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Desegregation: United States v. Texas

United States v. Texas, 321 F. Supp. 1043 (E.D. Tex. 1970),
supplemented by 330 F. Supp. 235 (E.D. Tex. 1971)

In November 1970, Judge Justice ordered the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to assume responsibility for desegregating Texas public schools.  The ruling in United States v. Texas (also referred to as Civil Order 5281) applied to the entire Texas public school system, affecting over 2.5 million children.

John Tyler High School
John Tyler High School
Tyler, TX

In July 1971, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmedJudge Justice’s decision. (United States v. Texas, 447 F.2d 441 (5th Cir., 1971)).However, school districts that were under or would later fall under the desegregation orders of other federal courts were removed from Judge Justice’s jurisdiction. Even with this modification, the order applied to over two million students in more than 1,000 school districts.

Judge Justice’s order had far-reaching effects on the Texas public school system and required scrutiny of transfers between districts, prohibited discrimination in extracurricular activities and personnel practices, and mandated yearly reviews of districts with high and low minority populations.

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United States v. Texas (continued)

Judge Justice’s order prohibited all transfers after June 1, 1971 unless hardship could be shown. Numerous letters were written by parents to both Judge Justice and the TEA protesting transfer refusals.

In response to Judge Justice’s May 1971 order prohibiting discrimination in extracurricular activities and personnel practices, he received numerous citizen reports of discrimination Complaints sent to Judge Justice were forwarded to the Texas Education Agency for investigation.

Henderson ISD LetterUnder his order, the Texas Education Agency was required to conduct annual reviews of school districts with a 66% or greater minority enrollment as well as those districts with a 90% or greater Caucasian enrollment. Further, TEA was required to show why schools with a 66% or greater minority enrollment and schools with less than 250 students should not be annexed into neighboring districts.

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U.S. v. Texas (continued)

Judge Justice oversaw the ongoing lawsuit until his death, with his last published opinion in the case being in 2008.(United States v. Texas, 572 F. Supp. 2d 726 (E.D. Tex. 2008)).

U. S. v. Tyler Independent School District

Complaint Letter Tyler ISD Closely related to United States v. Texas is United States v. Tyler Independent School District, Civil Action 5176, filed in Judge Justice’s court in the summer of 1970.  U.S. v. T.I.S.D. is an older, separate decision and many of the methods Judge Justice used in this case are reflected in U.S. v. Texas as well. In July 1970, Judge Justice rejected Tyler’s neighborhood school plan and ordered consolidation of Tyler’s schools. One result of the consolidation was increased busing throughout the district in order to fully integrate schools. As of October 2010, Judge Justice’s order in U.S. v. T.I.S.D. still applies to the district. The following documents illustrate the early formation and struggles of the Bi-Racial Committee for the Tyler Independent School District.

Following an incident at John Tyler High School where black and white students were listed separately on ballots for a cheerleader election, Judge Justice established a Bi-Racial Committee. The Committee’s purpose was to discuss ways for achieving racial harmony and understanding among students, teachers, and patrons. 

Order establishing a Bi-Racial Committee, July 8, 1971.

Letter from Committee Chairman, James C. Wynne, to William Wayne Justice, November 18, 1971.

In response to Wynne’s letter, Judge Justice’s December 17, 1971 order clarifies the duties of the Bi-Racial Committee.

Order explaining the role of the Bi-Racial Committee, December 17, 1971.

Citing the likelihood of tension between the Bi-Racial Committee and residents of Tyler, Wynne resigns on December 29, 1971.

Resignation letter from Chairman James C. Wynne, December 29, 1971.

One task of the Bi-Racial Committee was to investigate complaints and referrals from the school administration, Board of Education, Judge Justice’s court, and the public. The following letters address just one of the complaints received and investigated by the Committee.

Complaint from Rosie Halton to the Bi-Racial Committee, September 27, 1976.

Investigation results sent to Rosie Halton by the Bi-Racial Committee, September 30, 1976.

Letter from the Bi-Racial Committee to William Wayne Justice, September 30, 1976.