1954 Brown v Board of Education - History

1954 Brown v Board of Education - History

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In 1950, the NAACP changed its tactic in its fight against discrimination against blacks. It decided, for the first time, to try to challenge the earlier Supreme Court ruling, Plessy vs. Ferguson, of 1896, which had stated that segregation was legal as long as the schools in question were equivalent.

Brown vs. the Board first came to the Supreme Court in 1952, and the head of the NAACP legal fund, Thurgood Marshall, argued the case. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that separate facilities were inherently unequal. It stated that schools could no longer remain segregated. This landmark decision provided the impetus for much of the desegregation of America that was to follow.

In 1896 the Supreme Court had ruled in the case of Plessy v Ferguson that separate but equal in rail transportation was legal. That ruling had allowed school district all over the United States to set up different schools for African American and White students. The NAACP had waged a public fight against the status since its founding. In 1950 it decided it was time to attack the very legal foundation of segregation and that was the Plessey ruling.

In 1951 a class action suit was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka Kansas. Thirteen parents sued on behalf of their 20 students. The suit demanded that the board of education end their separate but equal elementary schools. The names plaintiff was Oliver Brown one of the parents who worked as a welder for the Sante Fe Railroad. Each of the parents in the suite tried to enroll their children at a nearby White Elementary School but were refused and instead told they must send their children to an African American school much further from their house.

The case was heard in US District Court. That court ruled based on Plessey vs. Ferguson that although the separate education was no doubt detrimental for the students, the two schools were similar in both facilities, teachers and equipment thus it was legal.

The case was then brought to the Supreme Court. Representing the plaintiffs at arguments that were held the first time in December 1952 was Thurgood Marshall. The United States entered an amicus brief where it argued that discrimination was adversely affected the United States foreign policy since it was an embarrassment in the world to have it.

It was important for the decision to be unanimous, or so thought justice Felix Frankfurter, so he had the sides return in December 1953 to reargue the case. This time after a significant internal argument the justices all agreed. On May 17, 1954, the decision was handed down. The court ruled that “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, because of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

1954 Brown v Board of Education - History

Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark case in the history of American education. There were several events and issues, however, which led up to this critical event. From the 1892 Plessy v. Ferguson case, the precedent of "separate but equal" was set, resulting in separate schools for white and black children. Such schools were constitutional as long as they were "equal". That is, "colored schools" were supposed to provide the same education that white students received at their schools, though this was not the case.

In the 1900s, with industrialism in the forefront, cities began a process of ghettoization, resulting in ethnic enclaves. These neighborhoods later affected where students would attend school, which in turn, affected the quality of the schools. In the 1908 case of Berea College v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, the state attacked the racially mixed school of Berea College and mandated separate facilities, separated by at least 25 miles. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling and Berea College became segregated.

Then in 1931, the issue of segregation was greatly challenged by the Lemon Grove Incident in San Diego, California. In this case, which was used as a precedent for the Brown v. Board of Education case, the parents of Mexican children demanded that their children be given the same education as the local ranch owners' children. The judge ruled in favor of the Mexican children and decided that school desegregation was illegal.

Another precursor to the Brown v. Board of Education was the case of Gaines v. Missouri in 1938. In this case, Gaines, a black student, wanted to go to law school in Missouri. Due to a lack of separate facilities, Missouri had the option of paying for Gaines to attend law school in another state which had separate facilities. Gaines, however, wanted to go to school in Missouri. The Supreme Court ruled that either Missouri allow Gaines to attend school at that institution or they build him separate facilities, which they did.

Other events of significance during this time period reveal many conflicting priorities in American government. In 1944, Congress authorized the GI Bill of Rights, which guaranteed veterans access to home loans, scholarship, life insurance and unemployment insurance. The Federal Housing Authority provided low interest home loans to assist the booming suburbanization of the postwar period. It advocated the use of restrictive covenants, thereby ensuring segregation in residential development. This practice was later ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1948.

In the 1950 Bolling v. Sharpe case, the judge, which ruled in opposition of the black children, stated that "school segregation is humiliating to Negroes. It brands the Negro with the mark of inferiority and asserts that he is not fit to associate with white people." From this opinion, Bolling v. Sharpe went before the Supreme Court. The court ruled in favor on the black children at about the same time the ruling for Brown v. Board of Education was handed down.

Finally, in May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued a historic decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. It "declared separate educational facilities for minorities were inherently unequal" (Glickstein, pg. ix). Furthermore, the judges stated, "A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn." The black children were deprived the equal protection of the laws stated in the Fourteenth Amendment. The integration of public schools was mandated by the Supreme Court. Therefore, the existing school system that segregated students to different schools according to their race, was no longer legal. The law of "separate but equal" was overturned by this historic court case. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court held that the brand of separate but equal public schooling allowed under Plessy v. Ferguson violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. School districts were thus mandated to operate one district for all students. This constitutionalization of education policy was a dramatic shift from business as usual in American schooling.

There were many issues related to segregation and higher education during this decade. In Sweatt v. Painter, the Supreme Court forced the University of Texas Law School to admit Sweatt, a black student, because the black law school was not equal in terms of reputation to the white school. Additionally, in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State, McLaurin argued that his constitutional rights were being violated. McLaurin was forced to sit in isolated seats in a classroom, library and cafeteria. In another unanimous decision, the Court ruled in favor of McLaurin. These two cases contributed to the case of Brown v. Board of Education by setting the precedent that the doctrine of "separate but equal" was not applicable to the educational system.

