In the early 1950s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began a systematic attack against the separate but equal doctrine. Five cases were combined and ruled upon as Brown vs Board of Education. The case was argued by Thurgood Marshall (pictured here) and two others. They successfully convinced the Supreme Court to overrule Plessy and strike down segregation in American schools and public facilities.
On May 17, 1954, Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren issued a majority decision in Brown v. Board of Education, holding that state-sanctioned segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Brown vs Board of Education date of verdict was a massive victory for the Civil Rights Movement and the NAACP’s most high-profile victory.
The decision overturned the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson and established a legal precedent that segregation in public facilities violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The Supreme Court consolidated the Brown case with three other class-action school-segregation lawsuits filed by the NAACP: Briggs v. Elliott (1951) in South Carolina, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1952) in Virginia, and Gebhart v. Belton (1952) in Delaware. All of these cases were brought by parents of black children who had sought legal counsel from the NAACP.
Although the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional, it did not order schools to desegregate immediately or provide specific guidelines. This left the door open for local judicial and political evasion of the Brown verdict, including Governor Orval Faubus’s 1957 defiance of President Eisenhower in the Little Rock Crisis.
As a result of their involvement in the civil rights movement, many teachers were retaliated against for supporting desegregation. They faced everything from being fired to having their tenure revoked, according to the National Education Association (NEA). Some even had their names changed by the courts due to their efforts.
Who Were the Plaintiffs?
The court case known as Brown vs Board of Education was a combination of five separate legal appeals that challenged the legality of segregation in public schools. These included, among others, the Gebhart v. Ethel case, Briggs v. Elliot, Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County, Va., and Bolling v. Sharpe in the District of Columbia. The Brown case originated in Topeka, Kansas. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund handled all these.
Oliver Brown filed the case after his local school system refused to enroll his daughters in a white elementary school because of their skin color, forcing them to ride a bus to a black one farther away. Twelve other families joined his lawsuit, claiming that the segregated schools violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection clause and were not “substantially” equal to white schools.
At the time of his appointment to lead the legal team working on these cases, Marshall was a young lawyer who had just graduated from Howard Law School. Marshall and his team argued against school segregation with exceptional skill and tenacity. Marshall would go on to become the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court in 1967.
They focused on the inequality between the facilities and curriculum offered by white schools compared to black schools, using data from sociological studies conducted by social scientists like Otto Klineberg and Kenneth Clark. They also argued that the system of segregation in public schools made black children feel inferior to their white counterparts and thus violated the equal protection clause under the Fourteenth Amendment.
What Was the Court’s Decision?
The Court ruled that racial segregation in public education violated the Constitutional guarantees of equality and due process and that school districts had no constitutional authority to maintain separate schools for whites and blacks. It also affirmed that teachers can work in any school regardless of their racial status. This was the first time the federal government had taken a stand against racial segregation in any social institution. It was a landmark decision that inspired the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s.
To decide the case, the Court was forced to juggle considerations of adherence to legal precedent, the moral imperative to end discrimination, and social-science evidence that segregated schools were harmful to students’ education. The justices took a long time to settle on a unanimous ruling. It was not until 1954 that the Court announced its decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, and even then, it would take years before all segregated public schools were desegregated.
The case was a group of five different appeals that were combined into one giant lawsuit known as Brown vs. Board of Education: Oliver Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas; Briggs vs. Elliott; Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County, Virginia; and Bolling vs. Sharpe.
What Impact Will It Have?
The case began in 1951 when the Topeka school system refused to allow Oliver Brown’s daughter to enroll at the nearest white elementary school and instead required her to take a bus to the local black schools located farther away. In similar situations, the family and twelve local black families filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. federal court, arguing that segregated education violated their children’s civil rights.
The Supreme Court decided to review the case in the spring of 1954 and, after considering the facts and legal arguments presented by both sides, issued its unanimous decision in May of that year, declaring that school segregation was unconstitutional. The Court also noted that public education had become “an integral part of a citizen’s common life,” forming the basis for democratic citizenship, regular socialization, and professional training, so it was essential that all citizens receive an equal educational opportunity.
Even so, the Court did not specify how school desegregation should occur. And despite the precise wording of the decision and the fact that it was unanimous, the ruling received substantial resistance from segregationists and constitutional scholars who argued that the Court had overstepped its legal authority in writing new law. Nevertheless, the decision helped to inspire the American civil rights movement of the late 1950s and ’60s.