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The case I have selected to research is Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483. (1954). This case was a United States Supreme court case in the early 1950’s while segregation was still going on and racism was very common in the United States (Landmark cases, 2018).
The backstory of this case began with a woman named Linda Brown, who was a young African American student in Topeka, Kansas school district (Landmark Cases, 2018). Most days she would have to walk a very long way to a train station with her sister, Terry Lynn, to the Rock Island Road Switchyard to get to the bus stop she had to take in order to ride the all-black bus to Monroe School which was an all-black school (Landmark Cases, 2018). Linda Brown tried to gain admission into Sumner School, which was more convenient for her and closer to home, but she was denied admission because of her race by the Board of Education of Topeka. Under laws at this time, many public places were still segregated (Landmark Cases, 2018).
How it works
At the time of this case, a Kansas statute permitted, but did not require cities with more than 15,000 people to maintain separate school facilities for black and whites. On this basis, the Board of Education of Topeka decided to establish separate elementary schools (Landmark Cases, 2018). The Brown family thought that the decision made by the Board of Education of Topeka violated the Constitution. They decided to sue the Board of Education of Topeka, claiming that the segregated school system deprived Linda Brown of the equal protection of the laws required under the Fourteenth Amendment.
In 1951, a class action suit was filed against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas. The plaintiffs in this case were thirteen parents of the children (Landmark Cases, 2018). It’s also important to note that in 1950 and 1951, there were also lawsuits were filed in South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia, by the black elementary school students who attended legally segregated schools. Despite differing little in the details, all stated that there was a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment (Britannica, 2019).
Thirteen of parents signed on as plaintiffs as mentioned above but one of the plaintiffs is a little more important than the others, resident Oliver Brown who was a welder and World War II veteran, while also serving as an assistant pastor at his local church in Topeka. When the Supreme Court consolidated the cases in 1952, Brown’s name appeared in the title instead of all the names (Britannica, 2019). This was said to be done on purpose, a Supreme Court justice later explained, “so that the whole question would not smack of being a purely southern one.” (Britannica, 2019).
The case began at the district court, which consisted of a three-judge panel. The NAACP decided to help the plaintiffs with this case with the two leading attorneys being Charles H. Houston and Thurgood Marshall. Thurgood Marshall would become famous for this case and eventually would become to the first nations first African American Supreme Court Justice (PBS, 2019). The District Court ruled in favor of the Board of Education, using the supreme court case “Plessy vs. Ferguson” in this case, saying that “separate but equal”. The importance of Plessy vs. Ferguson and this case is that they declared that segregation of schools and public facilities were not unconstitutional as long as the whites and blacks had the same quality facilities (PBS, 2019).
Because of the Plessy vs. Ferguson case that had taken place in earlier years, the district court found this case to be similar and followed in those footsteps (PBS, 2019). The judges of the District Court also stated that they agreed segregation what detrimental to the black children, but since there was no proof of unequal public schools or facilities in Topeka and that the case Plessy vs. Ferguson helped establish the law “separate but equal” they sided with the Board of Education (PBS, 2019).
The NAACP then files for an appeal of the Kansas ruling, which is where the cases from Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, and Washington were also appealed and then were consolidated as mentioned above, making it the official name of “Brown vs. Board of education” (Landmark Cases, 2018). The case was heard in the Spring of 1953 but was unable to make a decision and asked to rehear the case again in the fall, paying close attention as to whether the 14th Amendment protection clause prohibited the operation of separate public schools for whites and blacks (Landmark Cases, 2018).
The Chief of Justice for the first meeting in the spring was Vinson, who had been blamed for being a stumbling block in the case, not letting it go forward. When he died, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as the new Chief of Justice. It was noted that when Eisenhower invited Warren to the Whitehouse to talk about the current case, the president told Warren “These are not bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes.” (PBS, 2019).
Warren set up a meeting with the justices, saying that the only real reason to sustain segregation was because of the honest belief of inferiority in the blacks. Warren further submitted that the court also must overrule the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson so uphold liberty and avoid a massive southern resistance (Landmark Cases, 2018).
On May 17th, 1954, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in favor of the Brown family and the other plaintiffs involved in the case. The court had much to say about the 14th amendment and what else was involved in this case, so the decision of the court was complex. The complexity of this case was difficult to make the decision on whether the 14th amendment was truly unconstitutional for these plaintiffs. When this amendment was adopted, which was in 1868, free public schools were usual in the south, and most white children in the south could afford private school, so that is where they typically went. Also, the idea of schooling for black children in 1868 was “almost nonexistent”. Even in some southern states, education for black people had been forbidden by law (American History, 2018). The court stated “Today, education is perhaps the most important function of our state and local governments (American History, 2018).
The court ruled that segregated schools even if of equal standards of white schools, are making blacks inferior because they are being separated solely by race. This was the statement said by the court in the ruling “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.” (American History, 2018).
What makes this case very unique, is that even though after ruling segregation illegal and siding with Brown and the plaintiffs, it did not go away as some schools made plans to desegregate but did not follow through with actually doing it. This case required a second hearing in 1955, where Chief Justice Warren ordered the schools to begin desegregating (Landmark Cases, 2018).
Brown II as the second part of the case is called, gave the schools a process on how to start doing this as well as let the federal government supervise the process. They also gave them a time frame in which the schools should have accomplished this as well as making it known there would be punishment if they did not make these changes.
However, many states with segregated schools, including many in the South, were able to not make these changes for years. This was because when Chief of Justice Warren gave a time, he said “With all deliberate speed”, because the time frame was very vague, many schools used that to their advantage (Landmark Cases, 2018).
This case is one of the more important landmark cases because after this decision it really helped start the path towards the Civil Rights movement. Also, many people that helped serve this case with the NAACP went on to help serve the Supreme Court such as Thurgood Marshall who went on to be the first Black Supreme court judge and Charles H. Houston who after this became a very successful attorney (American History, 2018).
This case was brought to court because thirteen plaintiffs believed that their 14th amendment rights in the Equal Protection Clause were being violated. There were many cases filed in different states, claiming many of the same things. The most known Brown v. Board of Education of the cases of different states, was filed against in Topeka, against the Kansas school board by Oliver Brown, parent to Linda Brown, who was denied access to Topeka’s white school Sumner. Brown claimed that Topeka’s racial segregation violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because the city’s black and white schools were not equal to each other and never could be (Landmark Cases, 2018).
Brown specifically was referring to his daughter and how far she had to walk in order to board and all-black bus to an all-black school, just because she was black. The distance traveled was claimed to be unfair because of the distance she had to walk just to board a bus to another school, when the white school, Sumner, was closer. The federal district court denied his claim, ruling that the segregated public schools were “substantially” equal enough to be constitutional under the Plessy vs. Ferguson doctrine (Thirteen Media, 2018).
The reason this case caused judicial review is because at this time in history, racism was still very strong and our country was in the process of getting rid of it. This case was presented to the district court, but one of the main reasons it was decided first in favor of the Board of Education was because a case that took place many years earlier. In Plessy vs. Ferguson, it was ruled that segregation was legal as long as the facilities that were separated black and white. were equal to each other. So, when this case was presented at the lower level courts they referred to Plessy vs. Ferguson, seeing a resemblance (Thirteen Media, 2018).
Once this case was appealed, it was first it took some time to come to a decision. They finally ruled with the Browns. I think one of the main reasons was because the district court first sided with the Board of Education mainly because of the previous case Plessy vs. Ferguson. Once they realized that case was very old, and circumstances had changed, they overruled it (American History, 2018).
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