This action was commenced in May, 1964, to obtain integration in
the Montgomery County, Alabama, public schools. The District Judge
issued his initial order in 1964 requiring integration of certain
grades and followed this by yearly proceedings, with reports by the
school board and hearings, opinions, and court orders. The 1968
court order dealt, among other things, with faculty and staff
desegregation and provided that the school board must move toward a
goal whereby, "in each school, the ratio of white to Negro faculty
members is substantially the same as it is throughout the system."
A panel of the Court of Appeals modified the order. A petition for
rehearing en banc was denied by an equally divided Court of
The District Judge's order is approved as written
by him. Pp. 395 U. S.
400 F.2d 1, reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
In this action, the United States District Court at Montgomery,
Alabama, ordered the local Montgomery County Board of Education to
bring about a racial desegregation
Page 395 U. S. 226
of the faculty and the staff of the local county school system.
(1968). Dissatisfied with the District Court's order,
the board appealed. A panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the
District Court's order but, by a two-to-one vote, modified it in
part, 400 F.2d 1 (1968). [Footnote
] A petition for rehearing en banc was denied by an evenly
divided court, six to six, thereby leaving standing the
modifications in the District Court's order made by the panel.
] On petitions of
the United States as intervenor below in No. 798, and the
individual plaintiffs in No. 997, we granted certiorari. 393 U.S.
Fifteen years ago, on May 17, 1954, we decided that segregation
of the races in the public schools is unconstitutional. Brown
v. Board of Education, 347 U. S. 483
). In that case, we left undecided the manner in
which the transition from segregated to unitary school systems
would be achieved, and set the case down for another hearing,
inviting the Attorney General of the United States and the
Attorneys General of the States providing for racial segregation in
the public schools to present their views on the best ways to
implement and enforce our judgment. We devoted four days to the
argument on this single problem, and all the affected parties were
given the opportunity to present their views at length. After
careful consideration of the many viewpoints so fully aired by the
parties, we announced our decision in Brown II,
349 U. S. 294
(1955). We held that the primary responsibility for abolishing the
system of segregated schools would rest with the local school
authorities. In some of the States that argued before us, the laws
permitted, but did not require, racial segregation,
Page 395 U. S. 227
and we noted that, in some of these States, "substantial steps
to eliminate racial discrimination in public schools have already
been taken. . . ." Id.
at 349 U. S. 299
Many other States had for many years maintained a completely
separate system of schools for whites and nonwhites, and the laws
of these States, both civil and criminal, had been written to keep
this segregated system of schools inviolate. The practices, habits,
and customs had for generations made this segregated school system
a fixed part of the daily life and expectations of the people.
Recognizing these indisputable facts, we neither expected nor
ordered that a complete abandonment of the old and adoption of a
new system be accomplished overnight. The changes were to be made
"at the earliest practicable date," and with "all deliberate
at 349 U. S. 300
349 U. S. 301
We were not content, however, to leave this task in the
unsupervised hands of local school authorities, trained as most
would be under the old laws and practices, with loyalties to the
system of separate white and Negro schools. As we stressed
"[I]t should go without saying that the vitality of these
constitutional principles cannot be allowed to yield simply because
of disagreement with them."
at 349 U. S. 300
The problem of delays by local school authorities during the
transition period was therefore to be the responsibility of courts,
local courts so far as practicable, those courts to be guided by
traditional equitable flexibility to shape remedies in order to
adjust and reconcile public and private needs. These courts were
charged in our Brown II
349 U. S. 300
with a duty to:
"require that the defendants [local school authorities] make a
prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance with our May 17,
1954, ruling. Once such a start has been made, the courts may find
that additional time is necessary to carry out the ruling in an
effective manner. The burden rests
Page 395 U. S. 228
upon the defendants to establish that such time is necessary in
the public interest and is consistent with good faith compliance at
the earliest practicable date."
The record shows that neither Montgomery County nor any other
area in Alabama voluntarily took any effective steps to integrate
the public schools for about 10 years after our Brown I
opinion. In fact, the record makes clear that the state government
and its school officials attempted in every way possible to
continue the dual system of racially segregated schools in defiance
of our repeated unanimous holdings that such a system violated the
United States Constitution. [Footnote 3
There the matter stood in Alabama in May, 1964, when the present
action was brought by Negro children and their parents, with
participation by the United States as amicus curiae.
