Minnie Liddell's forty-year quest for quality public education remains a dream deferred.
INTRODUCTION I. THE HISTORIC STRUGGLE IN ST. LOUIS FOR A QUALITY EDUCATION: MINNIE LIDDELL'S JOURNEY II. A LOOK AT WHERE QUALITY EDUCATION STANDS TODAY IN ST. LOUIS A. The Loss of Accreditation B. Turner v. CSD C. St. Louis Gains Provisional Accreditation III. THE DREAM REMAINS ELUSIVE CONCLUSION
This Article is a historic account of the hopes and dreams that a mother had for her children and her efforts to make those hopes and dreams come true. The mother, Minnie Liddell, never imagined, when she first became a mom in 1959, or years later after the birth of her fifth child, or even after she filed a lawsuit against a city school district, that she would become a pioneer and icon in the school desegregation history of St. Louis, Missouri. She really only wanted a quality public education for her children, for black children, for all children. This Article will tell the story of Mrs. Liddell's quest for a quality education for her children, and it will take a look at where that journey stands today.
Minnie Liddell came to St. Louis with her mother, from Mississippi, just months after her birth. (1) As she grew and attended the St. Louis public school system, it was clear to her teachers that she was a smart child. Because of segregation laws in St. Louis, however, Minnie was confined to both segregated and unequal schools. When her mother became ill in Minnie's junior year of high school, Minnie dropped out of school to work full time. Shortly thereafter she met and married her future husband. The couple's first child was born in 1959, the second in 1960, the third in 1961, the fourth in 1963, and her fifth child in 1976. (2) The mother of five not only worked hard but she went on to receive her high school equivalency degree. She even studied to become a paralegal. (3) As her children began to reach school age, she started to become very concerned about the quality of education her children would receive. She did not want her children to attend the unequal schools of her past. In her day, the "white schools were better equipped, better maintained and received new textbooks while the black students were often housed in inferior, overcrowded schools and had to make do with books previously used by white students." (4) She did not want this for her children.
Minnie Liddell wanted a quality education for her children and the other black children in her community. It was these children, after all, who even upon a cursory glance, one could see were not getting anywhere near the same benefits as white children. And so, Mrs. Liddell's journey began eighteen years after Brown v. Board of Education (Brown I) was decided. (5) On February 18, 1972, Minnie Liddell and several other concerned African-American parents filed a class action lawsuit against the Board of Education for the City of St. Louis in St. Louis federal district court. The purpose of that lawsuit, as expressed by Minnie Liddell on so many occasions, was to obtain a quality education for her children and "all other school age children and their parents similarly situated in the City of St. Louis." (6) That lawsuit played out in the courts for over a quarter of a century.
Washington University School of Law marked the fortieth anniversary of the filing of the lawsuit with a commemorative conference in honor of Minnie Liddell, her life, and her work on behalf of the children of St. Louis City public schools. This Article, a product of that conference, will recount her struggle and will look at where St. Louis stands today on the path to a quality education.
This Article is divided into three parts. Part I will recount the historic twenty-seven-year journey of the Liddell case. I will explore the circumstances that led Minnie Liddell to galvanize parents and ultimately file a lawsuit against the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis. (7) That lawsuit was not resolved until two important Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s laid the foundation for public school districts to extricate themselves from continued and potentially unending desegregation efforts. Those cases provided fodder for the Attorney General of the State of Missouri to move to declare that the public schools in St. Louis had reached a unitary status, i.e., were no longer dual education systems based on race. The Attorney General's actions renewed efforts to bring closure to the litigation, and all parties, over thirty in number by this time, agreed to settle the case once and for all. (8) Part II will look more closely at where the journey for a quality public school education finds itself in St. Louis today. This will require a look at three events: (1) the St. Louis Public School District's (SLPSD) loss of accreditation in 2007; (2) the aftermath of a 2010 Missouri Supreme Court decision, Turner v. School District of Clayton (Turner) (9)--an opinion that appeared to give hope that Minnie Liddell's dream of a quality education was finally to materialize, though as explored, infra, that hope was both short-lived and illusory; and (3) the October surprise: the granting of provisional accreditation status to the SLPSD. Part III will conclude with the sad reality that St. Louis children remain plagued with substandard and segregated public education, and neither the presence nor repeal of the statute at the heart of Turner nor the granting of provisional accreditation to the SLPSD has changed this fact. Quality education remains a dream deferred forty years after Minnie Liddell's crusade began.
