Negro Sues City on School Zoning: Harlem Institutions Inferior, Mother of Girl Holds

The landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) desegregated public schools, yet several years later, segregated education remained the norm throughout the nation, including in New York City. Just as Black Southerners continued to challenge segregated education in courtrooms and in the streets, so too did Black New Yorkers. In July 1957, Mae Mallory sued the New York Board of Education to obtain a transfer for her daughter, Patricia Leola, from the segregated school in her neighborhood. By challenging the board’s zoning policies, she argued that they ensured that Black children remained in inferior schools. A year later, eight other mothers joined her in the suit and a boycott of several Harlem junior high schools. The media dubbed them the “Harlem Nine.” Mallory and the other mothers asked for an “open transfer” policy that allowed them to send their children to schools outside of their district and community control of Harlem schools through parent associations. The Harlem Nine eventually won the right to transfer their children. Most importantly, their story expands the traditional history of school desegregation to include sites outside of the South.
Benjamin Fine
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