Program to spotlight desegregation of Biloxi schools

A free public program to mark the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of Biloxi Public Schools will be presented Thursday, April 23 at the Biloxi Visitors Center. Seating will begin at 5 p.m. and the program will begin at 5:30 p.m.

“Biloxi School Desegregation: A Historic First” will feature a panel of regionally known Civil Rights scholars who will ¬†discuss the¬†Biloxi school district‚Äôs ‚Äúfirst-in-the-state‚ÄĚ desegregation. As part of the program, a panel of ¬†several witnesses and actual students who were involved in historic event in 1964 and 1965 will be featured. ¬†Local attorney Reilly Morse, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, will moderate the panel discussion.

This program is free and open to the public, and it will be followed by a reception and book signing. The public is invited to participate in the program by bringing written questions, observations and remembrances, which will be posted at the event so they can be shared.

Guest Scholar Panelists

— Dr. Charles Bolton, chairman of the Department of History, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and whose published works include “The Hardest Deal of All: The Battle Over School Integration in Mississippi” and ¬†“William F. Winter and the New Mississippi: A Biography.”

Dr. Dennis Mitchell,¬†chairman of the Division of Arts and Sciences, Mississippi State University-Meridian and whose published works include the acclaimed “New History of Mississippi and Mississippi Liberal: A Biography of Frank E. Smith.”

— Dean Wendy B. Scott, Mississippi College School of Law whose scholarly research has focused on constitutional theory and school desegregation and includes widely cited articles on various aspects of this topic published in North Carolina Central Law Review, Duke Forum for Law and Social Change, New York Review of Law and Social Change and others.

Background

After a protracted court struggle, when the 1964-65 school year opened, the Biloxi School District became the first in Mississippi to desegregate, allowing black and white children to attend the same schools.

Before 1964, the Biloxi Municipal Separate School District was racially segregated in the manner of all Mississippi learning institutions, from kindergarten through college and beyond.¬† Such dual school systems across the South had produced underfunded and under-equipped schools for black children.¬† These well-documented inequities led the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 to declare such dual systems illegal in the famous “Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka” ruling.

Mississippi school systems resisted this ruling and did not comply for more than 10 years.  In 1959-1960, as a committed objective of the growing Civil Rights movement after the courageous beach wade-in protests, several black citizens determined to claim their rights under the Brown ruling.

With the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice and NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorneys including Derrick Bell, Marian Wright Edelman, Constance Slaughter Harvey and Constance Baker Motley, several black citizens of Biloxi filed a lawsuit, “Gilbert R. Mason, Jr., et. al. vs. Biloxi Separate Municipal School District,” which eventually resulted in a federal court decision to enforce the Brown desegregation decision in Biloxi.

Thus, in August of 1964, black children for the first time in Mississippi history entered previously all-white public elementary schools in Biloxi, and in 1965, black teenagers for the first time entered the previously all-white Biloxi High School for their senior year.

Details: Bill Raymond, Biloxi Historical Administrator, braymond@biloxi.ms.us or 228-435-6244; Dr. Gilbert R. Mason Jr., drgmasonjr@gmail.com or James Pat Smith, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, The University of Southern Mississippi, 228-596-5985.

 

Gines: April 28 meeting will go on as planned

Council President Felix O. Gines has said that the council meeting scheduled for April 28 will indeed take place, contrary to assertions by Acting Mayors Kenny Glavan and Robert L. Deming III that it would be postponed because of mayoral elections that day.

Meantime, the next scheduled meeting of the Biloxi City Council is Tuesday, April 21.