Brown vs. Board of Education
In 1890, the state of Louisiana adopted a law providing for 'separate but equal accommodations for the white and colored races' on its railroads. In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld that law when a black man, Homer Plessy, sat in a railroad car designated for whites in Louisiana. The court said that the decision didn't conflict with the 14th amendment which provided for equal protection under the law for all persons of the United States. It said that although the facilities are separate, they are not unequal.
This decision was used to justify segregation in all public facilities, including schools. Segregation continued throughout many states, mainly in the South up until 1954. On May 17, 1954, in a case called Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court overturned their previous decision of 1896. The Court stated that 'separate educational facilities are inherently unequal'. In 1955, the Court provided guidelines to mandate desegregation of public schools.
In 1951, Oliver L. Brown, a black man who was a welder, assistant pastor and parent in Topeka, Kansas, joined 12 other black Topeka parents in filing a lawsuit on behalf of their 20 children against the Board of Education of the city of Topeka. The suit asked that the Board do away with the policy of racial segregation in its schools. Brown's daughter Linda was a third grader and walked 6 blocks to get a bus to take her to a racially segregated elementary school, Monroe Elementary, 1 mile away. A white elementary school called Summer Elementary was only 7 blocks from her house.
Under an 1879 Kansas law, the state operated segregated elementary school facilities in 15 communities with populations over 15,000. The 12 parents had been recruited and supported in this lawsuit by the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. This organization began in the 1930's to advance the civil rights of black people.
In the fall of 1951, each of the parents in the lawsuits was told to enroll their children in the closest elementary school. The children were all refused enrollment and sent to the nearest black school. The lawyers believed that Oliver Brown's name should appear at the beginning of the suit rather than that of the many women involved. It would look better for the Supreme Court.
The District Court ruled in favor of the Board of Education, upholding the ruling of 1896, Plessy vs. Ferguson. The Court stated that having separate schools was harmful to 'negro' children, but denied the lawsuit because they felt that schools in Topeka were basically equal in transportation, teachers, curriculum and buildings.
The Brown vs. Board of Education lawsuit was combined with 4 other similar cases from South Carolina, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D. C. when it went before the Supreme Court. All the cases were sponsored by the NAACP. Topeka parents didn't sue because of the lower quality of the school facilities or education, but because of the segregation. The Delaware case suggested inequality in education between black and white high schools. Thurgood Marshall, later a justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, argued the case for the plaintiffs. (Plaintiffs are the people bringing the lawsuit.)
The Court heard the case in the spring of 1953 but couldn't decide and wanted to hear it again in the fall. They especially wanted to review the case considering the 14th amendment. They needed to decide if the equal protection clause in the 14th amendment allowed for segregated schools. The ruling by unanimous consent was that even if segregated schools are equal in the quality of teachers and all other aspects, the situation is harmful to black children and unconstitutional.
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