Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka

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Brown vs. the Board of education was a group of five law cases that ended segregation in American public schools. The cases Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Belton v. Gebhart, Bolling v. Sharpe, Briggs v. Elliot and Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County have been grouped together and known collectively as Brown v. Board of Education. They have been thought of as one of the greatest court decisions made in the 20th century. The court ruled 9-0 unanimously believing that segregation in public schools went against the beliefs of the Fourteenth Amendment in the Constitution.

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Those beliefs being that anyone born or naturalized in the United States were granted equal protection under the law.

During times of segregation, African Americans were only allowed to use the toilets and water fountains labeled “colored”. In 1890, the state of Louisiana passed a law that required separate but equal railroad carriage cars. African Americans were also only allowed to live in areas for people of color. Eventually there were laws to change the situation with segregation but it took longer for society to become more accepting.

The case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka began its life in Topeka, Kansas where third grader Linda Brown, had to travel a mile to get to her school everyday because she was not allowed to attend the one around the corner from her due to the color of her skin. Her father, Oliver Brown, had believed that the situation was highly inconvenient when she had a school already close to her. Brown decided to take action by filing a lawsuit against the school district on February 28th 1951. He claimed that they were discriminating against African American students and the 14th Amendment.

The struggle for equality continued with the court case Belton v. Gebhart where Ethel Belton had her children attending Howard High school, a good 50 minute bus drive away from where they lived. The closest school to them was one in Claymont, it had greater opportunities for a better education but was a white only school. Ethel Belton and a group of other parents in the same situation approached Louis Redding, the first African American lawyer in Delaware about having their children attend the school. He told the parents to ask the state board of education in Claymount, and they were rejected. The case was than filed and known as Belton v. Gebhart.

Elsewhere, Bolling v. Sharpe was beginning to take shape. Gardner Bishop organized a group of students to travel to John Phillip Sousa High School to ask to attend because their local high school was beat up and in horrible shape. They were declined because it was a white only school. In order to take action, Bishop asked an Attorney named Charles Houston for help building equal schools for African Americans to which he agreed. During Houston’s work on the case, he got terribly sick and asked for the case to passed on to James Nabrit Jr to continue. Nabrit believed that it would be a waste of time and suggested that the best idea for their situation was for Bishop to sue and claim that segregation in schools was unjust. Bishop later led a group of 11 African American children and parents to John Philip Sousa Junior High School to ask to enroll. They were turned down and Bishop decided to take the situation to court in early 1951.

Briggs v Elliot began when Joseph Albert DeLaine started a petition among African American farmers to fund public school bus’ in Clarendon County, South Carolina. African American students in the area did not have working school bus’ that could take them to and from school. DeLaine took their petition to L.B. McCord the superintendent of schools but was turned down because they believed it would be unfair to whites to have to pay taxes for an African American bus. A lawsuit was then filed but quickly dismissed. Harry Briggs had a second lawsuit filed now against the chairman of the school district, Roderick W. Elliot. The case eventually made it to the Supreme Court.

Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County took place in Prince Edward County, Virginia. The African American school Moton High School in Farmville was overcrowded. Student Barbara Rose Johns was aware of this and had traveled to a few white schools in her area and had observed the contrasting conditions of their school buildings. She wanted to be able to change this so she convinced the student council to ask the school board to improve their schooling situations. The board had told them that the issue would have to be passed by voters. In the next few months no action was taken, so Barbara decided to organize a strike to convince the public that African Americans should attend the same schools as white kids. The students on strike eventually contacted the NAACP where Oliver W. Hill helped the kids take their issue to court.

Segregation ended in 1964 with the five court cases that made up Brown v. the Board of Education. It was believed that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. According to Mark E Dudley on page 58 in his book Brown v. Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated “We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.” These words marked the beginning of change from segregation in schools. Change that has gotten us to today where we realize our strength is our diversity in the classroom.

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Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. (2019, Jun 16). Retrieved from