The Green Decision of 1968 | Virginia Museum of History & Culture
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The Green Decision of 1968

By 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court had lost patience with the slow pace of school integration. In New Kent County, Virginia, under a freedom-of-choice plan, 115 black students chose to attend mostly white New Kent High School but 85 percent of blacks and no whites attended George W. Watkins School. A lawsuit brought by Calvin Green contended that such freedom-of-choice plans made desegregation a sham. The court used George W. Watkins SchoolGreen v. School Board of New Kent County to decree a new approach. It became the most important school desegregation case since Brown in 1954. Not satisfied with token compliance, the court shifted its concern "to ensure racial balance in schools." The "Green" factors used to determine whether a desegregation plan was acceptable included the ratio of black to white students and faculty, and absolute equality in facilities, transportation, and extracurricular activities. Freedom-of-choice plans, whether in Virginia or elsewhere, did not meet the Court's new standards and were unanimously rejected. The Court's insistence on immediately destroying segregated schools "root and branch" hastened the pace of change. The percentage of southern black students attending integrated schools jumped from 32 percent in 1968–69 to 79 percent in 1970–71.

Because of white flight to private academies and to the suburbs, racial balance could not be achieved in many city schools without extensive busing of students citywide or across city-county boundaries. This set the stage for a sharp white backlash against social engineering by the judiciary and a strengthening of conservative political opinion.

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