School desegregation: 50 years after Milliken v. Bradley

Detroit students are greeted by a teacher as they arrive at school. Photo provided by Walter P. Reuther Library | Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

by John R. Runyan and Erin Gianopoulos and John E. Mogk   |   Michigan Bar Journal

The Detroit school desegregation case initiated in August 1970 against state officials, the Detroit Board of Education, and the superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) was an inflection point in school desegregation jurisprudence.1 The impact of the United States Supreme Court’s sharply divided decision in Milliken v. Bradley2 is undoubtedly reflected in Detroit’s currently segregated metropolitan schools, but the case’s far-reaching implications have influenced the racial makeup of urban schools across the country.3 Milliken v. Bradley was the first to directly address busing as a remedy for de jure segregation outside of the South, and from the moment of the Supreme Court decision, “busing was a national issue, not just a Southern one.”4


Local governments in the Jim Crow South had, since the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, attempted to resist desegregation requirements through intransigence and delay.5 The Court would eventually rule that Brown’s direction of “all deliberate speed”6 did not mean schools could avoid desegregation altogether.7 School boards operating state-compelled dual systems of public education did have an affirmative duty to take whatever steps necessary to convert to a unitary system and eliminate racial discrimination “root and branch.”8

De jure segregation laws in the South provided the constitutional basis for court action, but in the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education case, the Supreme Court found that racial segregation in housing also produced racially identifiable schools.9 The Swann Court found that “residential patterns in the city and county resulted in part from federal, state, and local government action.”10 This holding allowed desegregation efforts to move northward where explicit state acts of racial segregation were rare and difficult to prove, but racially identifiable neighborhoods and schools abounded.11 In the first case to confront school segregation outside the South, the Court held that a “systematic program of segregation” triggered a presumption of a dual school system. Though it refused to go further and hold that de facto segregation resulted in the same constitutional equal protection violation caused by de jure segregation,12 the Supreme Court’s reasoning opened the door for cases like Milliken.13

Southern desegregation cases set the legal precedent for Milliken, but it is impossible to appreciate the context of the courts’ decisions without understanding Detroit’s political and racial landscape in the late 1960s. Economic displacement and deindustrialization fueled resentment in Detroit’s Black community.14 The unrest in July 1967 was a brutal outpouring of discontent and outrage at the city’s persistent discrimination and the growing racial divide. President Lyndon Johnson convened the Kerner Commission to identify the genesis of the violent riots that killed 43 people in Detroit; the commission concluded that school integration should be “the priority education strategy; it is essential to the future of American society. … Equality of results with all-white schools must be the goal.”15 Because uprisings were partially the consequence of racial isolation, integrating schools was essential. Thus, when considering desegregation efforts before and after the Bradley decision, one must center them in this time of great division.

In the aftermath of the mid-1960s uprisings that shook Detroit and other major cities, some Blacks turned away from the goal of integration. Instead, whether from despair or frustration, a demand for Black power and community control became popular; a movement in the Michigan Legislature was led by state senator and future Detroit mayor Coleman Young. Although this difference in philosophy played out across the country, it had profound implications for Detroit.16

Young and Black nationalist Rev. Albert Cleage desired Black-centered, community control of Detroit’s predominantly Black schools as opposed to integrating either predominantly white or predominantly Black schools to improve the education for Black children. Still, other local leaders like  Abraham Zwerdling of the Detroit Board of Education — a white, liberal union lawyer favored more proactive efforts to accelerate the integration of white schools too slowly occurring as housing patterns changed.17

Unfortunately, community control advocates and those favoring integration were at loggerheads. Led by Young, the state legislature passed Act 244 of the Public Acts of 1969, mandating that the Detroit Board of Education divide into smaller regional districts with the hope that Black leaders would represent many of those smaller, majority-Black areas.18 To comply with the act, the board in 1970 passed what became known as the April 7th Plan.19

The April 7th Plan also provided for voluntary desegregation of Detroit’s high schools phased in over a three-year period, ultimately moving 10,000 students so 11 racially identifiable high schools would become more integrated in a district in which Blacks comprised 63.8% of the student body. For example, at Denby High School in the conservative northeast part of the city, the percentage of Black students would have increased from fewer than 3% to approximately 53% by 1972, when the plan would have been fully implemented. The percentage of Black students at Kettering High School, which was paired with Denby in Region 6, would have decreased from 89.3% to 65.1%. Detroit voters would later recall the four board members (including Zwerdling) who supported the April 7th Plan.20

