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Court case ends in public school desegregation

by Shelly Awaya, Lifestyles editor

Today, the thought of having separate drinking fountains or sitting in assigned areas of a lunchroom for whites and colored people seems unfair, but until the black community won the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka, Kan., such treatment was routine for black public school students.


Brown v. BOE was named after Oliver Brown, a black man who lived in Topeka, whose daughter Linda was denied admission to an all-white school in their neighborhood and was forced to attend an all-black school far from home.

The Brown v. BOE case was a combination of several court cases that considered public school segregation, unequal environments and funding, and inadequate learning supplies to be unconstitutional. The cases were: Belton v. Gebhart, Gebhart v. Belton, and Briggs v. Elliott.

Thurgood Marshall was the special counsel who handled the case with help from the lawyers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall wanted to end the notion of “separate but equal” facilities that was accepted despite the Fourteenth Amendment that required equality in treatment and equal protection of the laws.

Marshall’s argument emphasized the injustice of the Plessy v. Ferguson case, which found a man guilty of sitting in the “whites only” section of a passenger train. Plessy was not protected under the Fourteenth Amendment because the state applied its laws to the case instead of applying the Fourteenth Amendment. The court ruled that the facilities were indeed separate, but they were intrinsically “equal.”

Marshall argued that facilities were not equal and thereby Brown v. BOE sought to eliminate segregation in the social environment of public schools, where children developed knowledge about life and morality. If the children were taught that there was a classification in the real world based on race, their intelligence would be limited by a premise that they were inferior because they were treated as such in white society.

Marshall and the NAACP argued that segregation would put blacks at a disadvantage and would produce adverse reactions for white and black students.

After more than two years of deliberations, the Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, on May 17, 1954, that segregation was unconstitutional.

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the court opinion. It noted that segregation “generates a feeling of inferiority as to their (blacks’) status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to be undone.”

This was a landmark victory for the blacks and the NAACP.

The Supreme Court’s decision was upheld with schools either desegregating voluntarily or by government intervention.

Although this was a positive step toward equality for black people, strong opposition and discrimination would still play a major role in the South, where many blacks would still struggle to gain fair and just treatment from the white community.


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