Brown V. Board of Education: Dismantling ‘Separate but Equal

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Updated: Sep 14, 2023
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Imagine having an African American child walk miles just to arrive at their school – no it is not because there is no closer school – it is because the child has been deemed unfit to attend the closest school; it is a whites-only school. This was the scenario that initiated the court case Brown v. Board of Education that was disputed between 1952-1954. During this time, many of the school systems in the south shared the same opinions on this matter. The Topeka, Kansas School District was only one of the many places that implemented the guideline to segregate schools.

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The decisions of Brown v. Board of Education forever altered the views of the “separate but equal” doctrine and became a major influence and motivation to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement.

Segregation had been going strong throughout this time in history and many public facilities were separated by race. In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment put an end to slavery, and later, the Fourteenth Amendment further grew the legal rights of freed slaves by protecting their right to “equal protection of the law” (“History…”). The Fifteenth Amendment, later in history, granted more protection by prohibiting states from denying the right to vote solely based on race (“History…”). Despite the passing of various Amendments, African American were still often treated differently than whites, especially in the southern states. They were still barred from sharing facilities – schools, buses, and bathrooms – with whites (“Brown …” History). The actions taken to restrict and separate the status of blacks from whites during this period were known as the Jim Crow Laws (“History…”). It was the result of the court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, that allowed these actions to be accepted (“Background…”). Homer Plessy a black man challenged a Louisiana Law that required railroad companies to provide separate, but equal accommodation for blacks and whites; he stated that the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated (“Background…”). The decision given by the Supreme Court stated that “as long as facilities and treatment [were] marginally equal, then they had not violated the law (“Background…”). This ruling led to the continuation of the Jim Crow Laws until the case of Brown v. Board of Education (“Brown…” Oyez).

The court case known as Brown v. Board of Education was the consolidated case name given to five separate cases heard by the Supreme Court on the issue of segregated schools, however, the most well-known case is on The Browns (“History…”). In the 1950s, Linda Brown, an African American, was a student in the Topeka, Kansas School District; everyday her sister and she had to travel for miles to arrive at their all-black Monroe school (“Background…”). Linda Brown tried to gain admission to the Sumner School, an all-white academy, but her application was denied by The Board of Education of Topeka exclusively because of her race (“Background…”). At the time of Brown v. Board of Education, a Kansas statute allowed, but did not require cities of more than 15,000 to create separate schools for each race: blacks and whites (“Background…”). However, the Board decided to create separate elementary schools (“Background…”). The Browns believed that the Board of Education’s decisions violated the Constitution, so they challenged it by suing the Board and stating that the segregated school system stole Linda Brown’s protection under an Amendment of the Constitution (“Brown…” Find Law). The first decision for the case was made in 1951 by the US District Court for the District of Kansas, and then the Brown’s case was combined with cases from Virginia, South Carolina, and Delaware to continue on (“How…”). Three years later in 1954, the case was moved up the Supreme Court and the ultimate decision was restated and elaborated on by the Chief Justice at the time, Earl Warren (“How…”) (“Brown…” Oyez). Finally, in 1954, the Supreme Court reargued the case to conclude on how to carry out their final decision (“How…”).

The court case of Brown v. Board of Education challenges the decisions made by the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas on segregated schools, and the appellants state that the state’s law has violated the Fourteenth Amendment in the United States Constitution (“Brown…” Find Law). Specifically, they had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“Amendments…”). The Fourteenth Amendment grants equality, especially legal equality, to African Americans. The government must treat each person in the same way as others in the same conditions and circumstances (“Equal Protection”). The Equal Protection Clause more clearly states that everything between African Americans and whites has to be “separate but equal” and that a state cannot “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law (Garbus 5) (“Amendments…”). These laws apply to public and secondary schools because they are considered as state actors: people acting on behalf of the government (“Amendments…”).

The first decision was made by the US District Court for the District of Kansa, and they stated that the segregation did have negative effects on black children, but they decided that it did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because “facilities, transportation, teachers, and other factors were equal” (“Brown…” History). Eventually the case arrived at the Supreme Court; the Associate Justices at the time were Hugo Black, Stanley F. Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, Robert H. Jackson, Harold H. Burton, Tom C. Clark, and Sherman Minton (“Brown…” Wikipedia). The decision made by the jury for Brown v. Board of Education was unanimous and the majority decision was written down by the Chief Justice at the time, Earl Warren (“Key Excerpt…”). The Supreme Court found that the black and white school were equal or equalizing with consideration to many factors: buildings, curriculum, salaries, and other variables (“Key Excerpt…”).

However, the court stated that they could not judge the public school system just based on tangible factors; they needed to look at the effects of segregation on the public education system and the students (“Key Excerpt…”). They believed that separating the children of similar ages, solely base on race, would generate a feeling of inferiority in the black children and may create psychological damage that may never be reversed (“Key Excerpt…”). It may affect how they think and the feelings they hold in their hearts after they grow up (“Key Excerpt…”). The conclusion given by the Chief Justice and the rest of the court stated that “separate but equal” had no place in education (“Key Excerpt…”). Segregated schools are “inherently unequal” and violate the Fourteen Amendment; the Supreme Court declared the school should desegregate in “all deliberate speed” (“Brown…” History). In 1969, the Supreme Court made its final statement that “there is no longer the slightest excuse, reason, or justification for further postponement of the time when every public school system in the United States should be a unitary one” (Garbus 7).

The Brown case reversed the decisions made in the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case made in 1896 that up held the racial segregation in the United States (Garbus 3). After the ruling, the court began to oversee the desegregation of schools in the North and South (Garbus 8). The African Americans of the time celebrated the victory of this case (Garbus 7). It also sparked many of the major events of the Civil Rights Movement: Rosa Park’s refusal move seats and Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful protest (Garbus 6). While the African American during this time celebrated this achievement, the people in the south revolted (Garbus 7). Southerners were utterly against the desegregation of schools; some counties even shut down all their schools for 5 years in order to avoid desegregating (Garbus 7). The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was later signed into law; it banned “the discrimination of people based on their race, color, religion, or national origin in employment practices and public accommodations” (Garbus 7). A year later, The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and The Fair Housing Act of 1968 were also passed. The ruling from Brown v. Board of Education has set up many short and long term effects in the United State (Garbus 8).

Brown v. Board of Education was the case title propelled to the Supreme Court made up of various cases that argued the segregation of public schools. However, the most well-known case comprised of the Brown family in Topeka, Kansas. They stated that the Board had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The final decision of the Supreme Court was that public schools should not follow the “separate but equal” rule and that all school in the United States should be desegregated with haste. The ruling of Brown v. Board of Education forever altered the way the people evaluated of segregation and illuminated the path towards the Civil Rights Movement.

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Brown v. Board of Education: Dismantling 'Separate but Equal. (2021, Jul 03). Retrieved from