Before the April 7th Plan was even adopted, the Detroit newspapers learned of the proposal; the story appeared on the front pages of the Sunday News and Free Press.21 The papers mischaracterized it as a sweeping integration plan, provoking an angry backlash22 and a white student walkout.23 In response to the early opposition, the state legislature passed Act 48 repealing the April 7th Plan and introducing “an ‘open enrollment’ policy by which white students left in neighborhoods that were transitioning from white to Black could transfer out of Black schools.”24 This action by the state legislature and then-Gov. William Milliken led the NAACP, at the urging of the Detroit schools superintendent, to file a suit against the state to set aside Act 48 in order to implement the April 7th Plan.


The initial complaint was filed on August 18, 1970, and the case was assigned on blind draw to U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Roth, a moderate Democrat and former Michigan attorney general and Genesee County circuit judge appointed to the bench by President John F. Kennedy. After twice denying plaintiffs’ requests for preliminary injunctive relief, Roth conducted a 41day bench trial in the spring of 1971 on the issue of whether the Detroit Public Schools were de jure segregated based on race.

Roth was not an activist judge. His finding of de jure segregation within Detroit’s public schools was predicated on the persuasive evidence presented at trial of residential segregation within the city and the larger metropolitan area that was “substantial, pervasive and of long-standing.”25 The actions (and inactions) of state and DPS officials reinforced and nurtured that segregation, including enactment of Act 48. Other actions were the location of school construction, creation of optional attendance zones, grade structures, feeder patterns, and transportation policies, all of which had the natural, probable, and foreseeable effect of keeping white and Black students in racially segregated schools.26

After conducting additional proceedings, Roth reached his most controversial conclusion: Detroit Public Schools could not and would not be successfully desegregated within the corporate geographic limits of the city. His finding that interdistrict relief was necessary to remedy the de jure segregation had two predicates. First, he felt duty bound by U.S. Supreme Court precedent to order a desegregation plan “that promises realistically to achieve now and hereafter the greatest possible degree of actual school desegregation.”27 Second, given both the state’s authority over local school districts under the Michigan Constitution and its exercise (in Act 48 and elsewhere) to further the de jure segregation of Detroit’s public schools, he concluded that it was within his authority to involve other districts in the desegregation plan.

Roth’s finding of de jure segregation in the Detroit Public Schools was affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sitting en banc, and the U.S. Supreme Court.28 The Court of Appeals also affirmed Roth’s finding that interdistrict relief was necessary to cure the constitutional violation he had found, reasoning that it was:

“impossible to declare ‘clearly erroneous’ the District Judge’s conclusion that any Detroit only desegregation plan will lead directly to a single segregated Detroit school district overwhelmingly black in all of its schools, surrounded by a ring of suburbs and suburban school districts overwhelmingly white in composition in a State in which the racial composition is 87 percent white and 13 percent black.”29

However, in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court reversed Roth’s and the Court of Appeals’ conclusions that interdistrict relief was necessary and appropriate to remedy the de jure segregation.

The majority based its decision on several key conclusions. First, it concluded that the lower courts had mistakenly shifted the focus to an interdistrict remedy “only because of their conclusion that total desegregation of Detroit would not produce the racial balance which they perceived as desirable.”30 Second, emphasizing that “(n)o single tradition in public education is more deeply rooted than local control over the operation of schools” and ignoring Michigan constitutional and statutory provisions to the contrary, the majority concluded that “(b)oundary lines may be bridged where there has been a constitutional violation calling for interdistrict relief, but the notion that school district lines may be casually ignored or treated as a mere administrative convenience is contrary to the history of public education in our country.”31

Third, emphasizing that the nature and extent of the constitutional violation determine the scope of the remedy, the majority concluded that:

“(b)efore the boundaries of separate and autonomous school districts may be set aside by consolidating the separate units for remedial purposes or by imposing a cross-district remedy, it must first be shown that there has been a constitutional violation within one district that produces a significant segregative effect in another district. Specifically, it must be shown that racially discriminatory acts of the State or local school districts, or of a single school district have been a substantial cause of interdistrict segregation.”32

