School integration through the years

George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall and James Nabrit
George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall and James Nabrit after the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas.

1954 — In Brown v. Board of Education the U.S. Supreme Court forbids segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, ruling that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal has no place” and deprives children of equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Nonetheless, nearly two decades will pass before most large U.S. cities formally take up the charge.


1960 — Federal marshals shield 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from an angry crowd as she attempts to enroll in school in New Orleans. Norman Rockwell depicts the moment in the iconic painting “The Problem We All Live With.”

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

1963 — In his infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door,” Alabama Gov. George Wallace blocks two black students from entering a school. In response, President Kennedy federalizes the Alabama National Guard.

1964 — Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorizes the federal government to file school desegregation cases and prohibits discrimination in federally funded programs and activities, including schools.

1968 — In Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, the U.S. Supreme Court further defines integration, ordering states to dismantle segregated systems “root and branch,” in facilities, staff, faculty, extracurricular activities and transportation.

Chief Justice Warren E. Burger
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

1969 — In Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court orders the immediate desegregation of Mississippi schools. Because most school districts have still not taken steps toward fulfilling Brown, the justices rule, the “all deliberate speed” standard is no longer constitutionally permissible.

1969 — A federal judge orders the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district to use busing to speed integration.

1970s — Minneapolis School District buses 11,000 students to schools outside their neighborhoods to integrate the district.

1971 — Minneapolis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sues the Minneapolis School District, charging racial segregation.

1972 — U.S. District Court Judge Earl Larson orders Minneapolis schools to integrate after deciding that Minneapolis had “intentionally and deliberately” kept students segregated.

1973 — U.S. Supreme Court issues Keyes v. Denver School District 1, the first decision recognizing the rights of Latinos to desegregation.

1974 — In Milliken v. Bradley the U.S. Supreme Court rules out the option of drawing from heavily white suburbs to integrate city school districts with large minority populations.

1983 — Judge Larson releases Minneapolis School District from federal supervision, provided the Minnesota Department of Education enforces integration guidelines.

1990-2000 — Minority and poverty enrollments in Minneapolis schools balloon from 43 percent to 66 percent.

1995 — Minneapolis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sues the Minneapolis School District, arguing that because it allowed poor and minority kids to become segregated into inferior schools it is not providing the “adequate education” mandated by the state constitution. Only 8 percent of children attending suburban schools are minority.

1998-1999 school year —
State appears to be falling behind in its overseer role as minorities become majorities in urban school systems. Department of Children, Families and Learning statistics show 70 percent of Minneapolis’ 50,000 students are minorities, while student bodies in many suburbs are less than 10 percent minority. 


1999 — Minnesota writes Voluntary Desegregation Rule, under which no school can have more than 15 percent students of color than the district as a whole. Nine Twin Cities-area schools are in violation of the rule, eight in Minneapolis and one in St. Paul. Others are nearly so.

1999 — Minnesota’s Department of Education releases a controversial new desegregation rule which gives school districts across the state the charge of voluntarily integrating their schools. To pay for these efforts, the Legislature passes the Integration Revenue statute.

1999 — As a result of a settlement in the NAACP’s educational adequacy lawsuit, Minneapolis Public Schools and eight suburban districts create The Choice is Yours, a program that buses thousands of low-income Minneapolis children to suburban schools at state expense. 

2000 — Suburban districts now made up of 12 percent minority students.

2003 — Forty-six percent of Minneapolis schools report student bodies that are 81 percent to 100 percent nonwhite.

2005 — Office of the Legislative Auditor recommends Legislature clarify purpose of the Integration Revenue Program and determines that the Department of Education has not provided “consistent or required oversight” of the program.

2005 — University of Minnesota researcher Myron Orfield finds 110 Twin Cities area elementary schools where a majority of pupils are nonwhite.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts
Chief Justice John G. Roberts

2007 — U.S. Supreme Court rules (PDF) race cannot be the sole factor in assigning students to schools, striking down school choice plans in Seattle and Louisville. Local experts say the decision allows Minnesota to continue its voluntary desegregation programs, including school choice and magnet schools, which are not based on race. Districts can make decisions around students’ school performance, language and income.

2007 — Minority student population in suburban districts rises to 23 percent. The state Department of Education identifies 49 racially identifiable schools (45 in the metro area) and 95 instances where districts are racially isolated from one another.

2008 — Department of Education issues revised Frequently Asked Questions on Minnesota Desegregation Rule and Integration Revenue Statute as educators and legislators continue to grapple with issues of integration and segregation in the schools. 

2008 — Researcher Orfield revises number of Twin Cities elementary schools with a majority of nonwhite students to 108, noting that the decrease is because of school closures, not an increase in integration.

—Cynthia Boyd and Beth Hawkins

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