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Education Resources on School Desegregation

School Desegregation and Civil Rights Stories:
Ketchikan, Alaska

Irene Jones was a young girl, born of mixed Eskimo and white heritage. She lived in the City of Ketchikan, Alaska. In 1929 at the age of twelve, she tried to attend her local public school. She had all of the qualifications of children, who are entitled to admission and are admitted to the public school under Alaskan law. Irene was in fact a very bright and engaging student. She started attending classes at the Ketchikan school on September 3, 1929, and was a delight to her new teacher. However, two days later she was sent home by the Superintendent on the grounds that she was of Indian descent and that she and "all of her kind should go to the Indian school". Her parents made numerous pleas to the Ketchikan School Board, but to no avail. On September 10, 1929 they filed a suit on Irene's behalf for her to be admitted to the local public school.

In 1905 Congress established a territorial school system in Alaska to provide education for "white children and children of mixed blood who lead a civilized life". Based on this law, the legislature of Alaska established a system of free schooling for children within its jurisdiction and did not make a distinction in regard to race or color. The 1905 congressional act also mandated that education of the Eskimos and Indians in Alaska remain under the direction and control of the U.S. government, Secretary of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. The City of Ketchikan established a school system where white and mixed blood students attended schools together. However on December 7, 1928 the Ketchikan School Board adopted a resolution that modified this system. This rule said that the Ketchikan School Board would accept only those students in its locality "who are not acceptable to the United States Bureau of Education". This meant that the School Board would no longer accept any child of Indian or Eskimo descent, including those of mixed blood. Why did the School Board do this? Did the School Board have the legal right to do this?

Irene Jones' attorney sought answers to these questions. He argued that the School Board violated rights provided Irene under the 14th Amendment. He presented evidence which showed that Mr. A. E. Karnes, the Superintendent of Ketchikan School District, led the effort to pass the December 7, 1928 School Board resolution to prevent children of native descent from attending Ketchikan schools. Mr. Karnes was also reported to have said to Irene: "We will get rid of all the other Native children too." Irene's attorney also gave other examples which showed that a school district could not override the laws of a state legislature or Congress. As a result, federal district judge, Justin W. Harding, ruled that the Ketchikan School Board had discriminated against Irene Jones and its December 7th resolution was not valid. In his final decision on November 29, 1929, Judge Harding ordered that Irene be admitted to the public school and that the School Board pay her attorney's fees.

Documents and Photographs

Ketchikan School Building Ketchikan School Building, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Historical Album Bureau of Education, RG 75, National Archives Pacific Alaska Region.
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Ketchikan Village
Ketchikan Village, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Historical Album of Bureau of Education, RG 75, National Archives Pacific Alaska Region.
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Petition to the Court, Irene Jones v. R. V. Ellis et al, page 1
Petition to the Court, Irene Jones v. R. V. Ellis et al,
U.S. District Court, RG 21, National Archives Pacific Alaska Region, page 1
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Petition to the Court, Irene Jones v. R. V. Ellis et al, page 2
Petition to the Court, Irene Jones v. R. V. Ellis et al,
page 2
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