Apparently, up to that time, Montgomery County, and indeed all
other schools in the State, had operated, so far as actual racial
integration was concerned, as though our Brown
never been decided. Obviously voluntary integration by the local
school officials in Montgomery had not proved to be even partially
successful. Consequently, if Negro children of school age were to
receive their constitutional rights as we had declared them to
exist, the coercive assistance of courts was imperatively called
for. So, after preliminary procedural matters were disposed of,
answers filed, and issues joined, a trial took place. On July 31,
1964, District Judge Johnson handed down an opinion and entered
Page 395 U. S. 229
order. 232 F.
. The judge found that, at the time:
"There is only one school district for Montgomery County,
Alabama, with the County Board of Education and the Superintendent
of Education of Montgomery County, Alabama, exercising complete
control over the entire system. In this school system, for the
school year 1963-64, there were in attendance approximately 16,000
Negro children and approximately 25,000 white children. In this
system, the Montgomery County Board of Education owns and operates
approximately 77 schools."
"From the evidence in this case, this Court further specifically
finds that, through policy, custom and practice, the Montgomery
County Board of Education, functioning at the present time through
the named individual defendants, operates a dual school system
based upon race and color; that is to say, that, through this
policy, practice and custom, these officials operate one set of
schools to be attended exclusively by Negro students and one set of
schools to be attended exclusively by white students. The evidence
further reflects that the teachers are assigned according to race;
Negro teachers are assigned only to schools attended by Negro
students and white teachers are assigned only to schools attended
by white students."
232 F. Supp. at 707. Based on his findings, Judge Johnson
ordered that integration of certain grades begin in September,
1964, but, in this first order, did not require efforts to
desegregate the faculty. The school board, acting under the State's
school placement law, finally admitted eight Negro students out of
the 29 who had sought transfers to white schools under the judge's
July 31 order. The judge refused to order admission of the 21 Negro
Page 395 U. S. 230
whose transfer applications had been rejected by the school
The 1964 initial order of Judge Johnson was followed by yearly
proceedings, opinions, and orders by him. [Footnote 4
] Hearings, preceding these additional
orders, followed the filing each year under the judge's direction
of a report of the school board's plans for proceeding with
desegregation. These annual reports and orders, together with
transcripts of the discussions at the hearings, seem to reveal a
growing recognition on the part of the school board of its
responsibility to achieve integration as rapidly as practicable.
The record, however, also reveals that, in some areas, the board
was not moving as rapidly as it could to fulfill this duty, and the
record shows a constant effort by the judge to expedite the process
of moving as rapidly as practical toward the goal of a wholly
unitary system of schools not divided by race as to either students
or faculty. During these years of what turned out to be an exchange
of ideas between judge and school board officials, the judge, from
time to time, found it possible to compliment the board on its
cooperation with him in trying to bring about a fully integrated
school system. Some of these complimentary remarks are set out in
the opinion of the Court of Appeals modifying the judge's decree.
400 F.2d at 3, n. 3. On the other hand, the board did not see eye
to eye with Judge Johnson on the speed with which segregation
should be wiped out "root and branch," as we have held it must be
done. Green v. County School Board, 391 U.
, 391 U. S. 438
(1968). The school board, having to face the "complexities arising
from the transition to a system of public education freed of racial
discrimination," Brown II,
349 U.S. at 349 U. S. 299
was constantly sparring for
Page 395 U. S. 231
time; the judge, upon whom was thrust the difficult task of
insuring the achievement of complete integration at the earliest
practicable date, was constantly urging that no unnecessary delay
could be allowed in reaching complete compliance with our mandate
that racially segregated public schools be made nothing but a
matter of past history. In this context of clashing objectives, it
is not surprising that the judge's most recent 1968 order should
have failed fully to satisfy either side. It is gratifying,
however, that the differences are so minor as they appear to us to
In his 1968 order, Judge Johnson provided for safeguards to
assure that construction of new schools or additions to existing
schools would not follow a pattern tending to perpetuate
segregation. The order also provided for the adoption of
nondiscriminatory bus routes and for other safeguards to insure
that the board's transportation policy would not tend to perpetuate
segregation. The order provided for detailed steps to eliminate the
impression existing in the school district that the new Jefferson
Davis High School and two new elementary schools were to be used
primarily by white students. The order also included a requirement
that the board file in the near future further specific reports
detailing the steps taken to comply with each point of the order.
Nearly all of these aspects of the order were accepted by the
school board and not challenged in its appeal to the Court of
Appeals. Of the provisions so far mentioned, only one aspect of the
provision relating to Jefferson Davis High School was challenged in
the Court of Appeals, and, after the Court of Appeals upheld Judge
Johnson's order on this point, the school board accepted its
decision and did not seek review on the question here.
