“Bring Back The White Kids”: A Fight To Integrate In Rural Mississippi (Video)

Map via Wikipedia.

Map via Wikipedia.

COLDWATER, Miss. –  Stacey Hagg is outraged. She pours on her kitchen table years of research: enrollment numbers, meeting minutes and test scores.

“Three inch binder full of papers, letters, emails, petitions, news articles,” says Hagg.

The Haggs are one of the few white families still sending its children to almost all black Coldwater Attendance Center in rural Tate County, Mississppi.

“I would like to see a bigger mix in the race. My kids are the minority in school,” says Hagg. “They are okay with that, so I’m okay with that.”

But she’s not okay with  the quality of the school suffering as it becomes majority black.

Her fight started after the Tate County School District in rural northern Mississippi built a brand new high school 15 miles away from the old high school. Attendance lines were redrawn and what was once a diverse single school became two: brand new Strayhorn- almost 90 percent white- and old Coldwater- nearly 90 percent black.

Angela Merritt traces her finger over a map of the segregating school lines. Nearly half a century ago, a school bus took Merritt down these same roads to a state segregated school. She’s one of several black parents that have joined Hagg to fight.

“I don’t think we’ve come nowhere,” says Merritt. “I think that the people whose mindsets have changed by the desegregation of schools have moved away from here!”

Right now the Coldwater’s test scores are a full letter grade lower than Strayhorn’s. For her part, Merritt says she doubts “separate but equal” status is even possible.

“Bring back the white kids,” says Merritt. “Because if you don’t bring back the white kids we aren’t going to get an education here.”

Angela Merritt (with daughters Gabby and Larasha) is working to reintegrate Tate County Schools. Photo by Kristian Weatherspoon.

Angela Merritt (with daughters Gabby and Larasha) is working to reintegrate Tate County Schools. Photo by Kristian Weatherspoon.

Research may be on Merritt’s side. Rick Kahlenberg is a Senior Fellow with the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank.

“The social science research on this question is really pretty settled: economically and racially segregated schools are bad for students,” says Kahlenberg.

So, Kahlenberg says, if Tate County- or more broadly the rest of Mississippi and the rest of the country – is serious about improving outcomes, there has to be strong action to re-integrate.

Superintendent James Malone took over Tate County Schools after it became racially divided. He says he is working hard to improve the quality of both schools. And he says, there is already an option for addressing re-segregation: an active 1970s court order allows residentially segregated students to self integrate.

“What we call a majority to minority transfer. In other words, a black student in Coldwater could transfer to Strayhorn, if they so desired,” says Malone. “A white student in Strayhorn could transfer to Coldwater, if they so desired.”

Larasha Mallard, a college student who graduated from Coldwater, does not think there is enough political will for optional integration.

“I think people are just so tired of the fight,” says Mallard. “They are like this is the way it’s always was. This is the way it always was.”

So, she says, a final option – file a complaint with the US Department of Justice. A letter has since been sent, and they expect a response by the end of the school year. Mallard says in the late 1960s, federal intervention got results. More than 40 years later, she says, that may still be what it takes.


Use this interactive map to see the racial divide of the two school zones. Trouble loading? Please Refresh.

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    Jones Warren says:

    This is not the “unbiased, fact-based reporting” the S.E.D. boasts about on its website. If fact, this is terrible and irresponsible journalism. You left out some key facts. Contact me if you want to know which key facts you left out. -Jones Warren (901) 288-6346

    James Walker says:

    I agree with Jones, Warren’s comment. This article is very biased and poorly written/researched. Key questions that were never answered through this article were…1) Why was Strayhorn High School built? 2) What influenced the “redrawing” of attendance lines? 3) If you’re concerned about race, what was the racial makeup of students attending Coldwater High before Strayhorn High was built?…

    Kennith Montgomery says:

    -Mr. Walker

    The article states that the population make up was diverse at the Coldwater High School before Strayhorn High School was built.

    The reasons for Strayhorn High School being built and the regrawing of attendance lines are likely a successful efforts to separate students by race, ethnicity, and economic status. The likelihood of this being a true statement is that more than 44 school districts in the state of Mississippi are currently undergoing efforts to desegregate. So this action makes this school district similar to a majority of school district in this state.

    The woman’s argument is that with the more affluent residents sending their children to the newer school, the impoverished residents cannot maintain a high level of quality in the schools they have access to. The article is simple…

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