175 U.S. 528 (1899), 184, Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education

Docket Nº:No. 184
Citation:175 U.S. 528, 20 S.Ct. 197, 44 L.Ed. 262
Party Name:Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education
Case Date:December 18, 1899
Court:United States Supreme Court

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175 U.S. 528 (1899)

20 S.Ct. 197, 44 L.Ed. 262



Richmond County Board of Education

No. 184

United States Supreme Court

December 18, 1899

Argued October 80, 1899




The plaintiffs in error complained that the Board of Education used the funds in its hands to assist in maintaining a highschool for white children, without providing a similar school for colored children. The substantial relief asked for was an injunction. The state court did not deem the action of the Board of Education in suspending temporarily and for economic reasons the highschool for colored children a sufficient reason why the defendant should be restrained by injunction from maintaining an existing highschool for white children. It rejected the suggestion that the Board proceeded in bad faith or had abused the discretion with which it was invested by the statute under which it proceeded, or had

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acted in hostility to the colored race. Held that, under the circumstances disclosed, this Court could not say that this action of the state court was, within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, a denial by the state to the plaintiff's and to those associated with them, of the equal protection of the laws, or of any privileges belonging to them as citizens, of the United States.

While all admit that the benefits and burdens of public taxation must be shared by citizens without discrimination against any class on account of their race, the education of the people in schools maintained by state taxation is a matter belonging to the respective states, and any interference on the part of federal authority with the management of such schools cannot be justified except in the case of a clear and unmistakable disregard of rights secured by the supreme law of the land.

The plaintiffs in error, Cumming, Harper, and Ladeveze, citizens of Georgia and persons of color, suing on behalf of themselves and all others in like case joining with them, brought this action against the Board of Education of Richmond County and Charles S. Bohler, tax collector.

In the petition filed by them it was alleged --

That the plaintiffs were residents, property owners, and taxpayers of Richmond County, the defendant board being a corporation created under an act of the General Assembly of Georgia of August 23, 1872, regulating public instruction in that county empowering the board to annually levy such tax as it deemed necessary for public school purposes;

That on the 10th of July, 1897, the board levied for that year for the support of primary, intermediate, grammar, and highschools in the county, a tax of $45,000, which was then due and being collected;

That the petitioners interposed no objections to so much of the tax as was for primary, intermediate, and grammar schools, but the tax for the support of the system of highschools was illegal and void for the reason that that system was for the and benefit of the white population exclusively;

That the board was not authorized by law to levy any tax for the support of a system of highschools in which the colored school population of the county were not given the same educational facilities as were furnished the white school population;

That at least $4,500 of the tax of $45,000 was being collected,

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and when collected would be used, for the support of such system of highschools:

That the board had on hand the sum of $20,000 or other large sum, the proceeds of prior tax levies, in trust to disburse solely for legal educational purposes in the county, and would receive from the tax levy of 1897 and from other sources large sums in like trust, and that it was the owner and had the custody and control of school fixtures, furniture, educational equipments and appliances generally, holding the same in like trust; and,

That although the board was not authorized by law to use any part of such funds or property for the support and maintenance of a system of highschools in which the colored school population were not given the same educational facilities as were furnished for the white school population, it was using such funds and property in the support and maintenance of its existing highschool system, the educational advantages of which were restricted wholly to the benefit of the white school population of Richmond County to the entire exclusion of the colored school population, and that, by such use of those funds and property, a deficiency for educational purposes would inevitably result, to make which good additional taxation would be required.

The petitioners also alleged that they were persons of color and parents of children of school age lawfully entitled to the full benefit of any system of highschools organized or maintained by the board; that up to the time of the said tax levy and for many years continuously prior thereto, the board maintained a system of highschools in Richmond County in which the colored school population had the same educational advantages as the white school population, but on July 10th, 1897, it withdrew from and denied to the colored school population any participation in the educational facilities of a highschool system in the county, and had voted to continue to deny to that population any admission to or participation in such educational facilities, and that, at the time of such withdrawal and denial, the petitioners respectively had children attending the colored highschool then existing, but who were

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now debarred from participation in the benefits of a public highschool education though petitioners were being taxed therefor. They averred that the action of the board of education was a denial of the equal protection of the laws secured by the Constitution of the United States, and that it was inequitable, illegal, and unconstitutional for the board to levy upon or for the tax collector to collect [20 S.Ct. 198] from them any tax for the educational purposes of the county from the...

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