On May 25 Alabama’s Hugo Black read the decision. The court ordered Prince Edward County’s school board to reopen the closed schools, then ordered the case back to the district court, with the authority to force the board to “raise funds adequate to reopen, operate, and maintain without racial discrimination a public school system.” The court based its ruling on the nature of education in the state. Since Virginia offered public education, the state had the responsibility to provide that education to all students, regardless of race. Justice Black made clear the court’s growing impatience with resistance to integration: “The time for mere ‘deliberate speed’ has run out, and that phrase can no longer justify denying these Prince Edward County school children their constitutional rights to an education equal to that afforded by the public schools in the other parts of Virginia.”
Alabama officials immediately applied Black’s opinion to their state’s segregated schools. Alabama’s attorney general cautioned, “Alabama will have to take integration or close our public school system,” though he observed that Macon Academy fell outside the ruling, since it did not accept state education money. Wallace failed to give immediate comment, though the fight over segregation provided “fresh ammunition for his states’ rights presidential campaign.” The Birmingham News predicted an end to continued resistance, noting that “[few] parents would be willing to sacrifice the children’s education, which is what general public school closure would amount to.” Rejecting the alternative of private academies, the News advised segregationists that the “courts have made the school issue abundantly clear” and suggested that resistance might be better placed on “ramparts not yet surrendered,” particularly civil rights legislation.
The paper told readers that “technical compliance with court orders” to desegregate was a “more effective approach than all-out defiance,” but the state remained slow to integrate educational facilities. Privately funded academies became refuges for those who refused to attend integrated schools, and sharply divided residential patterns insured that many public schools remained all-black or all-white, even without legal segregation. By 1988 desegregation peaked at 43.5 percent of state schools, a rise of only 30 percent in the twenty-five years since the Prince Edward ruling. As proponents of integrated education looked to implement the court orders in schools across the South, other activists turned their attention to Congress, where the fight over civil rights grew increasingly heated in the summer of 1964.