Craton Liddell, 43; Plaintiff in School Busing Lawsuit

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Craton Liddell, 43, the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the St. Louis school board that resulted in one of the nation's largest school busing programs, died Dec. 6 at a St. Louis hospital. The cause was an infected colon.

Liddell was 12 when his mother led a group of black parents in a lawsuit alleging that the St. Louis city school district discriminated against black students through school boundary changes that segregated its schools.

His mother, Minnie, took action after tiring of substandard classroom conditions for black youngsters and the district's practice of frequently reassigning students to relieve overcrowded campuses.

The suit, filed in 1972, wound up in a federal appeals court and resulted in a voluntary desegregation plan involving the St. Louis district and 23 suburban districts. It also called for the use of specialized magnet schools to attract white students to city campuses.

A settlement in 1999 ended court supervision of the plan.

According to his mother, Liddell hated the attention that the lawsuit focused on him. He told a reporter a few years ago that he did not realize until he was an adult how important the case was.

Liddell graduated from Northwest High School in St. Louis before attending Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., and Harris-Stowe State College in St. Louis.

He worked as a substitute teacher in St. Louis until suffering a heart attack and stroke a few years ago. He also served on the board that oversees the busing program.

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