History of Brown vs. Board of Education
After the Civil War, in the late 1800's and the first half of the 1900's, America was still plagued with racial segregation, the separation of blacks and whites in many areas. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that segregation, in schools especially, was acceptable if the facilities were equal. The Court stated that segregation didn't violate the fourteenth amendment which guaranteed equal protection under the law to every person.
In 1951, the elementary schools in Topeka, Kansas were segregated. and Junior and Senior High Schools were already integrated, blacks and whites together. Black elementary children couldn't go to the same schools as white children. In that year, thirteen parents who had 20 children filed a lawsuit (as plaintiffs) against the school board of the city of Topeka. The parents wanted the city to do away with segregated elementary schools. At that time, Topeka was operating its schools under a Kansas law which said that having segregated elementary schools was allowable in '12 communities with populations over 15,000.'
Oliver Brown, a parent of an elementary student was urged to join the suit. He did because his daughter, who had the white Sumner Elementary school only seven blocks from her house, had to walk six blocks and then take a 1 mile bus ride to a black elementary school. The parents thought that this was not right. The lawsuit was called Brown et al (and others) vs. the Board of Education of Topeka. The lawsuit was directed for the parents by an organization called the NAACP.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) asked the parents to enroll their children in the elementary school nearest their home in the fall of 1951. However, the children weren't allowed to enroll. When the case was brought to the district court, the court voted in favor of the Board of Education, recalling the decision in 1896 which said that separate facilities are fine if they are equal. They said that segregation might be harmful to the black children, but that all the facilities in Topeka were of equal quality.
Brown vs. Board of Education was joined with four other similar cases when it was heard before the Supreme Court of the United States. After hearing the case in the spring of 1953, the Court couldn't decide. They chose to rehear it in the fall. Many of the nine members of the Supreme Court, who were called Justices, wanted the decision to be unanimous. They wanted everyone to vote the same way. Those who favored desegregation spent a lot of time trying to convince those who believed it was acceptable to change their minds.
All the Justices except one personally wanted to get rid of segregation in the elementary schools. However, they weren't sure whether the U. S. Constitution allowed the Supreme Court to take this action. Some of the justices thought it did. Chief Justice Earl Warren worked to get a unanimous opinion or decision. He said that the only reason to keep children separate was if they felt that black children were inferior. Warren finally urged every Justice to agree to end segregation.
The Court believed that even if the quality of education was equal, segregation itself was harmful to black children and was unconstitutional. In May 1954, this was their decision. '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.'
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