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Brown v. Board of Education

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

Supreme Court of the United States of America

Argued December 8, 1952
Reargued December 7, 1953

Decided May 17, 1954

Full case name: Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al.
Citations: 347 U.S. 483; 74 S.Ct. 686; 98 L.Ed. 873
Prior history: Judgment for defendants, injunction denied, 98 F. Supp. 797 (D. Kan. 1951)
Racial segregation in public education violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; separate facilities are “inherently unequal.”
Court membership
Chief Justice: Earl Warren
Associate Justices: Tom C. Clark, Robert H. Jackson, Harold Burton, Sherman Minton, Felix Frankfurter, Hugo L. Black, Stanley Reed, William O. Douglas
Case opinions
Majority by: Warren
Joined by: Clark, Jackson, Burton, Minton, Frankfurter, Black, Reed, Douglas (Unanimous opinion)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. XIV

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) was a landmark case of the United States Supreme Court which explicitly outlawed de jure racial segregation of public education facilities (legal establishment of separate government-run schools for blacks and whites), ruling so on the grounds that the doctrine of "separate but equal" public education could never truly provide black Americans with facilities of the same standards available to white Americans. A companion case dealt with the constitutionality of segregation in the District of Columbia, (not a state and therefore not subject to the Fourteenth Amendment), Bolling v. Sharpe, .



For much of the 90 years preceding 1954, race relations in the United States had been dominated by segregation, a system of racial separation which, while in name providing for separate but equal treatment of both white and black Americans, in truth perpetuated inferior accommodations, services, and treatment for black Americans.

Brown is undoubtedly the most famous of a group of U.S. Supreme Court cases which principally deal with the struggle of black Americans to recover the rights of citizenship expressly given to them by the Constitution of the United States. The group also includes Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932), Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227 ( 1940), Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944), Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950), McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950), NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958), Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) and Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964).

The case

In 1951, a suit was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas on behalf of Linda Brown, a third grader from Topeka, Kansas who was forced to walk a mile to her segregated black school, while a white school was only seven blocks from her house. Brown's suit had the backing of the NAACP, whose chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall—who was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967—argued the case. The District Court ruled in favor of the Board of Education, citing the U.S. Supreme Court precedent set in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), which had upheld a state law requiring "separate but equal" segregated facilities for blacks and whites in railway cars.

The case of Brown v. Board of Education as heard before the Supreme Court combined four cases: Brown itself, Briggs v. Elliott (filed in South Carolina), Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (filed in Virginia), and Gebhart v. Belton (filed in Delaware). All were NAACP-sponsored cases.

The decision

The case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court. On 17 May 1954 the Warren Court handed down a unanimous 9-0 decision which stated, in no uncertain terms, that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

The 17 May 1954 decision reversed the Court's previous decision in Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education, (1899)*, which had specifically validated the segregation of public schools. Brown did not, however, result in the immediate desegregation of America's public schools, nor did it mandate desegregation of public accommodations, such as restaurants or bathrooms, that were owned by private parties, which would not be accomplished until the passage of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, it was a giant step forwards for the civil rights movement, placing the weight of the Federal Judiciary squarely behind the forces of desegregation.

Brown is often referred to as Brown I, because the following year, 1955, the Court completed its ruling. In this second Brown decision, "Brown II," the Warren Court ordered the states' compliance with Brown I "with all deliberate speed." Even so, formal compliance with the provisions of these two cases was not expedited, and in the South most public schools would not be desegregated until about 1970 under the Nixon administration. Nearly twenty years after Brown school desegregation would come to the court's attention again in two cases involving the use of busing to integrate students across school districts: Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971) and Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974).

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:

"Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." [1]

Social implications

Not everyone accepted the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In Virginia, Senator Harry F. Byrd organized the Massive Resistance movement that included the closing of schools rather than desegregating them. See, for example, The Southern Manifesto. For more implications of the Brown decision, see Desegregation.

See also

* See court citation for an explanation of these numbers.

External links

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