I. THE HISTORIC STRUGGLE IN ST. LOUIS FOR A QUALITY EDUCATION: MINNIE LIDDELL'S JOURNEY
So I simply started ringing doorbells and talking to my--because all of us up in that area were being put out of that school. And I began to walk and ring doorbells and see if other parents were as upset by this as I was. (10)
Missouri, formerly a slave state, at one time prohibited the education of black children. (11) After the Civil War, Missouri laws were changed so that African-American children could be educated, but they were to be educated separately from white children. (12) Separate education by race was incorporated into the state's constitution in 1875, and that provision remained a part of the Missouri Constitution until its repeal in 1976, over twenty years after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown I that separate education was inherently unequal and violated the United States Constitution. (13) All five of Minnie Liddell's children were born after Brown I was decided and during a time when the state constitution still gave constitutional validity to educational segregation based on race.
Unlike the school boards of many southern states, the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis did prepare for desegregation before Brown I was actually decided. (14) The Board adopted a three-step plan that would phase in integration between 1954 and 1956.
The first step provided for desegregation at the junior college, teachers college level and in those classes which provided services on a city-wide basis.... The second step provided for desegregation of all high schools (except for the technical high schools) and also for desegregation of the adult education program. The third step provided for desegregation of the two existing technical high schools and all regular elementary schools. (15)
The plan went further to abolish all references to race and assigned students to schools based on where the students lived. (16) While the steps appeared racially neutral and integrative, the Board also enacted "general principles" to help guide the integration process. While the principles were generally designed to relieve overcrowding, those not interested in integration found ways to take advantage of the loopholes and keep their children in chosen schools. (17) New attendance zones also maintained the racial color lines of the past. The plan, then, actually did nothing to integrate schools. As the Eighth Circuit described:
After Brown, the St. Louis Board of Education declared that it would implement a plan designed to desegregate its system. The heart of that plan was said to be the "neighborhood school concept." School attendance zones were redrawn and students were generally assigned to schools close to their homes. The zones were nearly identical with the boundaries of racially identifiable neighborhoods. Moreover, a "continuation transfer" option was made available to all students then enrolled, permitting them to remain in the school in which they were then enrolled until graduation, unless overcrowding would result. The new plan did not change the segregated nature of the St. Louis school system.... [S]chools that had all-black student and faculty populations prior to Brown continued to be all black or virtually all black after the 1955 plan went into effect. Most pre-Brown white schools located in the black neighborhoods, however, turned virtually all black immediately after the plan was implemented. (18)
Additionally, most of the city's black public school students, even after Brown 1, attended schools in old, dilapidated buildings, their textbooks were both used and outdated, their classrooms were substantially overcrowded, and their teachers did not always have the same educational readiness or credentials as white teachers. (19) This is the environment Minnie Liddell faced as her children prepared to attend the St. Louis city public schools. (20)
Minnie and her husband Charles lived in north St. Louis city throughout their children's public school years. In the early 1960s, as is the case now, north St. Louis city was inhabited predominately by black residents. While some believe that housing patterns are the result of choice, (21) choice really cannot be advanced as a credible response to the situation in St. Louis in the late twentieth century. Rather, after Reconstruction, after World War II, and during Jim Crow, various governmental policies (at all levels: federal, state, local), as well as the private actions of many in power, steered and controlled the confinement of the black population to the north St. Louis area. (22) The results of those policies remain in effect today. (23)
The couple's oldest child, Craton, was born in 1959. His elementary school experience provides a perfect example of how black children attending public schools in St. Louis attended assigned schools at the whim of the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis. Craton attended one school for kindergarten, another school for first, second, and third grades, and a third school for fourth and fifth grades. (24) He often attended overcrowded schools in dangerous buildings with inadequate resources. To relieve the overcrowding, the Board resorted to a policy of old known as "intact busing." (25) Intact busing:
