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Living with Segregation

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Thomas v. Hibbits et al.: Equal Pay for Black Teachers

The Board of Education in Nashville, Tennessee, was forced to pay colored teachers by the same salary scale as that set up for white teachers. Many contributors to this court action asked not to be identified for fear of recrimination. Harold awaited notice of his assignment for the fall session of school and upon receipt of his notice of assignment resigned from the school system. He also left the teaching profession.
-- Vivien Thomas, in his autobiography

The case, Thomas v. Hibbits et al., was tried in the District Court of the United States, Nashville Division, without a jury, District judge Elmer A. Davies presiding. The Federal Supplement abstracted the case July 28 as follows:

... District Court of the United States had jurisdiction of suit by negro teacher challenging validity of action of Board of Education of City of Nashville in establishing fixed schedules of compensation for teachers which provided considerably larger salaries for white teachers than for negro teachers having the same qualifications....

... The adoption by city Board of Education of separate schedules of compensation for white and negro teachers providing for a considerable differential in favor of white teachers based solely on the ground of race and color was an unconstitutional "discrimination" violating both the "due process of law" and "equal protection of the law" clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. U.S.C.A. Const. Amend. 14....

Suit by Harold E. Thomas against Louis M. Hibbits and others for a declaratory judgment as to the legality of the action of the Board of Education of the City of Nashville in establishing different schedules of compensation for white and negro teachers, to recover for services previously rendered on the basis of the schedule of compensation established for white teachers, and to enjoin future discrimination against negro teachers.

Z. Alexander Looby, of Nashville, Tenn., and Thurgood Marshall, of New York City, and Leon Ransom, and William H. Hastie, both of Washington, D.C., for plaintiff, Harold E. Thomas.

W. C. Cherry, City Atty. for City of Nashville, E. C. Yokley, Jr., and Charles G. Blackard, Asst. City Attys., all of Nashville, Tenn., and Myron Evans, of Memphis, Tenn., for defendants.

DAVIES, District judge.

This cause was tried by the court without a jury, and after hearing all the evidence and argument of counsel, the court hereby makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Findings of Fact
... The plaintiff, Harold E. Thomas, is colored, a person of African descent and of negro blood. He is a regular teacher in the Pearl junior High School, a public school located in Nashville, Tennessee, and maintained and operated by the Board of Education of the City of Nashville. He is now completing his sixth year as a teacher in the Public Schools of the City of Nashville, Tennessee, and is paid the sum of $110 per month for his services; this being the amount fixed by the Board of Education for the City of Nashville for negro teachers in their sixth year of teaching experience.

Plaintiff successfully completed the course of instruction provided at Fisk University located at Nashville, Tennessee, which is an accredited college and has been awarded the degree of Master of Sciences from said University. He holds a Collegiate Professional Certificate, which is the highest certificate issued by the Tennessee Board of Education for teaching in public schools at Tennessee, both white and colored. In order to qualify for this certificate, plaintiff met the same requirements as those exacted by the Tennessee Board of Education for all other teachers, white or colored, and he performs the same duties and renders the same services as is required of all other holders of said certificate.

...The Pearl Junior High School, where plaintiff teaches, is known as a colored school, all teachers employed therein and all students who attend the school are persons of African descent and of negro blood. It is an integral part of the public school system of the City of Nashville, Tennessee, maintained by and operated under the direction of the Board of Education for the City of Nashville.

...The defendants in this cause are the Board of Education of the City of Nashville, all of its members and the Superintendent of Schools for the City of Nashville, Tennessee, who is an administrative officer of the public free school system of Tennessee.

... Identical certificates are issued by the State Board of Education to both negro and white teachers.

... Among the various duties, prerogatives and official acts of the Board of Education of the City of Nashville, is that of employing and fixing the compensation of the teachers in the public schools of the city. It is required under the Constitution of the State of Tennessee to maintain separate schools for white and colored. For many years the Board of Education has employed its teachers on a fixed salary schedule and has maintained separate salary schedules for white and colored teachers. On September 18, 1940, the Board of Education of the City of Nashville adopted new schedules of salaries for its teachers in the public schools, effective as of September 1st, 1940, and at this time adopted separate schedules for teachers in white schools and in colored schools, which is just another way of saying that it would have a separate schedule for white teachers and colored teachers, inasmuch as only white teachers are employed in the white schools and colored teachers in the colored schools. Under this schedule, a teacher in the Elementary and junior High Schools, employed in the first year of teaching, is paid $120 per month in the white school, and $95 per month in the colored school; and for the same class of school, a teacher in the fourth year of teaching is paid $135 per month in the white school, and $110 per month in the colored school. Likewise, according to the schedule, a teacher employed for the first year in a senior high school is paid the sum of $140 per month in a white school, and $100 per month in a colored school; and in the fourth year is paid $170 per month in the white school and $ 115 per month in the colored school.

...The requirements of eligibility for employment as a teacher in the public schools of Nashville, as fixed by the Board of Education relative to experience, qualifications, etc., are the same for colored teachers as for white teachers.

...The defendants in their answer state that the discrimination in the amount of salaries paid to white teachers and to colored teachers in favor of the white teachers, is based solely upon the different types of school, that is, colored schools and white schools and does not in any way attempt to make a discrimination in the teachers of the different types of school. This proposition seems to have been more or less abandoned at the trial of the cause where what the defense relied upon was that the differential in the pay of the salaries to the teachers was based solely upon an economic condition in that, colored teachers were more numerous than white teachers, their living conditions less expensive, and that they could be employed to work at a lower salary than white teachers. It is also insisted in the answer filed by the defendant that if the Board of Education should see fit to appoint negro teachers in white schools, their salaries would be based upon the race of their pupils, and not as to the color of the teachers. Granting that this could be true in the abstract, yet it is of considerable import that so far no negro relied upon that the applications from the colored teachers were far more numerous than from white, and that as an economic proposition colored teachers could be secured to work for a smaller salary than white teachers. The court is unable to reconcile these theories with the true facts in the case and therefore finds that the studied and consistent policy of the Board of Education of the City of Nashville is to pay its colored teachers salaries which are considerably lower than the salaries paid to the white teachers, although the eligibility qualifications and experience as required by the Board of Education is the same for both white and colored teachers and that the sole reason for this difference is because of the race and color of the colored teachers.

... Plaintiff is entitled, in his own behalf and in behalf of the class whom he represents, to the issuance of an injunction restraining the defendant Board of Education, its officers, agents and employees, from making any discrimination against plaintiff and the class whom he represents in fixing salaries to be paid to school teachers for the next fiscal year and succeeding years on the grounds of race or color.

A decree will be entered accordingly.

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