On this day in 1954, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation of schools was unconstitutional. In Brown v. Board of Education, which was litigated by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a unanimous Court declared segregated education systems unconstitutional.
“Although the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown was ultimately unanimous, it occurred only after a hard-fought, multi-year campaign to persuade all nine justices to overturn the “separate but equal” doctrine that their predecessors had endorsed in the Court’s infamous 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision,” explains the NAACP’s Legal Defense profile of the historic ruling that redefined the history of the United States. “This campaign was conceived in the 1930s by Charles Hamilton Houston, then Dean of Howard Law School, and brilliantly executed in a series of cases over the next two decades by his star pupil, Thurgood Marshall, who became LDF’s first Director-Counsel.”
(One of the first schools to implement desegregation is Barnard Elementary in Washington, DC. This photo shows black and white children in the same classroom. [Source: Library of Congress])
(A year after the Supreme Courts Brown vs. Board of Education ruling ended school segregation, first-graders recite the Pledge of Allegiance in 1955 at Gwynns Falls Elementary School.) [Source:Richard Stacks, Baltimore Sun]
(African-American and white school children ride a school bus from the suburbs to an inner city school in Charlotte in 1973.) [Source: Warren K. Leffler/ Library of Congress U.S. News & World Report Collection]
(Jimmy Dugar on his first day in 1978 at a mostly white elementary school in Cincinnati.)
You can read more about the Brown vs. Board of Education at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund website.
As we mark the fifty-ninth anniversary of the Brown vs. Board decision it’s important to note some schools still remain “intensely segregated.”
A report released last month found fifty-four percent of black students in Maryland were enrolled in schools where at least 90 percent of students were members of racial and ethnic minorities in 2010, up from about a third in 1989. The Civil Rights Project at UCLA referred to some of the schools as “intensely segregated.”
There are also a number of cases challenging higher education affirmative action programs.
“The closing doors of opportunity in states that have banned affirmative action programs have made the stakes clear. After Proposition 209 in California banned race-conscious admissions, the selective institutions with the University of California system became more segregated,” writes Damon Hewitt, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s director of the Education Practice Group.
“Texas’ own history provides another reminder. During the most recent years when UT-Austin did not consider race in admissions and instead used only race-neutral efforts, the percentage of African-American students never comprised more than 4.5% of enrollment, despite making up 12-13% of high school graduates in Texas and over 10% of the state’s workforce,” Hewitt went on to write on the NAACP’s Legal Defense website.