Case: Lee and United States of America v. Macon County School Board (N.D. Ala. Case)

2:70-cv-00251 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama

Filed Date: 1970

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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. 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 li…

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.

Summary Authors

Jonah Hudson-Erdman (11/14/2021)

Related Cases

Lee v. Macon County Bd. of Ed., Middle District of Alabama (1963)

People


Judge(s)

Acker, William Marsh Jr. (Alabama)

Ainsworth, Robert Andrew Jr. (Louisiana)

Bell, Griffin Boyette (Georgia)

Blackburn, Sharon Lovelace (Alabama)

Clark, Thomas Alonzo (Georgia)

Dyer, David William (Georgia)

Fay, Peter Thorp (Florida)

Gee, Thomas Gibbs (Louisiana)

Gewin, Walter Pettus (Alabama)

Godbold, John Cooper (Louisiana)

Judge(s)

Acker, William Marsh Jr. (Alabama)

Ainsworth, Robert Andrew Jr. (Louisiana)

Bell, Griffin Boyette (Georgia)

Blackburn, Sharon Lovelace (Alabama)

Clark, Thomas Alonzo (Georgia)

Dyer, David William (Georgia)

Fay, Peter Thorp (Florida)

Gee, Thomas Gibbs (Louisiana)

Gewin, Walter Pettus (Alabama)

Godbold, John Cooper (Louisiana)

Goldberg, Irving Loeb (Louisiana)

Hill, Robert Madden (Texas)

Pointer, Sam Clyde Jr. (Alabama)

Proctor, R. David (Alabama)

Smith, Edward Samuel (Maryland)

Tjoflat, Gerald Bard (Florida)

Vance, Robert Smith (Alabama)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Chachkin, Norman J. (New York)

Parker, Dennis D. (New York)

Seay, Solomon S. Jr. (Alabama)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Gibson, J. Russell III (Alabama)

Other Attorney(s)

Mines, Kenneth A (District of Columbia)

White, Heshima (District of Columbia)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Monfore, Robert W (Alabama)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

29584

Opinion

Lee v. Macon County Board of Education

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

429 F.2d 1218

July 15, 1970

July 15, 1970

Order/Opinion

2:70-cv-00251

Memorandum of Decision and Order

Lee v. Macon County Board of Education

321 F.Supp. 1

Jan. 4, 1971

Jan. 4, 1971

Order/Opinion

0:71-02963

Opinion

Lee v. Macon County Board of Education

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

453 F.2d 1104

Dec. 28, 1971

Dec. 28, 1971

Order/Opinion

0:73-02002

Opinion

Lee v. Macon County Board of Education

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Aug. 10, 1973

Aug. 10, 1973

Order/Opinion

0:76-03644

Opinion

Lee v. Tuscaloosa City School System

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

576 F.2d 39

June 19, 1978

June 19, 1978

Order/Opinion

0:79-02499

Opinion

Lee v. Macon County Board of Education

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

616 F.2d 805

May 7, 1980

May 7, 1980

Order/Opinion

2:70-cv-00251

Memorandum Opinion

Lee v. Macon County Board of Education

681 F.Supp. 730

March 18, 1988

March 18, 1988

Order/Opinion

2:70-cv-00251

Memorandum Opinion

Lee v. Macon County Board of Education

1988 WL 288974

July 25, 1988

July 25, 1988

Order/Opinion

2:70-cv-00251

0:88-07551

0:88-07553

Opinion

Lee v. Etowah County Board of Education

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

963 F.2d 1416

June 4, 1992

June 4, 1992

Order/Opinion

2:70-cv-00251

0:88-07471

Opinion

Lee v. Talladega County Board of Education

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

963 F.2d 1426

June 15, 1992

June 15, 1992

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated May 29, 2022, 3:06 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Alabama

Case Type(s):

School Desegregation

Special Collection(s):

Civil Rights Division Archival Collection

Key Dates

Filing Date: 1970

Case Ongoing: No reason to think so

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Multiple Classes - Black students in various school districts within the Northern District of Alabama. The United States as intervenor.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

Various City & County School Boards in the Northern District of Alabama ((various)), County

Defendant Type(s):

Elementary/Secondary School

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Settlement

Litigation

Form of Settlement:

Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree

Content of Injunction:

Busing

Goals (e.g., for hiring, admissions)

Monitoring

Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention

Reporting

Student assignment

Issues

General:

Buildings

Education

Racial segregation

School/University Facilities

School/University policies

Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black