Brown v. Board of Education was a victory for minority education, as well as a victory for minority rights as a whole. The integration of black and white students eventually provided for better relations between the two races. A common ground was formed once the schools were desegregated, which enabled the future generations to begin on more equal terms. Racism, although not completely eradicated, has declined tremendously since the 1950's, and Brown v. Board of Education has been a main contributor to the change. This decision is especially significant because it recognized that racial segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. It was also a turning point in the fight for civil rights for all minority groups, beyond African Americans.

The era that followed the 1950s consisted of many educational controversies which had their roots in the past. Brown v. Board of Education was the foundation for the integration of the educational system which was confronted with many adversities. The integration of the schools heightened racial tensions. White students led strikes to prevent the black students from entering the schools. Teachers noted an increase in crime and fighting, perhaps evident of the racial tension of that time. These tensions eventually grew less volatile, however, they have never fully disappeared to this day.

The Brown decision also set the stage for more aggressive centralized decision- making at the Federal level with regards to public education. It set the stage for Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the Department of Education would have been established in 1979, were it not for the Brown decision in 1954.

Since the Brown decision, other forms of segregation in schooling have been deemed unacceptable. For instance, Oakes (1985) called for schools to stop academic tracking because it is so closely tied to race and class- based segregation. As urban schools become increasingly racially and economically re-segregated, many document the deplorable effects of separate but equal education (Kozol, Bowles & Gintis, 1991). Many scholars are revisiting the Brown decision and are continuing to critically examine its aftermath. (Lagemann & Miller, 1996).

Beals, Melba Pattillo. Warriors Don't Cry. New York: Pocket Books 1994.

Bowles, S. & H. Gintis (1976). Schooling in Capitalist America. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Cass, James, ed. Education U.S.A., New York: Arno Press, 1973

Class Discussion from Education C191D, The Politics of Education, at the University of California at UCLA

Davis, Kenneth C. Don't Know Much About History. Avon Books. 1995.

Ellison, Ralph. I Am A Man See Me (1952)

Glickstein, Howard A. The Continuing Challenge: The Past and Future of Brown v. Board of Education. Integrated Education Associates. 1975.

Hawley, Willis D. and Betsy Levin. The Courts, Social Science, and School Desegregation. Transaction Books. 1977.

James, B. & J. Slayton (1993). Brown in State Hands: State Policymaking and Educational Equality After Freeman V. Pitts. Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, V. 20, #3. Hastings College of the Law.

Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice. Vintage Books. 1985.

Knappman, Edward W., ed. Great American Trials. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994

Kozol, J. (1991). Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Lagemann, E. & L. Miller (eds.) (1996). Brown V. Board of Education: The Challenge for Today's Schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Microsoft Corporation. Microsoft Encarta '95. Computer Software. Microsoft Corp., 1994.IBM PC Running Windows 3.1 or higher, CD-ROM.

Oakes, J. (1985). Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press .

Wolters, Raymond. The Burden of Brown: Thirty Years of School Desegregation. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1984.

Ziegler, Benjamin Munn, ed. Desegregation and the Supreme Court. Boston: D.C. Health and Company, 1958

Zirkel, Perry A., ed. A Digest of Supreme Court Cases Affecting Education. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa, 1978.

Prepared by: Purvi Mody, Janelle Scott, Dorie Gray

© 1996-2002 Daniel Schugurensky. All Rights Reserved. Design and maintenance by LMS.
Last updated on September 11, 2002 .

History & Culture

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) is one of the most pivotal opinions ever rendered by that body. This landmark decision highlights the U.S. Supreme Court’s role in affecting changes in national and social policy. Often when people think of the case, they remember a little girl whose parents sued so that she could attend an all-white school in her neighborhood. In reality, the story of Brown v. Board of Education is far more complex.

More information can also be found in the site's official Historic Resource Study. Click here to read the report online.

Rev. Oliver L. Brown

Rev. Oliver Leon Brown served as lead plaintiff, one of 13 plaintiffs, in the Board v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court case.

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall led a life in the pursuit of equality, and was on a path destined to lead him to the U.S. Supreme Court. Read More.

Charles Hamilton Houston

Houston developed a "Top-Down" integration strategy, and became known as "The Man Who Killed Jim Crow" for his desegregation work.

Charles Scott

Charles Scott worked to recruit plaintiffs willing to stand up to the school board while also researching and recruiting expert witnesses.

(H)our History Lesson: Bringing together the Brown V. Board of Education Case

(From top to bottom: Sumner School, Monroe School, John Philip Sousa Junior High School, Robert R. Moton High School, Summerton High School, and Howard High School. National Historic Landmark and National Register photos.)

This short lesson was adapted by Katie McCarthy from the full-length Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan “Brown v. Board: Five Communities that Changed America.”

Grade Level Adapted For:

This lesson is intended for middle school learners, but can easily be adapted for use by learners of all ages.

Lesson Objectives:

Describe the five cases that made up the Brown V. Board of Education Supreme Court Case.

Evaluate the importance of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Case.

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source.

Inquiry Question:

Examine the photos below. What do you see in these two pictures? What is different or similar between the two images? What do you think caused the differences?

