What is a ‘Segregation Academy’? | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

What is a ‘Segregation Academy’?

Madison-Ridgeland Academy opened its doors in 1969. Jackson Preparatory School came a year later, in 1970—the same year that Magnolia Heights Academy in Senatobia opened, and Pillow Academy in Greenwood graduated its first senior class.

That so many private schools opened their doors around the same period is not really a coincidence, although it's not a history many of the academies, most of which now market to families of color, love to talk about.

In January 1970, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Mississippi to desegregate—the state had failed to do so in the 16 years since the U.S. Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation, Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education. Private academies, which were sometimes inexpensive, effectively kept white schoolchildren away from black schoolchildren.

The greatest hike in private academies, consequently, was from 1968-1971, during which these segregated schools grew from educating just over 5,000 to 40,000 students in the state. In Jackson, most white parents with the economic means overwhelmingly sent their children to private schools or moved out of the city to surrounding, whiter areas.

This trend continued for decades, and the effects have created the reality we have today: 97 percent of the students at Jackson Public Schools are non-white, and 96.5 percent of students at Jackson Prep are white.

Today, Prep is loud with its desire for more diversity in hiring and student population. A statement on diversity on the school's website states, "To achieve the broader educational goal of preparing students to participate in the world community, Prep is committed to diversity in race, color and national origin in the student body, faculty and programs."

Jackson Prep is now located in Flowood, a significantly whiter city than Jackson. Still, Jackson Prep's 2 percent black students falls way behind Flowood's black population, which makes up almost 19 percent of its residents—making the diversity push for traditionally white academies still an uphill climb, although some appear to be trying.

Change is coming slowly. In 2013, the Hechinger Report reported that 35 academies in the state were still enrolling black students at a rate below 2 percent. Many have survived in rural Delta communities, where the civil-rights tradition is strong, and where slavery and segregation were strong.

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