Desegregation is the process of ending the separation of two groups, usually referring to races. Desegregation is typically measured by the index of dissimilarity allowing researchers to determine whether desegregation efforts are having impact on the settlement patterns of various groups. This is most commonly used in reference to the United States. Desegregation was long a focus of the American civil rights movement, both before and after the United States Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, particularly desegregation of the school systems and the military (see Military history of African Americans). Racial integration of society was a closely related goal.
Starting with King Philip's War in the 17th century, Black and White people served together in an integrated environment in the North American colonies. They continued to fight alongside each other in every American war until the war of 1812. Black people would not fight in integrated units again until the Korean war. Thousands of Black men fought on the side of rebellious colonists in the American revolutionary war, many in the new continental navy. Their names, accomplishments and total numbers are unknown because of poor record keeping.
During the American civil war, Black people enlisted in large numbers. They were mostly enslaved African Americans who had escaped in the south, although there were many northern Black unionists as well. More than 180,000 Black people served with the union army and navy during the civil war in segregated units, known as the United States Colored Troops, under the command of White officers. They were recorded and are part of the National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System (CWSS).
While a handful of Black people were commissioned as officers in World War I, they were severely underrepresented throughout the conflict, though the NAACP lobbied for the commission of greater numbers of Black officers. Upon entering office, President Woodrow Wilson officially segregated the United States navy for the first time in its history.
During World War II, most officers were White, and most Black troops still served only as truck drivers and as stevedores. The Red Ball Express, which was instrumental in facilitating the rapid advance of allied forces across France after D-Day, was operated almost exclusively by African American truck drivers. In the midst of the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was severely short of replacement troops for existing military units, all of which were totally white in composition, so he made the decision to allow African American soldiers to join the White military units to fight in combat for the first time --the first step toward a desegregated United States military. Eisenhower's decision in this case was strongly opposed by his own army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, who was outraged by the decision, and said that the American public would take offense with the integration of the military units.
For the US army air corps, see the Tuskegee Airmen.
For the US army, see the 761st Tank Battalion (United States).
In the second world war, the US navy first experimented with integration aboard USCGC Sea Cloud, then later on USS Mason, (both commanded by Carlton Skinner) a ship with Black crew members and commanded by White officers. Some called it "Eleanor's folly" after President Franklin Roosevelt's wife.Masons purpose had been to allow Black sailors to serve in the full range of billets (positions) rather than being restricted to stewards and mess men, as they were on most ships. The navy was pressured to train Black sailors for billets by Eleanor Roosevelt, who insisted that they be given the jobs for which they had trained.
The US navy's newest component, the Seabees, had the same ingrained attitudes and approaches but ended up at the forefront of change. In February 1942, the CNO, Admiral Harold Rainsford Stark, recommended African Americans for ratings in the construction trades. In April, the navy announced it would enlist African Americans in the Seabees. Even so, those men were put into segregated units, the 34th and 80th Naval Construction Battalions (NCBs). Both had White southern officers and Black enlisted. Both battalions experienced problems with this arrangement, which led to the replacement of the officers. In addition, many of the stevedore battalions (special construction battalions) were segregated. However, by war's end, many of those special construction battalions were the first fully integrated units in the US navy. The war's end also brought the decommissioning of every one of those units.
In 1948, President Harry S. Truman's Executive Order 9981 ordered the integration of the armed forces following World War II, a major advance in civil rights. Using the executive order meant that Truman could bypass Congress. Representatives of the Solid South, all White Democrats, would likely have stonewalled related legislation.
On 12 October 1972, a racially fraught riot occurred on USS Kitty Hawk. "Despite the presence of a Black executive officer, the ship's second-in-command, many Black sailors felt they were dealt harsher punishments and menial assignments because of their race".