Auditorium at Farmville High School, Farmville, Virginia. (Record Group 2, Records of the District Courts of the United States, 1865 – 1991 National Archives and Records Administration, Mid Atlantic Region)

Auditorium at Robert Morton High School, Farmville, Virginia. (Record Group 2, Records of the District Courts of the United States, 1865 – 1991 National Archives and Records Administration, Mid Atlantic Region)


The decades immediately after the Civil War offered freedom and promise for African Americans. However, the South attempted to reassert the control they lost as a result of the Civil War. Southern politicians began segregating (or separating) the races in all aspects of public life. This system of segregation and discrimination was nicknamed “Jim Crow.” This system took away many of the freedoms which African Americans experienced following the Civil War.1 During the 1890s the situation for African Americans became increasingly worse throughout the South. Race relations deteriorated, violence increased, and the many advances toward integration were virtually eliminated.

In 1892, a Black man named Homer Adolf Plessy was imprisoned for refusing to use the segregated train car assigned to African Americans. By refusing to do so, he violated a Louisiana law. Through a series of appeals, his case was taken to the nation’s highest court, the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that separate facilities for Black and white people were constitutional as long as they were equal. The ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson allowing “separate but equal” facilities legally sanctioned segregation in the United States. The ruling denied African Americans access to many of the white facilities that had been racially integrated after the Civil War.

During the 1900s, segregated school facilities were separate but oftentimes not equal. Schools attended by African-American children generally were over-crowded and under-funded. Both materials and facilities were old and in disrepair. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) fought against the unequal schools. Five separate cases contesting inequalities in public education were considered under Oliver Brown et. al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka (Brown v. Board) in 1954.2 Brown v. Board ultimately overturned the decision made in Plessy v. Ferguson.

In 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case desegregated schools. African-American parents throughout the country like Mrs. Hunt, shown here, explained to their children why this was an important moment in history. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The five school desegregation cases that the Supreme Court agreed to hear in the fall of 1952 included: Oliver Brown et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas), Briggs v. Elliot (South Carolina), Davis v. Prince Edward County School Board (Virginia), Belton v. Gebhart (Delaware), and Bolling v. Sharpe (District of Columbia). The Court heard the cases under Brown v. the Board of Education and convened to hear arguments on December 9, 1952. Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP attorneys argued that segregated schools violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee to “equal protection of the laws.” Lawyers in the case from the District of Columbia charged that segregation violated students’ Fifth Amendment rights to not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” They wanted immediate integration. The opposing side claimed that segregated schools were legal and should allowed to continue. They said that ensuring that black and white schools were equal was an acceptable compromise.

Brown v. Board of Education

Sumner Elementary School and Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, Kansas

Brown v. Board of Education was initiated by members of the local NAACP chapter in Topeka, Kansas. In the summer of 1950, 13 parents volunteered to try to enroll their children in all-white neighborhood schools . Reverend Oliver Brown attempted to enroll his daughter, Linda, at the all-white Sumner Elementary. Sumner Elementary was only seven blocks from his home. When the request was denied, Linda had to travel further away to attend Monroe Elementary, one of the four schools in Topeka for black students. On February 28, 1951, the parents filed suit against the Topeka Board of Education. Brown was the first parent listed in the suit and the only male, so the case was named after him. The U.S. District Court for Kansas ruled against the parents. However, the judges stated on the record that segregated schools did have a negative impact on Black children. Brown and the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court on October 1, 1951.

Summerton High School, Summerton, South Carolina

Briggs v. Elliot focused on the inequality of education between two all-white schools and three black schools in Clarendon County School District #22. The all-white Summerton High School was described as “modern, safe, sanitary, well equipped, lighted and healthy.” The black schools were described as “inadequate…unhealthy…old and overcrowded and in a dilapidated condition.”3

In November 1949, more than 100 people petitioned the school district to address the differences in budgets, buildings, and services available for black and white students. When the petition was ignored, the local branch of the NAACP filed Briggs v. Elliot in Federal District Court. Harry Briggs, a service station attendant with school-age children, was first on the petition and the case was named after him. R. W. Elliot was the chairman of the board for the school district.

In May 1951, the court ruled against the petitioners, but told the school district to establish equal facilities for black students. The NAACP lawyers appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, however, returned the case to the district court for a second hearing. After learning that Clarendon County was committed to building more schools for Black students and improving educational services, the district court upheld its decision. In May 1952, the NAACP lawyers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court again, this time claiming that segregation itself violated the 14th Amendment guarantee to “equal protection under the laws.”

Belton v. Gebhart, Bulah v. Gebhart

Howard High School, Wilmington, Delaware

Philanthropist Pierre S. DuPont funded the construction of dozens of schools in the early 1900s. Howard High School, located in Wilmington, was among them. Designed by a nationally known expert in school design, Howard High opened in 1929. At the time, it was the only school in Delaware to offer a complete high school education to black students.

Black students living in Claymont, Delaware, spent up to an hour each way traveling to Howard High. They were not allowed to attend the all-white Claymont High which was located right in their neighborhood. Aside from the distance, Claymont School was better equipped and less crowded. With an enrollment of several hundred students, Claymont was situated on a 13-acre campus with playing fields and a running track. Howard High School, on the other hand, had 1,274 students and was in a “congested industrial area, with no play space.”4 After seeking legal advice from NAACP lawyers in March 1951, a group of parents asked the school board to admit their children to Claymont High. When the State Board of Education refused, the parents sued the state of Delaware. The court case was filed in August 1951 as Belton v. Gebhart. The case was named after Ethel Belton who one of the parents suing, and Francis Gebhart who was part of the State Board of Education.

