Brown v. Board of Education

Anonymous

In 1896 the Supreme Court had held in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation was permissible as long as equal facilities were provided for both races. Although that decision involved only passenger accommodations on a rail road, the principle of "separate but equal" was applied thereafter to all aspects of public life in states with large black populations.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, decided on May 17, 1954, was one of the most important cases in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. Linda Brown had been denied admission to an elementary school in Topeka because she was black. Brought together under the Brown designation were companion cases from South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware, all of which involved the same basic question: Does the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment prohibit racial segregation in the public schools?

It was not until the late 1940's that the Court began to insist on equality of treatment, but it did not squarely face the constitutionality of the "separate but equal" doctrine until it decided the Brown case. In a brief, unanimous opinion delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court declared that: "separate education facilities are inherently unequal" and that racial segregation violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. In a moving passage, the chief justice argued that separating children in the schools solely on racial grounds "generates a felling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to be undone." Although the decision did not bring about total integration of blacks in the schools, it resulted in efforts by many school systems to remove the imbalance by busing students. The Court's decision had far reaching effects, influencing civil rights legislation and the civil rights movement of the 1960's.