Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483

Consolidated action brought to challenge racial segregation in public schools; Right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment; Judicial review of the “separate but equal” doctrine; Equality / Non-discrimination; Racial Discrimination; Right to Education.

Date of the Ruling:

May 17 1954

Forum:

U.S. Supreme Court

Type of Forum:

Domestic

Summary:

This class action consolidated a number of cases brought on behalf of black schoolchildren denied admission to segregated public schools, under state law. Public facilities were previously racially segregated in the United States, particularly in the South. The case sought to challenge the “separate but equal” doctrine set forth in Plessy v. Ferguson(link is external), 163 U.S. 537 (1896), that governed racial segregation at the time. This doctrine held that substantially equal but separate facilities amounted to equal treatment of the races. The plaintiffs argued that racially segregated public schools are not and cannot be made equal and therefore such a system deprived them of their right to equal protection under the law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

The Court, emphasizing the importance of education as a government function and the principal instrument to a child’s progression and ultimate success, struck down the legality of racial segregation in public schools. Furthermore, the Court held that when the state undertakes to provide public education it must be made available to all on equal terms, pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court concluded that state sanctioned segregation, on the sole basis of race, generates a feeling of inferiority among black children that is likely to undermine their educational and mental development. The Court noted that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Segregated schools deprive minority children of equal educational opportunities, regardless of whether they have access to facilities and other “tangible” factors that are otherwise equal.

Keywords: Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, Education, Right

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes:

After the decision in this landmark case, a number of school districts across the country desegregated peacefully. However, resistance to school desegregation at times resulted in open defiance and violent confrontations, including race riots, civil disturbances, and general resistance to integration in many states. The federal government in some instances deployed federal troops to assist in the integration of public schools; such was the case in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Cases involving racial segregation in schools still continue.  Although racial segregation is no longer legal, in reality, due to economic and other factors, racial segregation in practice continues.  Several cases have developed to response to these issues including: Guey Heung Lee v. Johnson(link is external), 404 U.S 1215 (1971) – desegregation of Asian schools despite opposition of the Asian students’ parents; Milliken v. Bradley(link is external), 418 U.S. 717 (1974) — rejected bussing students across school district lines as an effort to facilitate racially diverse schools; Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1(link is external),[1](link is external) 551 U.S. 701, 127 S. Ct. 2738 (2007) — rejected assigning students to schools solely on the basis of race; and the Edgewood decisions which have allowed funding for schools to be generated by property taxes regardless of the disparate funding following racial and economic lines that results.

Groups involved in the case:

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): http://www.naacp.org/content/main/(link is external)

Significance of the Case:

Brown v Board of Education was one of many cases launched by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to contest Jim Crow laws – state laws which allowed for or mandated racial segregation or discrimination. This landmark case effectively brought an end to state sanctioned racial segregation and discrimination in the United States. The case not only began an era of racial integration, but also served as an important stepping stone in the Civil Rights Movement and human rights movement in the United States.