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Published: June 28, 2011

Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County

A landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, affirming the right of federal courts to levy taxes and raise funds to reopen public schools when local school boards fail to do so. Prince Edward County had been involved in one of the four original cases that were grouped together in BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA in 1954, when the Court declared racial segregation of schools unconstitutional and ordered all school boards to desegregate schools “with all deliberate speed.” Prince Edward County, however, closed its public schools rather than permit racial integration, but it then used public moneys to support a group of private schools that white parents had opened for their children. Black children, in the meantime, had no schools until 1963, when a privately financed group opened a few inadequate emergency schools. In affirming the right of lower federal courts to assume all school board functions, the Court held that “the time for mere ‘deliberate speed’ has run out . . . There has been entirely too much deliberation and not enough speed in enforcing constitutional rights which we held [in 1954] had been denied Prince Edward County Negro children.” The Court effectively barred local officials from giving any financial aid to pupils in private schools, and it barred the flow of state funds to any public schools elsewhere in the state until Prince Edward County public schools reopened as racially integrated schools.