A second case, Bulah v. Gebhart, was brought by Sarah Bulah. Bulah had made several attempts to convince the Delaware Department of Public Instruction to provide buses for black children in the town of Hockessin. A bus for white children passed her house twice a day, but would not pick up her daughter. The Delaware court concluded that “the mental health problems created by racial segregation attributed to a lack of educational progress, and furthermore that under the separate but equal doctrine the plaintiffs had a right to send their children to the white schools.” This was the first time in the United States that a white high school and elementary school were ordered to admit black children.5 The State Attorney General immediately filed an appeal. On August 28, 1952, the Supreme Court of Delaware upheld the decision. In late November, the State Attorney General filed a petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.

Davis v. Prince Edward County School Board

Robert Russa Moton High School, Farmville, Virginia

Before 1939, the only secondary school education available to Black students in Prince Edward County, Virginia was a few extra grades in one elementary school.6 That year, however, a new black high school opened. As with the other 11 high schools for African Americans in Virginia, Robert Russa Moton High School had inadequate facilities. The one-story brick structure had no gymnasium, cafeteria, lockers, or auditorium with fixed seating (unlike the Farmville High School for white students). Built to accommodate 180 students, the school was overflowing with more than 400 students by 1950. Eventually, three temporary buildings were constructed to ease overcrowding. They were dubbed the “tar paper shacks” because of the flimsy material covering the wooden frameworks.

On April 23, 1951, the high-schoolers led a strike to protest the overcrowded conditions, the inadequate shacks, and the school board's unwillingness to build a new high school. After consulting with the Richmond, Virginia office of the NAACP, they decided to sue for integration and to continue the strike until the school year ended on May 7. On May 23, attorneys filed suit in the Federal District Court for the immediate integration of Prince Edward County schools. The case is named after ninth-grade student Dorothy E. Davis, the first plaintiff listed. The court’s decision in the case known as Davis v. the County School Board of Prince Edward County supported the county’s position. The U.S. District court sided with the School Board, and the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal.

John Philip Sousa Junior High School, Washington, D.C.

In the first half of the 20th century, racially segregated schools were the norm in the nation’s capital just as in other schools of the South. Unlike other school systems, however, Washington, D.C. schools depended on congressional funding. The black population in the District expanded greatly between 1930 and 1950. Overcrowding in black schools became typical.

By the fall of 1950, some frustrated parents had formed the Consolidated Parents’ Group. They were ready to legally challenge segregated schools in the District. With the help of attorney James Nabrit, professor of law at the all-black Howard University, the group decided to take a stand at the new all-white John Philip Sousa Junior High School. In a carefully planned effort, 12-year old Spottswood Bolling and 10 other black students tried to gain admission to John Philip Sousa Junior High School on September 11. The principal refused to admit the children, so they were forced to attend the all-black Shaw Junior High. Sousa Junior High was described as a “spacious glass-and-brick structure located across the street from a golf course in a solidly residential section of Southeast Washington.”7 It had 42 classrooms, a 600-seat auditorium, a double gymnasium, and a playground with several athletic courts. Shaw, on the other hand, was “forty-eight years old, dingy, ill-equipped, and located across the street from The Lucky Pawnbroker’s Exchange.”8 It had a makeshift gymnasium, and its playground was too small for a ball field.

James Nabrit filed suit on behalf of Bolling and four other plaintiffs against C. Melvin Sharpe, president of the Board of Education of the District of Columbia. Nabrit did not present evidence that the schools were inferior to the facilities for white students. Instead, the Bolling v. Sharpe case argued that segregation in itself was discrimination and violated students’ rights to due process under the Fifth Amendment. This tactic differed from the other cases, because the 14th Amendment applied to states and therefore was not applicable in the District of Columbia. The District Court Judge dismissed the case. Nabrit filed an appeal and was awaiting a hearing when the Supreme Court sent word that it was interested in considering the case along with the other four segregation cases already pending.

The arguments for all five cases were completed by December 11, after only three days before the Court. The Supreme Court justices were divided on the proper decision and deliberated for nearly six months.9 In June 1953, instead of issuing a ruling, the Court told both sides to come back in the fall to argue whether the 14th Amendment was originally intended to apply to segregation in public schools. The Court reconvened on December 7 and finally issued its historic decision on May 17, 1954. More than half a century after Plessy v. Ferguson established the “separate but equal” doctrine, the Supreme Court unanimously declared that segregation in public schools violated the 14th Amendment and was unconstitutional. In the Supreme Court’s opinion, Chief Justice Warren wrote,

….In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In a separate opinion for Bolling v. Sharpe, the Court stated: “In view of our decision that the Constitution prohibits the states from maintaining racially segregated public schools, it would be unthinkable that the same Constitution would impose a lesser duty on the Federal Government.”10

Reading Discussion Questions:

Which constitutional amendments did the NAACP claim segregated schools violated? What basic rights do each of these amendments protect?

What were the five cases? How did each one reach the Supreme Court?

When did the Supreme Court first convene to hear arguments? When was a ruling finally issued? Why do you think it took the Court so long to decide?

In your own words, explain the Court's rulings. Why was a separate opinion given for the Bolling v. Sharpe case?

