Introduction - Brown vs. Board of EducationThe Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka court case is probably one of the most famous and is certainly one of the most important court cases in black history. The 1954 United States Supreme Court decision declaring racially segregated schools for black and white students unconstitutional was a major victory for the Civil Rights movement. On this page is a list of interesting facts about this court case written for adults and kids; and could serve as a great resource for kids writing Black History Month reports. Information on this page includes who was involved in this case, where it took place, and how it affected civil rights history.
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Background Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka
- In the 1950s many states and local governments located in the southern United States maintained a separate but equal doctrine. The separate but equal doctrine allowed these governments to build separate public facilities, like schools, for blacks and whites. This policy was inherently discriminatory and black facilities were almost always inferior.
- The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), had been looking for a case (or cases) to challenge the separate but equal doctrine.
- In the fall of 1951 the NAACP recruited several African-American families that lived in Topeka, Kansas to help bring a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the separate but equal doctrine.
- The NAACP requested the selected parents to attempt to enroll their children in the closest school to their home; which in all cases was white-only. The children were not permitted to enroll and informed to enroll in the segregated schools, which were all significantly further from the children's homes.
- In 1951 a class action suit was brought in the United States District Court (not the Supreme Court) in the district of Kansas with the thirteen parents as the plaintiffs. The lawsuit was filed against the Board of Education of the City of Topeka, Kansas.
- The plaintiff named in the case, Brown (Oliver L. Brown), was an assistant pastor and worked as welder for the Santa Fe Railroad.
- The Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case called for the schools in Topeka, Kansas to end the racial segregation in their schools.
- The plaintiffs in this case claimed allowing states and local governments to continue having separate facilities for African-Americans would promote discrimination and that black facilities were almost always inferior.
- The District Court, which cited the U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Plessy v. Ferguson as establishing the legality of the separate but equal doctrine, ruled against the plaintiffs (the Topeka families).
Supreme Court Case Brown vs. Board of Education Facts
- The case was eventually brought before the U.S. Supreme Court and actually combined Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka with four other similar NAACP-sponsored cases involving school segregation from around the United States.
- The chief counsel for the plaintiffs was Thurgood Marshall. In 1967 he would be appointed to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
- In 1953 the Supreme Court heard the case but was unable to come to a decision. After rearguing the case they came to a unanimous decision on May 17th of 1954 in favor of the plaintiffs; stating that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional.
- The U.S. Supreme Court decision in this case overturned the Supreme Court's 1896 decision in the Plessy v. Ferguson case which had established the separate but equal doctrine.
- The Supreme Court ruling declared that racial segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
- The most important point made by the Supreme Court was that segregation by itself was harmful to black students even in cases when facilities and teachers were of equal quality.
- Many areas of the south fought this decision, often with violence. The most famous case was in 1963 when Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the door to the University of Alabama to prevent the enrollment of black students. The National Guard, under orders from President John F. Kennedy, confronted Wallace and he finally stepped aside.