Resource: Why Alabama School Desegregation Succeeded (And Failed)

By: Wendy Parker

January 1, 2017

Case W. Rsrv. L. Rev.

Alabama is not an obvious location for successful school desegregation. The state is not generally known for being at the forefront of creating racial equality, particularly when the suit started in 1963. More likely to come to mind is Governor George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to prevent integration. Yet Alabama, through Lee v. Macon County, is where K–12 school desegregation litigation had one of its best chances for success. This article makes this argument, which is largely based on the people involved in the case, in Part I of this Article. Part I also includes an overview of the litigation, from its beginning in 1963 to the present day. Part II examines the mixed results of the K–12 portion of Lee v. Macon County—inequalities are vastly improved since 1963, but persistent patterns of segregation and inequities remain. Part III addresses a continuing debate in the academic literature (and movies like Selma): the role of the litigation in creating change, as compared to social mobilization.