Segregation academy

Segregation academies are private schools in the Southern United States that were founded in the mid-20th century by white parents to avoid having their children in desegregated public schools. They were founded between 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated public schools were unconstitutional,[2][3] and 1976, when the court ruled similarly about private schools.

While many of these schools still exist — most with low percentages of minority students even today — they may not legally discriminate against students or prospective students based on any considerations of religion, race or ethnicity that serve to exclude non-white students. The laws that permitted their racially-discriminatory operation, including government subsidies and tax exemption, were invalidated by U.S. Supreme Court decisions. After Runyon v. McCrary (1976), all of these private schools were forced to accept African-American students. As a result, segregation academies changed their admission policies, ceased operations, or merged with other private schools.

Few black families -- among those who may be motivated to pay for their children to attend a school founded on racial segregation in the first place -- can afford to pay private school tuition in lieu of attending the tuition-free public schools. As a result, these former segregation academies, although now legally open to African-Americans, are overwhelmingly-white institutions. Where many or most of a community's white students are sent to these private schools, the percentages of African-American students opting to attend the public schools, which are tuition-free to all, are correspondingly elevated. Thus, racial segregation is effectively perpetuated in some communities. For example, in Clarksdale, Mississippi, as of 2010, 92% of the students at Lee Academy were white. This differed from Clarksdale High School, where 92% were black.[4] Although taxes are not being used to fund private schools, parental resources are. The public school funding is often far below that of the private schools.


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A 1970 advertisement for a segregation academy appealed to parents who were concerned about desegregation busing.

The first segregation academies were created by white parents in the late 1950s in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954), which required public school boards to eliminate segregation "with all deliberate speed" (Brown II). Because the ruling did not apply to private schools, founding new academies provided parents a way to continue to educate their children separately from blacks. At that time, most adult blacks were still disfranchised in the South, excluded from politics and oppressed under Jim Crow laws.[5][6] Private academies operated outside the scope of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling and could therefore have racial segregation.[7] Virginia's massive resistance to integration resulted in Prince Edward County, Virginia closing all public schools from 1959 to 1964; the only education in the county was a segregation academy, funded by state "tuition grants."

A 1972 report on school desegregation noted that segregation academies could usually be identified by the word "Christian" or "church" in the school's name.[8] The report observed that while individual Protestant churches were often deeply involved in the establishment of segregation academies, Catholic dioceses usually indicated that their schools were not meant to be havens from desegregation.[8] Many segregation academies claimed they were established to provide a "Christian education", but the sociologist Jennifer Dyer has argued that such claims were simply a "guise" for the schools' actual objective of allowing parents to avoid enrolling their children in racially integrated public schools.[9]

Reasons why whites pulled their children out of public schools have been debated: whites insisted that "quality fueled their exodus", and blacks said "white parents refused to allow their children to be schooled alongside blacks".[10] Scholars estimate that, across the nation, at least half a million white students were withdrawn from public schools between 1964 and 1975 to avoid mandatory desegregation.[5] In the 21st century, Archie Douglas, the headmaster of Montgomery Academy (founded as a segregation academy), said that he is sure "that those who resented the Civil Rights Movement or sought to get away from it took refuge in the academy".[11] But in the 21st century, the school no longer practiced any type of discrimination. As of 2014, the student body of The Montgomery Academy was 10% percent non-white.[12]

IRS involvement and definitions

In 1969, parents of Mississippi black children brought suit to revoke tax-exemption status for non-profit segregation academies (Green v. Connally). They won a temporary injunction in the D.C. Circuit in early 1970 and the suit in June 1971. The United States government appealed to the Supreme Court, where the lower court's decision was summarily affirmed in Coit v. Green (1971). Meanwhile, on July 10, 1970, the Internal Revenue Service announced it could "no longer legally justify allowing tax-exempt status to private schools which practice racial discrimination."[13] For a school to get or keep its tax-exempt status, it would have to publish a policy of non-discrimination and not practice overt discrimination. Many schools simply refused. A decade later, similarly aggrieved appellees argued again in Allen v. Wright (1983) that the standards were too low. The appellees had asserted that "there are more than 3,500 racially segregated private academies operating in the country having a total enrollment of more than 750,000 children."[14] The court considered whether the parents standing to sue, and concluded not, because they did not allege that they or their children had applied to, been discouraged from applying to, or been denied admission to any private school or schools.[15] Specifically, it ruled that citizens do not have standing to sue a federal government agency based on the influence that the agency's determinations might have on third parties (such as private schools). The judges noted the parents were in the posture of disappointed observers of the governmental process. The IRS would continue to enforce the regulations it had promulgated in 1970. Any school that was not tax-exempt in this period was likely a segregation academy, the standard for non-discrimination being low.[16] Not many of the 3,500 appear in lists, if there were 3,500. After 1983, any school named in a judgement or IRS document in this period absolutely was.[17] Many schools did not regain tax-exempt status until the 1990s.