The practice of segregating and discriminating in housing opportunity based on race has a long history in the United States. Until the American civil rights movement in the 1960s, segregated neighborhoods were enforceable by law. The Fair Housing Act ended discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, color, religion, and national origin. This was the first housing law against discrimination. The passage of this act was contentious. It was meant to be a direct follow up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, from 1966 to 1967 it failed to garner enough political support for its passage in the United States Congress. At that time, several states had passed their own fair housing laws and Congress was not convinced that a federal law was necessary.
It was only after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr on 4 April 1968, and the ensuing riots, that the bill was finally passed. It was signed into law on 11 April 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a strong proponent. Johnson called the new law one of the "promises of a century ... It proclaims that fair housing for all -- all human beings who live in this country -- is now a part of the American way of life." Since the act's passage in 1968, it has been amended to include sex, familial status, and disability. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity within the US Department of Housing and Urban Development is charged with administering and enforcing this law.
In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that forced busing of students may be ordered to achieve racial desegregation. However, court-enforced school desegregation efforts have decreased over time.
A major decline in manufacturing in northern cities, with a shift of jobs to suburbs, the South, and overseas, has led to increases in the numbers of residents of all races in suburbs, and shifts in population from the North and Great Plains to the southwest, the Pacific Northwest, and the South. Left behind in many northeastern and midwestern inner cities have been the poorest Black people and other minorities. According to Jonathan Kozol, in the early 21st century, US schools have become as segregated as they were in the late 1960s.
The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University says that desegregation of US public schools peaked in 1988. As of 2005, the proportion of Black students at schools with a White majority was at "a level lower than in any year since 1968".
Some critics of school desegregation have argued that court-enforced desegregation efforts were either unnecessary or self-defeating. Numerous middle class and wealthy White people continued moving from cities to suburbs during the 1970s and later, in part to escape certain integrated school systems, but also as part of the suburbanization caused by movement of jobs to suburbs, continuing state and federal support for expansion of highways, and changes in the economy.
Some White parents in Louisiana said that they were afraid to drop off their children because of all the mobs surrounding the desegregated schools. The burden was often placed on Black students to change the historically White culture of schools.
Sociologist David Armor states in his 1995 book Forced Justice: School Desegregation and the Law that efforts to change the racial compositions of schools had not contributed substantially to academic achievement by minorities. Carl L. Bankston and Stephen J. Caldas, in their books A Troubled Dream: The Promise and Failure of School Desegregation in Louisiana (2002) and Forced to Fail: The Paradox of School Desegregation (2005), argued that continuing racial inequality in the larger American society had undermined efforts to force schools to desegregate. They maintained that racial inequality had resulted in popular associations between school achievement and race. Therefore, the achievement levels of American schools were generally associated with their class and racial compositions. This meant that even parents without racial prejudice tended to seek middle class or better residential neighborhoods in seeking the best schools for their children. As a result, efforts to impose court-ordered desegregation often led to school districts with too few White students for effective desegregation, as White students increasingly left for majority White suburban districts or for private schools.
The increasing diversity of American society has led to more complex issues related to school and ethnic proportion. In the 1994 federal court case Ho v. San Francisco Unified School District, parents of Chinese American schoolchildren alleged that racial quotas under a 1983 consent decree constituted racial discrimination in violation of the United States Constitution's Equal Protection Clause. The desegregation plan did not allow any school to enroll more than 50% of any ethnic group. Originally intended to aid integration of Black students, the ruling had a negative effect on the admissions of Chinese Americans, who had become the district's largest ethnic group.
The newspaper AsianWeek documented the Chinese American parents' challenge. Since Chinese Americans were already nearly half the student population, the consent decree had the effect of requiring the competitive Lowell High School in San Francisco, California, to apply much higher academic admission standards for Chinese American students. However, the civil rights group Chinese for Affirmative Action sided with the school district, arguing that such standards were not harmful to Chinese Americans, and were necessary to avoid the resegregation of schools. In 2006, Chinese parents continued to protest against race-based school assignments.