Ending School Segregation | Brown v. Board of Education

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In episode 8 of Supreme Court Briefs, the Court unanimously has major issues with Plessy v. Ferguson, and ends up dramatically changing the future of the Civil Rights Movement by ruling segregation “inherently unequal.”

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Reading Through History: The Great Supreme Court Cases

Topeka, KS
1950

Schools were segregated by skin color. Each day, 8-year old Linda Brown and her sister had to walk one mile, crossing several busy railroad tracks along the way, to get to a bus that led them to school across town. Now, an elementary school already existed just four blocks from their home, but this school was for white children only, and Linda Brown and her sister were African American.

Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in the white only elementary school, but the principal of the school wouldn’t allow it. So Brown to the Topeka’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, and asked for help. The NAACP had actually already been planning on challenging segregation in public schools. The organization helped 12 other African American parents attempt to enroll their children in whites-only schools in the Topeka school district. A major goal of the NAACP was to bring down the precedent set up by Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 Supreme Court decision that said segregated facilities based on skin color was ok, as long as both facilities were the same quality. This became known as the “separate but equal” doctrine.

The NAACP helped Brown and the rest of the parents sue the Board of Education of the city of Topeka after the district continued to refuse to let their children enroll in whites-only schools. The parents claimed their children’s rights, as protected by the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, were being violated. The NAACP put Oliver Brown at the head of the roster as a legal strategy.

The Board of Education argued that segregation was already a way of life, and segregated schools simply got them ready for the segregation they would encounter as adults. They also claimed that segregated schools were not harmful to black children.

The United States District Court for the District of Kansas heard the case, and ruled in favor of the Board of Education, using the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson as their justification. And yet, weirdly, the three-judge District Court panel argued that segregation hurt African American children. Still, they insisted that whites-only and blacks-only schools in Topeka were of equal quality in terms of facilities, the qualifications of teachers, transportation, and what they were taught.

Brown and the rest of the parents appealed to the Supreme Court. As it turns out, there were parents across the country fighting fiercely against school segregation in public schools as well. In 1952, the Court considered five different cases that all dealt with the issue. Ultimately, the Court just combined all five cases under the name of Brown v. Board of Education. The NAACP had been involved in all five cases, and appointed Thurgood Marshall, a
future Supreme Court justice, to argue the case for Brown.
The Court heard the case in spring of 1953, but remained divided on the issue, and they knew this was a big freaking deal, so they didn’t want to rush it. Chief Justice Fred Vinson was really worried about a close vote that would dramatically change the country, and he, in particular, wanted to postpone the decision. He died in September, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Earl Warren, the former governor of California, as Vinson’s replacement. The Court reheard the case in December 1953, with Warren now leading. For several months, the justices debated and discussed the case.

Warren was able to do what Vinson was not- he brought all the Justices together to agree on a unanimous decision.

That’s right. On May 17th, 1954, the court voted 9-0 in support of Brown. This overturned the now infamous Plessy v. Ferguson decision, saying that segregation of schools based on skin color went against the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The court also argued that segregated schools made African American children feel inferior and damaged their development. Warren gave the opinion of the Court, saying “We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Source: cuocdoidanghien.com

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Wait… this was in 1950?
    But hadn't Eisenhower already DEsegregated the Armed Forces in 48 or 49?
    So "it's an established way of life" should not hold any water anymore as DEsegregation in an important federal institution was equally "established" and worked out well enough.

  2. Didn't exactly take "a few years" to desegregate everything. My school wasn't desegregated until August of '74. (Right before the next school year when they were to receive money as a unified school district.)

    Interestingly it was the black school that didn't want to integrate into the white school. They were upset because not only were they going to be sharing theor separate budgets but the black school was a vocational school. Thr local black population believed that if white students were granted access to the same professions as the black students, they would receive preferential employment and result in black unemployment. This theory didn't really get to be tested however because the country was in a recession within a few years and everyone in town who didn't lose their job was taking pay cuts, equalizing the area regardless.

