60 Years Ago: Brown v. Board of Education
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So begins the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. For African Americans, we know this was not the case, especially regarding education. In 1952-1953, the case of a group of Topeka, Kansas parents and their children came to the U.S. Supreme Court that would challenge inequalities in education. Sixty years later, Brown v. Board of Education remains a turning point in the fight for civil rights in the United States.
In 1896, the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson ruled constitutional the “separate but equal” doctrine with regard to racial segregation and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Fifty-eight years passed with “separate but equal” being the law of the land to justify discrimination based on race not only in schools but also in housing, transportation and recreation.
Thurgood Marshall together with the NAACP took the Brown case, a combination of school desegregation lawsuits, and argued it before the Supreme Court. On May 17, 1954, the Court ruled “separate but equal” unconstitutional in a 9-0 decision. Chief Justice Earl Warren writing the opinion of the Court stated, “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Brown changed civil rights history. It paved the way for good – James Meredith, Ruby Bridges – and not so good – the Little Rock integration crisis, George Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door. Sixty years may sound like a long time, but the implications of Brown continue. Take time to learn more about the Brown decision and integration of the American education system since 1954 by using eLibrary and its many resources.
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