Based specifically on the assigned readings on Mendez v. Westminster and Brown v. Board of Education, please respond to the following questions. Each of your answers should consist of one paragraph comprised of 5-7 sentences. It is recommended that you download the document in Word, type your responses directly into the document, and print it out. If you choose to handwrite your responses, PLEASE WRITE LEGIBLY, in black or blue ink. This handout will be graded on a scale of 1-25, with 5 possible points for each question. You will be graded on the thoughtfulness of your response and your effort to support your argument.
1) How did the majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision legally shape race relations in the U.S. over the next half-century? On what grounds did Justice Harlan’s minority decision disagree?
The result of the Plessy v. Ferguson case shaped race relations in the U.S. by allowing segregation to be legal. It validated the “separate but equal” doctrine that kept whites and blacks separated, but still kept under the rules of Jim Crow laws. This furthered the racial tension between blacks and whites in the nation. Although Justice Harlan reflected a lot of white supremacist views, he believed that the majority view was more likely to promote racial discord rather than racial harmony. He thought that the “separate but equal” clause was an unreasonable exercise of state power, and thus provided critical legal support for blacks.
2) Why did Attorney David Marcus decide not to pursue a strategy that would have based his argument in Mendez v. Westminster on the issue of racial segregation? Do you think he made the right decision?
Since the Mendez v. Westminster case was about the refusal of Mexican-American children into certain schools, Marcus argued on the issue of the children and how having to attend different schools wold hurt their education and knowledge of the English language. He argued that the segregation of young children would be detrimental to their educational and mental stability. I think that he made the right decision because the court
ended up ruling that separating Mexican American students into different schools was unconstitutional.
3) In what ways did Charles Hamilton Houston and W.E.B. DuBois differ in their approaches to school integration? Why? [Optional: Who do you think was right and why? You may use extra lines if you would like to respond.]
Houston fought for black civil rights through the legal system. He was a prominent black lawyer and believed that legal tradition inspired judicial restraint, whereas legal realism inspired judicial activism. This not only sparked a change in those that worked with Houston, but it incorporated using laws to help blacks with civil injustices wherever possible. DuBois approached school integration and civil rights issues through militant socialism. He believed that blacks needed to strengthen their own infrastructure in order to gain a better social structure. This didn’t sit well with the NAACP. I believe that Houston had a better approach to the issue of school integration because his approach was accepted by more individuals. DuBois offended more people by saying that blacks needed to create a change amongst themselves in order to be accepted more in society.
4) The Supreme Court ruled on Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents in 1950, and on Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. What would you argue were the most important distinctions between the two 1950 cases, on the one hand, and Brown v. Board, on the other hand?
The Sweatt v. Painter case made clear that the separate but equal law established by Plessy v. Ferguson was unattainable in state-supported higher education. The McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents case reversed a decision that was made by a lower court that wold have forced African American students to graduate on a segregated basis. Brown v. Board differs from these two cases because instead of focusing on a single university, it declared that all segregated public schools were unconstitutional. This case made a bigger impact on history than the other two cases.
5) In both Mendez v. Westminster, at the federal district court level, and
Brown v. Board of Education, at the level of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fourteenth Amendment became key to the decision. In what ways were the decisions similar and different in their reinterpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment?
Both cases were similar in their reinterpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment because they focused on the unconstitutional segregation of students in public schools. They both won their cases and changed the public school system in America. On one hand they were different because one case focused on Mexican-Americans and one focused on African Americans. They also differed because Mendez v. Westminster focused on elementary school students, and Brown v. Board focused on public schools as a whole.