Brown vs. Board of Education

5 Essential Facts: Brown vs. Board of Education

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It’s been 65 years since the important Brown vs. Board of Education decision, which changed our country’s history. The Supreme Court said that having separate schools for different races was not right. But even now, many students don’t have the same chances for a good education. Some schools don’t have enough supplies like pencils and computers, and their buildings need fixing.

You might know about Brown vs. Board, but here are five important things you might not know about this important case.

Brown vs. Board of Education: A Fusion of Five Cases

Brown vs. Board is the result of five smaller cases from Virginia, South Carolina, Washington D.C., Delaware, and Kansas. Between 1947 and 1951, families in these states filed lawsuits demanding the desegregation of their schools. They wanted their children to attend neighborhood schools rather than traveling long distances to overcrowded and poorly equipped schools.

In Topeka, Kansas, a third-grader named Linda Brown was forced to walk and take a bus to a black school, even though there was a white school just four blocks from her home. Because the nearby school only admitted white students, she couldn’t attend. Linda’s father, Reverend Oliver Brown, sought help from the local NAACP, which encouraged him to file a lawsuit against the Topeka school district. This case became known as Oliver L. Brown et al. v. Board of Education Topeka.

In 1952, Charles S. Scott and Thurgood Marshall represented these cases, and the Supreme Court combined them into a single case, now famously known as Brown vs. Board of Education.

Topeka, Kansas Took Center Stage for a Unique Reason

Topeka, Kansas, and Linda Brown played a prominent role in the Supreme Court case because the segregated schools there were, in the words of Michael McConnell, a professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University, “substantially equal in quality.” In simpler terms, the schools were performing similarly enough to shift the focus to the principle of segregation itself.

Explaining this, McConnell states in a Khan Academy video on the case, “It’s one thing to challenge segregation when ‘separate but equal’ is merely a fiction, but when ‘separate but equal’ is a reality, or at least very close to it, as in Topeka, you have to address the core principle that segregation is wrong. Not just wrong because it often leads to material disadvantages most of the time.”

For the NAACP, Topeka provided an opportunity to highlight how segregated schools made black children feel inferior to their white peers, perpetuating damaging effects on their self-esteem.

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Brown vs. Board Didn’t Directly Reverse Plessy vs. Ferguson

While there is a significant backdrop of social and legal history leading up to the Brown vs. Board case, it’s essential to start with the 1896 Supreme Court ruling of Plessy vs. Ferguson. This ruling legalized segregation by deeming “separate but equal” as fair and not in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, as explained in PBS’s “Slavery by Another Name.” Following this decision, segregation spread widely in schools, theaters, restaurants, transportation, and other public spaces through a set of laws and practices known as “Jim Crow.”

The Brown vs. Board case marked the culmination of a “lengthy effort by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to overturn Plessy,” as Theodore Shaw, a law professor and director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law, described in a Khan Academy video. The NAACP had been gradually dismantling segregation, and they eventually shifted their focus to school segregation in the Brown cases. However, it’s important to note that the Brown decision did not directly overturn Plessy. It specifically addressed school segregation, establishing that separate schools could not be considered equal.

Brown’s Impact Extended Beyond Schools

Although Brown’s immediate impact was on ending segregation in schools, it had a ripple effect in the legal landscape. Courts began using the Brown case as precedent to dismantle segregation in public libraries, transportation, and various other public places.

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, highlighted this broader impact in a 2012 Alliance for Excellent Education video on the landmark case. He stated, “The legacy of Brown vs. Board is more about initiating an era—an era of change in the pursuit of racial justice and equality in this nation.” Brown paved the way for significant milestones in America’s desegregation journey, including the Montgomery bus boycott, the integration of the Little Rock Nine, Birmingham sit-ins, the March on Washington, and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

As Theodore Shaw pointed out, “No civil rights movement or desegregation would have been possible without Brown. Brown was the case that began the process of dismantling the structure of Jim Crow segregation.”

Brown’s Promise Remains Unfulfilled

Even after 65 years, many of the challenges the Brown vs. Board decision aimed to address persist. School segregation continues to be a significant issue in communities throughout the United States. Recent research from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA reveals that segregation for black students is on the rise across the country.

This new research indicates that the number of highly segregated schools, where 90 to 100 percent of the students are non-white, has tripled from 5.7 percent in 1988 to 18.2 percent in 2016. Additionally, the data highlights:

  • White students primarily attend schools where 69 percent of the students are white.
  • Black students mostly attend schools where 47 percent of the students are black.
  • Latino students predominantly attend schools where 55 percent of the students are Latino.

Addressing These Trends and Promoting Integration

The Civil Rights Project points out that, at the federal level, there are currently “no programs dedicated to promoting voluntary school integration,” and it has been quite some time since federal agencies funded significant research on effective integration strategies. However, on the eve of the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. Board, the House Committee on Education and Labor has announced plans to review two bills focused on school diversity and safeguarding students’ civil rights.

At All4Ed, we’re embarking on a yearlong equity campaign to shed light on the ongoing needs of students, regardless of their race, location, or background, and to address the unfinished promise of Brown vs. Board.

We Want to Hear from You!

As you reflect on Brown vs. Board, which unmet challenge do you find most significant? What inspires your hope? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. If you want to read education article and updated news then visit here.

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