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Mansfield School Desegregation Incident

George N. Green General

Though the Mansfield school district, seventeen miles southeast of Fort Worth, numbered fewer than 700 whites and sixty blacks in 1956, it segregated black children to an inferior elementary school. Black teenagers were obliged to ride public buses, which dropped them twenty blocks from a school in Fort Worth. In response to a suit brought by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on behalf of three black high school students, the Mansfield school district was the first in the state ordered by a federal court to desegregate. The school board acquiesced, but white citizens resisted, aided by the complicity of the mayor and chief of police. While some 100 other, mostly West Texas, school districts desegregated quietly that fall, angry mobs of 300 to 400 whites ringed Mansfield High School on August 30 and 31, preventing the enrollment of the three students. During demonstrations whites hanged three blacks in effigy, roughed up several outside observers, and threatened the sheriff. Downtown stores closed in a show of support. Vigilantes met all cars entering town, barring suspected sympathizers with integration. Governor Allan Shivers, calling the Mansfield demonstration an orderly protest, defied the federal court order by dispatching Texas Rangers to uphold segregation and authorizing the Mansfield school board to transfer black students to Fort Worth. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in the midst of a reelection campaign, did not intervene.

The demonstrations ended as the status quo was restored. The Mansfield uprising was the nation's first clear example of failure to enforce a federal court order for the desegregation of a public school. The Eisenhower administration took no action until the next year, when a similar, more visible situation arose in Little Rock, Arkansas, where Governor Orval Faubus's resistance to integration was possibly inspired by Governor Shivers's success in Mansfield. The Mansfield uprising was an apparent factor in the passage of the state's 1957 segregation laws, which delayed integration for several years. In 1965, faced with the loss of federal funds, the Mansfield school district quietly desegregated.

George N. Green, The Establishment in Texas Politics (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1979). Texas Observer, September 5, 1956, June 9, 1978.

Categories:

  • Education
  • Infamous Moments, Groups, and Events
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Vigilante Activity/Mob Violence
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civil Rights, Segregation, and Slavery

Time Periods:

  • Texas Post World War II

Places:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

George N. Green, “Mansfield School Desegregation Incident,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 21, 2020, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/mansfield-school-desegregation-incident.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects:

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