In the classic race between the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise won by moving forward with “all deliberate speed.” But the United States Supreme Court has recently ruled that in the matter of school desegregation this tortoise pace is no longer tolerable.

In 1954 the court declared that school desegregation should proceed “with all deliberate speed.” That ambiguous terminology has led to much confusion and debate about just how soon the goal of total desegregation should be reached. The justices have now put an end to the confusion by ruling unanimously that school districts must end segregation “at once.” The court also took away from reluctant school districts their most effective means of delay—the practice of continuing segregation until all appeals have been exhausted. Now school districts must desegregate immediately and remain that way during litigation.

During the fifteen years since the original decision, citizens in many school districts have moved to comply with the court’s ruling, and they are to be commended for their progress. But others have no intention of seeing their schools desegregated and have nullified the intent of judicial decision under the protective covering of the “all deliberate speed” concept. In these districts every year that passes is another year in which some citizens have been deprived of their constitutional rights.

It would have been far preferable had the Supreme Court not found it necessary to make this new ruling. And it is unfortunate that the decision may work a hardship on districts that have been honestly wrestling with the problem. But the time had to come when the court would say “now,” and fifteen years ...

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