Schools have functioned as primary sites for civil rights protest and action throughout the United States. Prior to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision declaring legalized segregation in public schools unconstitutional, laws existed in the South and border states requiring black and white students to attend separate schools. No such laws existed during this period in the North, yet many school systems in the urban North were segregated nonetheless. The existence of segregated public schools in the North was caused primarily by “neighborhood school” policies which strictly assigned students to schools within their own neighborhoods. Because so many neighborhoods in the North were racially segregated, neighborhood school policies resulted in a corresponding racial segregation of the schools. Additionally, school boards adopted other measures which served to strengthen the segregation in the school system rather than weaken it. In Milwaukee, these measures included the practice of intact bussing and the selection of school district boundaries in locations which would result in racially segregated districts. Racial segregation caused by discriminatory practices, instead of by law, is called de facto segregation.
The Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC) was formed in 1964 by Lloyd Barbee to confront the de facto segregation in Milwaukee’s public schools. MUSIC demanded changes in the school board’s neighborhood school policy. MUSIC was especially interested in ending the intact busing of students, and the construction of schools in locations that would result in their becoming racially segregated. In addition, students themselves became involved in the struggle by participating in public school boycotts, attending Freedom Schools, and protesting the lack of African American representation in their curriculum by conducting textbook turn-ins. LW