Desegregation in Tunica County

(1960s) Before desegregation, black children attended plantation schools. The plantation schools were usually one room schools, and they only ran for six months of the year. These types of schools continued all the way until the 1960s. The teachers were hired by the local school districts, but they were treated with disrespect. On paydays the teachers would meet at the courthouse to receive their checks, but before being able to receive their checks they were forced to sing Negro spirituals. Edna Carpenter, a plantation school teacher, put it all bluntly when she said “Swing Low Sweet Chariot was [the whites] favorite and we hated it.”The whites thought relations between the races were just fine, but the black teachers saw it much differently. While black students attended plantation school, white folks were attending “the neat, red-brick schools on School Street in Tunica.”

Desegregation took place in Tunica County in the winter of 1969. When the two groups were forced to attend school together the white community decided to leave the public schools rather than desegregate. Several white families eventually formed the Tunica Institute of Learning. The poor white students that could not afford to go the all white academy dropped out, moved to the public school, or moved away. The white students continued to use the school district books that year, and nineteen of the twenty-five teachers quit the public schools to teach their white students.
Patty Sue Tucker was one of the white teachers who decided to continue to teach in the public school. She and five other white school teachers were initially rejected to teach in the public school. It was not until “[she] threatened to go to the Memphis newspaper”that the school board allowed her to teach black students.

Today the overwhelming majority of black students go to public schools in Tunica, and the majority of white students continue to go to Tunica Institute for Learning.