June marked the 20th anniversary of the official resolution and dismissal of Tasby v. Moses, a court case that started a decades-long judicial oversight of Dallas Independent School District to ensure the desegregation of schools. But has segregation been effectively eradicated in Dallas? Or are the factors that gave rise to the case still present?

The month of June holds consequential significance in Black history in America. Juneteenth – while a celebration of the true realization of freedom for enslaved Black folk across the South – prompts reflection on the unfulfilled promise of equality in the United States for Black Americans. And about two weeks prior to the holiday in 1970, litigation on the most significant case in the desegregation of Dallas Schools began.

While DISD states schools were desegregated in 1967, plumber and father of five Sam Tasby challenged the school district on this claim due to a policy that forced his sons Eddie Mitchell and Philip Wayne to ride a city bus past a white school close to their home near Love Field to attend the closest Black school in West Dallas. 

Handled by lawyer Sylvia Demarest, the case argued against the claim that schools had been desegregated for years. Demarest and Tasby pointed out that institutions maintained strong one-race majorities as white students went to well-funded white schools and Black/non-white students were enrolled into overcrowded minority schools. The school district helped to ensure this through blockbusting, prompting white flight by placing a single white neighborhood in a Black school zone when establishing official boundaries. Throughout the litigation, more Black and Hispanic community members joined the case in pursuit of a firm plan to desegregate schools. The provable fact that the inferiority of resources available to students at Black/non-white schools resulted in poor test scores was the driving argument of Tasby v. Moses.

Despite the official ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, which stated,  “Separate but equal educational facilities for racial minorities is inherently unequal, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” many states continued to keep schools largely segregated. Texas, with its established pattern of pushing back against the advancement of civil rights, was no exception. Dallas’ initiatives toward compliance with the ruling from the Supreme Court were “almost non-existent and grudging at best,” as expressed in the lawsuit. Schools in Dallas were often more than 90% white/non-white, signifying a sense of complacency regarding racial divisions and little effort to desegregate.

Sam Tasby Middle School, named after Sam Tasby in recognition of his role in Dallas history. Photo Credit: Dallas Independent School DIstrict.

Eventually, a ruling was made by Judge William Taylor that the district must make a concerted effort to desegregate schools. The Judge implemented a busing strategy, which was poorly received by the Black community as this one-sidedly only bused Black students to white schools. White students against integration entirely were clear in their opposition.

An issue of The Dallas Times Herald dated Aug. 5, 1971 | Photo Credit: Portal to Texas History 

Despite a new busing plan being created by a tri-ethnic committee established to assist DISD in introducing a new system, busing and other integration efforts at the time were largely unsuccessful. Judge Taylor eventually withdrew from the trial, prompting a random draw which led Judge Barefoot Sanders to preside over the case thereafter. After filing an opinion to reject crosstown busing entirely, the focus then shifted to provide greater funding for Black and non-white schools rather than directly working to promote integration. Previous desegregation remedies for grades 4-8 and modified attendance zones for certain schools were still utilized, however, the school district’s main focus was to provide systemic remedies to close the educational gap between Black/non-white and white students.

In 1984, the Court directed the District to open three Learning Centers in South Dallas for grades 4-6. Learning Centers returned previously bused minority students back to schools closer to home and implemented creative educational programs to boost student engagement and achievement levels. Two years later, the Court directed the opening of three additional Learning Centers in West Dallas, as well. After granting DISD’s Motion for Unitary Status more than a decade earlier, the oversight of the courts was deemed no longer necessary by 2003 and the thirty-year-old case was accordingly dismissed.

The long legal battle undertaken by Tasby and Demarest helped enact policies to establish some of Dallas’ most impressive magnet programs and more comprehensive measures to prioritize bilingual education. However, when observing schools in Dallas today, the numbers indicate that segregation as defined by the case is still very much alive and well.

Source: Texas Tribune

Across public schools of DISD, 87.6% of schools are over 90% non-white. Based on this standard, less than 12.5% of DISD schools are truly integrated. At 81.4% of non-white schools in Dallas, more than half of the student body is at risk of dropping out. Students attending predominantly non-white public schools are almost three times as likely to attend a school with a significant risk of dropout than students attending a fully-integrated school. Factors that signify that a student may be at risk of dropping out include but are not limited to stagnation in the grade level for one or more years, poor grades, low test scores, teen pregnancy/parenthood, and limited language skills.

Correlations with race are strong. One school, the predominantly non-white Ben Milam Elementary, held six-and-a-half times higher risk of dropping out among its students than Lakewood Elementary, a nearby school that is 78.8% white. Ben Milam and Lakewood are about 3.5 miles apart and are located in Districts 14 and 9, respectively.

James Madison High School in South Dallas still faces systemic issues. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

James Madison High School, which was converted into a Black school in 1956 after previously serving a white student body, holds a significant potential dropout risk of 77.2% among students. These patterns are consistent, as only 27.6% of integrated schools in Dallas hold a significant concern for potential dropout among their students.

As white demographics shrink within public schools, private educational facilities hold a disproportionate share of whites as they comprise 67% of the national student population, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Two-thirds of private schools in Texas are predominantly white, with half of the majority-white private schools holding a white student demographic of over 80%. As Dallas hosts over 120 private schools, segregation re-emerges, with private institutions and alternative education as the new vehicles for white flight.

Historically Black school Booker T. Washington was converted into a magnet school for performing and visual arts and now is one of the most well-integrated schools in Dallas. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

Other historic Black schools of Dallas have fared better in the decades since DISD’s desegregation efforts. Booker T. Washington, a historically Black school nestled near downtown, now earns significant praise as a fully integrated magnet school for the arts and boasts a 99.3% graduation rate. Unfortunately, the vast majority of schools in Dallas do not provide impressive facilities akin to magnet schools such as Booker T. Washington. However, the school’s present success represents a powerful example of the potential that historically Black institutions hold when receiving adequate investment.

Dallas High School, originally opened as a whites-only school and now a historic landmark in Downtown Dallas. Photo Credit: Sam Judy

Twenty-nine years after Dallas Independent School District earned Unitary Status and 20 years after its vindication in the eyes of the Court, educational institutions remain largely segregated. Guided by parameters that take on a new context in a changing world, Tasby v. Moses did not eradicate systemic oppression in Dallas’ education system but rather depicted a potential future built within the successes it helped to spur forth. In this sense, Dallas’ desegregation efforts are only incremental in the greater effort toward equity, while the power of the movement is more tangible in the material recompense for what has been accomplished.