Almost daily since the U.S. Supreme Court banned segregation in the public schools, an odd ritual has taken place in little (pop. 5,100) Hillsboro, Ohio. Each morning before the Webster elementary school opened, a group of Negro mothers would march up to its main door, parade around for a while with placards reading, "Our Children Play Together; Why Can't They Learn Together?" and then return peacefully to their homes. There was never any violence, not even a sign of hate or temper. But the fact remained that Hillsboro is the scene of the only integration battle in Ohio.
Until 1939 Hillsboro never really thought of maintaining separate Negro and white schools. But that year, when Webster was jammed to capacity, the board of education decided to solve the problem by quietly packing all Negro pupils off to the ramshackle Lincoln elementary school on the east side of town. For 15 years no one protested. Then came the Supreme Court's historic decision. Negro parents living nearer Webster than Lincoln began demanding that Webster admit their children. The board's answer: it redistricted the whole town, assigned two widely separated Negro neighborhoods to all-Negro Lincoln.
Don't Budge. In the summer of 1954 the white county engineer, Philip Partridge, a hot antisegregationist, became so incensed over the board's action that he tried to burn Lincoln down (he was convicted of arson and sentenced to 1 to 15 years, paroled after serving nine months). Later, five Negro mothers took their case to court. All this failed to budge the board an inch. When school opened that fall, 22 Negro children who tried to get into Webster were turned away. Their mothers, refusing to send them to Lincoln, began tutoring them at home.
Though the board insisted it was without racial prejudice, it argued that until the town could complete a new school, the 850-pupil Webster School could not possibly add 22 Negroes. Judge John H. Druffel of the United States District Court apparently agreed, for he refused to issue an injunction ordering the board to reverse itself. Last fall, when school opened again, Negro pupils applying for Webster were given chairs on the first day, but assigned no classes. On the second day the chairs disappeared.
Keep Stalling. In January the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Judge Druffel. The judge, however, still refused to issue the required injunction "unless the Supreme Court tells me to." Last week the Supreme Court did. But the Hillsboro board was not through yet.
At first it stalled until it formally received Judge Druffel's order. Then it hit upon the idea of ordering placement tests for the Negroes who had been tutored at home. To convince everyone of its objectivity, it invited the State Department of Education to supervise the testing, only to find that the department had no such tests on hand and would have to get them from Chicago. At week's end the tests duly arrived: the last bastion of segregation in Ohio had finally fallen.