Brown V. Board of Education
The Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education dates back to 1954, the case was centered on the Fourteenth Amendment and challenged the segregation of schools solely on the basis of race. The Brown case was not the only case of its time involving school segregation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was leading the push to desegregate public schools in the United States (Gold, 2005).
Brown v. Board of Education was a consolidation of four cases that had made their way through the court system. It was 1950 and Linda brown was just seven years old, she lived in Topeka, Kansas and was African American descent (she was black). Each mourning Linda traveled 21 blocks and crossed through a dangerous railroad yard to get to school. Her journey to school took an hour and twenty minutes. White children who lived in the same neighborhood only traveled 7 blocks in a considerably less amount of time (Gold, 2005).
Linda’s father Oliver filed a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education arguing that he wanted the same conditions for his daughter (Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 2009). The case was heard by three judges in Federal District Court, and they ruled against the plaintiffs, the case went to Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the U. S Supreme Court (Topeka, Kansas: Segregation in the Heartland). The second case was Gebhart v.
Belton was similar to the Topeka case, a Delaware school bus with all white students would pass Sarah Bulah’s home, so she asked the schools officials to let her daughter ride on the bus. When School officials turned down her request, Sarah went to the state board of education. Sarah was told that black students were not allowed to ride on the bus with whites (Gold, 2005). The case went to the State Court, which ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but neither side was happy with the ruling. The case eventually went to the State Supreme Court and then to the U. S Supreme Court (Smithsonian National Museum of American history ). The third case was Briggs v. Elliot, in Clarendon County, South Carolina. The schools for black children were run down shacks and had no money for supplies and little money to pay teachers. Twenty black parents asked the school board to provide buses for students the same as they did for the white students. The parents were denied, the school board stated that black parents didn’t contribute enough tax revenue and they shouldn’t expect the white parents to pay (Gold, 2005).
The case was filed in South Carolina in 1950, a panel of three judges ruled that schools must be equalized but don’t have to be integrated. Judge Walter Warring wrote a dissenting opinion stating “segregation is per se inequality” (Waring), meaning that separate is not equal. The fourth case was Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia. The state of Virginia at the time provided schools for blacks only through the eighth grade; therefore most high schools were funded through private money. Morton high school was rundown and overcrowded.
The students were frustrated with the lack of action from the school board so they walked out and staged a march to the homes of school board members in order to protest poor conditions (Gold, 2005). The case was heard in the Federal District Court where they ruled against the plaintiffs, it then went to Circuit Courts of Appeals and eventually to the U. S Supreme Court (Black students on Strike! Farmville, Virginia ). As each case went through the court system the NAACP gathered the cases and submitted them together as Brown v. Board of education on the writ of certiorari, on appeal to the U.S Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall was chief counsel at the time for the NAACP and planned the strategy to argue the case. Constitutional Issue The constitutional issue that the Brown case would focus on was the “equal protection clause” under the Fourteenth Amendment. As a result of the Civil War the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the constitution were ratified. The 14th Amendment conferred citizenship on formerly enslaved African Americans and granted equal protection under the law (Background Overview and Summary). The Fourteenth Amendment states;
No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. (U. S Const. amend. XIV) The question within the Fourteenth Amendment was; does the segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprive the minority children of “equal protection of the laws” under the amendment (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).
In1896 when the Plessy v. Ferguson case was argued and the opinion of the Court was written by Justice Henry Billings Brown the “separate but equal” doctrine was established. Justice Henry Billings wrote; We think the enforced separation of the races, as applied to the internal commerce of the state, neither abridges the privileges or immunities of the colored man, deprives him of his property without the due process of law, nor denies him the equal protection of the laws, within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896) Courts Ruling
The Court would deliberate the arguments for and against segregation of public schools, at the end of the vote they did not have a consensus; therefore the Court took no action. Instead they proposed a list of questions for the lawyers on both side to answer at the beginning of the new term (Gold, 2005). During the summer recess Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson died, this would change the course of this case forever. Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson was not in favor of desegregation and stated; he could not support it at the time during the first vote.
The new Chief Justice Earl Warren was appointed by President Eisenhower and later confirmed by the Senate. The Court opinion was unanimous, they ruled in favor of Brown, reversing the decision of the “separate but equal” doctrine that the Courts used since 1896 and established by the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Chief Justice Earl Warren read the opinion of the Court; 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. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Brown v. Board of Education) The Court was asked, does the segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, unconstitutional under the fourteenth amendment “equal protection clause?
The answer Chief Justice Warren gave was “we believe that it does” (Kluger, 2004). Related Supreme Court Cases Since Brown, the Supreme Court has maintained that segregation has no place in public education. These are some related cases that the Brown case had an impact on or was impacted by. Bolling v. Sharpe (1952) was argued two years before Brown, but the opinion of the court was heard the same day as the opinion of the Brown case. The basis of the Bolling case was, in Washington D. C a new white only school had empty classrooms while the black school was overcrowded and dilapidated.
The lawyers for Bolling argued on the basis of the Fifth Amendment, the “due process” clause, since at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was applied only to the states and not the national government (Bolling v. Sharpe). Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1955), this was called “Brown II”. In the second case the Court would delegate the task of carrying out the desegregation of public schools to the lower courts. Chief Justice Warren used a phrase “with all deliberate speed” in efforts for the states to accept the order (Gold, 2005). Guey Heung Lee v.
Johnson (1971), unlike the other cases, this case was against desegregation. The San Francisco school district had proposed a comprehensive plan for desegregation of elementary schools. The applicants were Americans of Chinese ancestry seeking a stay of a district court reassigning students to other schools. The Court denied the stay, stating that “Brown v. Board of Education was not written for Blacks alone” (Guey Heung Lee v. Johnson). Assessment The opinion of the Court in the Brown v. Board of Education was the start of integration and the civil rights movement.
Segregation didn’t end in 1954, but civil rights were now being questioned and many of the laws were lifted that involved a person’s race. The Courts opinion was right, the Fourteenth Amendment might have been ratified in order to give certain rights to slaves who gained freedom, but it was not intended to allow the segregation of citizens based on their race. The doctrine “equal protection” replaced the doctrine of “separate but equal”.