The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a landmark decision in Stout v. Jefferson County, the U.S. Department of Justice and NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s longstanding case to protect children in Alabama from racial segregation in public education.
In a sweeping order, the court’s opinion, written by Judge William Pryor, affirmed many decades of legal precedent that safeguards children from being segregated on the basis of race in public schools. The ruling also affirmed that those motivated by racial animus should not be allowed to control the lives or destinies of our nation’s children.
Alabama was the state that saw the late Gov. George Wallace stand in the schoolhouse door to prevent African-American children from enrolling in and attending public school with white children. This was the state that saw Gardendale residents in the 21st century stand in their own schoolhouse doors and attempt to prevent the African-American children who had long attended those schools from continuing to receive an education with their modern-day white peers.
The court recognized that this was not constitutional, that animosity cannot trump the law, and that – if it could – we never would have desegregated our schools in the first place. The court’s opinion also reminds us the motivations behind our actions matter – and that the nation’s courts will still step in to correct injustice.
Our public schools have an affirmative obligation to welcome children from every background, and to create safe, positive and inclusive environments for all students.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s fierce advocacy led to this victory over prejudice. We look forward to this court order that will begin to restore the Jefferson County School District to its full strength and potential.