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Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

Significance

Swann is important for its endorsement of school busing as a means of achieving racial integration.

In 1955, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered school districts to pursue integration "with all deliberate speed." That order was handed down in Brown v. Board of Education II, the case in which the High Court gave lower federal courts the task of developing plans to implement desegregation following the first Brown v. Board of Education case, which had been decided a year earlier. Dual school systems--one white, one black--had previously been written into the law, and a public that had grown accustomed to official segregation now resisted court efforts to impose change. Resistance was most pronounced in the South. Local officials there sometimes devised plans which appeared to be neutral but which actually slowed the process of school integration. In Griffin v. County School Board (1964), for example, the Supreme Court was faced with a Virginia school board that closed down all of its public schools and handed out tuition grants to private schools as a means of avoiding court-ordered desegregation. Declaring that there had been too much deliberation and not enough speed, the Supreme Court ordered the public schools reopened.

In Green v. County School Board (1968), the Court struck down a "freedom of choice" plan, which ostensibly permitted students to attend either a white school or a black school, because of its failure to bring about the changes required by Brown II. It was not enough for school boards simply to remove the legal restraints keeping the races apart. Allowing students to "choose" which school they wanted to attend was not realistic. What was needed was a system that would quickly reconstitute schools, so that the student body of each would come to resemble the larger population mix. As more and more white families fled the cities, busing black children out to suburban schools seemed the only way to achieve the racial balance required by Brown II.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district included not only the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, but also largely rural Mecklenburg County. Twenty-nine percent of school-age children were black, most of them concentrated in one area of Charlotte. Despite implementation of a desegregation plan in 1965, this situation remained largely unchanged. In the wake of Green, James Swann and others challenged the efficacy of this plan. Then, in 1968, the federal district court overseeing desegregation in Charlotte-Mecklenburg adopted an ambitious--and very expensive--busing program.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1963 to 1972Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education - Significance, Supreme Court Upholds School Busing, Further Readings