A Meaningful Reality: The Integration of the Opelika, Alabama City School System, 1965-1972
Type of DegreeThesis
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This thesis chronicles and analyzes the integration of the Opelika city school system from the institution of the freedom of choice method of desegregation in 1965 to the court-ordered total integration of the system in 1972. Opelika maintained a de jure segregated school system until forced to follow desegregation guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. The system was added as a defendant in Lee vs. Macon County Board of Education in 1967, from which point the school board followed the court orders of federal district court judge Frank M. Johnson until it achieved total integration of the student body through forced assignment in 1972. In the course of narrating the events of this pivotal period in Opelika’s history, this thesis devotes particular attention to the actions of the local board of education, the role of community leaders, the fate of black schools, white flight to segregationist academies, and the state of the system today. It also seeks to situate Opelika within a larger historiographical context by noting how the city’s history of public school segregation both mirrored and deviated from patterns of school desegregation elsewhere in the South. Opelika’s transition from a segregated system to an integrated one was largely a success, but the legacy of Brown v. Board is far from determined.