Little Bits of History

Separate is Unequal

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 17, 2014
Brown v Board of Education

Brown v Board of Education

May 17, 1954: Brown v. Board of Education is decided. The landmark Supreme Court case declared state laws establishing separate schools for blacks and whites was unconstitutional. The decision overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, a decision passed down in 1896 stating separate but equal was lawful. The Warren Court, the Supreme Court under the leadership of Earl Warren and existing from 1953 to 1969, offered the unanimous decision which stated “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Segregation was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Racial segregation had been the norm since the 1896 decision marked it lawful. This was inherently flawed as the separate facilities were not of equal quality. Instead, Plessy allowed for the proliferation of decidedly unequal treatment with the African-Americans getting shoddy accommodations, services, and treatment. This was especially problematic with education. The education of students varied widely between the 17 states which required racial segregation and the 16 which prohibited the practice. Brown was influenced by UNESCO’s 1950 statement titled The Race Question which denounced segregation.

In 1951, a class action suit was brought against the City of Topeka, Kansas in the US District Court for Kansas. The plaintiffs were thirteen Topeka parents on behalf of their twenty children. Kansas permitted, but did not demand segregated schools, but Topeka had segregated their elementary schools under an 1879 Kansas law which allowed separate schools for black and white students in twelve communities with populations over 15,000. Representing the plaintiffs were Topeka NAACP leaders including McKinley Burnett. The named plaintiff was African-American Oliver Brown, a parent, welder for the railroad, and an assistant pastor. His third grade daughter had to walk six blocks to catch a bus to take her to a black school when a white school was located only seven blocks from her house.

All the parents had similar stories and each attempted to register their children at the closest school, only to be refused because their children were black. The District ruled in favor of the Board of Education citing Plessy. The case went higher. It was combined with four other cases of similar bent and was argued on December 9, 1952 and reargued on December 8, 1953. The delay in announcing the verdict was due to getting the Justices to reach a unanimous decision and that was done on this day. Separate was simply not equal. The Justices also maintained that even if they were in every respect equal, the segregation itself was harmful. The decision met with resistance, but the Civil Rights Movement was on its way.

Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does…

Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children.

The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group.

A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.  – from the holdings of Brown v. Board of Education

Also on this day: “And They’re Off” – In 1875 the first Kentucky Derby is run.
That was Quick – In 1963, a fight ended after 48 seconds.
Computational Device – In 1902 the Antikythera mechanism was discovered.
Buy Low; Sell High – In 1792, the New York Stock Exchange was formed.


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