Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education
Racial integration of public schools was slow to nonexistent following the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Brown v. Board of Education decision that held that “separate but equal” accommodations for students of different races was not acceptable.
In 1971 the Court heard the case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education because it felt that ending segregationist policies was not the same as actively creating integrated schools. As a result of this decision Charlotte North Carolina became one of the most integrated school systems in the country.
In the Swann case, the city of Charlotte had ended segregation and created a new school assignment plan according to geographic location, but that left most African-American students in essentially segregated schools in the center city. When the Swann case was first filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the state judge who heard the case did not interpret the Brown or Civil Rights Act as ordering integration. But after the Green v. County School Board of New Kent County case, Swann was refiled. [The Green case resulted in the Supreme Court striking down the Virginia county’s first attempt to integrate schools through a choice plan, but the court did not instruct the administrators on how it should be done.
When Swann was heard by the Fourth Circuit Court the judge instructed the plaintiffs to show ways that the goal of integration could be achieved. Two variations were presented to the court and one was chosen by the presiding judge. When the decision went to the Court of Appeals the justices split, deciding that the proposed integration plan using busing should be enacted for high school level students but not younger students.
The Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the original judge’s decision and plan to integrate the district through busing, but the decision was written several times to accurately reflect the individual justices’ opinions and thoughts.