When the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in its 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, the Justices did not say when or how schools should desegregate. That decision was postponed for one year. After hearing arguments from Thurgood Marshall's legal team, and from Southerners opposed to integration, the Court issued its decree on May 31 1955.

Worried that ordering the South to integrate immediately would spark a rebellion, the Justices set no firm date for segregation to end. Instead, the Justices ordered schools to desegregate with "good faith" and "all deliberate speed."

Legal scholar Michael Klarman says the Brown II ruling was almost universally regarded as a triumph for opponents of integration. "Brown I had said desegregate," Klarman explains. "Brown II said, 'Well, do it at your own pace, as soon as practicable.' White Southerners all saw this as a big victory. Many of them also perceived it as weakness. They thought, 'Here's an indication that the Supreme Court doesn't really mean what it said'." As a result, Klarman says, many white Southerners thought they could avoid desegregating altogether, and went about trying to do just that.