Fourth, the majority addressed the dissenters’ argument that interdistrict relief was justified because of evidence implicating the state and its agencies in the constitutional violation. Although conceding arguendo that agencies having statewide authority participated in maintaining the dual school system found to exist in Detroit, the majority nevertheless concluded that because remedial relief restores victims of discriminatory conduct to the position they would have occupied in the absence of such conduct and because disparate treatment of white and Black students only occurred within the Detroit school system, the remedy must be limited to that system.33

Finally, because of its ruling concluding that  interdistrict relief was not appropriate, the majority found it unnecessary to address the arguments of suburban school districts claiming that they were denied due process when the district court limited their participation after intervention was allowed. This precluded any opportunity to present evidence that the suburban districts had committed no acts having a segregative effect in Detroit.34

Although technically not before the Supreme Court, the interdistrict desegregation plan Roth ordered was both ambitious and meticulous.35 “Some 780,000 students were involved, 220,000 of them in the Detroit school district. It was the widest-ranging busing order ever handed down by a federal court.”36 But the Supreme Court rejected this remedy, holding that to include suburban districts would require a finding of a constitutional violation on their part.37 By limiting the remedy, the Court made school district lines sacrosanct — politically significant boundaries that desegregation plans could not cross — even though the districts were instruments of the state created for administrative convenience and the lines were approved by the very state officials whose actions confined Black and white students in racially segregated schools.38

These impenetrable boundaries would facilitate white and middle-class flight and concentrate poverty in city centers.39 The decision effectively ensured the re-segregation of public school systems nationwide. A different outcome could have resulted in vastly different metropolitan areas where suburban residence did not guarantee attendance at segregated white schools and urban living need not condemn most children to an inferior education in largely impoverished and segregated Black schools.40


The Supreme Court decision in Milliken marked the beginning of a judicial retreat from two decades’ worth of efforts to desegregate public schools. Subsequent decisions continued the movement away from federally enforced school desegregation. In Missouri v. Jenkins,41 as in Milliken, there were too few white children in an urban school district to meaningfully integrate the schools. The precedent set in Milliken prevented an adequate remedy. Hence, the Jenkins Court ordered creation of high-quality magnet schools to attract suburban white children to the predominantly Black city schools.42 The Supreme Court, however, found that such orders to attract students from outside the offending school district exceeded the scope of the violation and lower courts could not employ this remedy.43 Thus, not only could courts not specifically order suburban districts to participate in desegregation efforts, but now even attempting to induce white suburbs’ voluntary participation was impermissible. The decision validated the view that imposing taxes to support other children is punitive — and where the determination of which children are other children and which kids are ours is defined by race.44

Housing segregation and its impact on diversity in public schools was central to two other prominent recent cases in desegregation jurisprudence: Parents Involved and Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education.45 These cases involved challenges to school assignment plans that attempted to prevent the de facto segregation that occurs where racial demographics would produce racially identifiable schools.46

Chief Justice John Roberts’ plurality opinion in Parents Involved distinguished the issue of K-12 school segregation from college-level affirmative action.47 The Court upheld affirmative action in higher education based on a diversity rationale, but the Parents Involved opinion held that the importance of racial diversity in elementary and high schools could not be proven.48

Children do not, however, “learn about other children and races and other cultures in the abstract; they learn by living with them in specific places including schools.”49 The value of diversity lies in the benefits derived from students’ interactions with people from different backgrounds and with different life experiences.50 The school districts in Seattle, Washington, and Louisville, Kentucky, attempted to create this benefit because student assignments in single-race schools in segregated neighborhoods prevented valuable student interactions and “cross-racial understanding” that the Court valued for university students.51 The Court’s holding in Parents Involved sanctioned the possibility of voluntary integration while at the same time erected barriers to its practical implementation. Justice Roberts seemed inclined to hold that voluntary integration does not advance a compelling interest.52 This would have been an alarming revision of desegregation history, using Brown to justify blocking efforts to integrate schools, but the opinion “only hinted in that direction.”53