Several of the schools involved in the five cases (and highlighted in the reading) still stand today and have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places or designated as National Historic Landmarks. The Brown V. Board of Education Historic Site is operated by the National Park Service. Do you think it is important to research, document, and recognize historic places associated with the Brown v. Board of Education decision? Explain your answer.


Each of the following activities asks learners to think creatively and analytically about the Brown v. Board of Education case and its legacy. In the first, participants research the history of segregation in their own community. In the second, learners imagine and draw what the Supreme Court looked like during the case’s trial. Educators should chose one of the following activities to complete with their participants.

Activity 1: Research Local History

The Brown v. Board of Education case was made up of five cases from around the country, demonstrating the way in which segregation marked many, if not most, school systems following the Civil War. In this activity, participants will research the history of segregation in their own community.

First, divide participants into two groups. One group will conduct research on public schools in their town or county in the period leading up to the Brown ruling. The second group will research the same schools in the several years following the Brown ruling. Participants might analyze historic newspapers, conduct oral histories, or primary source documents such as yearbooks, school board records, or court case documents.

Note: If this history has not been documented in your community, or if finding resources is challenging, you may have your students conduct this research on the five cases included in the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

Questions for the first group to address include:

How many schools (elementary and secondary) were there for Black and white students?

Were any of the schools involved in local law suits over segregation? Do any of the schools from the period remain today?

Questions for the second group include:

What was the School Board's reaction to the ruling?

What specific changes occurred as a result of Brown v. Board of Education? When did these changes take place?

Did it take additional court rulings before the school system integrated permanently?

After the research is complete, have each group explain its findings. If possible, have participants create an exhibit to display at school, the local library, or historical society. The exhibit should include historical and/or modern photographs of school buildings as well as images of students or newspaper headlines from the period. Complete the activity by discussing with students how local events can have national significance and, in turn, how national events can impact the local community.

Activity 2: Be a Courtroom Sketch Artist

Cameras aren’t allowed in the Supreme Court or in many courtrooms around the country. Instead, courtroom sketch artists draw the scene for news articles and those interested in the cases. Now, it’s your turn to draw a court case! Choose one of the five cases mentioned in this lesson, and draw what you think the courtroom looked like while it was on trial. You may choose to draw the final Supreme Court Trial. For reference images, check out the Supreme Court website, and the Library of Congress Brown V. Board of Education Online Exhibit. While you draw, consider the following points:

Who are the judges hearing the case? Who are the lawyers? What are their backgrounds?

Are there people listening to the trial? What do they look like? What do they care about?

What kinds of emotions might people in the courtroom be feeling?

What point of the trial is your picture capturing?


Why do you think school segregation was an important cause of the NAACP?

How do you think the people involved in the cases felt as they went to the Supreme Court?

How did the school buildings the children attended affect their learning?

Why do you think these cases mattered at the time they were passed?

Why might these cases matter to you and your family and friends?

What kinds of questions do these cases make you want to explore more?

1Quoted in Charles D. Lowery and John F. Marsalek, eds. Encyclopedia of African-American Civil Rights: From Emancipation to the Present (New York: Greenwood Press, 1992), 281.
2 Brown v. Board consolidated separate cases from four states. A fifth public school segregation case from Washington , DC was considered in the context of Brown , but resulted in a separate opinion. References to Brown in this lesson plan collectively refer to all five cases.
3 J. Tracy Power, “Summerton High School ” (Clarendon County , South Carolina) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1994), 7.
4 Flavia W. Rutkosky and Robin Bodo, “Howard High School” (New Castle County, Delaware) National Historic Landmark Nomination Form (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2004), 14.
5Ibid., 16.
6 Jarl K. Jackson and Julie L. Vosmik, “Robert Russa Moton High School” (Prince Edward County, Virginia) National Historic Landmark Nomination Form (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1994), 9.
7 Richard Kluger, Simple Justice (New York: Vintage Books, 1977), 521 quoted by Susan Cianci Salvatore, “John Philip Sousa Junior High School” (Washington , D.C.) National Historic Landmark Nomination Form (Washington , D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2001), 11.
8 Ibid., 12.
9 Power, “Summerton High School,” 9.
10 Quoted in Salvatore, 14.

This reading was compiled from Richard Kluger, Simple Justice (New York: Vintage Books, 1977) Martha Hagedorn-Krass, “Sumner Elementary School and Monroe Elementary School” (Shawnee County, Kansas) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1991 J. Tracy Power, “Summerton High School” (Clarendon County, South Carolina) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1994 Flavia W. Rutkosky, “Howard High School” (New Castle County, Delaware) National Historic Landmark Nomination Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2004 Jarl K. Jackson and Julie L. Vosmik, “Robert Russa Moton High School” (Prince Edward County, Virginia) National Historic Landmark Nomination Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1994 Susan Cianci Salvatore, “John Philip Sousa Junior High School” (Washington, D.C.) National Historic Landmark Nomination Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2001 and Susan Cianci Salvatore, Waldo E. Martin, Jr., Vicki L. Ruiz, Patricia Sullivan, Harvard Sitkoff, “Racial Desegregation in Public Education in the United States,” National Historic Landmarks Theme Study, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2000

Additional Resource:

National Park Service
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System. The site is located at Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. Monroe was the segregated school attended by the lead plaintiff's daughter, Linda Brown, when Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was initially filed in 1951. The park's web page provides in-depth information on the case as well as related cases, and visitation and research information.