[I]s a technique that daily sends an entire class of students, with their teacher, from an overcrowded school to a vacant classroom elsewhere. The technique was used to combat overcrowding in the pre-Brown era with white students being bused to white schools and black students to black schools. Because the 1954-1956 redistricting temporarily reduced overcrowding, intact busing was used sparingly from 1955 to 1957. In 1959, however, intact busing again became significant and over 1,000 students were so bused. This number grew to more than 6,000 by 1963. The bused students were treated administratively as part of the school from which they came rather than the school to which they were sent. Consequently, they often arrived, recessed, ate lunch and departed on different schedules than the other students in the receiving school. They thus became an isolated subset of the school in which they were housed. Significantly, in the post-Brown era most of the students affected by this policy were black students sent to white schools. (26)
Black parents were vehemently opposed to intact busing. (27) Below reflects a sample of the concerns parents had with the way their children were treated:
[B]lack and white children had separate lunch periods ... and drank from water fountains at designated times[.] [B]lack children were required to wait for school buses outside of the schoolyard while white children played inside the yard[.] [W]hite children were taught by white teachers and black children by black teachers. Others allege that black children had to enter the school building through a separate door. (28)
Craton Liddell, too, was subjected to intact busing. (29) Of course, even intact busing was not a final solution, and it was not long before he and his siblings were reassigned again, this time to the Yeatmann elementary school. Despite the fact that Yeatmann was overcrowded, Minnie Liddell was pleased with the school because it was in a new building, it was closer to home, and the principal cared about the children. (30) The Liddell children were not at Yeatmann long before yet another dreaded transfer notice came in the mail: the children would be transferred to Bates elementary, a school much farther away from the Liddell home and in an area Minnie Liddell later described as "bombed out." (31) Indeed, the Bates school had previously been closed because of its poor condition, a condition that had not changed when the Board of Education decided to relocate students there. (32)
The constant transferring of her children and the overcrowded conditions and dilapidated buildings weighed heavily on Minnie, and she had had enough. Minnie started ringing doorbells, talking to her neighbors and polling her neighborhood to see if other parents were as tired as she was with the instability and inferior education that their children were receiving. With Minnie's persistence and guidance, parent meetings were held, and a group known as the Concerned Parents of North St. Louis (Concerned Parents) was formed with Minnie Liddell as its leader. (33) The parents were very concerned about a pattern they noticed: although school boundary lines were constantly changing, those changes always managed to keep black children in black schools, or, in the case of intact busing, in segregated classrooms. The Concerned Parents attempted to meet with the School Board but were ignored. There were four black school board members at the time, but they "not only skipped the [requested] meeting; they ignored the invitation." (34) As Minnie would later say: "The board really thought that if they ignored us, we would go away. That was the way they had handled parents' protests in the past. They would just wait you out." (35)
These parents, however, with Minnie as their leader, would not go away. Minnie vowed to be a "fly in the authorities' butter milk." (36) The parents took up pickets outside of the school and eventually boycotted by withdrawing their children from school and homeschooling them. Half of the student body participated in the boycott and stayed home. Overcrowding was solved temporarily, but many parents were forced to capitulate, and their children ended up taking the bus to the overcrowded, structurally unsound Bates elementary school across town. (37) The rest of the parents continued with their boycott--lasting six weeks in total--until school officials agreed to send the children to another school. (38) The parents were allowed to pick whatever school they wanted. The Liddells chose Simmons elementary, which was the school Charles Liddell had attended. (39) The Board refused to provide transportation for any school other than Bates, however, so Charles Liddell drove his children back and forth to school every day. Then a funny thing happened: the School Board attempted to relocate a small group of white students from one school in south St. Louis to another school in the same area. When the parents of these children protested, all efforts to transfer the students immediately ceased, and the white parents were given what they wanted. (40) This did not sit well with black parents in north St. Louis. Refueled by this indignation, the Concerned Parents renewed their demands to fight for better schools in their community. They continued, however, to face resistance from the School Board. As Minnie recalled:
They'd sit there real stone-faced. Then the president hit the gavel and he said, "Next!" I kind of changed the structure of their meetings, though. They couldn't make me sit down. I talked as long as I wanted to, and I said what I wanted to say. I think [the president of the Board] thought I was crazy for a long time. The more we were rebuffed, the more angry I became. I saw these people with the total control of my children's lives and futures in their hands, and none of them really gave a damn. (41)
