Black Mississippi High School Grad Charges Her Salutatorian Honor Was Given to Less Qualified White Student to Appease Racist Townspeople

The historically black East Side High School in Cleveland, Miss. (pictured in 2015) is no more after a judge ruled in 2016 that the Mississippi Delta town needed to desegregate its schools. Now a black student at the integrated high school charges the district wrongly denied her the salutatorian honor her grades deserved, giving the honor to a white student with lower grades instead.
Photo: Associated Press

Apparently, in at least one Mississippi town, black folks can’t even come in second place without raising racist ire.

According to a federal lawsuit, recent high school graduate Olecia James charges she was denied her rightful place as salutatorian of her Mississippi high school’s graduating class in a move the district made so as not to offend white folk.

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Really.

In the lawsuit, uploaded for viewing by The Hill, James seeks monetary damages and a change in the race-based policies she says the Cleveland (Miss.) School District employed in violating her 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law.

James graduated last year from Cleveland, Miss.’s brand-new and integrated (yes, last year was 2018, not 1948) Cleveland Central High School as part of its inaugural class. In her suit, James says she had the second-highest grades in the graduating class, but that the honor of salutatorian was given to a white male student with lower grades.

The Cleveland School District’s motive? According to the suit: “to prevent white flight.” Apparently, the district feared white fight flight if Olecia James’ name was announced as having done better academically than everybody else in her graduating class, save one person.

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Because, hey, it was only about two years ago, that Cleveland had just one Cleveland Central High to serve (gasp!) both its white and black students.

Yes, lovers of liberty (*h/t Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal*) until then—almost 65 years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional—this Deep South school district in the Mississippi Delta was still maintaining two high schools, one historically white (with some blacks in attendance, perhaps for appearance’s sake?), and the other historically black.

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Cleveland Central High was created by court order in a bid to desegregate Cleveland’s high schools once and for all.

Olecia James was part of what was supposed to have been the start of new era in Cleveland.

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But apparently school officials were having none of that, James charges in her suit.

According to her, in their attempts to justify giving the white boy her salutatorian spot, district officials changed her grades on her school records to make it seem that they were lower.

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They soon apologized for the, er, mixup, James says, but, according to the charges outlined in the suit, they still made the white kid salutatorian, this time by giving more educational weight to the classes he had taken at the historically white high school over the ones James had taken at the historically black high school.

Say wha?

School district officials had no comment when contacted by the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.

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Attorney Lisa Ross, who represents James, told the Clarion-Ledger what should be obvious to anyone:

“These positions that are set aside for students who work hard and do well, they should be awarded on who does the best,” Ross said. “And it should be done without consideration as to whether whites will leave the school district if their kids are not selected for awards.”

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