Desegregation of Pennsylvania Schools

An event here in September 1880 led to the end of segregation by race in the state's public schools. At the South Ward schools, Elias Allen tried unsuccessfully to enroll his two children. He appealed to the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas, and Judge Pearson Church declared unconstitutional the 1854 state law mandating separate schools for Negro children. This law was amended, effective July 4, 1881, to prohibit such segregation.

By the mid 19th century, there were several established black communities in counties all across Pennsylvania, including Crawford County. Segregationists passed several laws during this time in an attempt to take away rights from African Americans living in the state, including an 1854 law that enforced segregation in public schools. Twenty-six years later, Elias Allen attempted to enroll two of his children, Mary (age 8), and Charles (age 6) into the Huidekoper Grammar School. This was a white only school, and because the Allens were black, Mary and Charles’ admissions were rejected by the school board. In response, Allen officially sued the School Board on October 1st, 1880, petitioning to the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas. 

In the petition, Allen listed his reasons for wishing to enroll his children into the white only school. Some of these reasons included the fact that he was a lawful, taxpaying citizen of America with constitutional rights, the Huidekoper Grammar School was much closer for his kids to walk to as opposed to the black and mixed race school (.25 miles vs .8 miles), the white only school was graded, meaning they had teachers and structured classrooms, was better quality overall, had room for additional students, and his kids had the grades that would qualify them to enrol in that school.

The School Board responded to that petition later that month, denying Allen's children admission. They cited the 1854 law of Pennsylvania segregation of public schools, saying they could not do so under law. The rebuttal also stated Allen should not have to send his kids to their school, as the black and mixed race school was just as good quality, and more fitting for his kids. This was false, as the black only school received less funding than the other schools, was smaller, lower quality, and had only one teacher teaching multiple grades. Allen’s lawyer put out another rebuttal in November, stating that the Board’s claims were false. This went on for some time until Judge Pearson’s court decision on May 10th, 1881. In the verdict, he declared that the 1854 law was unconstitutional, overruling it and demanding that the School Board accept Allen’s kids. Allen vs Meadville was a success, and the law went into effect on July 4th, 1881.

Not much is known about what happened to Allen and his family after the verdict.