A point came in time when the School Board agreed to meet privately with the Concerned Parents but only with Minnie and her husband. In that meeting, the acting Superintendent told Mrs. Liddell that he had "been working in this school system for twenty-seven years [and she wouldn't be able to] change a thing.... [She couldn't] change anything in this system." (42) It was after this meeting, Mrs. Liddell later recalled, that she decided to change things. (43) The first meeting of parents was at Minnie Liddell's house. (44) The group grew, and they looked to the community for support. To their surprise, they met great resistance again. Many in the black community were not responsive, (45) the four black school board members would not meet with the parents, (46) black teachers were offended because they believed the parents were questioning their competency, (47) and the NAACP specifically turned the parents away. (48) Of that rejection, Mrs. Liddell recalled as follows:
[The president of the local chapter of the NAACP] looked at us like we was crazy. He said, "Schools in St. Louis are not segregated. The NAACP took care of that in the '60s. We met with them and they changed their policy." I told [him] they may have changed their policy, but that is all they changed. (49)
The parents found two lawyers, William Russell and Joseph McDuffy, who agreed to represent the parents pro bono if they agreed to help with the research and raise money to cover the court filing fee. And the parents did: they held barbeques, dances, and bake sales to raise the money, and the lawsuit was filed on February 18, 1972. (50) A few short years later, the parties entered into a Consent Decree. The Decree was published in the St. Louis Daily Record, and a ninety-day period was provided for others to file suggestions to the desegregation plan set forth therein. (51) Several groups, including most importantly, the St. Louis Chapter of the NAACP, objected and moved to intervene in the lawsuit. (52) Although the intervention motions had the effect of stopping the Decree from going into effect as such, the Board did implement many of the intra-district remedies envisioned by that decree, including a very successful form of intra-district magnet schools. (53)
The district court initially denied the motions to intervene as untimely, but that ruling was overruled by the Eighth Circuit:4 Intervention by the NAACP completely changed the dynamics of the case. Minnie Liddell and the Concerned Parents were primarily focused on a quality education. For them, this meant up-to-date school books in satisfactory conditions, adequate resources, qualified and well paid teachers, structurally sound facilities, and safe transportation when required. (55) Mrs. Liddell was concerned with "parity in the expenditures for public schools" and "she swore [that] to the day of her death ... she would be kicking and screaming to achieve equality in education for all children." (56) She also was an advocate of neighborhood schools. (57) She liked her children being close to home and preferred quality education close to home. (58) The NAACP, though, was concerned not just with quality schools but with integrated schools. (59) With the larger focus on integration and with a much smaller white student population then living in the City of St. Louis, neighborhood schools really were not an option. (60) Both the NAACP and the Board of Education for the City of St. Louis, then, forced consideration of inter-district relief by separately filing lawsuits against twenty-three suburban districts near the St. Louis City borders claiming that they, too, had participated in the racial segregation of students in the metropolitan St. Louis area. (61) Aside from the various governmental policies that intensified segregation throughout St. Louis, (62) there was evidence to support the theory that suburban school districts had also participated in unlawful racial segregation. As the Eighth Circuit noted:
St. Louis County suburban school districts, pursuant to state law prior to Brown, collaborated with each other and with the City of St. Louis to ensure the maintenance of segregated schools. See Act of April 9, 1917, 1917 Mo. Laws 498 (repealed 1957) (providing for the "Colored Consolidated High School District" of St. Louis County); Act of February 17, 1865, [section] 13, 1865 Mo. Laws 170 (repealed 1957) (providing, inter alia, for the inter-district transfer of "colored children"). Included among the pre-Brown practices of these districts was the assignment and transportation of black students living in the suburbs to black schools in the City. (63)
The lawsuit, however, toiled in the system for five years before a trial was finally held. During that five-year period, the Liddells had to get a second telephone line because Minnie was fielding so many calls about the case. Some of those calls included very nasty ones which hurled venom and vile, "nigger this, and nigger that," slurs, and even threats. (64) Craton also hated his name on the case, and he did not appreciate the extra attention. (65) Minnie's children begged her to walk away because of the toll the case had on their family and their social lives, but she told them walking away was something she could not do. (66) Finally, after five years of waiting, the first day of the trial began:
Bernice Yarber, whose daughter Deborah also was a plaintiff in the case, had shopped with Minnie for a three-piece red suit to make a majestic impression on the witness stand. "She was very stately," Yarber said. "She walked into a building that belonged to her, in front of a judge whose salary she paid." Dorothy Springer, a white parent who started as an antagonist and ended up a friend--as well as a member of the School Board--was in the courtroom the day that Minnie walked in. It was Oct. 20, 1977. "She filled the doors," Springer said. "It almost looked like the doors weren't big enough for her presence. Her voice was firm. It had conviction. It had compassion." (67)
