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The Case of Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education: From Civil Rights to Students’ Rights and Back Again


by Philip Lee — 2014

Background/Context: Legal scholars have cited the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Dixon v. Alabama State Board of Education (1961) as the beginning of a revolution for students’ rights that ended the in loco parentis relationship between colleges and their students. But little has been written about the students’ activism that led to this seminal case.

Research Question: Students’ rights, in general, benefited from the Dixon precedent. But how did the student activists who brought the case personally benefit? None were able to tell their stories in court in a way that challenged separate but equal laws. None of them took advantage of the due process that the Fifth Circuit ruled that Alabama State College must provide. None re-enrolled at the college after the case was over. And segregation was still alive and well in Alabama after Dixon was decided. So what did they win?

Research Design: This study presents a historical analysis of the student activism that led to the Dixon case, the case itself, and its interplay with future civil rights activism.

Conclusions: Despite the divergence of interests between the student activists and the lawyers, both the sit-in and the litigation empowered students all over the country to engage in the civil rights struggle.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 116 Number 12, 2014, p. 1-18
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17690, Date Accessed: 11/19/2017 7:25:28 PM

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About the Author
  • Philip Lee
    University of the District of Columbia
    E-mail Author
    PHILIP LEE is an assistant professor of law at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) David A. Clarke School of Law. His research centers on academic freedom, diversity and educational access, and higher education history and law. His work has appeared in the Harvard Journal on Racial & Ethnic Justice (formerly the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal), Harvard Kennedy School’s Asian American Policy Review, and Higher Education in Review.
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