Part of a series of articles onDiscrimination
Desegregation is the process of ending racial segregation, most commonly used in reference to the United States. Desegregation was long a focus of the American Civil Rights Movement, both before and after the United States Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, particularly desegregation of the school systems and the military (See Military history of African Americans). Racial integration of society was a closely related goal.
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After the American Civil War, during Reconstruction, a series of constitutional amendments were passed which ended slavery, granted citizenship to Blacks, and prohibited race or former slavery's being a barrier to voting:
Together these amendments enabled freedmen to participate as citizens in the political process during Reconstruction. On both a per capita and absolute basis, more blacks were elected to political office (including local offices) from 1865 to 1880 than at any other time in American history. After the disbanding of the Freedmens Bureau and other Reconstruction institutions after southern states were readmitted to the union, in 1877, white Democrats regained power in southern states and passed laws making voter registration more complicated. Although the laws applied to all, the result was that blacks and poor whites were effectively disfranchised. White Democrats then passed Jim Crow laws that established segregation as a principle in all public facilities and aspects of life in the South, for instance, the infamous separate water fountains for whites and blacks.
For years, the Supreme Court upheld state laws related to voter registration and elections, as states had the authority to regulate these conditions. Gradually in individual cases starting in 1915, the Supreme Court ruled against provisions of states' legislation or constitutions, for instance, ruling that the grandfather clause (1915) and white primary (1944) were unconstitutional. Because of the difficulty of litigation and continuing states' attempts to restrict voting by Blacks and other minorities, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to protect and enforce all citizen access to voter registration and elections, a century after the end of the Civil War.
In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that the Fourteenth Amendment did not require facilities to be racially integrated as long as they were equal (the situation was for railways, but was applied most famously to schools). The separate but equal doctrine prevailed for over a half-century until in 1954 the Supreme Court reversed the earlier ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, in which the court found that racially separate facilities were inherently unequal.
In 1909 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded to secure civil justice, and to foster racial integration and fair treatment toward citizens of color. Black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois was one of the founders, as was journalist Ida Tarbell. The NAACP led litigation of cases to get challenges to the Supreme Court, such as Guinn v. United States in 1915, leading to striking down of grandfather clauses. In addition, the NAACP led an array of public education efforts, continued lobbying of Congress, and encouragement of writing and dramas by blacks.
Important groups working on social justice and civil rights later were the Urban League, Congress of Racial Equality, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Members of many Jewish groups joined in the struggle, especially among secular groups and Reform and Conservative congregations. Some trade unions supported civil rights, although most unions had historically vigorously opposed entry by black workers, as white workers viewed black labor as competition.
Starting with King Phillip's war in the 17th century, blacks fought and died alongside whites in an integrated environment in the North American colonies. They continued to fight in every American war integrated with whites up until the War of 1812. They would not fight in integrated units again until the Korean War.
During the Civil War, Blacks enlisted in large numbers. They were mostly enslaved blacks who escaped in the South, although there were many northern black Unionists as well. More than 180,000 blacks served with the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War, in segregated units known as the US Colored Troops, under the command of white officers. They were recorded and are part of the National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System (CWSS).
While a handful of Blacks were commissioned as officers in World War I, white officers remained the rule in that conflict. The NAACP lobbied the government to commission more black officers. During WWII, most officers were white and most black troops still served only as truck drivers and as stevedores. The Red Ball Express was made up almost exclusively of Afro-American truck drivers and the Red Ball Express was famous for being the only supply forces that could keep up with the rapid advances of General George S. Patton's troops as they raced across France. In the midst of the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was severely short of replacement troops for existing military units--all of which were totally white in composition. Consequently, he made the decision to allow Afro-American soldiers to pick up a gun and join the white military units to fight in combat for the first time. This was the first step toward a desegregated United States military. Eisenhower's decision in this case was strongly opposed by his own army chief of staff, [[Lieutenent General Walter Bedell Smith. Indeed, it was stated that Bedell Smith was outraged by the decision and had said that the American public take offense at the integration of the military units.
In 1948, President Harry S Truman's Executive Order 9981 ordered the integration of the armed forces shortly after World War II, a major advance in civil rights. Using the Executive Order (E.O.) meant that Truman could bypass Congress. Representatives of the Solid South, all white Democrats, would likely have stonewalled related legislation.
For instance, in May 1948, Richard B. Russell, Democratic Senator from Georgia, attached an amendment to the Selective Services bill then being debated in Congress. The Russell amendment would have granted draftees and new inductees an opportunity to choose whether or not they wanted to serve in segregated military units. Russell's amendment was defeated in committee. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 on July 26, 1948. In June 1950 when the Selective Services Law came up for renewal, Russell tried again to attach his segregation amendment, and again Congress defeated it.