Progress toward integration eroded after the landmark decision in Milliken. U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s offered “instruction not about how to further desegregation but how to dismantle it”54 by continuing to severely restrict court-ordered desegregation remedies.55 The Court protected the rights of white parents to choose racial isolation over the rights of children to have an integrated education of high quality. Education reforms that followed focused on improving the quality of education without a specific push for racial integration. Absent this focus, reform policies allowed schools to become even more segregated and schools catering to poor and minority children remained unequal.56


After Milliken, racial integration became all but impossible to achieve in predominantly minority, low-income school districts and in most cases, urban school districts were not only de facto segregated, but also inferior.57 In 1965, the student population in Detroit’s public schools was 54.8% Black.58 By 1975, 65% of Detroit public school students were Black; by comparison, only 44% of the city’s electorate was Black.59 In contrast, the suburbs were overwhelmingly white — in most, Black residents represented fewer than 1% of their populations.60

White and middle-class flight after Milliken did not improve these numbers. In the 2020-21 school year, Detroit public schools were 82% Black.61 According to 2020 census data, 77.2% of Detroit residents are Black.62 Open enrollment and housing integration has resulted in some suburban districts having many more minority students now compared to the 1960s — Grosse Pointe Public Schools are 15.97% Black, for example.63 Nevertheless, there are more children now than ever before who attend schools where the bulk of the student body is comprised of minorities.64 Four of every 10 Black students in Michigan are in public schools in which the student bodies are more than 90% Black.65 Perhaps most significant is the percentage of economically disadvantaged students in Detroit’s public schools, which currently stands at 82%.66 Even as school choice allows some Black Detroit students to travel to the suburbs in search of better schools, those with fewer choices are left behind, more racially and socially isolated than ever before.67


School desegregation efforts in Detroit and elsewhere were, at their core, about the same concerns today’s parents have for their children: overcrowded classrooms, crumbling infrastructure, and inadequate funds for the supplies and personnel necessary to operate a quality education system. Integration would place some Black students in higher-quality schools, and the white students bused to predominately Black schools would use their political power to demand improvements, bringing everyone up.68

But much of that hope fell apart with the Milliken decision and the cases that followed, which “essentially stopped desegregation as we knew it.”69 Absent a focus on integration, reform policies allowed schools to become even more segregated and schools catering to poor and minority children remained unequal.70 Milliken’s impact extended beyond busing “because it protected the choice of privileged parents to avoid participation in state-ordered remedies to dismantle the segregated system that had granted them racial privilege.”71

Milliken took school busing into the national spotlight but today, busing is a non-issue. Racial integration hasn’t been part of the education policy debate at the local or federal levels for more than 20 years. Segregation has increased in American schools since the early 1990s and no one is doing anything about it.72 Recently, the media criticized Vice President Kamala Harris for invoking busing because younger voters have no frame of reference to understand the concept; it is ancient history.73 Central Michigan University political science professor Joyce Baugh, author of “The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v. Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation” concluded that “[n]obody wants to deal with [school desegregation] because I think it requires a level of honesty and reflection that many people aren’t quite ready to give.”74

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall presciently foresaw much of the current division in schools and communities in his dissenting opinion in Milliken, writing that “[i]n the short run, it may seem to be the easier course to allow our great metropolitan areas to be divided up each into two cities — one white, the other Black — but it is a course, I predict, our people will ultimately regret.”75

Parents and teachers greet children as they arrive at Detroit’s William Robinson School. Photo provided by Walter P. Reuther Library | Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University


