New resident seeks unitary status for Franklin County Schools

Amelia Leaphart   

Marcus Allgood relocated to Dechard, TN in 2018 from Los Angeles in order to care for his mother. While now he works at The Sewanee Inn, in Los Angeles he served as a community organizer for LA Voice

His mother, Juliette Taylor, was among the first students enrolled in integrated schools in Tennessee, but still attended segregated schools for part of her childhood. 

“My mother came to my grandmother one day and was like, ‘why do we have inferior stuff? The other schools don’t have that and we do,’” he says.

Even after desegregation, like most school districts emerging from the “separate-but-equal” era, local school authorities were hesitant to apply federal desegregation measures to their respective institutions, Franklin County Schools included. 

Emma Hill, his grandmother, in response filed a lawsuit against Franklin County Board of Education in 1963, and the case remains active despite decades since the motion was filed and his grandmother’s passing. 

“As a result of the lawsuit,” Allgood explains, “Franklin County is under court supervision to desegregate the schools, the problem is even though they’ve desegregated, the lawsuit is still pending. What I propose as a resolution, as a court order, is to file and get unitary status with the federal government, which would release them from court order.”

For context, ‘unitary status’ signifies a school district is no longer held under federal court supervision. A release from court order means that the school district has, according to mandates delineated by the Equal Protection Clause, expelled any remnants of segregation and discriminatory practices. 

In May 2021, Allgood attended a school board meeting where he asked the Board to file for unitary status.

“They acted like I was speaking Greek,” he said, “they didn’t have an answer.”

After the meeting, Allgood met with the county lawyer. 

“He really didn’t have an answer either. I found that anywhere this is going on in the United States this is going on too… they haven’t kept records, they don’t know what’s going on in the case,” he said. 

Shanae Williams, local county attorney and graduate of Franklin County Schools filed a complaint in February 2022 against the Board of Education. After an investigation, the state’s Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights declared the district in violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

The investigation revealed cases of black students experiencing racism from white students without teachers or school officials taking reasonable measures to address the issue. However, the investigation did not conclude that issues such as the school’s rebel mascot or “Dixie” as the school fight song as indicators of racism in the high school. 

Although the Emma Hill case remains unresolved, many civil cases against the school board regarding discrimination have cited the case during proceedings. 

When Allgood appealed to the school board at the public meeting, he noted how another woman brought up an issue regarding the dress code at the schools. 

“She had an issue with t-shirts… I’ve seen that addressed that right away, but they haven’t gotten back to me,” he said. 

In a meeting with Stanley Bean, superintendent of the district, and attorney Ben Lynch (who’s father oversaw the case and passed it to him), Allgood said he was questioned about why he was bringing this up now. 

“I said ‘Because it’s unresolved.’ It’s gone down to the grandson and I’m in my fifties, and so it needs resolution.”

The next step for Allgood, after giving the school board a year to make any motions on the case, is partnering with civil rights organizations such as Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace (CCJP) for legal resources. 

“I’m trying to give the school board an opportunity to step up, but if they’re not taking me seriously then we’ll have to go to the next level,” he says. 

Lisa Rung (C ’90), director of the CCJP, met Allgood at a Black Lives Matter protest in Winchester in July, passing out hand fans. The CCJP’s, which seeks to carry on the legacy of the Highlander Folk School, founders also filed the lawsuit (Marvin Goodstein and Dora Turner). 

“It would be awesome to finish what they started…it was a formative experience for the people who went through it” Rung said. 

When that generation of socially minded residents died off, it was hard to reforge connections with people with skin in the game in terms of civil rights cases.

“But in recent years we’ve made progress… ,” Rung says, “we started to get involved with the mascot fight at the high school and made friends there.”

Allgood’s foster brother just graduated from Franklin County High School and his foster sister is currently a student. 

Unitary status, for Allgood, “would bring some accountability to the school. It brings some transparency about what they are doing and what they have been doing…they would have to get compliant to the federal government to show they are taking steps to achieve equality and fairness to the school.”