HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from Glenda Funchess, an attorney in Hattiesburg and a long-time civil rights activist.
On Tuesday, September 15, 2015, at 3:30 p.m., Mayor Johnny L. Dupree will issue a "Proclamation in Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Desegregation of the Hattiesburg Public School District" at Woodley Elementary School with two (2) of the three students who desegregated Woodley Elementary School and the mother of the third student.
Also, the Forrest County Branch of the NAACP is looking for all students who attended any of the previous "All-White" schools under "The Freedom of Choice" Desegregation Compliance Plan adopted by the Hattiesburg Public School District Between September 1965 through May 1970.
The Hattiesburg Public School District finally started to dismantle its dual system of public education almost 10 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education (May 17, 1954), that the "separate but equal" doctrine was unconstitutional in public school education. The State of Mississippi willfully defied the ruling in the Brown decision and the "all deliberate speed" language of Brown II for almost ten (10) years with the Biloxi School District being the first school district in the State to integrate their public schools in the Fall of 1964, after Civil Rights Leader Dr. Gilbert Mason initiated legal action to force the school district to comply with the Brown decision. However, finally on September 7, 1965, twenty-six (26) African American students for the first time entered "All-White" Elementary Schools throughout the City of Hattiesburg and integrated the Hattiesburg Public School District. African American students were enrolled at the following "All-White" Elementary Schools in the Hattiesburg Public School District:
- Camp - 5
- Eaton - 6
- Davis - 5
- Walthall - 7
- Woodley -3
- Thames - 0
- Grace Christian - 0
- Main Street - 0
The Desegregation Plan utilized by the Hattiesburg Public School was "Freedom of Choice" wherein African American parents could choose for their children to attend "All-White" Elementary Schools instead of the "All-African American" Elementary Schools--namely, Mary Bethune, Eureka, Jones, and Grace Love.
The Desegregation Plan also used the "Stair-Step Approach" in that "all twelve grades were not desegregated at the same time"--instead it actually took 3 years to desegregated all twelve grades since Superintendent S.H. Blair and the Board of Trustees of the Hattiesburg Public School District adopted the following plan:
(1) Academic School Year 1965/1966
The First through Fourth Grades were desegregated;
(2) Academic School Year 1966/1967
The Fifth through Eighth Grades were desegregated, and
(3) Finally, during the Academic School Year 1967/1968
The Ninth through the Twelfth Grades were desegregated and the Class of 1968 was the first "integrated" Graduating Class at Hattiesburg