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Brown v. Board of Education

Brown v. Board of Education

By Ritu Paul

[347 U.S. 483 (1954)]

On May 17, 1954, United States Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren delivered the unanimous ruling in the landmark Civil Rights’ case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

The court declared racial segregation in public schools as unconstitutional. It also declared that “SEPARATE” educational facilities are “INHERENTLY UNEQUAL”.

Although the court has given its verdict in this case, but my question is to you-

How would you have reacted to segregation in 1950s?

How might schools look today if the Supreme Court had not invalidated “separate but equal” in the Brown decision?

Although U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education was a major step forward in civil rights, it is important to note that the decision applied only to the public schools.

Background of the case…

The fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, including due process and equal protection of law. Thus, this amendment appreciably expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans, without any kind of segregation in any occasion.

The “separate but equal” doctrine became the constitutional basis for segregation and was not considered as violative of the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As it was held in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson [163 U.S. 537 (1896)], the high court upheld the lower courts noting that since the separate cars provided equal services, the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment was not violated.

Hence, this made the Constitution color blinded and led to encourage racial segregation.

Was it justified to segregate on the basis of races and then provide the minority with better facilities?

Although the Plessy case became a bedrock upon which the Respondents pleaded that even though the whites and the non-whites were not allowed to study together or to travel in the same public transports and so on but they were provided with such opportunities and facilities so as to treat them equal. In fact, some programs for minority children were actually better than those offered at the schools for whites. Thus, according to the Board of Education of Topeka discrimination by race did not harm children and so the scenario of discriminating on the basis of races should carry on.

But is it justified to offer the minorities just with more better facilities so as to ignore the fact that this kind of segregation is actually violative of the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

So, to conquer this situation, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 was officially formed to champion the modern black civil rights movement. This association focused on the complete integration of the American society and forced the blacks to get admission into the universities at the graduate level, where establishing separate but equal facilities would be difficult and expensive for the states.

So, the goal of the NAACP was to attack the “equal” standard so that the “separate” standard would in turn become susceptible.

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. 

But, were the black and white schools “substantially” equal to each other, as the lower court has found?

The separation of children on the basis of race simply creates dangerous inferiority complex which may adversely affect a child’s ability to learn.

So, to overrule the lower court’s judgment, Brown appealed to the Supreme Court, which consolidated and then reviewed all the school segregation class action lawsuits together.

Thanks to the astute leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court spoke in a unanimous decision which held that, racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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.

Hence, this case constituted a watershed moment in the struggle for racial equality in the United States.



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