The Crucible of Desegregation: The Uncertain Search for Educational Equality (Chicago Series in Law and Society) (Hardcover)

The Crucible of Desegregation: The Uncertain Search for Educational Equality (Chicago Series in Law and Society) By R. Shep Melnick Cover Image


Examines the patchwork evolution of school desegregation policy.

In 1954, the Supreme Court delivered the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education—establishing the right to attend a desegregated school as a national constitutional right—but the decision contained fundamental ambiguities. The Supreme Court has never offered a clear definition of what desegregation means or laid out a framework for evaluating competing interpretations. In The Crucible of Desegregation, R. Shep Melnick examines the evolution of federal school desegregation policy from 1954 through the termination of desegregation orders in the first decades of the twenty-first century, combining legal analysis with a focus on institutional relations, particularly the interactions between federal judges and administrators. Melnick argues that years of ambiguous, inconsistent, and meandering Court decisions left lower court judges adrift, forced to apply contradictory Supreme Court precedents in a wide variety of highly charged political and educational contexts. As a result, desegregation policy has been a patchwork, with lower court judges playing a crucial role and with little opportunity to analyze what worked and what didn’t. The Crucible of Desegregation reveals persistent patterns and disagreements that continue to roil education policy.

About the Author

R. Shep Melnick is the Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. Professor of American Politics at Boston College and cochair of the Harvard Program on Constitutional Government. He is the author of The Transformation of Title IX: Regulating Gender Equality in Education, Between the Lines: Interpreting Welfare Rights, and Regulation and the Courts: The Case of the Clean Air Act.

Praise For…

"Melnick’s even-handed approach to the school desegregation era offers insights into what went right and what went wrong on a very important set of policies. . .readers can take important lessons about how policymakers today can forge a better future that redeems the promise of Brown."
— Education Next

"The Crucible of Desegregation offers a patchwork view of desegregation policy, revealing how administrators and judges in lower courts played a pivotal role, with remarkable achievements and setbacks alike. The book is a valuable and pragmatic resource for those interested in learning more about this history of desegregation and the court system in the US."
— LSE Review of Books

"Melnick provides exhaustive evidence of American desegregation policy’s many shortcomings. . . Melnick is clear and convincing when showing how Southern de jure segregation was taken down only by a breathtaking rearrangement of institutional roles that disregarded the Constitution’s separation of powers."
— The Claremont Review of Books

"The Crucible of Desegregation is tour-de-force analysis of the rise and fall of desegregation and integration. This is well-trodden terrain, but if you think you know everything worth knowing about the topic, think again. This meticulously researched, elegantly written, scrupulously fair-minded account achieves the rarity feat of reshaping our understanding of one of the epochal constitutional and social issues of our time."
— David Kirp | University of California-Berkeley | author of "Improbable Scholars"

"The Supreme Court is often praised for the clarity of its vision in Brown v. Board of Education, but its subsequent decisions are clouded with ambiguity. We still do not know whether the Constitution is color blind or conscientiously seeks to perfect the racial composition of the nation’s schools. Without guidance from above, lower courts wander in a maze, and the race question, rather than resolving itself, acquires ever more political intensity. Melnick narrates this story succinctly yet with felicity, balance, and appropriate irony."
— Paul Peterson | Harvard Kennedy School

"This magisterial yet compelling and thoroughly readable volume by an eminent scholar unpacks the tangled, touchy saga of U.S. school 'desegregation' with all its confusion over goals and uncertainty concerning benchmarks."
— Chester E. Finn | Thomas B. Fordham Institute
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226824710
ISBN-10: 0226824713
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: May 10th, 2023
Pages: 336
Series: Chicago Series in Law and Society