465 F.2d 1332 (6th Cir. 1972), 71-1704, Melton v. Young

Docket Nº:71-1704.
Citation:465 F.2d 1332
Party Name:Bryan MELTON and Wife, Mrs. Bryan Melton, on behalf of their minor son, Rod Melton, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Corley R. YOUNG et al. (Chattanooga, Tenn. Board of Education, Commissioner and Principal), Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 30, 1972
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 1332

465 F.2d 1332 (6th Cir. 1972)

Bryan MELTON and Wife, Mrs. Bryan Melton, on behalf of their minor son, Rod Melton, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Corley R. YOUNG et al. (Chattanooga, Tenn. Board of Education, Commissioner and Principal), Defendants-Appellees.

No. 71-1704.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Aug. 30, 1972

Jack Kershaw, Nashville, Tenn., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Raymond B. Witt, Jr., Chattanooga, Tenn., John W. Murrey, III, Witt, Gaither, Abernathy & Wilson, Chattanooga, Tenn., on brief, for defendants-appellees.

Before MILLER and KENT, Circuit Judges, and KEITH, [*] District Judge.

Page 1333

KEITH, District Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, 328 F.Supp. 88, determining that the suspension of appellant Rod Melton from Brainerd High School at Chattanooga, Tennessee was not violative of his constitutional rights.

Appellant 1 instituted this action in the District Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for declaratory and injunctive relief alleging appellant's various constitutional rights were violated because the principal of his high school suspended him for wearing an emblem depicting a Confederate flag on the sleeve of his jacket.

The background of this case is recited in the extensive opinion entered by the District Judge and we will merely capsulize the factual circumstances leading to appellant's suspension.

Brainerd is a public high school in the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Until 1966 Brainerd was operated as an all white school which had adopted as its nickname the word "Rebel" and used the Confederate flag as the school flag along with the song Dixie as its pep song. The school has been attended by both white and black students since 1966; by 1969 the student body consisted of 170 black and 1224 white students.

The record indicates that with the advent of the 1969 school year the student body became racially polarized as a result of continuing controversy over the use of the Confederate flag and the song Dixie at various school functions. It also appears that on October 8, 1969 demonstrations took place at the school which disrupted classes and that on the evening of the same day a motorcade drove through various parts of the city waving Confederate flags. Thereafter various disturbances took place in the city finally culminating in the imposition of a city-wide curfew for four nights from October 13 through October 17, 1969. The District Court also found that throughout the remainder of the fall semester considerable racial tension existed within the student body which continued on into the following spring. During this period it was necessary to call for police assistance amid several confrontations and also to close the school for the purpose of restoring order and calming tensions.

In May, 1970, the Brainerd school administration and P.T.A. appointed a committee of citizens to study the difficulties of the past year and recommend remedial action for the ensuing year. Among the conclusions of the committee were the nickname "Rebel," the song Dixie, and the Confederate flag were precipitating causes of tension and disorder within the school. As a corrective measure the committee recommended that the use of the Confederate flag as a school symbol and the use of the song Dixie as the school pep song be discontinued but that the nickname "Rebel" be retained. These recommendations were adopted as official policy by the School Board at its meeting on July 8, 1970 along with the directive to school administrators that each principal develop and disseminate within the student body a "code of conduct" 2 consistent with the

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recommendations by the opening of the school in September, 1970. It is this code and the consequences of its enforcement that gave rise to this lawsuit.

Appellant, after both he and his parents were informed of the new rules, wore a jacket to school with an emblem depicting a Confederate flag on one sleeve. He was asked to remove the emblem or cease wearing the jacket while in school by the principal but declined to do so. After he was allowed to return to class several complaints from both faculty and students caused the principal to call appellant to his office and request him to remove the jacket, which request was again refused. The principal then indicated that it was his judgment that the emblem was "provocative" and in violation of the school code and thereupon he directed that appellant either remove the jacket or leave the school. Appellant chose to absent himself from the campus.

The following day appellant presented himself at the school with the same jacket and emblem and upon being sent to the principal's office and being requested to remove the jacket stated that he was merely demonstrating pride in his Confederate heritage by the wearing of the flag and that he had no other motive. Appellant was then told to leave school and not return until he was willing to stop displaying the Confederate emblem while in school. The above two suspensions occurred on September 8 and September 9, 1970 respectively and letters were sent to appellant's parents on both occasions stating the reasons for the suspension.

The District Court issued an opinion finding, inter alia, that the portion of the school regulation forbidding...

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