A Case Study of Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka

Brown v. Board of Education was not the first Supreme Court case of its kind. In the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” segregation of public facilities was not a violation of the constitution. This ruling was considered constitutional as long as the schools for blacks provided the same education as the whites received at their schools; this was obviously not the case. Following this ruling, separate schools for blacks and whites became a basic rule in the south. At this time, Jim Crow Laws had also been passed throughout the south which established separate facilities for blacks and whites in everything from schools to water fountains.

Seven year old Linda Brown walked a mile to her school in Topeka, Kansas every day. Even though there was a school, Sumner Elementary, located within four blocks of her house, Linda was not allowed to attend. Every day when she would walk to the bus stop, this young girl would pass by the school and wonder to herself why she couldn’t simply go there but instead had to travel so far to a different school. The reason she couldn’t go to the local school was simple, she was black.

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Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in the all white Sumner Elementary School to make things a little bit easier on them and to get a better education for his daughter. Both the superintentendent of the school and the members of the school board were strong supporters of segregation and hole-heartedly opposed the idea of allowing a black girl to attend there school.

Oliver Brown did not take this opposition with a grain of salt. Mr. Brown felt that there was absolutely no reason why young Linda Brown should not be able to attend this school with the other children. The school was less than half the distance of the school she had been attending and also offered a stronger education. To gain support, Mr. Brown went to the Topeka, Kansas branch of the NAACP or National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, and sought the help of its head, McKinley Burnett. (Early Civil Rights Struggles: Brown v. Board of Education)

With the help of Burnett, Mr. Oliver Brown was able to get twelve other African Americans from Topeka, who’s children were also forced by law to attend segregated elementary schools, to stand by him in his fight to overturn the “separate but equal” ruling from Plessy v. Ferguson.

Oliver Browns case was first heard by the U.S. District Court of Kansas on June 25, 1951. At this trial, a spokesperson on behalf of the NAACP argued that segregation of blacks and whites in the public school system made black children feel a sense of inferiority over the white students, and therefore the schools were not equal at all. Although this was the first step, Mr. Brown had assured himself, as well as his supporters that this case would not stop at the Kansas District Court. He was determined to see that it was heard at the Superior Court level.

In December of 1953, Oliver Brown got his wish; the case would be heard before the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Earl Warren presiding. When Warren was hearing the Brown case he frequently went over the question whether or not the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling was constitutional. Was separate really equal? Warren did not want to say that the ruling was “wrongly decided” (Horwitz pg.28) but that the Fourteenth Amendment, which stated that all citizens are given equal protection under the law, had been misinterperpreted.

Warren argued that not only had the meaning of the term racial segregation changed since the Plessy v. Ferguson but also the entire public school system as well as the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment itself. (Horwitz pg.29)

Earl Warren also had documented sociological and psychological studies, which stated that racial segregation among children in the public schools resulted in a lack of self-esteem in the black children. (Horwitz pg. 27) Since in 1896, during the Plessy case, access to these studies was not possible, warren stated that at that time the people were blind to the effects of racial segregation.

Two different views of what was considered constitutional could be seen in what was presented by the Warren Court. Firstly,when Warren said, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” he was stating that segregation among the races was unconstitutional and always had been, regardless of time or place. This meant that the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause had not changed since its 1868 adoption, racial segregation was unconstitutional and Plessy had been wrongly decided. (Horwitz pg. 28)

The second view was that the meaning of the clause and the constitution changed with the time and the circumstances. This meant that the Plessy v. Ferguson case had not originally been wrongfully ruled. Due to the change in public education since that time and the idea of forced segregation. The situations have changed and so had the interpretation on the Equal Protection Clause.

The verdict of this case was unanimous and on May 17, 1954, almost three years after the case had been heard in Kansas District Court and almost two years after it had been heard at the superior level, Chief Justice Earl Warren read his now landmark decision:

“We come then to the question presented: 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 We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate but equal educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment” (Early Civil Rights Struggles: Brown v. Board of Education)

This event was the turning point in the desegregation of public schools, and the beginning to equality among the races. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a major victory of Linda Brown and her father, for minority education, as well as a victory for minority rights as a whole.

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A Case Study of Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka. (2022, Feb 01). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-case-study-of-brown-v-board-of-education-of-topeka/