Brown vs. Board of Education

In 1896 the Supreme Court had held in
Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation was permissible as
long as equal facilities were provided for both races.

Although that decision involved only passenger
accommodations on a rail road, the principle of “separate
but equal” was applied thereafter to all aspects of public life
in states with large black populations. Brown v. Board of
Education of Topeka, Kansas, decided on May 17, 1954,
was one of the most important cases in the history of the
U.S. Supreme Court. Linda Brown had been denied
admission to an elementary school in Topeka because she
was black. Brought together under the Brown designation
were companion cases from South Carolina, Virginia, and
Delaware, all of which involved the same basic question:
Does the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment
prohibit racial segregation in the public schools? It was not
until the late 1940’s that the Court began to insist on equality
of treatment, but it did not squarely face the constitutionality
of the “separate but equal” doctrine until it decided the
Brown case. In a brief, unanimous opinion delivered by
Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court declared that: “separate
education facilities are inherently unequal” and that racial
segregation violates the equal protection clause of the 14th
amendment. In a moving passage, the chief justice argued
that separating children in the schools solely on racial
grounds “generates a felling of inferiority as to their status in
the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a
way unlikely to be undone.” Although the decision did not
bring about total integration of blacks in the schools, it
resulted in efforts by many school systems to remove the
imbalance by busing students. The Court’s decision had far
reaching effects, influencing civil rights legislation and the civil
rights movement of the 1960’s.

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Category: History


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