Resource: A Bittersweet Victory: Public School Desegregation in Memphis

By: Roger Biles

September 1, 1986

The Journal of Negro Education

The 1954 United States Supreme Court ruling on school desegregation sent southern white supremacists in search of means to resist or at least delay implementation. Their tactics varied. Some states invoked the aged doctrine of interposition, along with the implied threat of secession; others sough simply to ignore the decision and its call for compliance "with all deliberate speed." Organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the citizens' Council sprang to life to lead the counteroffensive. To some, "massive resistance" meant boycotts, picketing, even violence. In the most celebrated case of southern recalcitrance, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dispatched federal troops to Arkansas to ensure the peaceful desegregation of Little Rock's Central High School. In countless other locations from New orleans, Louisiana, to Clinton, Tennessee, the absence of such restraining action led to widespread rioting. Throughout the South, by word and by deed, citizens and their political representatives gave stern notice that public school desegregation would not pass quickly and quietly from the scene.