POS 2041 Section 8
Mr. Frank Farcau
06 December 2004
Brown v Board of Education
On the seventeenth day in May 1954 a decision was made which changed things in the United States dramatically. For millions of black Americans, news of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education meant, at last, that they and their children no longer had to attend separate, and almost universally unequal, schools. Brown v. Board of Education was a Supreme Court ruling that changed the life of every American forever.
In Topeka, Kansas, a black third-grader named Linda Brown had to walk one mile through a railroad switchyard to get to her black elementary school, even though a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in the white elementary school, but the principal of the school refused. Brown went to McKinley Burnett, the head of Topeka’s branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and asked for help. The NAACP was eager to assist the Browns, as it had long wanted to challenge segregation in public schools. Other black parents joined Brown, and, in 1951, the NAACP requested an injunction that would forbid the segregation of Topeka’s public schools (NAACP).
The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas heard Brown’s case from June 25-26, 1951. At the trial, the NAACP argued that segregated schools sent the message to black children that they were inferior to whites; therefore, the schools were unequal. The Board of Education’s defense was that, because segregation in Topeka and elsewhere pervaded many other aspects of life, segregated schools simply prepared black children for the segregation they would face during adulthood. The board also argued that segregated schools were not necessarily harmful to black children; great African Americans had overcome much more than just segregated schools and became very successful.
The request for an injunction pushed the court to make a difficult decision. On one hand, the judges agreed with the Browns; saying that: “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children…A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn” (The National Center For Public Research). On the other hand, the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson allowed separate but equal school systems for blacks and whites, and no Supreme Court ruling had overturned Plessy yet. Because of the precedent of Plessy, the court felt “compelled” to rule in favor of the Board of Education (Cozzens).
Brown and the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court on October 1, 1951. Their case was combined with other cases that challenged school segregation in South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. The Supreme Court first heard the cases on December 9, 1952, but failed to reach a decision. The judges had to decide whether or not the writers of the Fourteenth Amendment had desegregated schools in mind. The court ruling eventually came to be unanimous. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court asked this question in the decision read on May 17, 1954: “Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?” (The National Center for Public Research). They struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy for public education saying that it “has no place”, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and required the desegregation of schools across America (The National Center For Public Research).
On that Monday in May, the high court’s ruling that outlawed school segregation in the United States generated urgent news flashes on the radio and frenzied black. One swift and unanimous decision by the top judges in the land was going to end segregation in public schools. Southern politicians reacted with such fury and fear that they immediately called the day “Black Monday.” South Carolina Gov. James Byrnes, who rose to political power with passionate advocacy of segregation, said the decision was “the end of civilization in the South as we have known it.” Georgia Gov. Herman Talmadge struck an angry tone. He said Georgia had no