But the trial was a severe disappointment. Proceedings on the merits of potential constitutional violations on the part of the suburban districts were stayed early on in the litigation. (68) The trial proceeded against the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis and the State of Missouri. After a thirteen-week trial with forty witnesses, 1,200 trial exhibits and over 7,000 pages of transcript, the district court found no constitutional violation by the Board of Education. (69) The Eighth Circuit reversed. It specifically found that both the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis and the State had maintained racially segregated educational systems. (70) The case was remanded to the district court with a strong manifesto:
Segregation in the elementary and secondary schools in St. Louis must now be eliminated. An integrated system must be devised and implemented promptly. In no other way can the constitutional right to an equal educational opportunity be assured to all children of St. Louis. With careful planning, expert advice, broad community participation and good faith, a plan to integrate the schools can be devised and implemented which will meet constitutional requirements. (71)
Shortly after the case was returned to the district court, a desegregation planning committee was established, which included Minnie Liddell and nineteen others. The job of the committee was to produce a citywide busing plan to be executed a few months later in time for the next academic year. The meetings included black parents on the north side of town and white parents on the south side of town. The meetings were regular, and some found them volatile. They ended, though, with newfound friendships among black and white parents who realized that they all just wanted a quality education for their children. Although it took time to get there, common ground was found, and the members of the committee celebrated this recognition by joining hands around a large conference table, black and white together, and singing "We Shall Overcome." (72)
As it turned out, however, citywide busing simply did not go over well. Aside from the fact that white student enrollment fell by the thousands between the 1971-72 school year and the 1978-79 school year, many white parents simply continued their hostility to efforts to integrate the city schools. (73) So many white families ran away from public schools during this time that even the Catholic and Lutheran schools in the city were forced to halt "the admission of public school students who were trying to avoid desegregation." (74) People could still move out of St. Louis, of course, and they did so, leaving fewer and fewer whites remaining and making integration within the district more and more difficult. The Liddell lawsuit was still active, and both the NAACP and the Board of Education for the City of St. Louis continued their pressure for inter-district relief. The district court judge warmed to this idea, and a court order in June of 1980 proved instrumental in laying the framework for an inter-district desegregation plan. The court's order included remedies for voluntary inter-district busing, diversity training, curriculum improvements, community relations, and the integration of school teachers. It also ordered the State and the Board of Education to make every effort to work with the suburban districts to create a voluntary desegregation program between the districts for implementation by the 1980-81 school year, and it ordered these groups to submit a larger, more permanent plan for desegregation between the city and suburban districts. (75) In an effort to assuage public concern, the district court judge immediately appointed an interracial citizens' advisory committee to provide public education and awareness surrounding the process. (76)
A phenomenal account of the litigation has been told in the book: The Unending Struggle: The Long Road to an Equal Education in St. Louis.77 The first judge on the case, district court Judge Meredith, was forced to step down for health reasons after eight years of presiding over the case. He was replaced by district court judge William Hungate, who was on the federal bench less than a year before his assignment to the already famous Liddell case. (78) By the time Judge Hungate was assigned to the case, the parties not only included the original parties to the lawsuit, but also the NAACP, the United States Department of Justice, the Board of Education of the City of St. Louis realigned as a plaintiff, (79) the State of Missouri, dozens of suburban school districts, and the Special School District. (80)
As the case continued to make its way through the system, a law school professor wrote an article in the local newspaper expressing frustration that the case was moving too slowly and boasting that he thought the case could be settled. The next thing this professor knew, Judge Hungate called him on the telephone, questioned him, and then said: "so you think you can settle the case? I'd like to see you try. I am appointing you as a Special Master on the ease, effective immediately." (81) That law professor, Washington University School of Law professor D. Bruce La Pierre, has written a detailed account of his experience as Special Master. (82) The appointment of the Special Master and the district judge's threats that he would consider a mass consolidation of the various school districts into one large metropolitan district with a uniform tax base if an inter-district violation were found (portending a remedy before a resolution of liability), signaled to all that the court was very serious about its hopes for a settlement. The threat of mass consolidation outraged the suburban school districts, the Attorney General of Missouri, and many members of the public. (83)