  1. See Mirel, The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System: Detroit, 1907-81 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1993), p 346 (noting that Milliken marked the first time the Supreme Court rejected the ar guments of the NAACP regarding school segregation) and Baugh, The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation (Law rence: University Press of Kansas, 2011), p xi (recognizing the case as the center of the tortured tale of urban school desegregation).
  2. Milliken v Bradley, 418 US 717; 94 S Ct 3112; 41 L Ed 2d 1069 (1974).
  3. See, e.g., Missouri v Jenkins, 515 US 70, 72; 115 S Ct 2038; 132 L Ed 2d 63 (1995) (“The record does not support the District Court’s reliance on ‘white flight’ as a justification for a permissible expansion of its intradistrict remedial authority through its pursuit of desegregative attractiveness,” citing Milliken) and Parents Involved in Community Schools v Seattle School Dist No 1, 551 US 701, 732; 127 S Ct 2738; 168 L Ed 2d 508 (2007) (“Even in the context of mandatory desegregation, we have stressed that racial proportionality is not required[,]” citing Milliken).
  4. LeBlanc, Busing set off Democratic debate flare-up, but does it still matter in Detroit? The Detroit News (July 22, 2019) < https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/ local/michigan/2019/07/21/busing-set-off-debateflare-up-but-does-still-matter-detroit/1693231001/> [https://perma.cc/7CGL-PZV5]. All websites cited in this article were accessed December 3, 2021.
  5. Brown v Bd of Education, 347 US 483; 74 S Ct 686; 98 L Ed 2d 873 (1954).
  6. Brown v Bd of Education, 349 US 294, 301; 75 S Ct 753; 99 L Ed 2d 1083 (1955).
  7. Griffin v School Bd of Prince Edward Cty, 377 US 218, 221–224; 84 S Ct 1226; 12 L Ed 2d 256 (1964).
  8. Green v Cty School Bd of New Kent Cty, 391 US 430, 437-438; 88 S Ct 1689; 20 L Ed 2d 716 (1968).
  9. Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd of Education, 402 US 1, 7–9; 91 S Ct 1267; 28 L Ed 2d 554 (1971).
  10. Id.
  11. Orfield, Milliken, Meredith, and Metropolitan Segregation 62 UCLA L Rev 364, 382 (2015). Another significant difference between school districts in the South and those in the North would prove critical. The difference in how the North and South drew district lines resulted in inconsistency in assigning government responsibility for segregated schools and in the scope of the permissible remedy for such segregation. While there is no absolute relationship between district size and segregation, “[n]o state with small districts and a substantial African American population [like Michigan and most urban centers in the North] has come anywhere near the level of desegregation achieved in the most successful states with large systems [where large districts incorporating large metropolitan areas was the norm].” Orfield et al., Deepening Segregation in American Public Schools: A Special Report from the Harvard Project on School Desegregation, 30 Equity & Excellence in Education 2, 14 (1997).
  12. Keyes v School Dist No 1, 413 US 189, 193–195, 208–209; 93 S Ct 2686; 37 L Ed 2d 548 (1973). See also James, Opt-Out Education: School Choice as Racial Subordination, 99 Iowa L Rev 1083, 1092 n 33 (2014) (rather than affirm the district court’s finding that segregated schools were inherently separate and unequal, the Court instead concluded that “intentionally segregative school board actions in a meaningful portion of a school system ... creates a [rebuttable] presumption that other segregated schooling within the system is not adventitious [.]”), available at [https://perma. cc/DZ7A-EB64].
  13. Davis v School Dist of City of Pontiac, Inc, 309 F Supp 734 (ED Mich, 1970), aff’d, 443 F2d 573 (CA 6, 1971). Judge Keith held that evidence of past discriminatory practices, including locating new schools in areas that would perpetuate segregation, was sufficient to show the same violation of equal protection rights as de jure segregation. This decision built on the precedent of Swann and Keyes, paving the way for the claims in Bradley.
  14. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), p 260.
