson, John Milton Bryan (Florida)

Thornberry, William Homer (Texas)

Tjoflat, Gerald Bard (Florida)

Wisdom, John Minor (Louisiana)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Aronson, Henry M. (Connecticut)

Bell, Derrick A. Jr. (New York)

Brown, Jessica Ruszkiewicz (Pennsylvania)

Chambliss, Alvin O. (Mississippi)

Greenberg, Jack (New York)

Harper, Conrad K. (New York)

Luckett, Semmes (Mississippi)

Nabrit, James M. III (New York)

Zarr, Melvyn (New York)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Banks, Fred L. Jr. (Mississippi)

Cocke, John H. (Mississippi)

Maynard, William H (Mississippi)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket

Feb. 1, 2010 Docket

Docket [PACER]

Oct. 17, 2018 Docket

Opinion

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

409 F.2d 682

March 6, 1969 Order/Opinion

Opinion

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

425 F.2d 698

April 15, 1970 Order/Opinion

Opinion

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

433 F.2d 387

Aug. 12, 1970 Order/Opinion

Opinion

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

480 F.2d 583

June 22, 1973 Order/Opinion

Opinion

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

579 F.2d 916

Oct. 7, 1978 Order/Opinion
2

Motion to Amend Prior Orders Related to the Desegregation of the Clarksdale Municipal School District, to Allow the Implementation of "Magnet Schools"

March 28, 2013 Pleading / Motion / Brief
5

Order Granting Motion to Amend Prior Orders Relating to the Desegregation of the Clarksdale Municipal School District . . .

June 11, 2013 Order/Opinion
18

Order

2017 WL 4701050

Oct. 19, 2017 Order/Opinion

Resources

Title Description External URL

Desegregation: How It Happened in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Brian K. Hornbuckle

The 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education has radically changed life in the South for both white and black citizens. Many educational institutions experienced several tumultuous years d… http://www.public.iastate.edu/~bkh/teaching/deseg.pdf

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Mississippi

Case Type(s):

School Desegregation

Key Dates

Filing Date: April 22, 1964

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Plaintiffs were African-American students who wanted to enroll at the formerly all-white Clarksdale High School.

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

Clarksdale Municipal Separate School District (Clarksdale, Coahoma), School District

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Elementary/Secondary School

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Attorneys fees

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Order Duration: 1964 - None

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief denied

Magnet school

Busing

Student assignment

Discrimination Prohibition

Develop anti-discrimination policy

Recordkeeping

Monitoring

Issues

General:

Education

Racial segregation

School/University policies

Transportation

Discrimination-area:

Zoning

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black

Type of Facility:

Government-run