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Longest-Running Desegregation Case Ends With a Whimper


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Aug. 15, 2003

The nation's longest-running active school desegregation lawsuit was officially ended after 47 years when a federal judge signed a settlement agreement and dismissed the case. Amid clapping and mutual congratulation, U.S. District Judge James Brady on Thursday ended the suit with a paraphrase from William Faulkner - 'at some point the law ends and people begin.' Brady then signed the settlement on a desk wheeled onto the steps of the federal courthouse for the occasion. Despite the jubilation, some viewed the settlement as a hollow victory. Middle-class whites have largely abandoned this city's beleaguered, 45,000-student school system, which is now nearly 75 percent black.

'Today our schools are as segregated as they were 47 years ago,' said Jackie Mims, East Baton Rouge Parish School Board president. Mims added that 'we have a system that is 70 percent black, and that makes it virtually impossible to desegregate. After 47 years, we're virtually back where we were.' The settlement includes formulas to parcel out the few remaining white students in the school system, and to hopefully attract more. Proponents have admitted, though, that it will not result in widespread integration, and that its main virtue is the end to the long-running litigation.

The suit was filed in the wake of the historic Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, which spawned numerous school desegregation lawsuits throughout the country. That case was open a year longer than the Baton Rouge lawsuit: It was filed in 1951 and closed in 1999.