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Case Name US v. Columbus Municipal Separate School District SD-MS-0012
Docket / Court 1:70-cv-00055-MPM-SAA ( N.D. Miss. )
State/Territory Mississippi
Case Type(s) School Desegregation
Attorney Organization U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Case Summary
In 1955, the Supreme Court ordered school districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” 349 U.S. 294. But the city of Columbus, MS did not allow black students to attend schools previously reserved for whites until 1965, a decade later. Even by 1970, no white students attended a ... read more >
In 1955, the Supreme Court ordered school districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” 349 U.S. 294. But the city of Columbus, MS did not allow black students to attend schools previously reserved for whites until 1965, a decade later. Even by 1970, no white students attended a historically black school, and less than 5% of black students attended historically white schools.

The United States brought this action on July 13, 1970 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. It sued both of the public school systems in Lowndes County: the Columbus Municipal Separate School District and the Lowndes County School District. The Department of Justice brought the lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 2000c-6 and sought immediate desegregation of both districts.

District Judge Orma R. Smith entered a consent decree on August 10, followed by a permanent injunction on September 5. The injunction ordered the districts to operate unitary, non-racial school systems that did not discriminate on the basis of race. It also established a biracial advisory committee and governed how the districts assigned students to schools, hired faculty and staff, transported students, built new facilities, and decided which extracurricular activities to offer.

The Columbus Municipal Separate School District’s original remedial measures focused on its middle and high schools. In July 1975, the United States sought additional relief to desegregate the District’s elementary schools. Originally, the District claimed that its existing policies were constitutional despite the fact that half its elementary schools were either over 90% black or 90% white. It later proposed minor attendance zone changes based on a neighborhood schools concept.

In contrast, the United States proposed an ambitious pairing system. When two schools were paired, their attendance zones would be merged. Then, all students would attend one school for certain grades (e.g., 1st to 3rd grade) and the other school for the others (e.g., 4th to 6th grade). By pairing historically black schools with historically white schools, the United States’ plan promised quick desegregation.

The district court adopted the United States’ pairing plan. The District appealed, arguing that its more limited plan should have been adopted instead. In an August 9, 1977 opinion, Fifth Circuit Judge Irving L. Goldberg upheld the district court’s determination. Judge Goldberg observed that the District’s plan would leave several schools entirely segregated and that the pairing plan would produce “much greater desegregation.” Therefore, Judge Goldberg held that the pairing plan was appropriate despite a small increase in the District’s transportation costs. 558 F.2d 228.

Over the next decades, the districts filed reports with the court. The court also implemented adjustments to the student assignment plan, authorized the construction and sale of schools, and supervised the appointment of new members to the biracial advisory committee.

In 2007, the Columbus Municipal Separate School District and the United States filed a joint motion for a declaration of unitary status. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the case as to Columbus on August 9.

In contrast, Lowndes County parents’ groups concluded that the Lowndes County School District was not adhering to its obligations under the consent decree. They filed cases in 2002 and 2003 to enforce the districts’ desegregation obligations. The Court merged these two lawsuits with this case in 2004.

The parents’ groups, Lowndes County, and the United States agreed to a new consent decree in 2006, which declared the District unitary with respect to student assignment, faculty and staff assignment, and transportation only. It also provided a pathway towards a declaration of full unitary status.

On August 21, 2008, the District moved for unitary status. The United States opposed the motion because of inadequate facilities and a lack of advanced courses in one of the District’s high schools together with complaints of harassment of and discrimination against black students in majority white schools. The parties then agreed to a modified consent order under which the District would remedy these problems.

The District again moved for unitary status on May 15, 2012. This time, the United States did not oppose the motion, but the parents’ groups did. At a fairness hearing, few residents opposed the plan. The court found that the District had made the required facilities improvements and implemented an AP program. It also found that the District had formulated and implemented an anti-discrimination policy. District Judge Michael P. Mills wrote that the court had “seriously considered” denying unitary status because Caledonia High School continued to use “Confederates” as its nickname and play “Dixie” at sporting events. But the court ultimately concluded that the lack of complaints from the community suggested that these “troubling” activities were “not vestiges of segregation” of sufficient magnitude to justify a denial of unitary status. The Lowndes County School District was declared unitary on October 24, 2012. 900 F. Supp. 2d 703.

The case is now closed.

349 U.S. 294 (1955).
558 F.2d 228 (5th Cir. 1977).
900 F. Supp. 2d 703 (N.D. Miss. 2012).

Timothy Leake - 04/04/2019

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Other requirements regarding hiring, promotion, retention
Student assignment
Elementary/Secondary School
Race discrimination
Racial segregation
School/University Facilities
School/University policies
Plaintiff Type
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Title IV, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000c et seq.
Defendant(s) Columbus Municipal Separate School District
Lowndes County School District
Plaintiff Description United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division
Indexed Lawyer Organizations U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Attorneys fees
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1970 - 2012
Filed 07/13/1970
Case Closing Year 2012
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing EE-MS-0001 : Baker v. Columbus Municipal Separate School District (N.D. Miss.)
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
N.D. Miss.
SD-MS-0012-9001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
N.D. Miss.
SD-MS-0012-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
N.D. Miss.
SD-MS-0012-0002.pdf | Detail
N.D. Miss.
Application for Temporary Restraining Order
SD-MS-0012-0003.pdf | Detail
N.D. Miss.
Affidavit of Rail I. Grigsby
SD-MS-0012-0004.pdf | Detail
N.D. Miss.
Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff's Application for a Temporary Restraining Order
SD-MS-0012-0005.pdf | Detail
N.D. Miss.
Notice of Motion and Motion for a Preliminary Injunction
SD-MS-0012-0006.pdf | Detail
N.D. Miss.
SD-MS-0012-0007.pdf | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion (558 F.2d 228)
SD-MS-0012-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Supreme Court
Memorandum for the United States in Opposition
SD-MS-0012-0008.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Alexander (Sandy) Ross
N.D. Miss.
Order [Dismissing Case] [ECF# 15]
SD-MS-0012-0001.pdf | External Link | Detail
show all people docs
Judges Alexander [Susie], S. Allan (N.D. Miss.) [Magistrate] show/hide docs
Clark, Charles (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Goldberg, Irving Loeb (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Mills, Michael P. (N.D. Miss.) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0012-0001 | SD-MS-0012-9000
Roney, Paul Hitch (FISCR, Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Barrett, St. John (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0012-0002 | SD-MS-0012-0003 | SD-MS-0012-0005 | SD-MS-0012-0006
Greene, Harold H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Kennedy, Robert (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Marer, Alan G. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Marshall, Burke (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0012-0002 | SD-MS-0012-0005
McCree, Wade Hampton Jr. (Michigan) show/hide docs
Pellegrino, Whitney Marin (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Ray, H. M. (Mississippi) show/hide docs
SD-MS-0012-0002 | SD-MS-0012-0003 | SD-MS-0012-0006
Defendant's Lawyers Adams, Holmes S. (Mississippi) show/hide docs

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