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Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise Image Strip of Linda Brown walking to school, girl taking test at desk, Nettie Hunt and daughter with newspaper headline on steps of Supreme Court, present day children raising hands, children at computers
Long Road to Brown
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The History of Brown v. Board of Education Factsheet
The Evolution of Brown v. Board of Education

• Although African Americans first sued (unsuccessfully) to stop mandated racially segregated education in 1849, in the case Roberts v. City of Boston, the successful lawsuits known as Brown v. Board of Education were the culmination of a litigation strategy initiated in the 1930's. Charles Hamilton Houston, Dean of Howard University's Law School, is recognized as the chief architect of the NAACP's legal strategy for racial equality. Lawsuits on the long road to Brown included:

1938 Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada
The U.S. Supreme Court invalidates state laws that, to avoid admitting African-American students to all-white state graduate schools or building separate black graduate schools, require black students to attend out-of-state graduate schools.

1940 Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk
A federal appeals court orders that African-American teachers be paid salaries equal to those of white teachers.

1948 Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Regents
The Supreme Court rules that a state cannot bar an African-American student from its all-white law school on the grounds that she had failed to request the state to provide a separate law school for black students.

1950 McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents
The Supreme Court holds that an African-American student admitted to a formerly all-white graduate school could not be subjected to practices of segregation that interfered with meaningful classroom instruction and interaction with other students, such as making a student sit in the classroom doorway, isolated from the professor and other students.

1950 Sweatt v. Painter
The Supreme Court rules that a separate law school hastily established for black students to prevent their having to be admitted to the previously all-white University of Texas School of Law could not provide a legal education “equal” to that available to white students. The Court orders the admission of Herman Marion Sweatt to the University of Texas Law School.

• The Brown vs. Board of Education case was named for Oliver Brown, father of Linda Brown, a seven year-old who was denied admission to an elementary school just blocks from her home in Topeka, Kansas.

• Besides the lawsuits in Topeka and Prince Edward County, Virginia, formally known as Davis v. the Board of Prince Edward County, the court appeals consolidated in Brown v. Board of Education included cases initiated in Washington D.C., Delaware and Clarendon County, South Carolina when they arrived at the Supreme Court.

Brown v. Board of Education was first argued before the United States Supreme Court over three days beginning on December 9, 1952 and re-argued a year later. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs was future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, then-head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In his argument, Marshall asked the court:

“Why of all the multitudinous groups of people in this country [do] you have to single out Negroes and give them this separate treatment?” Marshall challenged the justices, arguing, “The only way that this Court can decide this case in opposition to our position... is to find that for some reason Negroes are inferior to all other human beings.”

• When the South Carolina case was in a lower court, Attorney Robert Carter presented as evidence the research of Psychologist Kenneth Clark, who found that black students preferred a white doll to a black doll and described the black doll as “bad.” According to Clark there was a direct correlation between segregated schools and black studentsí poor self-esteem.

• Members of the U.S. Supreme Court, following the first hearing, were divided about whether to end school segregation. At the suggestion of Justice Felix Frankfurter, who was particularly pointed in his questions to NAACP attorneys during the hearing, the divided court took the unusual step of delaying judgment and posing additional questions to both sides for re-argument.

• The NAACP gathered leading scholars from around the nation, including historians John Hope Franklin and C. Vann Woodward, to help craft answers to the court's questions. The case was re-argued on December 8, 1953.

• Chief Justice Vinson died before the court ruled on the case, and he was replaced by former California Governor Earl Warren. Warren's confirmation as chief justice on March 1,1954, changed the direction of the leadership of the court.

• May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9 to 0 in favor of the plaintiffs. In the words of Chief Justice Warren, who wrote the opinion:

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to (retard) the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system...

We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

• At the time of the Brown decision, 39 percent of all American students and two-thirds of African American children, lived in the segregated south. The southern states spent on average 43 percent more per white student than the amount spent per black student.

• In 1991 the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Dowell v. Oklahoma City authorized a return to neighborhood schools even if the change in policy would lead to re-segregation. In many districts where court-ordered desegregation was ended, there has been significant re-segregation.

Sources of information: Shades of Freedom by A. Leon Higginbotham; African American Voices of Triumph: Perseverance, Senior Editor Henry Louis Gates; From Slavery to Freedom by John Hope Franklin; Simple Justice by Richard Kluger; The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University; NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research; www.brownmatters.org, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; www.brownat50.org, Howard University.


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