All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Tennant McWilliams

Advisory Committee Members

Robert Corley

Harriet Doss

Raymond Mohl

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences


When in 1954 the US Supreme Court declared that "separate but equal" was inherently not equal, every segregated school system in America was supposed to desegregate. This was easier said than done, and more successful in some systems than others. Here is a case study of that episode in American history focused on Birmingham, Alabama. This city's tumultuous road to educational desegregation unfolded in four phases: non-compliance (1954-1963), incremental desegregation (1963-1967), "freedom of choice" (1967-1970) and zoned integration (1970-1983). In this context, the thesis has three objectives: first, to explore how people of Birmingham - black and white, male and female, rank-and-file and elite, student, teacher, and administrator - experienced the forced desegregation process; second, to understand unintended consequences of forced desegregation; and three, to analyze the re-segregation process that followed what was supposed to be de-segregation. To do this, the study draws on some manuscript materials but chiefly upon local journalism, records of the Birmingham city schools, and an analysis of Birmingham desegregation completed by a Columbia University team in 1974, fed-eral court documents, and oral histories compiled by the author and others. The principal conclusion of the study is that the concept of "white is right" undergirded all major and minor changes made to the Birmingham schools. Most blacks and whites, whether favoring desegregation or opposing it, erroneously viewed all-black education as inferior because this had black students not involved in the perceived advantages of predominately white educational settings. The thesis also concludes that meaningful cooperation and compromise failed to occur in Bir-mingham, as most students, parents, teachers, administrators, and Board Members - whites and blacks - did not have the will to make desegregation work. Therefore, one cannot "blame" any single group for the ultimate failure of the de-segregation of Birmingham city schools. Finally, the thesis concludes that the plethora of unin-tended consequences of Brown v. Board Education (1954, 1955) and related federal court actions includes not just re-segregation of Birmingham schools but the significant reduction in numbers of effective black teachers.



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