Even with such a threat, though, hundreds of hours were logged by the Special Master attempting to settle the case. (84) An agreement, a seventy-five-page, single-spaced document, was ultimately signed by the plaintiffs (85) and the over twenty suburban school districts. (86) The agreement, implemented in the 1983-84 school year, (87) had three major components: (88) (1) it provided for the voluntary inter-district transfer of 15,000 black students living in St. Louis City to suburban schools; (89) (2) it provided for the establishment and growth of magnet schools in the city; (90) and (3) it envisioned quality education improvements and capital improvements for the estimated 10,000-15,000 children who, even after transfers and magnet schools, would remain in segregated schools in the city. (91) So, as it turned out, Professor La Pierre was correct. He was able to settle the case. And that settlement turned out to be the largest, most comprehensive, and most successful school-choice plan of its era. (92) Four of the Liddell children were finished with public school by the time this settlement was penned. The Liddells' youngest child, Michael, was in elementary school. (93)
Less than ten years after this historic settlement, the United States Supreme Court issued a series of opinions that began to rein in efforts to desegregate schools. (94) Specifically, in Oklahoma City Board of Education v. Dowell, (95) the Court limited an earlier Supreme Court precedent. In Brown 1, the Court held that "[s]eparate educational facilities are inherently unequal." (96) A dozen years later, and still holding steadfast to the legacy of Brown 1, the Court, in Green v. County School Board of New Kent, (97) clarified how far school districts needed to go to comply with Brown L Green held that school boards were obligated to eliminate dual racial segregated education systems "root and branch." (98) But the elimination of segregation at its root and at its branch was no longer the goal in 1991. Rather, Dowell allowed school districts to file motions declaring that they had done all they could to make the district a unitary one, even if the district was still in fact, racially segregated. (99) Good-faith efforts replaced complete elimination. Elimination of the vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practical was sufficient to satisfy the Constitution. (100) Freeman v. Pitts, (101) decided the next year, gave States the power to obtain relief from desegregation orders incrementally. In other words, declarations that dual and segregated areas of the system were eliminated, eased or otherwise addressed, to the extent practical, could be sought even if other areas of the same system were still dual in nature. (102)
Almost immediately after Dowell, the Attorney General of Missouri filed the first of what would eventually number three motions to have the SLPSD declared unitary. (103) The filing of these and similar motions (104) resulted in a three-week hearing. (105) A finding that unitary status had been reached in the SLPSD would have ended all efforts theretofore put in place to desegregate the public schools in St. Louis. Indeed, as Chief Justice Roberts would later say in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, (106) once unitary status has been reached, the school district has "remedied the constitutional wrong that allowed race-based assignments." (107) Given the movement of thousands of black children into suburban schools and white students into urban schools on a daily basis, it was very clear that a finding of unitary status would have resulted in complete resegregation the minute inter-district efforts ceased. To avoid this outcome, the district court judge appointed a "Settlement Coordinator" to help facilitate a more fathomable conclusion to the quarter-century-old case. (108) This coordinator, Dr. William Danforth, former Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, proceeded to shepherd a final resolution. He would later explain his role as follows:
The first goal was to prevent disaster. Let's say, if the case had come to an end with no settlement agreement, the court had ended it, about twelve thousand kids would have come from the county to the city, the city would have had less money to take care of them than it had before they came, and no facilities. So the settlement basically continued the good programs instituted under the court order. (109)
In addition to avoiding disaster, Chancellor Danforth sought independence from the court's supervision; he sought a settlement that would have finality; (110) and he sought a settlement that would continue to allow voluntary participation in desegregation efforts and allow the State to phase out its funding obligations under the 1983 Settlement. (111) A new corporation also was to be formed to take the place of the court's supervision of the program. (112)