The dispute in this action thus centers only on that part of the
1968 order which deals with faculty and staff
Page 395 U. S. 232
desegregation, a goal that we have recognized to be an important
aspect of the basic task of achieving a public school system wholly
free from racial discrimination. See, e.g., Bradley v. School
Board, 382 U. S. 103
(1965); Rogers v. Paul, 382 U. S. 198
(1965). Judge Johnson noted that, in 1966, he had ordered the board
to begin the process of faculty desegregation in the 1966-1967
school year, but that the board had not made adequate progress
toward this goal. He also found:
"The evidence does not reflect any real administrative problems
involved in immediately desegregating the substitute teachers, the
student teachers, the night school faculties, and in the evolvement
of a really legally adequate program for the substantial
desegregation of the faculties of all schools in the system
commencing with the school year of 1968-69."
289 F. Supp. at 650. He therefore concluded that a more specific
order would be appropriate under all the circumstances to establish
the minimum amount of progress that would be required for the
future. To this end, his order provided that the board must move
toward a goal under which, "in each school, the ratio of white to
Negro faculty members is substantially the same as it is throughout
the system." Id.
at 654. In addition, the order set forth
a specific schedule. The ratio of Negro to white teachers in the
assignment of substitute, student, and night school teachers in
each school was to be almost immediately made substantially the
same as the ratio of Negro to white teachers in each of these
groups for the system as a whole. With respect to full-time
teachers, a more gradual schedule was set forth. At the time, the
ratio of white to Negro full-time teachers in the system as a whole
was three to two. For the 1968-1969 school year, each school with
fewer than 12 teachers was required to
Page 395 U. S. 233
have at least two full-time teachers whose race was different
from the race of the majority of the faculty at that school, and in
schools with 12 or more teachers, the race of at least one out of
every six faculty and staff members was required to be different
from the race of the majority of the faculty and staff members at
that school. The goals to be required for future years were not
specified, but were reserved for later decision. About a week
later, Judge Johnson amended part of the original order by
providing that, in the 1968-1969 term, schools with less than 12
teachers would be required to have only one full-time teacher of
the minority race, rather than two, as he had originally
It was the part of the District Court's order containing this
ratio pattern that prompted the modification of the order by the
Court of Appeals. Agreeing that the District Court had properly
"extensive hearings . . . that desegregation of faculties in the
Montgomery County school system was lagging, and that appellants
[the school board] had failed to comply with earlier orders of the
court requiring full faculty desegregation,"
and noting that the testimony of school officials themselves
indicated the need for more specific guidelines, [Footnote 5
Page 395 U. S. 234
the Court of Appeals nevertheless struck down parts of the order
which it viewed as requiring "fixed mathematical" ratios. It held
that the part of the order-setting a specific goal for the
1968-1969 school year should be modified to require only
"substantially or approximately" the 5-1 ratio required by Judge
Johnson's order. With respect to the ultimate objective for the
future, it held that the numerical ratio should be eliminated, and
that compliance should not be tested solely by the achievement of
specified ratios. In so holding, the Court of Appeals made many
arguments against rigid or inflexible orders in this kind of case.
These arguments might possibly be more troublesome if we read the
District Court's order as being absolutely rigid and inflexible, as
did the Court of Appeals. But after a careful consideration of the
whole record, we cannot believe that Judge Johnson had any such
intention. During the four or five years that he held hearings and
considered the problem before him, new orders, as previously shown,
were issued annually, and sometimes more often. On at least one
occasion, Judge Johnson, on his own motion, amended his outstanding
order because a less stringent order for another
Page 395 U. S. 235
district had been approved by the Court of Appeals. This was
done in order not to inflict any possible injustice on the
Montgomery County school system. Indeed, the record is filled with
statements by Judge Johnson showing his full understanding of the
fact that, as this Court also has recognized, in this field, the
way must always be left open for experimentation. [Footnote 6
Judge Johnson's order now before us was adopted in the spirit of
this Court's opinion in Green v. County School Board,
at 391 U. S. 439
in that his plan "promises realistically to work, and promises
realistically to work now.
" The modifications ordered by
the panel of the Court of Appeals, while, of course, not intended
to do so, would, we think, take from the order some of its capacity
to expedite, by means of specific commands, the day when a
completely unified, unitary, nondiscriminatory school system
becomes a reality, instead of a hope. We believe it best to leave
Judge Johnson's order as written, rather than as modified by the
2-1 panel, particularly in view of the fact that the Court of
Appeals as a whole was evenly divided on this subject. We also
believe that, under all the circumstances of this case, we follow
the original plan outlined in Brown II,
as brought up to
date by this Court's opinions in Green v. County School Board,
and Griffin v. School Board, 377 U.
, 377 U. S.