  15. Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, Nat’l Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (US Government Printing Office, 1968), available at [https://perma.cc/937V-UGUY]. This commission was created by Executive Order No 11365, issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 29, 1967. Executive Order 11365 – Establishing a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, The American Presidency Project <https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/documents/executive-order-11365-establishing-national-advisory-commission-civil-disorders#:~:text=Executive%20 Order%2011365%E2%80%94Establishing%20a%20 National%20Advisory%20Commission%20on%20 Civil%20Disorders,-July%2029%2C%201967&text=By%20virtue%20of%20the%20authority,it%20is%20 ordered%20as%20follows%3A&text=(a)%20There%20 is%20hereby%20established,as%20the%20%22Commission%22)> [https://perma.cc/E6QA-LNWK].
  16. Recalling the Milliken v Bradley Case, presentation by Wayne State University Law School professor John E. Mogk at the SBM 36th Legal Milestone Dedication Ceremony, Hyatt Regency, Dearborn, Michigan (September 16, 2011). See also The Detroit School Busing Case, p 77 (“Young and other community control advocates argued against creating integrated regions, in favor of regional boundaries that would ensure Black control of Black schools . . . [W]hite Detroiters preferred to draw the boundaries along existing administrative lines which, along with neighborhood schools, would preserve the prevailing system of racial segregation.”).
  17. Young stated that he did not believe that Black kids had to go to school with White kids in order to be educated and would later refer to the Detroit Board’s April 7 plan as “a chickenshit integration plan.” Grant, Community control vs school integration — the case of Detroit, 24 The Public Interest 24, (1971) pp 62-79, 73, Box 5 of 5, Folder 5-4, Personal Working Papers 19751979, Robert E. DeMascio Papers, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
  18. Runyan, Milliken v Bradley I: The Struggle to Apply Brown v. Board of Education in the North, XV The Court Legacy 1, (September 2008) (newsletter published by The Historical Society for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, copy with the author).
  19. Detroit Commission on Community Relations (DCCR)/ Human Rights Department Records, Part 3, UR000267 Box 119, Folder 5, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
  20. 1969 PA 244 and Baugh, School Desegregation in Metropolitan Detroit: Struggling for Justice in a Divided and Troubled Community, in Bowman, ed, The Pursuit of Racial and Ethnic Equality in American Public Schools: Mendez, Brown, and Beyond (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2015), p 177.
  21. The Detroit School Busing Case, p 79.
  22. Salsinger, New formula to integrate high schools, The Detroit News (April 5, 1970), p A1 and Grant, City to Shuffle School Areas in Broad Integration Plan, Detroit Free Press (April 5, 1970), p 1A.
  23. The Detroit School Busing Case, p 79.
  24. Id. at 82.
  25. Bradley v Milliken, 338 F. Supp. 582 (E.D. Mich. 1971) at 587.
  26. Id. “Governmental actions and inactions at all levels, federal, state, and local, have combined, with those of private organizations, such as loaning institutions and real estate associations and brokerage firms, to establish and to maintain the pattern of residential segregation throughout the … metropolitan area.”
  27. Bradley v Milliken, 484 F2d 215, 244 (CA 6, 1973).
  28. Dimond, Beyond Busing: Reflections on Urban Segregation, the Courts, & Equal Opportunity (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005), pp 90-93. Due to its earlier pre-Swann decision in Deal v Cincinnati Bd of Education, 369 F2d 55 (CA 6, 1966), the Court of Appeals eschewed reliance upon the record evidence of housing segregation and discrimination admitted before Roth except as school construction programs helped cause or maintain such segregation. In Deal, the court held that evidence of housing discrimination was irrelevant and inadmissible when determining liability for school segregation.
  29. Bradley v Milliken, 484 F2d at 249.
  30. Milliken v Bradley, 418 US at 739-740.
  31. Id. at 741. As Justice White wrote in his dissenting opinion, “The Michigan Supreme Court has observed that ‘(t)he school district is a State agency,’” Attorney General ex rel. Kies v. Lowrey, 131 Mich. 639, 644, 92 N.W. 289, 290 (1902), and that “(e)ducation in Michigan belongs to the State. It is no part of the local self-government inherent in the township or municipality, except so far as the legislature may choose to make it such. The Constitution has turned the whole subject over to the legislature. ” Attorney General ex rel. Lacharias v. Detroit Board of Education, 154 Mich. 584, 590, 118 N.W. 606, 609 (1908).”