By 1996-97, the health of the fifty-seven-year-old Minnie Liddell had taken an irreversible turn for the worse. No woman on her mother's side had ever lived past the age of forty, and some say that the family's history of bad health finally caught up to Mrs. Liddell. Although she survived diabetes and multiple surgeries in a short four-year span, by 1996 she was suffering and attempting to recover from various ailments including appendicitis, a heart attack, a stroke, and multiple hospitalizations. (113) Despite these health challenges and others, like the fact that the left side of her face was rendered immobile after her stroke, or that she lost control over her left eye as a result of damage to her optic nerve, or that sores on her feet made it almost impossible for her to stand, much less to walk, (114) she still found the strength to attend a hearing before various state legislators in 1997, with her son Craton. The meeting was of marathon length, and she did not get a chance to speak until after midnight. Although her words were slurred from her stroke, she made it clear that it was a sad day for her and for the children of St. Louis:
I got out of my sickbed hoping I would hear something new and different, but I didn't.... I hear the state still trying to deny their guilt in perpetuating segregation in 100-and-some years in the state of Missouri, mandated by law.... We are asking for the same thing today, 25 years later, as we were asking in 1972: that is a quality, integrated education. Everyone wants to know whether integration works. Well, I can tell you what don't work--segregated education didn't work. It didn't work for me and it didn't work for a lot of black people. You owe it to the children of St. Louis to provide them some choices and a quality education. And if you don't see that happens, all of us are going to pay for it. Each and every one of us is going to pay for it. (115)
Despite her plea and her twenty-five-year battle, the end was neither smooth nor easy. Settlement took a few more years to mature; it involved intense politics; it required action by the state legislature; (116) it required acceptance by the state's governor; it required voter approval of a sales tax; it required the approval of the plaintiffs; it required the approval of over twenty-five defendants; and it required the approval of the federal judge who then presided over the case. (117)
Fortunately, however, Minnie Liddell lived to see the final settlement of the case. Health struggles continued to take their toll, but she was able to attend the final hearing on the case. The Honorable Stephen N. Limbaugh, Sr., who presided over the fairness hearing, fondly remembered Minnie Liddell, making her way slowly to the stand to testify. (118) By this time, in 1999, Mrs. Liddell's youngest child, Michael, had already graduated from high school. (119) Although Michael benefited from the long-standing lawsuit and was a successful graduate of the public school system, Mrs. Liddell still testified and shared her story about her long journey for quality education. She could have easily stayed home, but she did not. This was a true testament to what she had said all along: she was not just in this for her kids. She cared about the education of all children in St. Louis. As her son said at the March 2012 conference at Washington University School of Law in his mother's honor: "It wasn't just about [the Liddell] family. It was about kids who hadn't even been born yet." (120) After recounting her then almost thirty-year battle to obtain quality education for the children of St. Louis, Minnie Liddell ultimately gave her blessing to the settlement. Although the State "fought desegregation every step of the way," (121) starting with Attorney General John Ashcroft and continuing with then-Attorney General Jay Nixon, (122) it was at this hearing that, for the first time in the history of the case, Mrs. Liddell heard an apology from the State for having supported segregated schools. (123) The Liddell children have always believed that the litigation caused their mother's life to take an irreversible turn for the worse. They express some joy, though, from the fact that she lived to hear the State admit that it was wrong. (124) The 1999 Settlement provided some closure to the decades-old litigation. The closure was viewed by some as a positive step, but others, including the Special Master of the 1983 Settlement, viewed this closure as an abandonment of the commitment to desegregation. (125)
Unlike the 1983 Settlement Agreement, the 1999 Settlement Agreement had a termination date. It was set to expire at the end of the 2008q39 school year. And, in fact, it did. That was the last year of the State's financial obligation under the settlement. (126) The 1999 Settlement Agreement did include a separate agreement entered into by participating school districts allowing for an extension of the ten-year maximum. (127) An extension was entered into in July 2007, which extended the voluntary participation to the 2013-14 school year. (128) Today, fourteen of the original twenty-four districts continue voluntary participation under the extension. (129)
In the twenty-seven-year span of the lawsuit, it would be heard by four different district court judges: Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Missouri James Meredith, 1972-80; District Court Judge William Hungate, 1980-85; District Court Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Sr., 1985-91 and 1998-2005; and District Court Judge George F. Gunn, Jr., 1991-98. All of the judges, with the exception of Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Sr., who is currently a practitioner at a major law firm in St. Louis, would both predecease the closure of the case and Minnie Liddell. (130)
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|Title Annotation:||Introduction through I. The Historic Struggle in St. Louis for a Quality Education: Minnie Liddell's Journey, p. 1-29|
|Author:||Norwood, Kimberly Jade|
|Publication:||Washington University Journal of Law & Policy|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
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