At the end of June 1950, the Korean War broke out. The U.S. Army had accomplished little desegregation in peacetime and sent the segregated Eighth Army to defend South Korea. Most black soldiers served in segregated support units in the rear. The remainder served in segregated combat units, most notably the 24th Infantry Regiment. The first months of the Korean War were some of the most disastrous in U.S. military history. The North Korean People's Army nearly drove the American-led United Nations forces off the Korean peninsula. Faced with staggering losses in white units, commanders on the ground began accepting black replacements, thus integrating their units. The practice occurred all over the Korean battle lines and proved that integrated combat units could perform under fire. The Army high command took notice. On July 26, 1951, the US Army formally announced its plans to desegregate, exactly three years after Truman issued Executive Order 9981.
Soon Army officials required Morning Reports (the daily report of strength accounting and unit activity required of every unit in the Army on active duty) of units in Korea to include the line "NEM XX OTHER EM XX TOTAL EM XX", where XX was the number of Negro and Other races, in the section on enlisted strength. The Form 20s for enlisted personnel recorded race. For example, the percentage of Black Enlisted Personnel in the 4th Signal Battalion was maintained at about 14 % from September 1951 to November 1952, mostly by clerks' selectively assigning replacements by race. Morning Report clerks of this battalion assumed that all units in Korea were doing the same. The Morning Reports were classified "RESTRICTED" in those years. (Citations needed from Korean War Records in Kansas)
Black naval service stretches back to the beginnings of the nation. Thousands of black men fought on the side of rebellious colonists in the American Revolutionary War, many in the new Continental Navy. Their names, accomplishments or total numbers are unknown because of poor record keeping.
Blacks also participated in the Union Navy during the American Civil War. Many were enslaved blacks who escaped to Union lines. About 18,000 blacks were sailors with Union forces. They were recorded and are part of the National Park Service's War Soldiers & Sailors System (CWSS) (see External link below.)
In WWII, the US Navy first experimented with integrating the USCGC Sea Cloud (WPG-284), then later the USS Mason, (both commanded by Carlton Skinner) a ship with black crew members and commanded by white officers. Some called it "Eleanor's folly," after President Franklin Roosevelt's wife. The Mason’s purpose was to allow black sailors to serve in the full range of billets (positions), rather than being restricted to stewards and messmen, as they were on most ships. The Navy had already been pressured to train black sailors for billets. Mrs. Roosevelt insisted that black sailors be given the jobs which they were trained to do. This experiment was a historic step on the long road to integration.
In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that forced busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation. However, such court-enforced school desegregation efforts have decreased over time.
A major decline in manufacturing in northern cities, with a shift of jobs to suburbs, the South and overseas, has led shifts in numbers of residents of all races increasing in suburbs, plus major shifts in population from the North to the Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and South. Left behind in many northern and midwestern inner cities have been the poorest blacks and other minorities. According to Jonathan Kozol, in the early 21st century U.S. schools have again become as segregated as in the late 1960s.
According to the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, the desegregation of U.S. public schools peaked in 1988; since then, schools have become more segregated. As of 2005, the proportion of Black students at majority white schools was at "a level lower than in any year since 1968." 
Some critics of school desegregation have argued that court-enforced desegregation efforts were either unnecessary or self-defeating. Numerous middle-class and wealthy white people continued moving from cities to suburbs during the 1970s and later, in part to escape certain integrated school systems, but also as part of a suburbanization of the society, caused by movement of jobs to suburbs, continuing state and Federal support for expansion of highways, and changes in the economy.
Some white parents in Louisiana said that they were afraid to drop their children off because of all the mobs surrounding the desegregated schools.
Sociologist David Armor in court testimony and in his book Forced Justice: School Desegregation and the Law (1995) said that efforts to change the racial compositions of schools had not contributed substantially to academic achievement by minorities. Carl L. Bankston III and Stephen J. Caldas, in their books A Troubled Dream: The Promise and Failure of School Desegregation in Louisiana (2002) and Forced to Fail: The Paradox of School Desegregation (2005), argued that continuing racial inequality in the larger American society had undermined efforts to force schools to desegregate. They maintained that racial inequality had resulted in popular associations between school achievement and race. Therefore, the achievement levels of American schools were generally associated with their class and racial compositions. This meant that even parents without racial prejudice tended to seek middle class or better residential neighborhoods in seeking the best schools for their children. As a result, efforts to impose court-ordered desegregation often led to school districts in which there were too few white students for effective desegregation, as white students increasingly left for majority white suburban districts or for private schools.
The increasing diversity of American society has led to more complex issues related to school and ethnic proportion. In the 1994 federal court case Ho v. San Francisco Unified School District, parents of Chinese-American schoolchildren alleged that racial caps under a 1983 consent decree constituted racial discrimination in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. The desegregation plan did not allow any school to enroll more than 50 percent of any ethnic group. Originally intended to aid integration of blacks, the ruling had a negative effect on the admissions of Chinese students, who had become the largest ethnic group in the district.
Articles in the newspaper Asian Week documented the Chinese American parents' challenge. Since Chinese Americans were already nearly half the student population, the consent decree had the effect of requiring competitive Lowell high school to apply much higher academic admission standards for Chinese-American students than other students. The civil rights group Chinese for Affirmative Action, led by Henry Der, sided with the school district. They argued that such standards were not harmful to Chinese Americans, and were necessary to avoid resegregation of schools. In 2006, Chinese parents continued to protest race-based school assignments.