Private Schools Established to Avoid Court-Ordered Integration

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, private schools across the Delta were established to avoid desegregation. In Phillips County, the name of that school is De Soto. To this day, De Soto has not enrolled a black student.  

Above and right: Helena Daily World, April 24th, 1970. 

Above and right: Helena Daily World, April 24th, 1970. 

The people who chartered private schools did so because their time was up: 16 years after the Supreme Court mandated integration in Brown, the federal government finally appeared serious about enforcing it.  The government threatened to withhold funds and file lawsuit. Helena, along with around fifty school districts across the Delta, were still not in compliance with the federal government's mandate.

Nearly all districts that failed to comply with the desegregation order were in the Delta. 

Nearly all districts that failed to comply with the desegregation order were in the Delta. 

After De Soto opened in 1970, some white families chose to send their children to the newly integrated public schools in Helena, which flourished in their early years. But the economy would collapse in a decade, and with the closing of a rubber company, Helena shuttered practically overnight. De Soto became a bastion for the remaining white families. Public schools today are 99 percent black.

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