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Open Access Thesis

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First Advisor

Brian Purnell


Even though Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregation in public schools in 1954, many American children still attend schools that are racially and, increasingly, socioeconomically segregated. Philadelphia, a northern city that did not have an explicit policy of segregating children on the basis of race when Brown was decided, nevertheless still has entrenched residential segregation that replicates in public schools. The metropolitan area became a segregated space in the years around World War II, when housing discrimination, employment discrimination, lending discrimination, suburbanization, and urban renewal started the years-long trajectory of growing white suburbs surrounding an increasingly non-white and under-resourced urban core. These patterns had profound implications for school segregation, which city organizers began trying to fight shortly after Brown v. Board. However, the first court case to take on segregation in Philadelphia schools—Chisholm v. The Board of Education—was largely unsuccessful, with overburdened NAACP and ally lawyers struggling to meet the judge’s expectations of concrete proof of an intent to segregate on the School District of Philadelphia’s part. In the early 1960s, though, the state’s Human Relations Commission obtained a legislative mandate to take on school desegregation. It won its first integration victory in the Pennsylvania port city of Chester before moving to Philadelphia, where it pushed for school integration from 1968 to 2009. The city’s political and ideological battles over those decades reflect national trends around the rise of conservatism and neoliberalism in suburban politics and school reform, limiting the possibilities for change.