The Legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education

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On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court declared that the state laws, which established separate public schools for African-Americans, denied them equal educational opportunities. With this unanimous vote, de jure or state sanctioned racial segregation was ruled a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement. The catalyst for this change was a third grade, Topeka, Kansas student named Linda Brown, whose desire was to attend a school that was closer to her home, but which happened to be white. In this report, I will take a look at the case, how it changed the education system of the United States, then determine if it is still effective after fifty-four years.

The Civil Rights Movement

The Civil Rights Movement in the United States began to rise after World War II. A civil right is defined as a privilege or entitlement granted by law, and is protected by the government. This movement applies to the efforts of African-Americans to secure, exercise and protect their civil rights. President Harry S. Truman was the first president to acknowledge the issue of civil rights for African-Americans. He felt that it was proper, especially since so many had fought and died for our country during World War II. In fact, President Truman was the first president to issue an executive order to desegregate the military. He also appointed African-American judges and territorial governors. Truman sought to overthrow the 1896 ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson, the case which constitutionally legalized the separate-but-equal doctrine, and helped to expand the Jim Crow system. Although his efforts failed, Truman did bring to the attention of the Supreme Court the fact that the states were not living up to the separate-but-equal doctrine.

Brown v. Board of Education was the first great victory of the modern civil rights movement. For years, the NAACP had brought legal actions in the form of test cases before the Supreme Court in an effort to end segregation. In the 1950’s, the NAACP decided that it was time to launch a full-scale attack on the separate-but-equal doctrine because the decisions of the Supreme Court in the test cases were encouraging. They felt that at this time the government and the general population would be more receptive to overturning the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson. Most African American schools were inferior to their counterparts in white areas, which meant that the quality of their educational experience was severely lacking in fundamental areas.

The Case

Brown v. Board of Education consolidated five cases that were originally heard in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the states of Delaware, the District of Columbia, Virginia, South Carolina and Kansas. Each case questioned the constitutionality of racial segregation in public schools. The Kansas lawsuit is the one by which the entire set of cases became known: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

In the Topeka, Kansas case, Oliver L. Brown v. Board of Education, an African-American third-grader named Linda Brown was forced to walk one mile through a railroad switchyard to get to her segregated elementary school, even though Charles Sumner School, a white elementary school, was seven blocks away from her home. Her father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in the white elementary school, but the principal of the school refused because of her race. In the Clarendon County, South Carolina case, Briggs v. Elliott, children at the Scots Branch Colored Schools were forced to walk as much as five or six miles daily to and from school because the school district had denied them bus service, as well as improved facilities such as school buildings, instructional materials and certified teachers. In the other three cases; Bulah (Belton) v. Gebhart, Delaware, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia; and Bolling v. Sharpe, District of Columbia, the problems...
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