  3. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3RvOy2CCNWdZSMGdkVydLg/ discrimination occurs all the time; children voices are silenced.

  4. Very good video but omits the fact that Warren had to compromise for the unanimous decision too, though it's not clear what concessions he may have made to get his unanimous vote. But I'm sure there were concessions made. Apparently Warren kept rewriting it until all 9 agreed to get on board.

    I'm curious why the "separate but equal" policy, rejected by the Warren court, cannot also apply to the dress codes between men and women. How can the dress code be sustained as "separate but equal" if women can display all their body parts while men cannot. Or if women can wear flamboyant clothes and hair styles and even hair tints, make-up, mascara, etc. while men's clothes conceal the body? Clearly we know that women's clothes have more prestige since every article a woman wears is highlighted by brand name, every part of her appearance is carefully inventoried in articles on Meghan and Kate or a performer on the Red Carpet. In the same way, white schools had more academic prestige than black schools. It's comical to read articles religiously detailing every article of clothing and color scheme when Kate or Meghan appears, while their husbands are perfunctorily passed over with an obligatory, "was dressed in a dark blue suit"!

    Just as the Court argued that "separate but equal" was inherently discriminatory and instilled a sense of inferiority in the segregated group, one can argue that the privileged way that women dress instilled a sense of sexual inferiority in men.

    Keep in mind, it is the segregated group that feels inferior. Obviously white students were not segregated from black students! Black students were segregated from white students. In the same way, women are not prevented from dressing like men. Men are prevented from dressing like women, which is bound to create a sense of sexual inferiority in men, since it would imply that men's bodies do not deserve to be dressed, form-fitted, adorned, flamboyantly colored, and their faces and eyes painted, while women's bodies deserve this.

  5. The state of Iowa was ahead of the game and found this practice illegal in 1868- http://www.iptv.org/iowapathways/mypath/father-fights-equal-rights. Susan Clark was the first black student to attend a white school. The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that public schools "cannot deny a youth admission to any particular school, because of … color, nationality, religion or the like."

  6. This was a very important case not only for race, but also in Special Education. I was getting a Masters in it, and we studied this case in light of that. It was important for human rights.

  7. Could you cover other segregation cases such as Alvarez v. Lemon Grove School District and Mendez v. Westminister

  8. Look at your own natural habitat in Africa and how completely run down it is when you people run things?

    Maybe that's all you deserve because that's as high as you can climb without us? Why do we have to support you, or educate you?
    Why????

    No we did not bring you here.
    Ask Farakhaun who brought you here.
    (and he doesn't mean O.J.)

    Seriously why can't you pick yourself up?, …every other race can, especially with the opportunities here in America, and no one's holding you back, there is not one law on the books restraining you from getting the American dream, if you'd rather sit in your mama's porch drinking a 40 ouncer, don't blame that on me.

  9. December 9th 1952 = Start the Case
    May 17, 1954 = Supreme Court decision.
    May 31, 1955 = put plan in place to persuade school boards to accept new law. Wow that’s fast.

  10. The ink is black
    The page is white
    Together we learn to read and write
    A child is black
    A child is white
    The whole world looks upon the sight
    A beautiful sight

    And now a child can understand,_
    that this is the law of ALL the land
    ALL THE LAND! . . . 🙂

  11. 0:14 Interesting you don't mention there are likely just as many poor Whites that had a black school much nearer. But they didn't complain.

  12. This is when many Afrikan Americans became anti Semites in NYC rejecting Jewish teachers…after we helped civil Rights movement.
    We marched and died in Selma civil rights marches now written out of Oprah Winfrey Selma film…
    Rev All Sharron,Farrakhan,Jesse Jackson all hate Jews and repeat evil David Duke diatribe against us.

    Yet I agree with this food decision.
    After Scotsboro boys case and Dred Scott decision we see a fair humane Court.

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