Brown v. Board of Education (50th Anniversary)!
History Month 2004
(About the photo: A Fort Myer, Virginia school September 8, 1954 taken shortly after a unanimous ruling that segregation in education was inherently unequal as a result of the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education.)
Linda Brown was a young, black girl in the fifth grade who had to ride the bus five miles to school each day to although a public school was only 4 blocks from her home. Although she met all requirements to attend school, she was denied admission into
this white elementary school. The NAACP took up her case, along with similar ones in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. Thurgood Marshall, a black lawyer and head of the NAACP, argued the five cases together. Marshall wrote that states had no valid reason to
impose segregation, that racial separation — no matter how equal the facilities — caused psychological damage to black children, and that "restrictions or distinctions based upon race or color" violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
On May 17, 1954, in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, the U.S. Supreme Court ended federally sanctioned racial
segregation in the public schools by ruling unanimously that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." This case overturned the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had declared "separate but equal facilities" constitutional, but also provided
the legal foundation of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Although widely perceived as a revolutionary decision, Brown was in fact the culmination of changes both in the Court and in the strategies of the Civil Rights Movement.
The opinion, written by Warren, was short and straightforward. It echoed Marshall's expert witnesses, stating that for African American schoolchildren,
segregation "generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone." The decision went on to say that segregation had no valid purpose, was imposed to give blacks lower status, and was
therefore unconstitutional based on the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court's decision regarding education in America for all children is likely the greatest social and ideological event that has ever happened.
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