In Southern Towns, ‘Segregation Academies’ Are Still Going Strong
It took LaToysha Brown 13 years to realize how little interaction she had with white peers in her Mississippi Delta town: not at church, not at school, not at anywhere.
The realization dawned when she was in the seventh grade, studying the civil rights movement at an after-school program called the Sunflower County Freedom Project. It didn’t bother her at first. By high school, however, Brown had started to wonder if separate could ever be equal. She attended a nearly all-black high school with dangerous sinkholes in the courtyard, spotty Internet access in the classrooms, and a shortage of textbooks all around. Brown had never been inside Indianola Academy, the private school most of the town’s white teenagers attend. But she sensed that the students there had books they could take home and walkways free of sinkholes.
“The schools would achieve so much more if they would combine,” said Brown, now age 17 and a junior.
But more than four decades after they were established, “segregation academies” in Mississippi towns like Indianola continue to define nearly every aspect of community life. Hundreds of these schools opened across the country in the 20 years after the Brown v. Board decision, particularly in southern states like Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, and Virgina. While an unknown number endure outside of Mississippi, the Delta remains their strongest bastion.
A Hechinger Report analysis of private school demographics (using data compiled on the National Center for Education Statistics website) found that more than 35 such academies survive in Mississippi, many of them in rural Delta communities like Indianola. Each of the schools was founded between 1964 and 1972 in response to anticipated or actual desegregation orders, and all of them enroll fewer than two percent black students. (The number of Mississippi “segregation academies” swells well above 35 if schools where the black enrollment is between three and 10 percent are counted.) At some of them — including Benton Academy near Yazoo City and Carroll Academy near Greenwood — not a single black student attended in 2010, according to the most recent data. Others, like Indianola Academy, have a small amount of diversity.
“These schools were started to keep white children away from blacks,” said Wade Overstreet, a Mississippi native and the program coordinator at the national advocacy organization Parents for Public Schools. “They’ve done an amazing job of it.”