Remembering the Struggle 60 Years Later: Brown v. Board of Education
Where did Brown come from? Dred Scott v. Sandford In 1857, the United States Supreme Court decided that African Americans were not citizens according to the U.S. Constitution and did not have any of the rights or privileges guaranteed by the Constitution. This case involved a man born into slavery who travelled to free portions of the country and challenged his status as a slave when he returned to the slave state of Missouri to find his family. The Supreme Court decided that he was the property of Sandford and had never been a free man. Many scholars believe that this case helped set the stage for the Civil War.
Where did Brown come from? Plessy v. Ferguson In this case, decided in 1896, the Supreme Court decided that the Civil War Amendments did not require racial integration of public accommodations or other public spaces. The Civil War Amendments, also known as the Reconstruction Amendments, are the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. This case was specifically about whether or not blacks and whites could be forced to sit in separate railway cars. The Supreme Court determined that as long as the separate facilities were “equal” it was Constitutional to keep the races separated.
The Fourteenth Amendment “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, United States Constitution Adopted 1868
Setting the Stage: The Facts Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas began as six cases, brought by parents on behalf of their children in coordination with the NAACP. Who were they? Oliver and Darlene Brown, Lena Carper, Sadie Emmanuel, Marguerite Emerson, Shirley Fleming, Zelma Henderson, Shirley Hodison, Maude Lawton, Alma Lewis, Iona Richardson, and Lucinda Todd Parents tried to enroll their children in their closest neighborhood school in 1951, which were all-white schools. Each student was denied enrollment and forced to attend the closest all-black school.
Setting the Stage: The Court The Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Fred Vinson, heard the case for the first time in 1953 but was unable to decide the issue. The Court was divided over the issue of segregation and the “separate but equal” doctrine. The Court asked to re-hear the case in the fall of 1953, with a special emphasis on the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Justice Vinson died of a heart attack in September 1953, and Justice Felix Frankfurter requested that the case be re-heard to allow time for the new Chief Justice, Earl Warren, to build a unanimous consensus on the case.
The Case Kansas was unique among the six cases: the lower court had found no contention of gross inferiority of the segregated school, and that the schools were substantially equal. This meant that the issue before the Supreme Court was only that the idea of “separate but equal” itself was unconstitutional. Should the justices follow the earlier cases and keep segregation in schools, or should they start a new policy and stop segregated education?
Key Player: Chief Justice Earl Warren Appointed by President Eisenhower to replace the late Chief Justice Fred Vinson. Former republican governor of California and vice presidential candidate with Thomas Dewey. He convinced the other justices that a unanimous decision was necessary to send a strong message to the public. Image courtesy of pbs.org
Key Player: Thurgood Marshall Civil rights lawyer who knew segregation firsthand. He attended all-black schools growing up in Baltimore, and was denied entry into the law school at the University of Maryland. He attended Howard University instead, and two years after graduating he — with help from Howard Law School dean and mentor Charles Hamilton Houston — won a lawsuit forcing the University of Maryland to integrate its law school. Chief Counsel for the NAACP who argued the Brown case to the United States Supreme Court. Later appointed to the United States Supreme Court to become the first African American to serve on the Court. Image courtesy of Keystone/Getty Images
Key Players: The Children in the Case (Left to Right: Vicki Henderson, Donald Henderson, Linda Brown, James Emanuel, Nancy Todd, and Katherine Carper) Linda Brown continued to fight segregation as an adult. She worked with the ACLU to reopen the case in 1979, because the Topeka public schools were still segregated. The courts agreed and eventually three new schools were built as part of integration efforts in the early ‘90s. Photo by Carl Iwasaki/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Key Player: Oliver Brown Oliver Brown joined the case because his daughter Linda, a third grader, had to walk past an all-white elementary school, through busy intersections, and cross railroad tracks to her school bus stop to ride to Monroe Elementary, an all-black elementary school. Brown was 32 at the time the suit against the school district was first brought. He was a minister and a welder. He died at age 43. Brown, as the only male parent of any of the children in the case, was designated the lead plaintiff, so the case bore his name. Image courtesy of The Brown Foundation
“To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates feelings of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone.” -- Chief Justice Earl Warren, Brown v. Board of Education
The Result In a unanimous 9-0 decision written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Supreme Court held that segregated schools were unconstitutional. “…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 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.”
Brown: The Aftermath What happened after the Supreme Court made its decision?
Remember this photo? The “Little Rock Nine” being escorted into school by members of the National Guard in 1957.
Struggle for Civil Rights Jim Crow Laws Enacted between 1876 and 1965 (Brown was decided in 1954). State and local laws that mandated different forms of racial discrimination and segregation. Officially overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Little Rock Nine In 1957, nine students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School, a segregated all-white school. They were initially prevented from entering the school by the governor of Arkansas. President Eisenhower ordered the National Guard to escort them into the school. http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=oodolEmUg2g http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=oodolEmUg2g
Video: Jim Crow Laws http://classroomclips.org/video/785 Image courtesy of pbs.org
Further Cases Brown II, Brown III Cooper v. Aaron (1958) Federal enforcement of desegregation Boynton v. Virginia (1960) Outlawed racial segregation in public transportation Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964) Upheld the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning racial discrimination in public places and public accommodations
Activity: What does “equal” mean? You have each been given a piece of colored paper with a situation and a question. Gather with your classmates who have the same color paper to talk about that question for 4-5 minutes. After your discussion, take a minute to write down your thoughts on your sheet of paper. Remember the guiding question: Does treating people equally mean treating them the same?
Wrap-Up & Final Thoughts Sometimes equal is not the same. Sometimes equal is not “fair.” However, discrimination occurs when people are treated differently because they are a member of a group: racial, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation. How far have we come since Brown? Is segregation in schools still a problem? What kind of segregation is it?