“With an Even Hand”: Brown v. Board at 50
This Library of Congress online exhibition examines the court cases that laid the ground work for the Brown v. Board decision, explores the Supreme Court argument and the public's response to it, and provides an overview of the decision's aftermath.

Brown at 50: Fulfilling the Promise
This website, sponsored by Howard University School of Law, commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The site features a chronology of events leading up to the case and beyond, biographical sketches of some of the figures involved in the case, as well as the full text of the Supreme Court's decision.

Separate Is Not Equal: Brown v. Board of Education
This online exhibit, produced by the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, includes sections on the history of segregation in America, the fight to end segregation, and the legacy of the Brown ruling.

Transcript of Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a State solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation, denies to Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment -- even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors of white and Negro schools may be equal.

(a) The history of the Fourteenth Amendment is inconclusive as to its intended effect on public education.

(b) The question presented in these cases must be determined not on the basis of conditions existing when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but in the light of the full development of public education and its present place in American life throughout the Nation.

(c) Where a State has undertaken to provide an opportunity for an education in its public schools, such an opportunity is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

(d) Segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprives children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal.

(e) The "separate but equal" doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, has no place in the field of public education.

(f) The cases are restored to the docket for further argument on specified questions relating to the forms of the decrees.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
These cases come to us from the States of Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. They are premised on different facts and different local conditions, but a common legal question justifies their consideration together in this consolidated opinion.

In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, seek the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a nonsegregated basis. In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. In each of the cases other than the Delaware case, a three-judge federal district court denied relief to the plaintiffs on the so-called "separate but equal" doctrine announced by this Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537. Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities be separate. In the Delaware case, the Supreme Court of Delaware adhered to that doctrine, but ordered that the plaintiffs be admitted to the white schools because of their superiority to the Negro schools.

The plaintiffs contend that segregated public schools are not "equal" and cannot be made "equal," and that hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the laws. Because of the obvious importance of the question presented, the Court took jurisdiction. Argument was heard in the 1952 Term, and reargument was heard this Term on certain questions propounded by the Court.

Reargument was largely devoted to the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. It covered exhaustively consideration of the Amendment in Congress, ratification by the states, then-existing practices in racial segregation, and the views of proponents and opponents of the Amendment. This discussion and our own investigation convince us that, although these sources cast some light, it is not enough to resolve the problem with which we are faced. At best, they are inconclusive. The most avid proponents of the post-War Amendments undoubtedly intended them to remove all legal distinctions among "all persons born or naturalized in the United States." Their opponents, just as certainly, were antagonistic to both the letter and the spirit of the Amendments and wished them to have the most limited effect. What others in Congress and the state legislatures had in mind cannot be determined with any degree of certainty.

An additional reason for the inconclusive nature of the Amendment's history with respect to segregated schools is the status of public education at that time. In the South, the movement toward free common schools, supported by general taxation, had not yet taken hold. Education of white children was largely in the hands of private groups. Education of Negroes was almost nonexistent, and practically all of the race were illiterate. In fact, any education of Negroes was forbidden by law in some states. Today, in contrast, many Negroes have achieved outstanding success in the arts and sciences, as well as in the business and professional world. It is true that public school education at the time of the Amendment had advanced further in the North, but the effect of the Amendment on Northern States was generally ignored in the congressional debates. Even in the North, the conditions of public education did not approximate those existing today. The curriculum was usually rudimentary ungraded schools were common in rural areas the school term was but three months a year in many states, and compulsory school attendance was virtually unknown. As a consequence, it is not surprising that there should be so little in the history of the Fourteenth Amendment relating to its intended effect on public education.

In the first cases in this Court construing the Fourteenth Amendment, decided shortly after its adoption, the Court interpreted it as proscribing all state-imposed discriminations against the Negro race. The doctrine of "separate but equal" did not make its appearance in this Court until 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, supra, involving not education but transportation. American courts have since labored with the doctrine for over half a century. In this Court, there have been six cases involving the "separate but equal" doctrine in the field of public education. In Cumming v. County Board of Education, 175 U.S. 528, and Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78, the validity of the doctrine itself was not challenged. In more recent cases, all on the graduate school level, inequality was found in that specific benefits enjoyed by white students were denied to Negro students of the same educational qualifications. Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 Sipuel v. Oklahoma, 332 U.S. 631 Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637. In none of these cases was it necessary to reexamine the doctrine to grant relief to the Negro plaintiff. And in Sweatt v. Painter, supra, the Court expressly reserved decision on the question whether Plessy v. Ferguson should be held inapplicable to public education.

In the instant cases, that question is directly presented. Here, unlike Sweatt v. Painter, there are findings below that the Negro and white schools involved have been equalized, or are being equalized, with respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other "tangible" factors. Our decision, therefore, cannot turn on merely a comparison of these tangible factors in the Negro and white schools involved in each of the cases. We must look instead to the effect of segregation itself on public education.

In approaching this problem, we cannot turn the clock back to 1868, when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896, when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.

In Sweatt v. Painter, supra, in finding that a segregated law school for Negroes could not provide them equal educational opportunities, this Court relied in large part on "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school." In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, supra, the Court, in requiring that a Negro admitted to a white graduate school be treated like all other students, again resorted to intangible considerations: ". . . his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession." Such considerations apply with added force to children in grade and high schools. To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. The effect of this separation on their educational opportunities was well stated by a finding in the Kansas case by a court which nevertheless felt compelled to rule against the Negro plaintiffs:

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system.

Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority. Any language in Plessy v. Ferguson contrary to this finding is rejected.

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Because these are class actions, because of the wide applicability of this decision, and because of the great variety of local conditions, the formulation of decrees in these cases presents problems of considerable complexity. On reargument, the consideration of appropriate relief was necessarily subordinated to the primary question -- the constitutionality of segregation in public education. We have now announced that such segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws. In order that we may have the full assistance of the parties in formulating decrees, the cases will be restored to the docket, and the parties are requested to present further argument on Questions 4 and 5 previously propounded by the Court for the reargument this Term The Attorney General of the United States is again invited to participate. The Attorneys General of the states requiring or permitting segregation in public education will also be permitted to appear as amici curiae upon request to do so by September 15, 1954, and submission of briefs by October 1, 1954.

* Together with No. 2, Briggs et al. v. Elliott et al., on appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of South Carolina, argued December 9-10, 1952, reargued December 7-8, 1953 No. 4, Davis et al. v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, et al. , on appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, argued December 10, 1952, reargued December 7-8, 1953, and No. 10, Gebhart et al. v. Belton et al., on certiorari to the Supreme Court of Delaware, argued December 11, 1952, reargued December 9, 1953.

Brown I and Brown II

In 1950 the NAACP decided that it would no longer file lawsuits seeking equal educational facilities, but only those that sought to end segregated schools entirely. The Brown decision of 1954 was actually a judgment in five different lawsuits that had been consolidated because the principle to be decided was the same—the constitutionality of laws establishing separate schools for white and Black students.

Robert Russa Moton High School (Dept. of Historic Resources)

One of the five lawsuits came from Virginia—Davis v. Prince Edward County, Virginia. On April 23, 1951, sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns led a student strike against inadequate facilities at grossly overcrowded Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, where science classes lacked even a single microscope. The NAACP took the case, however, only when the students—by a one vote margin—agreed to seek an integrated school rather than improved conditions at their black school. Then, Howard University-trained attorneys Spotswood Robinson and Oliver Hill filed suit.

Important Subsequent Cases

  • Bolling v. Sharpe (1954)
  • Brown v. Board of Education II (1955)
  • Cooper v. Aaron (1958)
  • Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1964)
  • Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (1968)
  • Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education (1969)
  • Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971)
  • Milliken v. Bradley (1974)
  • Parents Involved In Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007)

The question of judicial activism is closely related to constitutional interpretation, statutory construction and separation of powers. Detractors of judicial activism argue that it usurps the power of elected branches of government or appointed agencies, damaging the rule of law and democracy.

Not all parties involved in a court case are allowed to appeal a decision by the court. Generally speaking, the party that loses the lawsuit is able to appeal the decision with a specific exception. In civil cases, either party is allowed to appeal if the court decision does not go his or her way.

School Segregation and Integration

The massive effort to desegregate public schools across the United States was a major goal of the Civil Rights Movement. Since the 1930s, lawyers from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had strategized to bring local lawsuits to court, arguing that separate was not equal and that every child, regardless of race, deserved a first-class education. These lawsuits were combined into the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation in schools in 1954. But the vast majority of segregated schools were not integrated until many years later. Many interviewees of the Civil Rights History Project recount a long, painful struggle that scarred many students, teachers, and parents.

Three years before Brown v. Board in November 1951, students in a civics class at the segregated black Adkin High School in Kinston, North Carolina, discussed what features an ideal school should have for a class assignment. When they realized that the local white high school indeed had everything they had imagined, the seeds were planted for a student-led protest. Without the assistance from any adults, these students confronted the local school board about the blatant inequality of local schools. When the board ignored their request for more funding, the students met by themselves to plan what to do next. In a group interview with these former students, John Dudley remembers, &ldquoSo, that week, leading to Monday, we strategized. And we had everybody on board, 720 students. We told them not to tell your parents or your teacher what&rsquos going on. And do you believe to this day, 2013, nobody has ever told me that an adult knew what was going on. Kids.&rdquo They decided on a coded phrase that was read during morning announcements. Every student in the school walked out, picked up placards that had been made in advance, and marched downtown to protest. The students refused to go back to school for a week, and eighteen months later, Adkin High School was renovated and given a brand-new gymnasium. It would remain segregated until 1970, however.

Desegregation was not always a battle in every community in the South. Lawrence Guyot, who later became a leader in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, grew up in Pass Christian, a city on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that was influenced by the strong labor unions in the shipyard industry and the Catholic Church. He explains how the Catholic schools were desegregated there: &ldquoThe Catholic Church in 1957 or '58 made a decision that they were going to desegregate the schools. They did it this way. The announcement was we have two programs. We have excommunication and we have integration. Make your choice by Friday. Now there was violence going on in Louisiana. Nothing happened on the Gulf Coast. I learned firsthand that institutions can really have an impact on social policy.&rdquo

In an interview about his mother, civil rights activist Gayle Jenkins, Willie &ldquoChuck&rdquo Jenkins describes how she demanded that he would be the plaintiff in a school desegregation suit, Jenkins v. Bogalusa School Board in Louisiana. He became the first African American student to attend the white Bogalusa Junior High School in 1967 and remembers how he had one foot in each world, but was increasingly alienated from both: &ldquoAnd I caught a lot of slack, like, from the black community, because they used to say, &lsquoOh, you think you&rsquore something because you&rsquore going to the white school.&rsquo They didn&rsquot know I was catching holy hell at the white school. I had no friends, you know. So, it was just always a conflict.&rdquo But in the end, he thinks it was worth it. He states, &ldquoBut it was hard, but you know what? If I had it to do all over again, I would do it exactly the same way. Because it was a cause that was well worth the outcome, even though I feel like people in Bogalusa are still not as accepting as they could be.&rdquo The high school continued to have a separate white prom and a black prom until very recently. But his mother, Gayle Jenkins, would serve on the Bogalusa School Board for twenty-seven years.

