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People ex rel. Cisco v. School Board of Queens
Caption: Samuel and Elizabeth Cisco of Jamaica, New York (which is part of Queens in New York City today) had been challenging school segregation for years. After Mr. Cisco passed away in 1897, Mrs. Cisco continued her struggle with a suit against the school board of Queens. The above document is a selection from the judge’s decision in the case.Read plain text of document
After a few years of pushing for desegregation of the local Jamaica schools, Mrs. Elizabeth Cisco brought suit against the school board of Queens for violating the state’s education law. Previously, she and her husband Samuel Cisco had worked together, but Mr. Cisco passed away in 1897. Mrs. Cisco carried their work forward, alongside her attorneys.1
Neither of the courts that heard the case decided in favor of Mrs. Cisco. They recognized that the school’s principal, on the orders of the district’s superintendent, had prohibited her children’s enrollment in the school closest to their home because it was a segregated white school and the Cisco children were Black. But they did not judge this to be against the law, since New York law allowed school segregation at the time. Mrs. Cisco lost her case.
However, by filing the case, Mrs. Cisco had drawn attention to the fact that legal school segregation continued in New York State - well after New York City’s schools had ended the policy in 1883. New York’s governor Theodore Roosevelt and his allies in the state legislature acted to change the law. The legislature passed and the governor signed a bill to end school segregation in New York State.
Carleton Mabee, “Long Island’s Black ‘School War’ and the Decline of Segregation in New York State,” New York History 5, no. 4 (October 1977): 405. ↩︎
Date: Jan 9, 1900
Creator: People ex Rel. Cisco v. School Board, 44 App. Div. 469, 61 N.Y.S. 330 (N.Y. App. Div. 1899)
Source: People ex Rel. Cisco v. School Board, 44 App. Div. 469, 61 N.Y.S. 330 (N.Y. App. Div. 1899)
Copyright: Government document
How to cite: “People ex rel. Cisco v. School Board of Queens,” in New York City Civil Rights History, Accessed: [Month Day, Year], https://nyccivilrightshistory.org/topics/black-latina-women/cisco-resisting-segregation/cisco-vs-boe.
- What does it mean that Mrs. Cisco “rests her case solely on the fact that her children were refused admission to the common school on account of their color”? Is Mrs. Cisco arguing that the segregated schools for Black children are inferior, or that she opposes the rejection of her children because they are Black?
- In 1896, the US Supreme Court declared in Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation was legal, as long as each group received equal services. This idea of “separate but equal” appears (in different words) in the Cisco case. What do you think Mrs. Cisco thought of the Plessy ruling?