May 17th 1954: Brown v. Board of Education decision
On this day in 1954, the US Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The decision declared segregation on grounds of race in schools unconstitutional. The ruling overturned the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson which allowed segregation under the doctrine ‘separate but equal’. The case had been bought by African-American parents, including Oliver L. Brown, against Topeka’s educational segregation. It was argued before the Court by the chief legal counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American Supreme Court justice in 1967. The Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, declared that segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The landmark decision is considered the start of the Civil Rights Movement which led to racial integration and full legal rights for African-Americans.
“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”
- Warren’s opinion for the Court
Brown v. Board of Education
On May 17, 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren delivered a unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Court stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and that school segregation was unconstitutional, violating the equal protection guarantee of the 14th amendment.
This 1954 civil rights victory, argued by Thurgood Marshall, overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision establishing the “separate-but-equal” segregation principle. The Supreme Court’s conclusion can be seen above. View the full document here.
The reaction to the ruling was varied. For example, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Prince Edward County in particular, resisted the Supreme Court’s decision. The county closed its public schools (including the one shown above) from 1959 to 1964 to avoid desegregation.
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