Minneapolis Public Schools Desegregation/Integration Litigation, 1971-1977

Dr. John b. Davis, Jr.

In the winter of 1970-71 under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. John B. Davis, Jr.,[1] the School Board of the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) decided, 6 to 1, to adopt a general commitment to racial desegregation and its first mandatory desegregation step: the pairing of Field and Hale Elementary Schools on the south side of the city.[2]

The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and some citizens, however, were concerned about the long-term commitment to this effort and the possible election of a school board that would be opposed to such measures. Therefore,  in August 1971 the NAACP and others started a federal lawsuit alleging the racial imbalance in the schools was due to intentional acts of the MPS.

Judge Earl Larson

The case went to trial in April 1972 before U.S. District Judge Earl Larson of Minnesota’s federal district court, and on the last day of the trial (April 25, 1972) the School Board adopted a widespread Desegregation/Integration Plan.

A month later (May 24, 1972), the court decided that the MPS were segregated on the basis of race and that such segregation resulted from the following intentional acts of the MPS: (1) the construction,  size and location of Bethune School ; (2) the addition of seven new classrooms to Field Elementary School in 1964; (3) the 1967 construction of an addition to Washburn High School; (4) the location of portable classrooms; (5) decisions over school size; (6) the 1968 change in boundaries between Washburn and Southwest High Schools; (7)  the policy of allowing special transfers of students;(8) the creation of optional attendance zones along the perimeters of racial minority neighborhoods; and (9) the practice of assigning and transferring teachers and administrators.[iii]

The court, therefore, concluded that the MPS had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and permanently enjoined  the MPS, “its school board, its administrators, its employees, its agents, and all those who are in active concert or participation with them . . . from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin” in its operation.

The court further ordered MPS to “take affirmative action to disestablish school segregation and eliminate the effects of its prior unlawful activities.” More specifically the court ordered MPS to implement its own Plan for Desegregation/Integration with the following modifications: (a) no more than 35% of the study body of any one school could be minority children; (b) increase faculty integration; (c) not allow any student transfers that increase the segregated nature of either school; (d) submission of any plans for new schools or additions to old schools to the court for prior approval; and (e) submission of any changes to the Desegregation/Integration Plan to the court for prior approval.

Finally to monitor MPS’ compliance with the court order, the MPS was required to submit semi-annual reports to plaintiff’s’ counsel and to the court.

In May 1975 the court modified the injunction to change the maximum permissible minority enrollment in any school to 42% total minority and 35% of any single minority group.[4]

In July 1977 the court found that MPS had fully complied with the injunction except for racial balance at several schools, but it denied the MPS motion to terminate the case.

The litigation continued until June 1983, and the latter phase of the litigation (1978-1983) will be covered in a subsequent post.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer was Charles Quaintance, Jr. The defendants were represented by Norman Newhall and Gerald Bergfalk.

My family and I had moved to Minneapolis in the Spring of 1970, and I had no involvement as an attorney in the early phase of this case.

In 1971, however, as a citizen and as a parent of two sons who would be going to the MPS, I was shocked to read that the two new members of the city’s School Board were opposed to further desegregation/integration, and at least one of them in campaigning had talked about resisting any federal court order. As a result, over the next seven years I became very active in various activities relating to the public schools in Minneapolis and elsewhere in Minnesota.

In the next local election in 1973 I was very active in Citizens United for Responsible Education (CURE), a successful bipartisan coalition to elect two moderate candidates to the School Board. I went on to become active in other public education projects: Member of the Citizens League Study Committee on Fluctuating School Enrollments; Member (by gubernatorial appointment) of the State of Minnesota Commission on Fluctuating School Enrollments; Member of the Board of Directors of the Minneapolis Citizens Committee on Public Education; unsuccessful candidate for appointment to fill a vacancy on the Minneapolis School Board; and Chairman of the MPS Citizens’ Advisory Committee on School Finance.

This civic experience would turn out to be very useful for me in the next phase of the litigation.


[1] Davis subsequently became the President of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.

[2] Pinney, Case kept desegregation effort aimed toward stability, Mpls. Star & Trib. (June 9, 1983).

[iii] Booker v. Special School District No. 1, 351 F. Supp. 799 (D. Minn. 1972).

[4] Memo Order, Booker v. Special School District No. 1, (D. Minn. May 7, 1975).

 

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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