May 17, 2024 - News

Old News: How school administrators reacted to the Brown v. Board ruling

Two newspaper clippings from 1954.

Newspapers archives from the Salt Lake Tribune (left) and the Ogden Standard-Examiner. Courtesy: Utah Digital Newspapers.

Most Utah school administrators praised the landmark SCOTUS ruling to outlaw racial segregation in public schools, while some even went as far as to deny any racial tensions existed in classrooms, per an Axios analysis of newspaper archives.

State of play: In the wake of the ruling, school districts throughout the state operated business as usual with no major policy changes since Utah never legally segregated schools.

What they said: "The decision is fundamentally right," E. Allen Bateman, state superintendent of public instruction, told the Salt Lake Tribune a day after the high court's decision.

  • "If we hope to maintain our position and leadership in the world today with the peoples of other races and nationalities, we must do everything possible to show that we are actually practicing equal treatment for all peoples within our country," he said.

Between the lines: Some superintendents denied their schools had any racial problems.

  • "The racial problem has never faced the Davis County School District, which allows all students to attend regardless of race," then-superintendent Samuel Morgan told the Tribune.
  • Salt Lake City schools were "markedly free" of racism, then-Salt Lake City School District superintendent M. Lynn Bennion said.

Reality check: C'mon, it was the 1950s.

The latest: The biggest challenges impacting students of color today are book bans and the dismantling of diversity, equity, and inclusion offices and programs in schools, Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP tri-state area of Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, told Axios.

Read more: School segregation in Utah visible 70 years after Brown v. Board


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