  32. Id. at 744-745.
  33. Id. at 746.
  34. Id. at 752. Recognizing the role state defendants played in the segregation of Detroit Public Schools and that under Const 1963, art VIII, § 2 providing free elementary and secondary schools is a state function, some felt it was a mistake for plaintiffs not to name suburban school districts as defendants and prove their complicity in maintaining segregated schools within metropolitan Detroit. There was no clear precedent for granting metropolitan relief if the focus of the lawsuit was upon discrimination by the Detroit Public Schools and the state within the boundary of the Detroit Public School System alone.
  35. Bradley v Milliken, 484 F2d at 252. Although the Sixth Circuit affirmed Roth’s finding that interdistrict relief was necessary to cure the constitutional violation which he found, the desegregation plan ordered by Roth was not technically before the Supreme Court because the Sixth Circuit expressed no view on the desegregation area he had proposed and vacated the order providing for the development of a plan of desegregation.
  36. Riddle, Race and Reaction in Warren, Michigan, 1971 to 1974: Bradley v. Milliken and the Cross-District Busing Controversy, 46 Mich Hist Rev 2, 2 (2000), available at <https://www.jstor.org/stable/20173858> [https://perma.cc/5KZP-MSW7].
  37. See, e.g., Washington v Davis, 426 US 229, 249; 96 S Ct 2040; 48 L Ed 2d 597 (1976) (holding that a law or act does not merit strict scrutiny merely because it has a racially discriminatory effect; instead, plaintiffs must show a racially discriminatory purpose. This had the effect of limiting the scope of most equal protection claims.)
  38. Milliken v Bradley, 418 US at 749 (“[T]here is no constitutional power in the courts to decree relief balancing the racial composition of that district’s schools with those of the surrounding districts.”)
  39. MCL 380.11a, MCL 380.12, MCL 380.701 – 380.703, MCL 380.851 – 380.976 and MCL 388.1620(10) (the Michigan Revised School Code and State School Aid Act empowers local school boards to reorganize, consolidate, annex, or divide a school district’s boundaries. Some actions require approval of local voters, but neither the Department of Education nor the State Board of Education may supersede a local board’s autonomy.)
  40. Savage, Beyond Boundaries: Envisioning Metropolitan School Desegregation in Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia, 1963-1974, 46 J of Urban Hist 129, 133 (2020), available at [https:// perma.cc/44R5-LGML].
  41. Missouri v Jenkins, 515 US 70; 115 S Ct 2038; 132L Ed 2d 63 (1995).
  42. Id. See also Bowman, The Legacy of Missouri v Jenkins, in Bowman, ed, The Pursuit of Racial and Ethnic Equality in American Public Schools: Mendez, Brown, and Beyond (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2015), p 248.
  43. Missouri v Jenkins, 515 US at 92 (“this inter district goal [or attracting white students from the suburbs] is beyond the scope of the intra district violation identified by the District Court.”).
  44. Education law lecture, Wayne State University Professor Justin Long (Fall 2019).
  45. Parents Involved in Community Schools v Seattle School Dist No 1, 551 US 701; 127 S Ct 2738; 168 L Ed 2d 508 (2007) and Meredith v Jefferson County Bd of Educ, 549 US 1017; 127 S Ct 575; 166 L Ed 2d 407 (2006).
  46. Ware & Robinson, Charters, Choice, and Resegregation, 11 Del L Rev 1, 18 (2009), available at [https://perma.cc/U62Z-QHQE].
  47. Grutter v Bollinger, 539 US 306; 123 S Ct 2325; 156 L Ed 2d 304 (2003).
  48. Parents Involved in Community Schools v Seattle School Dist No 1, 551 US at 725 (“The Court in Grutter expressly articulated key limitations on its holding — defining a specific type of broad-based diversity and noting the unique context of higher education ... The present cases are not governed by Grutter.”
  49. Report to Judge Robert DeMascio, Third Draft, July 20, 1975, Box 4 of 5, Folder 4-7 Miscellaneous Papers (2 of 2), Robert E. DeMascio Papers, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
  50. A recent New York Times article about voluntary efforts to desegregate Minneapolis schools and a tentative settlement of pending litigation which “would loop in suburban districts, which tend to be whiter and wealthier,” and require those districts “to work with districts like Minneapolis on a regional integration plan,” described the benefits of integration this way:

Research has shown that integration can deliver benefits for all children. For example, Black children exposed to desegregation after Brown v. Board of Education experienced higher educational achievement, higher annual earnings as adults, a lower likelihood of incarceration and better health outcomes, according to longitudinal work by the economist Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley. The gains came at no cost to the educational achievement of white students. Other research has documented how racially and economically diverse schools can benefit all students, including white children, by reducing biases and promoting skills like critical thinking.

Mervosh, In Minneapolis Schools, White Families Are Asked to Help Do the Integrating, The New York Times (Nov. 27, 2021) [https://perma.cc/W36P-T9GC].

  1. Charters, Choice, and Resegregation, p 20.
  2. Ryan, The Supreme Court and Voluntary Integration, 121 Harv L Rev 131, 131 (2007), available at [https://perma.cc/58MG-RWM8].
  3. Id. at 133.
  4. Orfield & Eaton, Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v Board of Education (New York: The New Press, 1996), p xv.
  5. Gotham, Missed Opportunities, Enduring Legacies: School Segregation and Desegregation in Kansas City, Missouri, in Bowman, ed, The Pursuit of Racial and Ethnic Equality in American Public Schools: Mendez, Brown, and Beyond (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2015), pp 221, 236.
  6. Wilkinson & Pratt, School Choice, metro Detroit’s new white flight, Bridge Magazine (September 13, 2016) < https://www.bridgemi.com/urban-affairs/ school-choice-metro-detroits-new-white-flight> [https:// perma.cc/N4N2-8J82].
  7. Feldman, et al, Giving Separate but Equal another Chance: The Checkered Legacy of Milliken II’s “Educational Compensation” Remedies, draft report from the Harvard Project on School Desegregation Report sent by Harvard Project Research Associate Susan Eaton to Judge Robert MeMascio on January 10, 1994, Box 4 of 5, Folder 4-2, Harvard Report, Robert E. DeMascio Papers, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P.Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
  8. Racial Distribution of Students and Contract Personnel in the Detroit Public Schools (December 1965), Box 2, Folder 2-2 Racial Distribution; Detroit Schools, Wayne State University College of Education Dean’s Office: Detroit Public Schools Monitoring Commission on Desegregation, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University.
  9. Community Control at 70.
  10. School Desegregation in Metropolitan Detroit: Struggling for Justice in a Divided and Troubled Community, pp 177, 183 (“Population from 1970 in the Detroit suburbs: of 400,000 residents in Dearborn, Warren, and Livonia, the three largest suburbs at the time, only 186 were Black. In the other 24 suburbs with populations of 35,000 or more, all but two (Highland Park and Inkster) had Black populations of less than 3%; most had fewer than 1%.”)
  11. Racial Census Report by School Districts 2020-2021, Michigan Dept of Education, available at <https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/RacialCensus0506_204440_7.pdf> [https://perma. cc/7UF3-ZY2H].
  12. Afana, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to challenge 2020 census results showing population decline, Detroit Free Press (August 12, 2021) < https://www. msn.com/en-us/news/us/detroit-mayor-mike-duggan-to-challenge-2020-census-results-showing-population-decline/ar-AANg7vJ> [https://perma.cc/Y4NG8LA8].
  13. Data available through Student Enrollment Counts Report, MI School Data [https://perma.cc/ CUX7-8N3M].
  14. In Minneapolis Schools, White Families Are Asked to Help Do the Integrating. “Today, two in five Black and Latino students in the United States attend schools where more than 90 percent of students are children of color, while one in five white students goes to a school where more than 90 percent of students look like them[.]”
  15. Chambers & MacDonald, Despite gains, Mich. schools among most segregated, The Detroit News (December 4, 2017) [https://perma.cc/9RVD-AJCM].
  16. Student Enrollment Counts Report.
  17. MCL 388.1705 and MCL 388.11705c. The State

School Aid Act of 1979 was amended in 1996 to create a state school of choice program. A school district may elect not to participate in any of the schools of choice programs, and in most cases, parents must provide transportation to any school they choose outside their home district.

  1. Despite gains, Mich. schools among most segregated.
  2. Id.
  3. School Choice, metro Detroit’s new white flight.
  4. James, Opt-Out Education: School Choice As Racial Subordination, 99 Iowa L Rev 1083, 1092 (2014), available at           [https://perma.cc/VD8NQWY2].
  5. Despite gains, Mich. schools among most segregated.
  6. Busing set off Democratic debate flare-up, but does it still matter in Detroit?
  7. Id.
  8. Milliken v Bradley, 418 US at 739-740 (Marshall, J, dissenting).
The authors thank Paul R. Dimond, author of “Beyond Busing: Reflections on Urban Segregation, the Courts, and Equal Opportunity” and a lead attorney for plaintiffs in Bradley v Milliken, for his contributions to this article.