Court orders US town to desegregate schools

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US federal court has ordered a Mississippi town to desegregate its schools by consolidating them after a 50-year battle to maintain de facto racial segregation, officials said on Monday (May 16).

Black and white students in middle and high school in the town of Cleveland, Mississippi - population 12,000 - are largely separated six decades since a landmark Supreme Court decision ended segregation in US schools, the Justice Department said in a statement.

The court's 96-page judgment made on Friday found the local school authority's decades of delay had "deprived generations of students of the constitutionally guaranteed right of an integrated education."

"This failure, whether born of good faith, bad faith, or some combination of the two, has placed Cleveland in the unenviable position of operating under a desegregation order long after schools in bastions of segregation... have been declared unitary," the decision said.

Although a middle and high school in the town teach African American students almost exclusively, local officials had argued that desegregation had occurred because many other African American students attend the schools where almost all the town's white students are educated, media reported.

The Supreme Court declared racial segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional in the 1954 case "Brown v. Board of Education."

"This decision serves as a reminder to districts that delaying desegregation obligations is both unacceptable and unconstitutional," said Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.