Resource: Litigation Trends in the Desegregation of Higher Education

By: Laura Uberti Hughes

May 18, 2007

The desegregation of higher education institutions was achieved in large part by the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund's litigation strategies. This paper outlines the major cases litigated before and after Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Legal Defense Fund's motivations for choosing the plaintiffs, jurisdictions, and legal theories behind the litigation. Generally, Legal Defense Fund litigation strategy in its first cases alleged violations of equal protection and sought admission for individuals, rather than groups, to graduate programs. After Brown and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, LDF's strategy shifted toward a role of enforcement and compliance. The paper includes a case study of Knight v. Alabama, an ongoing desegregation case at the University of Alabama, which was filed in 1980 and litigated in federal district and circuit courts. Knight represents the remaining litigation and judicial oversight of higher education desegregation plans, including admissions policies, which are still ongoing, especially in the South.