Julia Matilda Burns describes her experiences as a teacher, parent, and school board member in Holmes County, Mississippi. Her husband was an active civil rights worker and her job as a teacher was threatened when she associated with members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). When her son and other African American children attempted to integrate a school in Tchula in 1965, it was burned down twice. The local white community started their own private white academy, a common plan to evade integration across the South. She continued to teach in a public school and discusses the difficulties rural African American children and young adults face in getting an equal education today.

While Brown v. Board of Education and many other legal cases broke down the official barriers for African Americans to gain an equal education, achieving this ideal has never been easy or simple. The debate continues today among policy makers, educators, and parents about how to close the achievement gap between minority and white children. Ruby Sales, a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member who later became the founder and director of the nonprofit organization Spirt House, points out that few people look to the past for answers to our current problems in education: &ldquo…We have been dealing with the counter-culture of education, and what might we learn from that counter-culture during segregation that would enable black students not to be victims in public schools today. And one of the things that disturbed me so tremendously – and this is about narrative again: these southern black teachers created outstanding students and leaders. And many of them still exist. And no one has bothered to ask them, &ldquoHow did you do it? What might we learn from you? What were your strategies? How did you deal with complicated situations? How did you invigorate young people to believe that they could make a difference even when the white world said that they couldn&rsquot?&rdquo

The American Folklife Center in collaboration with Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

1954 Brown v Board of Education - History

Mother (Nettie Hunt) and daughter (Nickie) sit on steps of the Supreme Court building on May 18, 1954, the day following the Court's historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Nettie is holding a newspaper with the headline "High Court Bans Segregation in Public Schools."

Reproduction courtesy of Corbis Images

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

Brown v. Board of Education (1954), now acknowledged as one of the greatest Supreme Court decisions of the 20th century, unanimously held that the racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although the decision did not succeed in fully desegregating public education in the United States, it put the Constitution on the side of racial equality and galvanized the nascent civil rights movement into a full revolution.

In 1954, large portions of the United States had racially segregated schools, made legal by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which held that segregated public facilities were constitutional so long as the black and white facilities were equal to each other. However, by the mid-twentieth century, civil rights groups set up legal and political, challenges to racial segregation. In the early 1950s, NAACP lawyers brought class action lawsuits on behalf of black schoolchildren and their families in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware, seeking court orders to compel school districts to let black students attend white public schools.

One of these class actions, Brown v. Board of Education was filed against the Topeka, Kansas school board by representative-plaintiff Oliver Brown, parent of one of the children denied access to Topeka's white schools. Brown claimed that Topeka's racial segregation violated the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because the city's black and white schools were not equal to each other and never could be. The federal district court dismissed his claim, ruling that the segregated public schools were "substantially" equal enough to be constitutional under the Plessy doctrine. Brown appealed to the Supreme Court, which consolidated and then reviewed all the school segregation actions together. Thurgood Marshall, who would in 1967 be appointed the first black justice of the Court, was chief counsel for the plaintiffs.

Thanks to the astute leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court spoke in a unanimous decision written by Warren himself. The decision held that racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that "no state shall make or enforce any law which shall . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The Court noted that Congress, when drafting the Fourteenth Amendment in the 1860s, did not expressly intend to require integration of public schools. On the other hand, that Amendment did not prohibit integration. In any case, the Court asserted that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal education today. Public education in the 20th century, said the Court, had become an essential component of a citizen's public life, forming the basis of democratic citizenship, normal socialization, and professional training. In this context, any child denied a good education would be unlikely to succeed in life. Where a state, therefore, has undertaken to provide universal education, such education becomes a right that must be afforded equally to both blacks and whites.

Were the black and white schools "substantially" equal to each other, as the lower courts had found? After reviewing psychological studies showing black girls in segregated schools had low racial self-esteem, the Court concluded that separating children on the basis of race creates dangerous inferiority complexes that may adversely affect black children's ability to learn. The Court concluded that, even if the tangible facilities were equal between the black and white schools, racial segregation in schools is "inherently unequal" and is thus always unconstitutional. At least in the context of public schools, Plessy v. Ferguson was overruled. In the Brown II case a decided year later, the Court ordered the states to integrate their schools "with all deliberate speed."

Opposition to Brown I and II reached an apex in Cooper v. Aaron (1958), when the Court ruled that states were constitutionally required to implement the Supreme Court's integration orders. Widespread racial integration of the South was achieved by the late 1960s and 1970s. In the meantime, the equal protection ruling in Brown spilled over into other areas of the law and into the political arena as well. Scholars now point out that Brown v. Board was not the beginning of the modern civil rights movement, but there is no doubt that it constituted a watershed moment in the struggle for racial equality in America.

Published in December 2006.
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