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A Civil War-era law could help change Mississippi’s segregated school system

The SPLC is using the Reconstruction era 1870 Readmission Act to challenge a system they say has denied the state's black citizens equal access to a good education.

by Antonia Hylton
Nov 2 2017, 7:15pm

Mississippi’s education system is deeply divided by race: the state’s best schools are majority white, while all 19 of the F-graded public school districts are over 80 percent black. But that may soon change — any day now, a federal judge could move forward on a lawsuit arguing that the racial and resource discrepancies across those districts is illegal.

The suit, brought against state officials by the Southern Poverty Law Center, takes the surprising strategy of using a 147-year-old federal law. The idea is that this level of segregation is no recent coincidence — it’s a product of entrenched, historical racism.

When Mississippi rejoined the Union after the Civil War, the federal government required the state agree to a new constitution in the Readmission Act of 1890. It included an educational clause explicitly providing for a “uniform system of public schools” for all Mississippi citizens. Over decades, Mississippi lawmakers have whittled down the education provision, ​and, the SPLC argues, l​​oosened their obligations to students , resulting in the decades-long neglect of poor, predominantly black schools.

VICE News’ Antonia Hylton spent a day with students who are fighting to get the best possible education in one of the state’s lowest-rated schools.

This segment originally aired on November 2, 2017, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.