-234 (1964), by accepting the more specific and
Page 395 U. S. 236
expeditious order of Judge Johnson, whose patience and wisdom
are written for all to see and read on the pages of the five-year
record before us.
It is good to be able to decide a case with the feelings we have
about this one. The differences between the parties are exceedingly
narrow. Respondents, members of the Montgomery County school board,
state clearly in their brief,
"These respondents recognize their affirmative responsibility to
provide a desegregated, unitary and nonracial school system. These
respondents recognize their responsibility to assign teachers
without regard to race so that schools throughout the system are
not racially identifiable by their faculties. . . ."
Brief for Respondents 11-12. Petitioners, on the other hand, do
not argue for precisely equal ratios in every single school under
all circumstances. As the United States, petitioner in No. 798,
recognizes in its brief, the District Court's order
"is designed as a remedy for past racial assignment. . . . We do
not, in other words, argue here that racially balanced faculties
are constitutionally or legally required."
Brief for the United States 13. In short, the Montgomery County
school board, and its counsel, assert their purpose to bring about
a racially integrated school system as early as practicable in good
faith obedience to this Court's decisions. Both the District Judge
and the Court of Appeals have accorded to the parties and their
counsel courteous and patient consideration; there is no sign of
lack of interest in the cause of either justice or education in the
views maintained by any of the parties or in the orders entered by
either of the courts below. Despite the fact that the individual
petitioners in this litigation have with some reason argued that
Judge Johnson should have gone farther to protect their rights than
he did, we approve his order as he wrote it. This, we believe, is
the best course we can take in the interest of the petitioners and
the public school system of Alabama.
Page 395 U. S. 237
We hope and believe that this order and the approval that we now
give it will carry Alabama a long distance on its way toward
obedience to the law of the land as we have declared it in the two
cases and those that have followed them.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed, and the cases
are remanded with directions to affirm the judgment of the District
It is so ordered.
* Together with No. 997, Carr et al. v. Montgomery County
Board of Education et al.,
also on certiorari to the same
The dissent from the original panel opinion is reported at 402
The dissents from the denial en banc of the petition for
rehearing are reported at 402 F.2d at 784, 787.
A substantial part of the history of the continued support by
Alabama's governor and other state officials for its dual system of
schools, completely separating white and nonwhite students,
faculty, and staff, can be found in the opinion of the three-judge
court for the Middle District of Alabama in Lee v. Macon County
Board of Education, 267 F.
(1967), affirmed by this Court under the title of
Wallace v. United States, 389 U.
These orders were reported as follows: May 18, 1965, 10 Race
Rel.L.Rep. 582; March 22, 1966, 253 F.
; August 18, 1966, 11 Race Rel.L.Rep. 1716; June 1,
1967, 12 Race Rel.L.Rep. 1200.
The Court of Appeals quoted the following excerpt from the
testimony of Associate Superintendent W. S. Garrett:
"Q. Well, under your plan, when do you estimate that faculty
desegregation will be finally accomplished in terms of the
objective of the court order removing -- "
"A. Well, now, that is something I don't know, because I don't
know what the objectives of the court order are. That has never
been laid down in any percentage fashion that I know of. It says
that you will have reasonable desegregation of faculty and that you
will strive toward having each faculty not recognizable as being
staffed for a particular race. That is what I get out of it."
"Q. Well, let -- "
"A. So I- I can't -- this court order is in fairly general
terms; I can't answer that question."
"Q. Well, you made the statement about having schools staffed so
that they will not be recognizable as for a particular race; when
do you expect that that will be accomplished?"
"A. Well, that would depend on what the Board's definition of --
that is, the court's definition of that."
"Q. Do you have a definition of that?"
"A. Not at this point; we have discussed that many times, and I
do not have a definition of -- of what that would mean."
"Q. No one has told you, given you a definition in terms of
mechanics, in terms of numbers, none of your superiors?"
"A. No, as far as I know, no other school personnel man in
America has. I have talked to many of them. What we are striving to
do is to make progress and keep going and hope that somewhere along
the line we will have achieved the -- what the court has in mind.
But if you will look at that court order, you will see it doesn't
lay down the precise terms exactly what that means; it is a broad
As we stated in Green v. County School Board, supra,
391 U. S.
"There is no universal answer to complex problems of
desegregation; there is obviously no one plan that will do the job
in every case. The matter must be assessed in light of the
circumstances present and the options available in each instance.
It is incumbent upon the school board to establish that its
proposed plan promises meaningful and immediate progress toward
disestablishing state-imposed segregation. It is incumbent upon the
district court to weigh that claim in light of the facts at hand
and in light of any alternatives which may be shown as feasible and
more promising in their effectiveness."