Here’s How Blacks Were Kept off the Ferguson School Board

A federal judge is putting an end to the practice all over the district.

Voters cast ballots for a Ferguson City Council election. Jeff Roberson/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Black students make up more than 75 percent of students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District in Missouri, but only three of the seven school board members are black. On Monday, a federal district judge in the state ruled that the at-large election system used to choose the school board representatives violated the Voting Rights Act.

“It is my finding that the cumulative effects of historical discrimination, current political practices, and the socioeconomic conditions present in the District impact the ability of African Americans in [Ferguson-Florissant School District] to participate equally in Board elections,” District Judge Rodney Sippel wrote in an opinion. He added that the process “deprives African American voters of an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice” and that no elections could be conducted until a new system was put in place.

Voters in Ferguson had elected school board representatives every year in two or three at-large races, instead of voting for candidates representing specific subdistricts. The case, filed in December 2014 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and the Missouri chapter of the NAACP, alleged that this practice diluted black voter strength, leaving them “all but locked out of the political process.”

ACLU attorney Julie Ebenstein explained in April 2015 that since black voters in the district as a whole made up less than half the voting-age population, they were “systematically unable to elect” board members of their choice when casting ballots across all board seats. In 12 elections that took place between 2000 and 2015, five black candidates won school board seats out of 24 potential candidates, the judge noted in his opinion. Over that period, 22 white candidates won seats out of 37 potential contenders.

Cindy Ormsby, the school district’s attorney, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the district was “very disappointed in the court’s decision.”

You can read the opinion below:

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

AN IMPORTANT UPDATE

We’re falling behind our online fundraising goals and we can’t sustain coming up short on donations month after month. Perhaps you’ve heard? It is impossibly hard in the news business right now, with layoffs intensifying and fancy new startups and funding going kaput.

The crisis facing journalism and democracy isn’t going away anytime soon. And neither is Mother Jones, our readers, or our unique way of doing in-depth reporting that exists to bring about change.

Which is exactly why, despite the challenges we face, we just took a big gulp and joined forces with The Center for Investigative Reporting, a team of ace journalists who create the amazing podcast and public radio show Reveal.

If you can part with even just a few bucks, please help us pick up the pace of donations. We simply can’t afford to keep falling behind on our fundraising targets month after month.

Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery said it well to our team recently, and that team 100 percent includes readers like you who make it all possible: “This is a year to prove that we can pull off this merger, grow our audiences and impact, attract more funding and keep growing. More broadly, it’s a year when the very future of both journalism and democracy is on the line. We have to go for every important story, every reader/listener/viewer, and leave it all on the field. I’m very proud of all the hard work that’s gotten us to this moment, and confident that we can meet it.”

Let’s do this. If you can right now, please support Mother Jones and investigative journalism with an urgently needed donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate